“The entirely despicable, entirely pointless 2012 Olympics – a festival of energy-squandering architectural bling worthy of a vain, third-world dictatorship, a payday for the construction industry – occupies a site far more valuable as it was.”
So writes Jonathan Meades, a wonderfully iconoclastic English wordsmith. He is writing from the architectural perspective, but one senses that he probably wasn’t all that keen on the sport either.
In the run-up (no pun intended) to the London 2012 Olympics and Paralympics, there was no shortage of reporting and comment in the British media critical of infrastructural shortcomings (e.g. blocked or ignored Games Lanes on the roads) and appalling administrative short-sightedness (G4S security, airport immigration staff etc.). But once the Games started, people revelled in their success and the spectacle of young people straining to do their best. Since the Games finished, there have so far been few writers brave or daft enough (in the UK, at least) to say anything less than laudatory about the entire affair. For my part, the whole thing has been a fantastic achievement, for the participants, the spectators, and the country.
Meades’ great achievement, for me, is not just his habitually hard-hitting message – whatever his subject – but the way in which he puts it across. In this case, he is disparaging of a Great British Success but from a point of view that most London 2012 fans will not even have considered.
Having opened this post with a pithy sentence by Meades, let me finish with one of 219 words from the same source. By the time you’ve finished reading, it won’t have seemed that long, for every word or phrase conveys a brilliantly evocative image of urban decay. It is beautiful use of the language to describe an essentially unbeautiful sight.
“A writer, at least this writer – and I am hardly alone – sees entropic beauty, roads to nowhere whose gravel aggregate is that of ad hoc second world war fighter runways, decrepit Victorian oriental pumping stations, rats, supermarket trolleys in toxic canals, rotting foxes, used condoms, pitta bread with green mould, polythene bags caught on branches and billowing like windsocks, greasy carpet tiles, countless gauges of wire, flaking private/keep-out signs that have been ignored since the day they were erected, goose grass, shacks built out of doors and car panels, skeins of torn tights in milky puddles, burnt-out cars, burnt-out houses, abandoned chemical drums, abandoned cooking oil drums, abandoned washing machine drums, squashed feathers, tidal mud, an embanked former railway line, a shoe, vestigial lanes lined with may bushes, a hawser, soggy burlap sacks, ground elder, a wheelless buggy, perished underlay, buddleia, a pavement blocked by a container, cracked plastic pipes, a ceramic rheostat, a car battery warehouse constellated with CCTV cameras, a couple of scraggy horses on a patch of mud, the Germolene-pink premises of a salmon smoker, bricked-up windows, travellers’ caravans and washing lines, a ravine filled with worn car tyres, jackdaws, herons, jays, a petrol pump pitted and crisp as an overcooked biscuit, a bridge made of railway sleepers across duckweed, an oasis of scrupulously tended allotments.”
Quotes extracted from “Architects are the last people who should shape our cities”, The Guardian, 18 September 2012