Saturday, June 30, 2007

10 London locations for that last cigarette
Smokehouse Yard, Smithfield EC1
2) Newington Butts, Elephant & Castle SE1
3) Tobacco Dock, Wapping E1
4) Puffin Close, Beckenham BR3
5) Stubbers Lane, Upminster RM14
6) Weedington Road, Gospel Oak NW5
7) Ashburton Park, Croydon CR0
8) Lighter Close, Rotherhithe SE16
9) Fagus Avenue, Rainham RM13
10) Forest Hill, Lewisham SE23

 Friday, June 29, 2007

The view from London E3
prime E3 propertyIf it's a prime London location you're after, you can't do better than Bow. This bijou East End jewel stands astride the old Roman Road to Colchester, and the area still drips with historic charm to this day. Some of the rugged brownbrick apartment blocks overlooking Bow's medieval church date back almost to the 1950s. Thousands of local residents wake each morning in their council-owned maisonettes, fling open their windows and breathe in the exhaust fumes from the Blackwall Tunnel Approach Road. These are perfect family residences, often sleeping four to a room, with the smell of spice wafting gently across washing lines and threadbare lawns. To the west the three towers of the Crossways Estate soar majestically into the concrete sky. Take the unpredictable yellow-stained lift to the top floor and soak up the glorious view across East London's almost-gleaming rooftops. Local services are second to none, with a launderette on your doorstep and an off licence conveniently situated for that mid-morning can of bench-slurped low-cost lager. For the perfect dinner party, the friendly chefs at the Bow Fish Bar will pack you off home with gift-wrapped cod and vintage Panda Pops. Who needs cottage living when you can have urban style? There's nothing artificial about Bow. I can't imagine why it doesn't feature in the property supplements more often.

Olympic chic
Clays Lane housing cooperative and Travellers siteIf property investment is your forte, now is the time to cast an eye over London's Olympic Quarter. New nine-storey buy-to-let opportunities are springing up all along 2012's Marathon Boulevard, and the wise entrepreneur is already making plans to move in. These elevated apartments make an ideal second home, perfect for stumbling back to bed late after all the excitement of the javelin finals in five years time. The finest prime estate potential can be found on the northern outskirts of up-and-coming E15, nestling beside the leafy pastures of Hackney Marsh. It's here that the Athletes Village will be established, rammed full with sports-friendly carbon-neutral dwelling spaces. But the athletes won't be around for long. After the Olympics these stylish designer boxes can be snapped up for peanuts - ideal for those in need of a little luxurious loft living. There'll even be a state-of-the-art John Lewis nextdoor, and on-the-spot connections to Paris, the Riviera and beyond. Whose property portfolio could possibly resist?

So it's almost inexplicable that the current residents of this blessed plot are moving out. Members of the Clays Lane collective are abandoning their low-cost high-rise homes and dispersing across the capital. The Romanies of the Clays Lane Travellers site, and their colleagues at nearby Waterden Crescent, are packing their caravans and travelling on. And the allotment holders of Manor Gardens are relinquishing their tumbledown sheds and vegetable plots to be ploughed up by the Olympic bulldozers. How kind and thoughtful of these honest East End folk to sacrifice their existing property holdings so that the rest of us can pounce in 2012 and snap up a buy-to-let bargain. Because the Lower Lea Valley is heading relentlessly upmarket. The time for exploitation draws near. You might want to contact your estate manager now to ensure that you have all the relevant funds ready. Who'd want to miss out on the Olympic goldrush?

 Thursday, June 28, 2007

Last requests

request stopLondon has a new endangered species. They're tall and red, with a grey stripe and a white underbelly. They tend to perch by the roadside or stand on street corners. They're almost always seen in pairs. They're request stops. And they've been earmarked for extinction.
TfL have been reviewing the current system of request and compulsory stops in London. We propose to remove the distinction between compulsory and request stops. This will result in a single approach to the use of all bus stops. Both passengers and drivers will be affected.
Bus stops - both compulsory and request - have been used in London for about 70 years, and there are now more than 18000 of them. At compulsory stops (red roundel on white) buses always stop, even if no passenger requests it. At request stops (white roundel on red), buses only stop if someone on the pavement gesticulates or if someone on board the bus dings the bell. That's what's supposed to happen anyway. But not for much longer.

