Friday, 18 April 2008

Casing the Olympic Joint

When I return to London I am armed with camera, tripod and hooded dark clothing. At this early stage the project is both easy and difficult. Easy in that I can legally traverse the entire site. In fact the numerous canals cause greater problems for access than security: they chop of the land into slivers making east-west movement possible by only a couple of major routes. Difficult because while the businesses are still operative, many of them remain protected by high fences, barbed or even razor wire, and dogs. I have aways hated dogs. The situation now could not be more different, it's easy to get where I want to be (because anywhere inside the fence is fair game) but it's very hard to move around unnoticed once inside.

I wander the streets, tirelessly looking for gaps in fences, natural leg-ups, any chink in the rusting hotch-potch of industrial armour. It is still a hive of activity and I don't go unchallenged. I am glanced at with mild suspicion by the workers in the skip yard, apprehended by a security guard in the car park of the evangelist church and again by a Turkish gardener on the allotments. The most (aesthetically) desirable locations are for the most part the best protected. The gas bottling plant at the top of the Eastway has strategically placed CCTV cameras, the most impressive (and best-lit) business on Marshgate Lane hasn't a single boy-sized gap. Even at the dump there's a dog that sounds like he would happily rip out your gullet.

I spend a whole day traversing the site in all directions, acquainting myself with the layout, unaware of just how fast this will change over the next few months. I have done my research, printed off the public access maps of the twelve or so compulsory purchase order zones that make up the future Olympic Park, transposed it all laboriously into a single enormous birds-eye view with the help of Google Earth (a perspective which has already passed into obsolescence). I am saddened that it is the open public spaces that are the first to go. The Arena Recreation Ground and Eastway cycle circuit which comprise the northernmost corners of the site are now ringed in cheap fencing and patrolled by dog units. What are they protecting? and even more to the point what are they protecting it from? Between this makeshift fence and the towpath a group of Italians have set up a temporary home in a family tent, eeking out the last possible days of squatting that the area has to offer.

Bored of traipsing the now well-trodden roads I squeeze between some dilapidated fencing onto a decommissioned towpath that runs almost the whole length of the zone, in the hope that it will offer me easy access to places that make a show of security at their front gates. No such luck. After pushing my way through the overgrowth for what seems like half a mile I suddenly happen on an empty building. The hoardings have long since been torn away, as have the window-grills. Inside are all the signs of a party that once was: paint-pen scrawls line the stairwell, crushed beer cans and then on the first floor I am transported direct back to my first experience of this place. On the wall, in huge black and red lettering the name CROSS-BONES is graffiti'd, and all of a sudden I am tripping over pasty-faced ravers, pushing my way up the staircase, slouching through treacle thick basslines, head soaring through the ceiling. I briefly recreate an ebullient dance move for the camera and return to the outdoors.

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