FRI 27th JULY
My initial plan was to leave St Albans at 9am and get into London around half nine and to do a bit of shopping before headed off to Stratford. These things never go to plan though and due to a number of cancelled trains, I couldn’t leave St Albans until after half nine.
I got a train from St Albans to West Hampstead, then jumped on an Overground train which took me straight to Stratford. The view passing through Hampstead Heath was amazing as usual; The Shard, the City, Canary Wharf and then the Orbit, all visible in the distance. Still unsure about The Orbit. I do like Anish Kapoor, but despite that I still think it is a gross display of wealth on the investors behalf.
Pulling into Stratford, the sheer scale of the stadium and The Orbit were obvious. From ground level on the train, the Olympic Park wasn’t visible, but the Athlete’s village with the flags draped over the balconies were; as that was the ‘giant Pringle’ velodrome. My immediate thoughts on arriving at the Stratford Station and Westfield’s Shopping Centre was just how quiet it was. The locals must be staying away or even have chosen this time to go on holiday, as over at the entrance, it seemed that the number of security guards outnumbered those of punters. I swear down that Meadowhall on an average day was busier than this.
I was hanging around the entrance waiting for my friend Sev to turn up up and some security guard asked me if I was lost. I said that I was waiting for someone. Then another one came up to me and said that I was in the way. I pointed out that I wasn’t as there was no one near us but regardless, I got shunted to one side. Suppose these last minute hired security guards really don’t have much to do.
It was the first time I had seen Sev in nearly a year. She’s been off on cruise liners selling fine art but has now jacked that in until she decides what her next move will be. She was to give me a little tour of Stratford Town and introduce me to her grandma; a Stratford resident for sixty years.
She walked me through Stratford Town. Leaving the station and Westfield mall, we crossed the road towards the much small, older Stratford Centre which now houses an indoor market and regular high street shops. She pointed out new additions like the large LCD screen and a new Costa but also all of the run down bits that never seemed to get fixed, like the dilapidated lifts, toilets. It reminded me of Shepherd’s Bush. We came out of the other side of the centre and happened upon the High Street; the usual things, shops, pubs, market stalls and a park. It was just a regular small town. She told me about how in the past few years it has changed with more younger people moving into the area; both those without work and also the highflyers that work in The City or the West End. The building of the Westfield mall brought in all of the tourists and now with the start of Olympics and the creation of the Olympic Park, although it has brought in new prospects for some schools, children and new jobs for some; mostly the older residents and market stall holders have been sidelined.
We walked past the local Morrisons and got to Sev’s house and street. Despite the distance and the fact that we were in London and only minutes from the Olympics, this street felt much more like my the streets that I have lived on back in Barnsley or where I used to live in St Albans. It was nice and cosy.
Inside, I met Pearl, Sev’s 72 year old Grandma. She was lovely, and funny, self assure and not scared to get her point across – all the things I like about Sev. We sat at the kitchen table for two hours while she spoke about the Olympics and the impact it has on her’s and her friend’s lives; how it means now they can’t get out to local groups, doctors appointments, shopping, the post office, and many other small regular things we take for granted. Then she spoke about London and Stratford and just how it has changed through the years, from when she first move here in the early fifties from Jamaica, her family, and oddly enough, stories of ghosts, ulcers and demonic possessions. She was a gem and before I left to head back to St. Albans she said that I was welcome to come and again and next time she would cook for me! Yay!
READ MY FULL FEATURE AND INTERVIEW WITH SEV AND PEARL HERE
I had a small break back at Christa’s flat before heading off into town to The Boot. The Boot is my favourite pub in St Albans and is liekly to be one of the oldest in town. The building must be a couple of hundred years old. It looks like one of those old Tudor buildings but I think it is slightly more modern that that. Danielle works behind the bar; a lovely, tattoo and quiff clad bird with a taste for all things rockabilly. The pub itself is a mix of St Albans middle-class leftie folk fans, the more conservative city workers and then the young rockers who are likely to be Danielle’s friends. The Boot is amazing not only because of this fine mix of people but also because of its fine ale, it’s Sunday afternoon folk and roots gigs and also because it serves the finest roast dinners known to man. They also go all out when there is a national event. Tonight is no different. The inside of The Boot is kitted out with pink and blue Olympic bunting and a fake turf covering the wooden floor with an Olympic Lane running around the bar, where thankfully you don’t get fined £130 if you so happened to land in it, unlike those running through the London.
It was a great turn out. Come 9pm, the place was heaving with people excited to see the Opening Ceremony. One difference I noticed between St Albans and Barnsley is that when it came to events like this, people were more likely to applaud at everything – it’s the same at the cinema in London too. Sometimes it’s quite a strange experience. In Barnsley, opinions about the arts are usually a little more forthright.