TfL want to simplify the current system because it's a bit confusing for customers (especially tourists and those with an IQ below 70). Starting this autumn all London bus stops will be compulsory bus stops, with just one set of rules. Passengers won't have to think "Ooh, is the next stop a request stop? Do I need to ring the bell?" because there wont be any request stops any more. And because they will have to ring the bell.
The changes are as follows:
• When a passenger is waiting at a stop, buses must stop at that stop. Currently, this is the current practice for compulsory stops, unless the bus is full.
• When a passenger is on the bus and wants to get off at the next stop, they must ring the bell to indicate they want the bus to stop. In effect, this is already the current practice for most passengers.
Ringing the bell to get off the bus shouldn't be too much of a hardship because, according to a TfL survey, 80% of people do it already. And everybody does it on nightbuses. But passengers may take rather longer to get used to the new waiting arrangements. Look, here comes a bus. Dont worry, you don't have to wave at it, because it's going to stop anyway. It won't drive past, honest it won't. Because drivers are going to be following new instructions.
Bus drivers will be instructed that they must stop if:
- There are people waiting
- There is a possibility that people are waiting
- Their view of the bus stop is impaired
- Someone has rung the bell

Drivers can only drive past a bus stop if:
- No one has rung the bell
- They believe beyond reasonable doubt that no one is waiting at the bus stop
- There are passengers waiting at the bus stop, but the bus is full
Yes, that's bound to work isn't it? Drivers will love stopping all the time, even when it's obvious that nobody wants to get on, just in case somebody does. And this change will mean that bus services in London can only get slower. Previously buses only wasted their time by pulling in at every compulsory stop. Now they're going to waste their time by pulling in at every stop. If ten different routes use one particular bus stop, all ten routes will have to stop even if a passenger is waiting for only one of them. If a couple of teenagers are having a chat on the pavement within a few feet of a bus stop, all the buses are going to have to stop. The drivers will flap their doors open, sit and wait for a few seconds while the kids ignore them, and then close the doors and wait to pull back out into the traffic again. Simpler rules to understand, yes. But faster bus services? Afraid not.
Proposed date for changes to the bus stop flag: TfL is establishing the costs and viability of covering all request stop heads with a temporary white bus stop overlay - as a short-term measure this will eliminate customer confusion. Longer term, a programme of replacement would take place as equipment became life-expired or warranted exchange for some other reason.
compulsory stopSo, the days of the request stop appear to be numbered. If you have any thoughts on these proposals, TfL's Head of Stakeholder Engagement for Surface Transport would like to hear from you. There's a consultation period until 20th July, including a "response framework" questionnaire for interested parties to fill in. Unless responses are numerous and negative, expect all of London's red bus stops to turn white in the Autumn. And be prepared to spend even longer travelling on buses as drivers are forced to pull in to pick up people who didn't wave because they didn't want to get on board. Ding ding.

 Monday, June 25, 2007

The Millennium Dome reborn
(closed 31st December 2000, reopened 24th June 2007)

branded blue bubblesIt's been a very long time coming, but North Greenwich's giant white elephant finally reopened to the public yesterday. There had been a couple of trial events last week, one for Greenwich residents on Wednesday and a knees-up for sponsors and their employees on Saturday. But Sunday was the first day that anyone could go inside and experience the new "hub of entertainment" for themselves. So I did. And I took photos. And it was great to finally get back inside.

Day O1
Rather brilliantly, the owners of the revamped Dome synchronised their reopening with the last day of the Greenwich and Docklands International Festival. The public spaces in and around the Dome were filled with stilt walkers, musicians and eccentric street art, and there was much to see and enjoy. Crowds stood spellbound in the main entrance watching acrobatic "conedancers" photos. Milling spectators blocked the foot of the cinema escalators while a deaf drag act camped it up (in sign language) to a diva-esque musical medley photos. Elsewhere there were bungee tumblers to admire, giant mechanical insects to experience and intimate one-on-one performances by unembarassable face-painted actors. The annual GDIF is always spectacular, and this was no exception.

