Warned in advance of travel chaos during the 2012 Olympics due to overcrowding on the transport system, local people have been doing everything they can to avoid central London. Some of my acquaintances were actually told by their employers that during the games they should find accommodation within walking distance of their jobs to ensure they clocked in on time – since it wasn’t going to be feasible for them to commute across London. Many decided they didn’t want to put up with such bullshit and took holidays to get out of London during the Olympics. As a result despite detours, Zil lanes and closed roads, it is actually much easier to get around the city than is usually the case.
This morning I decided to check out parts of central London that I hadn’t been to since the Olympics started to see if they were as empty as the places I more usually hang out in. I got on a bicycle and rode through the West End and Mayfair to Hyde Park, then through the greenery to Kensington Gore. Despite the water being used for some Olympic events even the edge of the Serpentine wasn’t very busy – although I guess it was relatively early when I rode past.
I was going to have a wander around Kensington on foot but the cycle stands where I’d usually lock my bike had tape around them and a police message saying they were out of use during the Olympics. The racks in question are in front of a building being used by the USA Olympic team but I don’t see why that means you shouldn’t chain up a bike there. There were a couple of cycles in the stands that looked like they’d been there since before the Olympics started as they were covered with police tape – and they undermined the messages saying that any push bikes left in the racks during the games would be taken away.
Kensington Gore had been transformed into a sinister quarter with the addition of temporary barriers down both sides of the road by the Albert Hall and the closure of some pedestrian crossings. Hit by waves of nausea as I approached the USA Olympic team base, I decided to head back through Hyde Park. By this time parts of that great green lung were getting busy as coaches drew up along Park Lane and off-loaded 50 or more Olympic tourists at a time. However, once I was heading along Hill Street in Mayfair I found that road extremely quiet.
I decided to go north along Davies Street so that I could check out Oxford Street. I found Davies Street blocked off part way up, so I had to detour through Hanover Square, half of which was also closed to all traffic. Oxford Street looked a lot quieter than you’d expect and was easy to cycle along – it had become an empty quarter. The traffic, mostly buses and coaches, got rather jammed up between Tottenham Court Road and Southampton Row – but eased out further down on Clerkenwell Road. The streets everywhere were much emptier than I’d expected – and a deserted metropolis in the middle of a summer weekday is a real treat!
It seems to me the point of the Olympics is to block off streets and empty large parts of London while jamming huge crowds into relatively small areas. The effect is to defamiliarise a city many locals know very well. The Olympics are therefore in practice a classically psychogeographical exercise and one that enables us to draw up new emotional maps of the London! So let’s forget the sport and dream up a new world!
And while you’re at it don’t forget to check – www.stewarthomesociety.org – you know it makes (no) sense!