Sunday, 26 August 2012

Corporate vandalism on Tower Bridge

Maybe I’ve missed it before, but last night I noticed that Tower Bridge has been vandalised. Looking downriver from Hays Galleria I saw that two company logos, EDF Energy and GE, have been beamed onto its towers.

It prompted a check on Google this morning, and sight of an old press release that the company swung a deal with the mayor and the Corporation of London on a lighting system for the bridge. OK, so it’s no cost to the taxpayer, but it’s still an act of vandalism.

Tower Bridge is an icon, a representation of the fantastic engineering feats of Britain in the 19th century, and a grand, slightly wacko demonstration of the architectural excess that characterised the age. It’s one of the defining images of London, a sight that makes its residents proud and impresses people from around the world. And now it’s been turned into an advertising hoarding.

It’s a step in the corporatisation of public space that desecrates the urban landscape. Any sight can be sucked into a corporate marketing campaign, and subsequently loses that sense that it is something special. When you’re ready to put a price on a public treasure, then you’re ready to cheapen it.

Tower Bridge is still a great sight during the day; but now it’s less impressive than it should be at night.

Sunday, 12 August 2012

A few thoughts on the Olympics

OK, so it all turned much better than some of us expected. The past couple of weeks have been one big round of cheering, waving the flag and feeling proud about the success of the Olympics – even if the ticketing was still a mess until the end of the Games.
For what it’s worth, a few thoughts on why it all turned out so well:
-          Danny Boyle’s opening ceremony. It might have had a lot of people confused, but it was fun to watch and reminded us of the NHS, something in which most Brits, with the exception of the more rabid Tories, are genuinely proud. The nod to Empire Windrush was good as well.
-          The two week gridlock we were told to expect for London didn’t materialise. In fact, it seemed quite easy to get about most of the time. So people didn’t have to go through a lot of aggro to get to and from work.
-          The trademark police dropped the heavy handed bullying of anyone unauthorised using the Olympic logo. Would have been even better if they had shown more tact in the run-up to the Games.
-          The BBC did a terrific job of covering as much as possible, even the less popular events. Despite ropey commentating on some events, asking John McEnroe to comment on sports about which he knows nothing, and showing David Beckham in the stands at every opportunity, overall it made it a great experience.
-          All the volunteers. They were helpful, they smiled a lot. Not very British, but good on them.
-          It kept all the politicians out of the news for two weeks. Well nearly, but it’s been pretty easy to forget out them for a while.
-          All those medals won by Team GB. Be honest, it makes a difference.
-          All the efforts made by competitors in every sport. Even the dancing horses. They devote years of preparation to this, and even those come in last are awesome.
There have been some stories in the media that lots of people are ready to sustain the mood through the Paralympics. I hope so, and not just because we’ve got tickets.
Mark Say's collection of fiction, Perversities of Faith, is available on and Also check out

Sunday, 5 August 2012

Positive patriotism at the Olympics

As one of those who was annoyed by the authoritarian build-up to the Olympics, I’ll happily admit that the Games have themselves have been a terrific experience. It’s brought out something good in us Brits that shows that we can put on a show and celebrate the good things when the time is right.

One of the best things has been the expressions of patriotism that have taken pleasure in our competitors’ achievement while not playing down those from overseas. It’s inevitable that our broadcasters will focus on the British team – any country in the world will make a fuss of its own – and we’re entitled to the flag waving when our men and women bring home a medal. But it’s they have also been ready to wave it for the others who come out on top.

When Rebecca Adlington picked up bronze instead of the expected gold in the 800 metres freestyle, the BBC commentators shared the disappointment but were still in awe of the winning performance by Katie Ledecky. It shared the heartbreak of Zac Purchase and Mark Hunter when they lost the double skulls on the last few strokes, but paid credit to a storming finish by the Danish pair of Mads Rasmussen and Rasmus Quist.

The crowds have also got into the right spirit. You’ve only got to look at how they applauded Michael Phelps in the pool, or the roar they gave Tirunesh Dibaba when she stormed the last 500 metres in the women’s 10,000. They’ve been ready to cheer great performances wherever they come from. And this morning I was part of the crowd watching the women’s marathon as they cheered every runner from every country on all three laps.

Britain’s prone to mixing up patriotism with a mean minded nationalism that takes the attitude that we’re a cut above most foreigners, but thankfully it hasn’t been like at these Olympics. We’re seeing a good patriotism.

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