Cinema PlazaThe O7
But what's left beneath the Teflon tent once the street theatre departs? Not as much of interest as I was hoping. The main public space is Entertainment Avenue, a fake street stretching two-thirds of the way round the perimeter of the Dome. Only half of it is open at the moment photos, lined by a selection of pizzerias, steakhouses and Mexican grills. So, it's great if you fancy lunch, but not terribly exciting otherwise. The passage isn't especially broad, particularly with al fresco dining tables spilling out of the surrounding restaurants, which has caused considerable congestion for early visitors. In the main entrance hall there's a bubbly blue chandelier photos and also a single mobile phone shop (you can guess who) which looks like a cross between the Apple Store and the Rainforest Cafe. In London Piazza photos (is that really the best name you could come up with guys?) there's a knobbly translucent igloo called the Chill where you can "recharge your personal batteries" with the aid of headphones and a piped "audio landscape" (no thanks). And in Cinema Plaza photos (good grief, that's even worse) you can act out your own music video and have it uploaded to your mobile phone. It didn't take me long to work out that I'm so not target audience for this place.

The RadiO2
At the heart of the complex is the main arena, surrounded by a grey concrete walkway blessed with numerous lavatories, bars and ketchup dispensers photos. From what I could see through the doors on Level 4 the main arena looks like any other modern cutting-edge arena with a capacity of 20000 - lots of identikit blue stacked seats and corporate boxes. From others' photos there appears to be a giant O-shaped walkway in front of the main stage with a large "2" lower right so that, presumably, the name of the main sponsor imprints itself on your retina during every performance. I truly hope that this was only a temporary debut feature. Bon Jovi were the first paid-for act yesterday, and a succession of stadium-sized ultra-safe Radio-2-friendly acts are lined up to follow them. Which is great, because music of this calibre usually inspires me to stay at home instead, which should save me a lot of money in the future.

The Onoyoudon't
Entrance to the ArenaBlack shirted security guards were everywhere yesterday photos. It was their unenviable job to keep tens of thousands of curious non-fee-paying visitors at bay, and to stop us from going where we shouldn't. Not up these stairs, not past this rope, and most definitely not inside that arena. One told me off for walking through a restaurant seating area when I was trying to find the way into the cinema (signage is pretty poor, so it wasn't as obvious as you might think). The bloke who frisked me (front and back) before I could pass into the outer arena walkway photos was rather friendlier, and declined to confiscate my phone when I told him it wasn't the officially preferred network. But most scary of all was the shaven-headed bloke in a fluorescent jacket labelled "Trademark and Copyright Team" photos. He was scanning visitors as they arrived, no doubt on the alert for any outbreak of unofficial ambush marketing. Because, you know, the main Dome sponsors have paid a lot of money to splash their name everywhere, and our appreciation of their brand monopoly needs to be enforced.

The Ozero
The reborn Dome is clearly going to be a great success, if only because of the arena at its heart. Anywhere that can sell Barbra Streisand tickets at £500 a time is most definitely onto a winner. The Indigo nightclub should draw in the punters after dark, and people will always want to eat overpriced pizzas. But that's as far as it goes for now. I'm not convinced that North Greenwich needs another multi-screen cinema (there are 11 screens here to add to 18 more just half a mile down the road). A third of the available internal space is wasted on a walled-off concrete void where the Super Casino was going to be, but isn't photos. Indeed, despite the vastness of the site there's not really anything here (yet) to make this a must-visit spur-of-the-moment destination. Maybe they should bring back the acrobats, drag queens and stilt walkers because, alas, I'm not sure why I'd want to go back inside otherwise.

