Tag Archives: London Olympics

Sex and the Olympic City

CaptureWhen the London 2012 Olympic organisers announced that the Games would bring local jobs to the community it’s probably not what they had in mind. Major sporting events always tend to precipitate a boom in the sex industry, with thousands of visitors – site workers, spectators and athletes – flooding an area and London is not any different.

Prostitution and the Olympics go back to the Games inception. In fact for the early Olympiads, competing in 776 BC, the winners were invited to take their pick of prostitutes from the Temple of Aphrodite.

In an attempt to make London 2012 not only the greenest but the cleanest Olympics ever, over the past year, more than 80 brothels near the Olympic site have been closed down and prostitutes have complained they are being driven from the streets by imposing curfews and giving Asbos to stop them touting for business.

[A]pparently hordes of sex-hungry sports fans are expected to fuel a spectacular boom in the sex industry. And that’s just for starters health experts have added their voice to warn that this surge in demand for sex could “increase the spread of sexually transmitted infections”.

A campaigning group warns of the potential threat to the sexual health of Londoners and promises to distribute 500,000 free condoms in what it, rather imprudently, characterises as “hot spots” for sexual activity.

With blatant disregard to the Olympic brand online ‘escort agencies’ are renaming themselves, Olympic Escorts and others offering ‘gold medal services – come to win a gold medal with this Olympic London Escort’.

With the Olympic site locked down and the only realistic transport links starting from Stratford, I for one, cannot see how the visitors are going to be able to meet the escort of their choice if the destination is in the Stratford area, or do these ‘services’ have nothing to do with Olympian spirit apart from the scale of their charges?

Taking the waters

One little published event in the Olympics was the 10km Open Waters Swimming in which competitors swam around a pond. We were 4th in the women’s (just missing the bronze by less than a second) and 5th in the men’s. The event was held on The Serpentine in Hyde Park, the same waters where on Christmas Day a group of intrepid swimmers break the ice and ignoring any broken bottles, submerged shopping trolleys or contracting leptospirosis appear on television in this annual event.

[S]wimming in open water has been practised for many years and one of London’s most famous is Hampstead Heath’s three bathing ponds which has welcomed swimmers for over 150 years.

In the true British tradition of prudery mixed with a degree of eccentricity the ponds are segregated.

In the male only pond with its secluded sylvan fenced enclosure nudity is de rigueur amongst the regulars – the serious swimmers, chess players and weight-lifters for whom this is a sort of club. Out on the springboards and in the water, costumes are required. There are no longer any high boards – a sign of these cautious times.

As the Ladies Pond is highest up the hill and benefits from being nearest to the natural springs in Kenwood it has by far the cleanest water. It’s hidden by an expanse of sprawling foliage to hide the ladies modesty.

There is also another pond designated for mixed bathing.

The ponds were originally dug as reservoirs by the Hampstead Water Company in the 17th and 18th centuries from the original malarial marsh which was then drained, before falling into disuse during Victorian times.

In 2004 the City of London Corporation tried to close the ponds on the grounds that they posed a health risk to swimmers amid local protest those plans were abandoned.

Now the ponds may close soon to enable 10ft high dams to be constructed. The City of London claims thousands of lives are at risk should the existing dams burst after heavy rainfall.

The Only Running Footman

CaptureIn Charles Street, Mayfair there remains evidence of the last vestiges of Georgian competitive running with a tentative link to the cabbies of their day. Dating from 1749 this pub has a curious name: ‘The Only Running Footman’.

The pub was once called the Running Horse and frequented by the footmen who were in service to the households of Mayfair. As the fashion for footmen dwindled one bought the pub and renamed it after himself.

London in the 17th century was a pretty chaotic place, narrow streets, overcrowded, animals, carts and numerous other obstructions. A footman’s job was to run ahead of his master’s coach paying any tolls and clearing a safe passage.

[A]fter The Great Fire of London many streets were clearer and the need for a running footman lessened, although they were then employed as house servants.

By 1750 a footman’s advertised annual salary was £7, including a smart uniform, white stockings and shirts with full board. But with ‘vails’ he could expect an income of £40 (about £60,000 in today’s money).

He had to be tall (about 6ft), look fit, be nonchalant and handsome. Footmen were notoriously the source of the best gossip, trusted with clandestine errands and hanging around with women ‘above their station’. These runners were also useful in a household to fetch things and take messages before a reliable postal service had been introduced.

King Charles I’s household accounts record the payment of 2/- (10p) paid to a footman to run from London (presumably Whitehall) to Hampton Court.

