Last Thursday I went to a very small and very interesting exhibition. After the London 2012 Olympics had been announced and the site identified, the photojournalist Homer Sykes spent over a year going in and photographing the part of the Lea Valley which is now underneath it. A lost world. Not a very picturesque part of the city, maybe; but a very authentic one, where, as has been said, people had been living in much the same way for a long time.
The resulting series of images ends with a panoramic shot of the blue wall that was put up, cutting the area off from everywhere else, signalling the end of it as an area. Beyond it we see the sky, as always; the clouds, as ever, and one very beautiful and lonely tree, in its field, beyond its stone wall… With that image, Homer knew he had his series, his body of work. The time was already past.
The focus for the pictures, Homer said at his launch, was not so much the people of the area but the landscape – the buildings, the environment, the shape and scope of the place itself. He said it struck him as a place where people were just peacefully living much as they always had done, in a way completely left behind by the encroachments of the City just down the road. It was peaceful and unlovely and it wasn’t making anybody any money…
One of the images shows a derelict and very modest office building that looks as if it could be a disused pub – but the sign over the door says CAPITAL COURIERS. And at the top of the building’s frontage is a ripped old banner, with a familiar-looking set of five interlocking rings on it, bearing the legend: ‘Back the Bid’.
The picture above was given to me to use by Homer Sykes. I just think it’s intensely beautiful, and it says it all. Under that ivy it looks as if the house is alive; it might tremble into life at any moment, even as it’s being consumed. Except that it’s not there any more. It’s somewhere under the world’s biggest (1,500-seat) branch of McDonald’s. Or under the pitch, or under a swimming pool, or under a rank of portaloos, or maybe it’s under someplace where they make you go if they find you trying to pay with a card that isn’t Visa.
You think I’m exaggerating? Maybe; but according to the Independent, pubs across Britain are being told what they may and may not write on their specials blackboards – and even though this thing has been sold to everyone for months as Britain’s best chance to make a good impression, there will be no chance for visitors to the Games to buy fish and chips, or sausage and chips, at the Olympics site. Why not? Well…
Publicans [n.b., not on Olympics sites] have been advised that blackboards advertising live TV coverage must not refer to beer brands or brewers without an Olympics deal, while caterers and restaurateurs have been told not to advertise dishes that could be construed as having an association with the event.
At the 40 Olympics venues, 800 retailers have been banned from serving chips to avoid infringing fast-food rights secured by McDonald’s.
No only that, but all this hoohah about protecting the investment of the ‘sponsors’ (not really sponsors; more like purchasers of very specific contractual brand advantage) – so important that it’s taking over the whole event? So important that it apparently justifies coercing (not persuading) consumer behaviour via an artificial state-sponsored Disneyland? Well, these all-important sponsorships add up to about £1.4bn. The entire Olympics bill is something like £11.4bn.
What about OUR £10bn? What about us, the taxpaying sponsors? Eh?
And I’m willing to bet this budget figure doesn’t include the cost of using the military to supply the security that the company G4S has been paid so enormously to provide; but that’s another post. Maybe. (No, I’ll just indulge myself. Remember the awful, disgusting story of a couple of years ago, when Jimmy Mubenga, a deportee, was ‘restrained’ so hard he was killed on the plane deporting him? Those were G4S guards. And the court ruled this week that they won’t face any charges.)
Interestingly, there was a factoid in yesterday’s Daily Mail, that the annual benefits bill so decried by the government is ‘approaching £13bn’. And that’s for a whole year. Imagine what the Olympics would cost if they went on for even three months, let alone a year. And I know where I’d rather the money went.
No; so far are we from being considered, through our taxes and lottery tickets, as sponsors that we are even being told what words we may and may not use. Local businesses, trying to join in with the spirit with signs saying things like ‘Proud to support the London Olympics’, have been rapped firmly and told to desist. Guess they’re less proud and less supportive now, and that’s as it should be: oiks.
So if you’re thinking of putting up any text anywhere – like, say, you’re the poor shmuck from Athens who runs the Olympic Fish Bar and wants to have a gold option, or something – here is a guide that will help you avoid trouble. A list of some of the banned words, and how (not) to use them.
In more elegaic mode, though – back to real London, please – a selection of pictures from Before the Blue Wall, Homer Sykes’s project documenting the Lea Valley before the Olympic redevelopment, is showing at the Green Lens Gallery (4a Atterbury Road, London N4 1SF) until 25 July. If you get out at Manor House station it’s a lovely walk through the park to get there. Get out and enjoy London… and do click on those links above.
Homer’s website is here.