 Thursday, June 14, 2007

It's getting more and more crowded on the tube, and not because there are more passengers. It's because of bags. People never used to carry quite so many bags around with them, but now nearly everybody has at least one. Handbags, shoulder bags, carrier bags, gym bags, the list is almost endless. And what a lot of carriage space they take up. There you are trying to squeeze onto a train in the rush hour, but it's almost impossible to get on because a significant percentage of the carriage space is being taken up by bags. See that suited City bloke with a laptop bag in his hand and a holdall slung over his shoulder? Don't get too close or he'll squash you. Selfish space-hogger. See that secretary standing in the doorway with her cavernous handbag and three designer shopping bags? She may be thin herself, but these bags make her the spatial equivalent of an obese whopper. Selfish space-hogger. See that paint-stained workman with a chunky fat toolbox down on the floor where everyone keeps tripping over it? Nobody can get close to him. Selfish space-hogger. See that shaggy student type with a bulging rucksack drooping from his back? He's taking up double the space he would normally, because nobody can stand in the shadow of his artificial hunchback. Selfish space-hogger. This crowd and their excessive bag quotient are smugly clogging up the train, and there I am left standing on the platform as the doors close. Bags don't buy tickets, bags don't have a job to go to, but bags are travelling by tube in place of genuine passengers. If only a few more people would leave their carriers at home, more of the rest of us could be carried ourselves.

It's getting more and more crowded on the tube, and not because there are more passengers. It's because of newspapers. People never used to carry quite so many newspapers around with them, but now nearly everybody has at least one. The number of free papers being thrust into Londoners' hands is almost endless. And what a lot of carriage space reading those newspapers takes up. There you are trying to squeeze onto a train in the rush hour, but it's almost impossible to get on because a significant percentage of the commuters inside insist on reading their newspapers. See that suited City bloke with a Financial Times flapping in his hands? He's not shutting it for anyone. Selfish space-hogger. See that secretary standing in the doorway engrossed in her London Lite? She's not noticed you, so you'll have to squeeze round to one side (if you can). Selfish space-hogger. See that paint-stained workman checking out the back of a red-top tabloid? Nobody's getting in the way of him reading the latest sports news. Selfish space-hogger. See that shaggy student type flicking through a discarded Metro? He's taking up double the space he would normally, because nobody's allowed to stand within his quarantined newsprint triangle. Selfish space-hogger. This crowd, and their refusal to stop reading when more commuters want to get on, are unnecessarily clogging up the train. Nobody has a divine right to read in an overcrowded carriage, nobody's open newspaper deserves to leave other passengers stranded on the platform. If only a few more people would learn to tolerate unstimulated commuting, more of the rest of us could climb on board.

 Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Bilingual fashion advice

Millinery guidance for the young gentlefolk of Bowserious headgear advisory for the E3 massive
Pop down to your local clothing shop and buy yourself a cap. Caps are very trendy at the moment. Everyone's wearing caps. Get yourself a cap.yo wasapenin, wotcha need is a well smart cap, coz caps are totally phat bro, getchaself a right blingin cap from down Roman Road market alright
Now this must be a large cap, sonny. Not a dinky little baseball cap but a proper high fronted number with a nigh vertical slope. These finer touches are important.gotta be full frontal, a proper biggedy biggedy cap, buy yourself a boss style, da steeper da better, coz anything flat is well last year, and we laugh at ya
Place the cap upon your head but don't pull it down. It must look like it's made of helium and somehow floating a few millimetres above your scalp.wear ya cap with pride, but keep it light, mustn't squash your shiny gel spikes in front of your bruvvas, whatever, coz that'd be totally asbo
Whatever you do, don't let the peak of the cap face the front. That's so wrong. An anti-clockwise rotation of between 110° and 160° is sartorially acceptable.spin dat cap boi, spin it good
stick it to the rear boi, stick it outback
twist dat cap boi, twist it good
yer looking cool boi, rolling fresh
Now tilt the cap slightly backwards. It needs to recline at a jaunty angle, preferably somewhere between 20° and 40°. Not too far back, obviously, or you'll look like an idiot.tippit back and make a stand, you gotta look erect, point your cap away from da street and up to da skies, dats how we do, it's completely mortal, it's proper beats
That's it, you've got the East End cap mentality perfectly. Now go and meet your cap-clone mates, hang around on your nearest street corner, and sneer.hey streetmaster, yer looking wicked and yer face is right jackin, this is yer empire now capboi, it's gettin tribal, go hang out with da E3 massive and get random
By the way, I have to say that the new Dizzee Rascal album isn't very good, is it? Nothing stand-out, nothing with chart hooks, which is a damned shame.big up our mate mc dizzee, yer Crossways posse salutes ya boi, dem is well banging tunes, coz grime is where it's at, and der rascal's cap is fierce innit?

 Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Is it just me, or are there more stupid people than usual working for London-based PR projects at the moment?

The latest media-based fiasco to hit town is Capital Radio's Lights Out London campaign, which is planned to take place between 9pm and 10pm on Thursday of next week.
"Lights Out London aims to prove that we can all make a difference to the future of our planet. On Thursday June 21 - Midsummer's Night - we are inviting the whole of London to turn off all lights and non-essential appliances between 9 and 10pm. Getting involved couldn't be simpler. Register now to show your support, then all you have to do is remember to turn off all your lights and non-essential appliances on Midsummer's Night."
Which sounds like an excellent idea. It's environmentally sound, it helps to promote carbon-neutral living and it's simple for everyone in London to participate. The campaign's already had shedloads of publicity. Capital Radio are describing it as "the biggest environmental statement Britain has ever witnessed", and one of the other organising partners as "the world's biggest climate change event ever". The Mayor is behind it, Kim Wilde is behind it, hell even Sophie Ellis-Bextor is behind it. So it must a good thing, right?

Well, sadly no. Because the hyped-up PR gibbons have forgotten one very important fact about next Thursday - the longest day of the year. It won't actually be dark at 9pm. Brilliant.
HM The Queen: I say Philip, it's 9 o'clock and Buckingham Palace is taking part in the Lights Out London event thing. Be a good chap and turn off all the unnecessary lights in one's royal residence will you?
HRH Prince Philip: But it's not actually dark, so I haven't turned any of the lights on yet.
HM The Queen: Oh bugger.
If you head down to the middle of Canary Wharf at 9pm to experience the magic moment when all the lights go out and the stars suddenly become visible, you're going to be sorely disappointed. Sunset in London on June 21st isn't until 9:20pm, and even then it won't get dark immediately. Halfway through the hour-long event it'll still be bright enough outdoors not to need streetlights. Only as 10pm approaches will the sky darken appreciably, at which point the event will end and everyone will switch their lights back on again. Genius.

Still, it could have been worse. Capital Radio were originally planning to hold the event between 8pm and 9pm - far more media-friendly but astronomically even more useless. If they wanted to make a proper impact they should have waited until 10pm for the grand switch off, or chosen a date in the spring or autumn with an earlier sunset instead. But no, they're blundering on with their mistimed event, diluting any appreciable impact that this otherwise creditable campaign might have had.

Of course, even if it's not dark at 9pm next Thursday you can still make a difference by switching off all unnecessary appliances (including those on standby). This may not produce a grand visual gesture across the not-quite-twilight skies of the capital, but the National Grid will certainly notice if enough people take part. Switch Off London, they should have called it, even if that's not as alliterative as the original name. Because the daylight kick-off to Lights Out London is doomed not to be noticed.

As for me, I intend to be hundreds of miles away from the capital at the time, in a tiny fishing village where the sun doesn't set until rather later in the evening. It seems that I'll be participating in Lights Out London by default. So do me a favour. If you see anyone turning the lights off in my flat between 9pm and 10pm next Thursday please ring 999 immediately, because that'll be burglars.

 Monday, June 11, 2007

London 2012 - the end days

Knobs Hill RoadFor those of us who live in the Lower Lea Valley, the most important current item of 2012 news isn't the launch of the new Games logo, it's the imminent sealing off of the Olympic Park. Because the end is nigh, and now there's a date. Up until Sunday July 1st you'll still be able to live in, work in and wander through these 500 designated acres of industrial riverside. But on Monday July 2nd all the roads will be sealed off, a barrier will be erected around the perimeter and permanent eviction begins. If you want to pay a visit to this extra-special environment, for free, just three weeks now remain. After that you'll have to wait for five years, and buy a ticket.