The opening ceremony was fucking amazing. I have always admired Danny Boyle as a director. He’s an interesting one. There so many things I love about his films, but then there are many things I don’t like about his most recent work too such as his style of editing – which just so happen to be the thing I disliked most about the Eurovision style video montages that were used inbetween performances.
But despite this, it truly was epic, jaw-dropping, funny, silly, self-deprecating and very British. The sight of Frank Turner singing of the hillside which was a mix of Tellytubbyland and the Hobit’s Shire was a strange one. He isn’t someone that will be known amongst the majority but is someone who now will be. I’ve always enjoyed his style of contemporary Billy Bragg inspired folk punk.
The first major part of the show, featuring the grass fields being torn apart by industrial workers, lead by the fantastic Kenneth Brannagh as Brunel was truly a sight to behold. The factory chimney stacks forcing themselves up through the stadium floor, Olympic rings being forged from fire and iron and being flown into the sky to form that Logo (that we aren’t allowed to use) was stunning. How on Earth someone managed to choreograph that show, with its hundreds of extras, musicians and stage effects was beyond anything we could have expected of Boyle and probably even took the breath of those naysayers on the news who only cared to mention the number of sheep that they had lined up as extras.
Next up was a section which took everyone by surprise and had everyone roaring with laughter and cheering. Daniel Craig, as James Bond, escorting the Queen from the palace, to a helicopter, only to sky dive into the Olympic Stadium was a fantastic idea.. It was big and silly and all of those things we love about British Pop Culture. Following was a wonderful segment that paid tribute to the NHS and specifically London’s Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital included children and nurses dancing on beds and a stadium that slowly gave way to JK Rowling, the woman credited with encouraging children around the world to read. As she read the words of JM Barrie, the floor opened up the reveal giant villains of children’s literature; Voldemort, the Child Snatcher and Captain Hook. A dozen Mary Poppins followed by flying into the stadium with their parsols. It was magical had the perfect balance of magic and horror, that fearless children love so much. I would have loved to have seen something from Roald Dahl, Doctor Who or even a Quiditch match and the stadium looked so fitting for it.
Next up was another pint of fine Porter along with one of the ceremony’s highlights. The orchestral arrangement of Vangelis’ Chariots of Fire featuring Rowan Atkinson playing the synthesiser arrangement as Mr. Bean – one of the most recognisable British characters around the world from the last few decades.
The show would be British or indeed Danny Boyle without a tribute to film and music; marred by a dire performance and story of a teenage girl who loses her mobile phone only to have some guy chase after her through various parties and songs including clips of The Beatles, Bowie, Tiger Feet, Pet Shop Boys amongst many, many other including a live performance from the East End’s very own Dizzy Rascal. The editing of the clips were too quick and all over the place. I’d have preferred to have heard fewer songs and to have heard more of them.
A montage of great british film and TV, included clips of our very own Kes alongside Gregory’s Girl, Eastenders, Trainspotting and a fantastic and daring moving showing the first UK pre-watershed lesbian kiss from Brookside in 1994. Did Danny Boyle realise that when this was shown live all over the world, this would be the first ever lesbian kiss shown on TV in states were it is still punishable by death to be homosexual? Amazing work Danny.
Another pint of Porter… It’s a shame then that when all of those things that are often touted as those that make us proud (the Queen, the NHS, Harry Potter) that when it comes to a tribute of the unnamed fallen in war that the boooring Emilie Sande is chosen to sing. A singer that won’t be recognisable to viewers around the world and let alone many UK viewers. If Adele had have been available, it would have been a much worthier choice. Don’t worry though because High Green’s finest and ex-students of Barnsley College, The Arctic Monkeys more than make up for it by knocking out a bloody fantastic version of I Bet That You Look Good On The Dance Floor and a smashing cover of Come Together complete with flying winged cyclists.
Now a shot of Jamesons.
When it got to the time for all of the Olympic teams to take centre stage, one by one they came out with trainers, coaches, team players, flag bearers and a small child carrying what looked like a bronze fruit bowl. One by one, the over two hundred participating countries came out in alphabetical order. An hour in and we were still only at ‘G’, so we took the opportunity to quickly walk home in time to catch Team GB take the stage in the comfort of Christa’s flat with a cup of tea. It was a genuine treat to see those bronze fruit bowls turn into a beautiful metal floral sculpture. Each petal set aflame and then coming together to form the Olympic Couldron. One of the best pieces of public sculpture I’d seen in a long time. Much better than the Orbit.
The finale though really was a let down; with the obvious choice of Macca once again being wheeled out for a dire version of Hey Jude. I’d have even preferred Elton to McCartney. To be honest though, I think what Boyle achieved was astounding. It was very British. Big, pompous, self-deprecating, silly, serious and the right balance of Royalist and leftie. Cameron will now kill of the NHS at his peril.