My Amazing and In-Depth Review of the Opening Ceremony.

Posted on July 30th, 2012

I quite liked the bit with Bond and the Queen, and the bit with Mr Bean.

Transported to Now

Posted on July 27th, 2012

There have been a lot of bad things about the Olympic build-up, and a lot of things that have been worrying, and a lot of things to get angry about. But one of the few definite good things that will be coming out of this all is the improvements to Transport for London and their expansive network.

It’s about bloody time, frankly.

London Transport is one of those things that all Londoners like to moan about, but probably because they don’t know the alternative. I never really appreciated TfL until I went to university and had to experience what constitutes public transport in the West Midlands. You really don’t appreciate how expansive the tube and rail network is, and how useful things like night buses are, until it’s gone.

Even so though, there’s massive room for improvement. It struck me as odd that Hackney could have no tube station in it (Manor House and Old Street both being right on the borders with other boroughs), and the bus provision has always been variable (I’m convinced it’s gotten worse since Boris took over). This isn’t even taking into account how crazily crowded it gets in peak time and how none of the lines ever seem to work on the weekend.

But things have definitely gotten better over the past few years. Slowly but surely the redevelopment of the lines has gone ahead, and most of the lines have shiny, pleasant new trains. It’s still a struggle at peak time, but that’s always going to happen in a massive city. Perhaps best of all, TfL finally got Oyster PAYG onto suburban rail, and took the North London Line over as part of the London Overground project. This has done wonders – the line is now more extensive than ever (with a further expansion from New Cross Gate to Clapham Junction still to come by the end of the year). It only took a few months for it to become an essential part of many Londoner’s lives.

Then there’s some of TfL’s more esoteric projects. The jury’s still out on the Barclays Bike scheme, but it is developing its own place in the London transport landscape, and any attempt to push for an increase in cycling is a good thing (now how about some safe cycle lanes, TfL). There’s also the newest addition to TfL: The Emirates Sky Line, or the cable car as it will be known to most people. I must admit I considered this to be a waste of time and effort when I first heard of it, and I’m still not convinced about it as a viable transport option (although more transport to the O2 and south of the river in general is a good thing) but having had a look at it for the first time, I’ve got to admit I was impressed. There is no more scenic way of travelling in London.

Whether the cable car attracts enough visitors to keep it as a viable method of transport is still in the air (so to speak), but at the very least it should manage to combine getting from north of the river to south with being a fantastic tourist attraction.

To be completely honest, a lot of these things are changes that should have been made a long time ago, and shouldn’t have needed the largest sporting event on Earth waltzing into town. But they DID need that to kickstart them all. Whilst the Olympic legacy around the park and the venues is still a massive worry, at least something good will have come out of the games, something that will have a lasting impact. The city’s inhabitants are its lifeblood, and the transport network is its circulatory system. It’s always a good idea to keep that flowing smoothly.

 

Some Thoughts on Day -2

Posted on July 26th, 2012

  • Boy, they really pulled out the stops for this one, didn’t they? Oh wait, no they didn’t at all. I understand that the Olympic organisers probably didn’t want to undermine the big party that they have tomorrow night, but a little pomp and precession wouldn’t hurt, would it? 
  • Whose bright idea was it to open up with a women’s football match in the Millennium Stadium? Did they not watch the 2000 Rugby League World Cup? The empty spaces swallowed up what few people were there.
  • Why is football even in the Olympics? It already has its fair share of major tournaments. I’m personally of the opinion that the Olympics should be the pinnacle of any participating sports, and in football that’s clearly not the case. Even in basketball, where I suspect most of the players would rather win an NBA title, the Olympics is still clearly the pinnacle of the international game (which makes David Stern’s proposal to reduce it to an Under-23 tournament especially silly.
  • Here’s the proof that football shouldn’t be in the Olympics: this is a football mad country, football being the only sport that it truly cares about, and it can barely sell any tickets for this tournament.
  • Part of me wonders if that is because there is still residual prejudice against women’s football here, and that the men’s tournament is going to have bigger crowds. Perhaps, but even though I still occasionally lapse into that territory myself I still think the women’s tournament has more validity than the men’s – it’s an actual open age competition with the best players in it, for one thing. I think a women’s World Cup or Euros in England would bring in a good crowd (though I’ve just noticed the much better crowds at today’s men’s games).
  • Also, whilst I understand the use of football to take the Olympics out to the rest of the country, I think the people of Cardiff, Glasgow and everywhere else see through it. They’re not really part of the games, they’ve just gotten the bit that no one else really wants.
  • Again, why did these games have to be in the biggest stadia in the country? The games at Coventry look the best on TV because that’s the most compact, appropriate ground. 
  • The Team GB away shirt is horrible. It’s like someone was dared to make something worse out of England’s Euro 96 away shirt and succeeded.
  • As for the football itself, a boring football match is a boring football match, male or female. The goal was quite nice, and had GB not been so wasteful in the first half.
  • Finally, the North Korea cock-up is epic. The first major balls-up of the games and they haven’t even officially started yet. That’s impressive. You would think that they would check things like that, what with the importance of national identity being such a strong driving force behind the games. Apparently not. 

Ring-Fenced

Posted on July 25th, 2012

I was in Westfield Stratford City last week. It’s pretty busy, as you might expect what with the school holidays and the BLOODY OLYMPICS going on now. However, what was most noticeable was the sudden influx of a new type of resident – the squaddie. There were loads of ’em all about, and they’re the visible representation of what has been one of the most sensitive points heading into these games.