The aristocracy would also like to pitch their footmen in a race with others from wealthy households. On the 3rd July 1663 Samuel Pepys recorded in his diary:

The town talk this day is of nothing but the great foot-race run this day on Banstead Downs, between Lee, the Duke of Richmond’s footman, and a tyler, a famous runner. And Lee hath beat him; though the King and Duke of York and all men almost did bet three or four to one upon the tyler’s head.

That old reprobate The Marquess of Queensbury is said to have kept the last running footmen as a mark of his own virility. The Survey of London records an incident (possibly anecdotal) in which ‘Old Q’ met his match:

The duke was in the habit of trying the pace of candidates for his service by seeing how they could run up and down Piccadilly, watching and timing them from his balcony. They put on a livery before the trial. On one occasion, a candidate presented himself, dressed, and ran. At the conclusion of his performance he stood before the balcony. “You will do very well for me,” said the duke. “And your livery will do very well for me,” replied the man, and gave the duke a last proof of his ability as a runner by then running away with it.

The pub’s full name is actually ‘I Am The Only Running Footman’ and has been the venue for many a historic London pub crawl, treasure hunt, mystery tour and even a novel by American detective fiction writer Martha Grimes.

A road less travelled

When announcing the hydrogen taxi
scheme recently the Mayor could hardly
have envisioned starting a scenario straight from the script of BBC television Twenty-Twelve.

“A vision to promote innovative zero and low emission technologies in the capital to clean London’s air and tackle pollution” was announced.

[I]n the spirit of zero emissions five hydrogen-fuelled Olympic taxis have been operating during the Games shuttling VIPs and guests of the Mayor between venues.

The one flaw in this well meaning initiative was that due to its proximity to the Olympic Park the hydrogen service station at the Lee Interchange has been closed for security reasons. This has meant that the closest fuelling station is in Swindon 65 miles away.

Twice a week the five clean emission cabs are hoisted onto the back of a dirty diesel-fuelled car transporter to make the journey to be refuelled and brought back to London.

The irony is that if the cabs were to complete the 130-mile round trip unaided they would not have enough fuel to drive the VIPs around London, necessitating a return to Swindon.

As a further dent in the green credentials of London a fleet of hydrogen buses that operate along the South Bank in London have also been affected by the closure.

The Olympic Legacy

Urban myth has it that every London cabbie is the oracle of all knowledge. We are often asked on how the trade is going; bankers and fund managers it would seem regard us as a barometer of London’s business. Now I don’t for a moment think that after a short chat with a cabbie our customers take an option on, say Russian wheat or buy shares in Acme mousetraps, but the question is asked all the same.

[S]imilarly politicians want to test the water on their latest madcap proposals on cab drivers. Tony Benn famously asks of cabbies “What were you BEFORE you became cab driver?” the replies presumably are then entered into his famous daily diary.

The questions being asked are not to test our encyclopaedic knowledge, or to strike up a lasting friendship, but while sitting in a cab, or in many cabs, they have an opportunity to see what the public are thinking or how they are spending their money.

Economists define this as discretionary spend. The amount of an individual’s income that is left for spending, investing or saving after taxes and personal necessities have been paid. Discretionary income includes money spent on luxury items, vacations and non-essential goods and services and is usually measured in cash spent.

As sitting in the back of a cab or dining in a restaurant can be seen as an unnecessary expenditure they are a good indicator of a city’s wealth.

When the London 2012 Olympics were announced we were promised an unprecedented boost to the economy, but I have to report to our enquiring passengers the reality has been the reverse.

Since the opening ceremony cabbies takings have taken a nosedive. But before you dismiss this as yet another cabbie rant, consider this: our takings have almost halved, similarly restaurants in the West End, who have taken on extra staff for night time deliveries, have seen a sharp fall in covers, hotels are offering huge discounts and theatre audiences have seen a fall in numbers.

All of these are receivers of discretionary spend, spare money spent on luxuries.

Returning to the bankers and fund managers in the back of my cab, if they extrapolate from my answers the state of London’s economy then the capital’s finances in recent weeks has taken a nose dive.

The Games organisers will argue that many have taken their advice and stayed away from work – and they are correct. Even with the Olympic Lanes in force London’s roads are less congested than they have been in years.

With the Games set to last until mid-September, like the fund managers, I have to question how much this has cost the economy of London.

I might not be John Maynard Keynes but I do know that with Britain’s fragile economic state we can ill afford to have a stagnant London.