Tag Archives: London Olympics

Do you remember?

Tomorrow marks the 10th anniversary of the London 2012 Olympics opening, which, you’ve probably forgotten featured five London cabs each with a Spice Girl standing precariously upon its roof for a lap around the stadium.

So what else from those heady days has London chosen to forget?

The Serpentine was used for the triathlon events, this meant shifting the lake’s swan population to avoid, as one spokesman put it: “…a swan being sliced in half by a boat in front of an international audience”. The swans were sent to Berkshire for the duration of the Games, it’s not recorded when they were returned.

West Ham Park saw the world’s largest Union Jack made from donated pants, shirts and other garments. The clothing was recycled by Oxfam afterwards.

London Transport keen to get on the bandwagon, put out a Tube Map with the names of Olympic medalists replacing station names.

Because the Olympics had strict regulations regarding branding, the O2 dome had to change its name to the North Greenwich Arena.

Victoria Park and our future Prime Minister got stranded on a zip wire while waving Union Jack flags like a demented puppet, now 10 years later, it feels like Boris Johnson for once was in control of his destiny.

The ability to shoot down a hijacked aircraft before it could plough into the Olympic Park, whilst ignoring the fate of the plane’s passengers or anyone who was underneath was made possible when missile launchers were seen on rooftops. Today with the Ukraine conflict it would seem a perfectly sensible decision.

Of course, the London 2012 Olympics were recreated in LEGO and knitted form.

Featured image: Daniel Coomber. (Flickr/Creative Commons)

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.