Thursday, 27 March 2008

This is not a Brownfield Site

One of our windswept sunday jollies took us along Waterden Road. Something had changed, I was perplexed - unable to visualise what had occupied the space previously. Opposite the old self-storage warehouse, in the shadow of which a shack-like greasy spoon had long stood, there was a new gap towards the horizon. A freshly tarmaced road led straight as a die into the distance, seemingly serving nowhere and nothing, the distance looked barren and building-less. We ventured onto the road, fully aware that this looked forbidden territory. Sure enough, drawing alongside a porta-security-hut one of a number of black men who had been huddled inside listening to one of the local African pirate radio stations appeared and turned us back, friendly. I never really got the place out of head (and still haven't).

Once this project was off the ground (my attempt at chronology ends here) it was one of the first places I headed for. The security hut was gone, probably long ago and replaced by the ubiquitous railway-siding style fence, not very well - they had left a large gap beneath it. I had scouted the unknown territory via Google Earth, and was amazed to find it even more barren than was imaginable at ground level. An enormous expanse of mud opened up in all directions just a couple of hundred metres down this road to nowhere. This area must make up at least one third of the current Olympic Park development site.

I squeezed beneath the fence with ease, having to do it twice for the sake of posterity. Off to the left there was a brightly lit area and the sound of a generator droning away. I have by now become used to the fact that lights and gennys are left to burn all night long for no reason, but, at the time, I assumed this indicated human activity, so crept slow and low along the bridge section of the road, until I could hop over the crash barriers onto a grassy bank which would keep me well hidden for the rest of the open stretch. The mud was cracked, looking a parched lake. There was one building and outside it to my shock, a land rover parked. Trespassing does not help my natural tendency towards paranoia, and wondering why anyone would leave their car here, behind a locked fence, in as much the middle of nowhere as it is possible to be in London, I again predicted disaster - this must be security. Hurriedly I looked for a dip in the plain and ended up charging down a bank and ending up next to the railway line. I stayed here, calmed down and took some more photos.

The area was so empty that I struggled to improvise composition without the usual industrial props, I had a torch though, so tried walking across the frame in the long exposures, then just sat on a nearby cable-reel, and watched the trains pass. Back up at road level, calm but cautious I skirted around at a safe distance from my phantom security van, looking for the bridge which i knew led to the northern half of this wasteland. Crouched beside it and peering into the underpass beneath, I could make out a Eurostar ticking over, strange as I thought the extension to Stratford was not complete, but this is where they will end up. If only the arriving tourists knew what was above them as step off the glossy white and yellow carriages: not the bustle of a capital city, but one of the only areas of the city on which nothing has ever been built, one of London's few greenfield sites, ironic that it's so brown. Except that by the time any tourists do alight at Stratford the virtual Olympic village will have become reality. I venture no further that evening, which I regret now and on my way out I discover the lights and generators indicate nothing yet refrain from standing among them for another shot, which I also regret.

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