As is well known, the day after the announcement of London hosting the 2012 games saw the July 7th bombings take place. I think that one of the biggest anxieties over the last seven years for Londoners has been the extra scrutiny the Olympics brings, and with that comes the fact that it becomes more of a target for terrorists. The world is watching, which makes it all the more tempting a target to make a stand on. London has a history of being attacked in this way thanks to the IRA, but after a relatively fallow period for terrorism in the capital the bombings reminded everyone that London was still a juicy target, and one that might only get more tempting in the run-up to the games.

What I’m not sure anyone was expecting was that the trouble could potentially come from within. That was until just under a year ago, when the London riots happened. It was widely noted that they took place exactly a year before the games, and people wondered if the police would be able to cope with such an onslaught during the games themselves. Suddenly, security became a pressing issue once more, and not just because of terrorism.

So with threats from within and without, I can understand why security would have to become heightened. But you know what might actually help? Having trained security staff. Which is just one of the many things that makes this whole G4S fiasco so ridiculous. Never mind that they don’t have the best track record for care, the fact that they couldn’t get enough staff, and that this only becomes a real issue on the eve of the games is an absolute shambles. The only good thing about this is that this should do a massive amount of damage for their plans for taking over parts of the Met and other forces… except that’s not how it works, is it? I hope that the games run smoothly, but I also hope that the Police, armed forces and government take stock of where they’re heading after all of this.

Olympic Observations: The Calm Before The Storm

Posted on July 24th, 2012

But will it really look like this?

In case you hadn’t heard, the 2012 Olympics start this week. In London. London, England.

I vaguely remember watching the selection gubbins all those years ago. I remember being quite surprised how wound up people it was getting people, and how many people had gone to Trafalgar Square for the announcement, and how ecstatic everybody seemed. What I mostly remember about the announcement is that the July 7th bombings were the next day. The timing of those bombs couldn’t have been worse – a massive high was quickly brought down to a crushing low. London is nothing if not resilient, however, and recovered admirably. London hasn’t had a massive amount to celebrate about in that time, and it’s time to see if it’s all been worth it.

For most of the past seven years it’s seemed like a vision, a mirage, something with no defined shape out on the horizon, something was only noticeable as an inconvenience in the presence and not as a tangible thing, not as part of my reality even though it has been subtly (and not-so subtly) shaping the London experience for the past seven years.

The first time I remember actually taking stock of the fact that the games were really happening was in 2009. I was heading to a Leyton Orient pre-season friendly, and the train route into Stratford went right past the Olympic park. I was struck by how… built the whole thing was. There’s a tradition in this country of expecting large building projects to go right to the wire (if not horrifically past the deadline) mainly as a result of fiascos like Wembley and the Millennium Dome. It amazed me how complete everything looked. Maybe the five rings would be turning up after all.

But it’s in the past few weeks that it’s really started to hit home: it’s actually happening. First of all, in an interview on BBC news last Friday, I saw a truly amazing sight: Boris Johnson with a haircut. This man wouldn’t smarten his accident-site of a mop for the election process, but the world’s eyes seems to be a different matter.

One is before, one is after. You guess which.

Secondly, whilst having a brief check on the TfL website last Sunday I noticed this, which nearly made me fall off my chair with shock:

On a Sunday! SUNDAY!!! That never happens!!! I literally can’t remember the last time I ever saw that on the weekend! For you non-Londoners, this picture shows that all of the London Underground and Overground services were running fine early Sunday evening, something that never happens on the weekend due to engineering works (note: the Waterloo & City line is always closed at the weekend, as its only purpose is to shuttle bankers during the week between its eponymous destinations). Normally, a Sunday service update looks something more like this:

If TfL was deciding it needed to get its act together at weekends, then shit just got real.

It’s not been plain sailing to this point, of course. There’s been all kinds of budgetary fuck-ups. There’s the fact that the jobs it was supposed to create don’t seem to be there. There’s the the perpetually lingering question of legacy, most notably with the Olympic Stadium. There’s been the absolutely colossal fuck-ups involving security by G4S, which may have the positive effect of killing off their attempts at taking part of the Met. The Olympics has been used as a stick to beat us all with, an excuse for all kinds of bullshit. But there have been positives, most notably to London Transport with the London Overground project the best thing to happen in that area for years, something that should’ve been done regardless of the Olympics but unfortunately wouldn’t have been. The Olympics has made everyone realise that as great as London is, some things needed attending to.

I get the impression that the rest of the country feels the Olympics can fuck off and it’s yet another example of Londoncentricism, and to be honest I can’t really disagree. What I’m less sure about is how Londoners feel about it. The city can be a ballache to live in at the best of times, but it’s been disruption this and chaos that for large parts of the past seven years, something that’s only intensified in the last year. I think people are resentful of the approaching swarm, and of the city’s tarting itself up for them when it’s made little attempt to do so for its own inhabitants beforehand. But also, I think people are also now realising that the biggest sporting event in the world is going to be on their doorstep. It’s too late for complaining (there’ll be years, if not decades, for that later). Instead, to qoute Dr Dre,  I’ll just sit back and watch the show.

Anyway, I’m going to be writing something about the Olympics every day now. I’m going to a couple of events, and I’m going to be interested to see the park, but I’m also going to try and go to as much of the free stuff as possible. I’m also trying to get a few more tickets for other events, but the ticketing website just the worst thing since unsliced bread, deserving of its own rant. It’s the biggest thing to happen to this city in a long time, and at the very least, it’s going to be an experience.

Let the games begin.

The new mgonta.co.uk is open!

Posted on July 23rd, 2012

Hello, and welcome to the new mgonta.co.uk. After toiling around with a tedious Joomla site, I’ve decided to change to a new site that looks a lot brighter and a lot clearer. Let’s hope it looks nicer!


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