Sunday, 29 July 2012

The odd effect of watching the Olympics

Having the Olympics in London is having an odd effect.

I've been sceptical about the Games, sharing the irritation at the prospect of traffic jams, clogged public transport, the fact that hardly anyone I know obtained tickets, the bullying on behalf of sponsors and over-the-top security. A couple of things yesterday added to it: seeing all those empty seats in the auditorium for sessions that were supposedly sold out; and having to go through airport style security at the National Gallery because someone assumed that the Olympics is going to make terrorist want to blow up a lot of paintings.

But I've tried to ditch it. I was genuinely interested in the opening ceremony, and my only complaint was that it went on so late that I fell asleep during Seb Coe's speech and missed the climax. And yesterday I watched a lot of sport - hours of cycling, some of the gymnastics, women's basketball, a bit of swimming and a couple of bouts of boxing. It's all stuff in which I would never usually have any interest, but because it's such a big event for London I've got a mild compulsion to sit in front of the TV and watch the exertions.

I suspect it is having a similar effect on a lot of people. The Olympics always draws a lot of attention, but it's even more so this time because it's in the UK, so we're watching sport that we've never watched before and will probably never watch again.

It provides a holiday for our minds, a break from our usual interests that will have us engrossed for a couple of weeks; and when it's over we'll go back to taking no interest in all 90% of the sports on show. But we should feel a bit better for it … as long as Team GB picks up a few medals.

Mark Say's collection of fiction, Perversities of Faith, is available on and Also check out

Saturday, 14 July 2012

What they didn't tell us to expect about the Olympics

The mood around the Olympics has turned quite unpleasant over the past few days.

We've already heard loud complaints over the pricing of tickets and the messy allocation process, and the way draconian rules are being enforced to stay sweet with the corporate sponsors. It's prompted a lot of us in London to think that we ought to just forget the games are taking place in our city and concentrate on the events on TV.

But it's becoming hard to take that attitude. We're being bombarded with messages from Transport for London to expect a couple of weeks of chaos, long waits and crowded trains and buses. There are indications that people are going to be herded around the transport hubs like cattle entering an abattoir. Markings are appearing on roads to tell cars, buses and taxis to stay out of the empty lanes, which are reserved for officials whizzing between events.

People going to the Olympic Park are being told to expect the type of waits they would expect at airport security. Parts of London will be flooded with uniforms, a lot of them military. We can expect a makeshift army camp in the East End and they've placed missiles on top of a block of flats.

I don't recall any warnings about all this when London was bidding for the games, or when it won them back in 2005. I do recall a bunch of politicians and sporting bigwigs telling us how great it would be for the city, regenerate a swathe of East London and give us a couple of weeks in which admiring eyes would be on us from all over the world. But none of them told us the price for the people who live here (and that's without the big increase in the cost of staging the Games).

I can't help thinking that if all this had been brought up in 2003-04 there would have been a lot more opposition to London even trying to get the Games, probably enough to wreck our chances in the bidding process. And now we would all be having a laugh at the prospect of Paris being messed up for a month.

Mark Say's collection of fiction, Perversities of Faith, is available on and Also check out

Sunday, 8 July 2012

No, I don't like the Shard

I've watched the Shard go up over the past four years. It's been a major irritation, as it made the traffic south of London Bridge even worse and caused me a lot of time extra time sitting on buses. So it's hard for me to feel like cheering at its official opening this week, whatever Boris Johnson, Ken Livingstone or a bunch of architectural critics tell us.
I will give it its due for being impressive from a distance. It's sleek, shiny and would add something stunning to another skyline. It would look great at Canary Wharf, or on a big brownfield site with hundreds of square yards free around its base

But from close up it's an ungainly imposition. It's unsympathetic to its neighbouring buildings, it wipes out the sunlight in surrounding streets, and its footprint squeezes the life out of the pavements. The area is already crowded, with Guy's Hospital, London Bridge Station and a couple of big tourist attractions drawing in the hordes, and when the the Shard is in full use there will be thousands more people jostling space. It's going to be pretty horrible, and if they ever have to evacuate the building it's likely to create hours of gridlock in a big swathe of South London.

It's a bad building for its location, and is going to be a source of daily aggravation for thousands of people who live and work in the area. But the people who paid for it, built it and allowed the work to go ahead won't be among those who have to put up with the inconvenience, they can gratify their egos and make money from the building, and that's what matters.

It's how things work and I'm too cynical to think things are going to change, but I still get very angry when the buggers tell us we should be grateful.

Mark Say's collection of fiction, Perversities of Faith, is available on and Also check out