Arrival (London Prepares…Sat 5th May 2012)
Empty trains, empty platforms , no sign…I quickly checked the ticket , the instructions duly downloaded from Google. This was the right station , on the right day and it was still early morning. So what had gone wrong? We threaded our way past the entrance to the Docklands Light railway and on, down the steps to West Ham Station, road level. At last, a person to ask. Bemused he points to the sign we have missed –
Funnily I had expected something large, unmissable, glitzy even. But no. This is not our way in the UK. And so the day really begins as we are directed by amazingly friendly, pink clad volunteers on to The Greenway, the route to the Olympic Park. What puzzled me was that there were two of us, spectators, to countless volunteers. Where were the crowds? Unable to contain myself, I asked the young man wielding two pink rubber ‘This Way’ hands where he thought everyone was – were we far too early, far too late…he said that, despite the web advice being that there was only one entrance open to the Park, the Stratford Gate had been made available for this weekend…so that meant we hadn’t needed to walk the last mile or so from West Ham, we could have gone almost door to door!
Having said that, I wanted to walk the Greenway. I love the fact that it follows the main sewage route – a masterpiece of nineteenth century engineering, that we passed close to the magnificent Cathedral of Sewage, Abbey Mills Pumping Station, an amazingly beautiful building, and the graffiti covered Centrigual Pump which could never have been intended to become a sculpture.
We checked the time on the pavement clock by placing our backs to where the sun should have been and standing on the spot marked May. If there had been a shadow on this overcast, windy, bitterly cold morning, I am sure it would have hit the right spot. At last, after much encouragement lavished on us by the ever helpful guides, we came to the steps over the main road, beyond which, we were assured, we would see everything.
And there it was – the main stadium. By this time excitement had given way to trepidation. I had such high hopes of what I would see. For months now I have stubbornly argued the case that hosting the Olympics was an honour, an investment in our future, that money was not being wasted, that the park, the rivers, Stratford, the country would benefit. I have armed myself with facts about sustainability, recycling, responsible landscaping, energy saving, grey water harvesting, all to have ammunition to shoot down the nay-sayers. So what would I see?
My first impression was of space. The stadium, squat on its island is a thing of beauty, though not pushy in the landscape. In fact one of the great bonuses for me was how little any of the buildings encroach on the surroundings. Most of all, they do not push into the skyline, but rather blend into it. The landscaping is curvaceous, slinky, the planting…well that took my breath away. Beginning to cover the newly cleaned soil, it is healthy, naturalistic and so varied. A joy was the delicate flowers of Ragged Robin – a plant hard to find in many areas in the wild. The park, with its network of lively waterways, the bridges that soon will look as though they have been there for years as the planks silver in the rain and sun; the winding paths that lead to views of river winding between greening banks; walkways that disappear behind bunds of lush grass, beckoning, promising yet another surprise and through it all, the beauty of inspirational architecture; cedar roofs riding the landscape like ships, white curves leading the eye to the next view and the next and. most importantly, places to sit, wooden places, stone places, steps like tiers nudged back into the soil, just waiting for picnickers, dreamers, thinkers or the weary to rest tired feet, overworked senses.
We were lucky. Most of the park is now open and there were so few people at that time of the morning that we could really see it properly. We could appreciate the juxtaposition of the natural and the man-made; the permanent and the temporary. Unjostled, we were able to appreciate the varying materials underfoot – non slip causeways, an area of brilliantly coloured flooring, shallow steps, groves of young silver birches standing proud in pea-shingle squares.
It was beautiful. I was impressed that it was as good as I had imagined – in fact, maybe even better.
We had arrived.