The Olympic Delivery Authority's lawyers have been extremely busy right across the area recently attaching Compulsory Purchase Orders to walls, fences and lampposts. Each pack consists of several sheets of paper which read "Oi, we're coming in and we're taking over", only in considerably more legal language. Many businesses up Marshgate Lane have upped and gone already. They've cleared out their belongings, left a forwarding address on the gate and scarpered, leaving the ODA with plenty of clearing up to do. But not everybody's gone yet. They're still curing salmon at H Forman & Son, and the guard dogs at Wallis Motor and Salvage still bark as ferociously as they ever did. Meanwhile to the north of the site, along Waterden Road, an evangelical church, a Travellers' site and three bus garages have yet to move on. There's an awful lot of packing up still to go.

blue fence, GreenwayBut an extensive network of wooden fences are already being erected. They're big and blue (why are they always blue?) and they're being hammered in alongside the handful of public footpaths that will remain open during the run-up to the Games. Nobody will be able to stray off the Greenway in the future, not once the final gap in the blue fence is plugged. Beyond the new wall, until very recently, were earthy mounds over which young bikers loved to practice their motocross skills. But these have all been levelled and severed, and the local boy racers are now noticeable by their absence. Meanwhile the green metal signposts which marked access points off the pathway have been ripped from the verge and dumped in an unceremonious heap of rubble behind the fence. It's a sign of things to come.

I took a not-quite-last stroll around the Olympic Park yesterday afternoon, just because I could. And I was particularly pleased to discover that the towpath alongside the Waterworks River had been unexpectedly unlocked. This path was firmly sealed off at both ends a couple of years ago, and I thought I'd never walk along it again. But someone has bent the bars in the fence at the northern end, and the gate to the south was wide open, so I thought I'd risk the 1km jungle safari inbetween.

Waterworks RiverIt definitely wasn't this tough a journey the last time I visited. But natural vegetation has now had a couple of seasons to colonise the riverside (formerly wheelchair accessible) and the footpath is almost impenetrable at times. Thorny brambles, cow parsley and nettles stood above head height in places, and I was glad not to be wearing a t-shirt and shorts. At certain points I had to crouch to squeeze through a tunnel of foliage or stumble inelegantly over a fallen tree. But the riverside vista, now so rarely seen by human eyes, was well worth the adventure. Dragonflies floated silently above the water's edge. Bumble bees buzzed from dog rose to convolvulus. Freshly-paired waterfowl paddled between the reedbeds. Were it not for the excavators digging the foundations of the new Aquatic Centre on the opposite bank, it would have been hard to imagine that this was central London at all. But this won't be an overgrown rural idyll for much longer. By 2012 this towpath will have been swept away to make room for the Park's central walkway, and crossed by the main "land bridge" between Stratford City and the Olympic Stadium. And, I fear, it'll only be a few select visitors who'll ever remember the living waterway that once existed here.

All of the Bow Back Rivers are worth one final visit (or even a first visit if you've never been here before). Remember this is your very last chance to see the site that, for a single fortnight in 2012, will be the most famous location on the entire planet. And if you're heartily sick of me saying that, take comfort that I'll stop saying it in three weeks time. I wonder how many final visits I can make before then.

Map of proposed road closures, 2 July 2007 [pdf]
Olympic and Legacy Compulsory Purchase Order 2005
Masterplan for the Olympic Park [pdf]
Map of the Bow Back Rivers [aerial view]
Free guided walks around the Olympic Park (depart Three Mills 11am and 2pm, Saturday and Sunday, until June 24th)

 Sunday, June 10, 2007

Blind Light - Antony Gormley
Hayward Gallery: 17 May - 19 August

Admission: £8
(but cheaper if you're over 60) (and even cheaper if you're a student) (and half price on Mondays) (and absolutely free between 8am and 10am this weekend only, as part of the RFH Overture weekend) (so I went yesterday morning at half past eight, because I'm a cheapskate)

You've seen Antony Gormley. He's the Angel of the North. He's up to his neck in water on Crosby beach. And he's the bloke currently standing naked on various rooftops around the South Bank. Yes, him. A sculptor who focuses on the human form, specifically his own body, usually naked. Like you do. So an exhibition of his work ought to be rather interesting. And it is.

Event HorizonTwo particular exhibits have got London talking. The first of these is Event Horizon - 31 humanoid statues littering the capital's skyline in seemingly random fashion. But make your way out onto one of the Hayward Gallery's three upper terraces and the epicentre of the work is suddenly clear. A cloned army of inert figures are looking up at you from the walkways below, and down from the rooftops above (from a very long way away in certain cases - however did Gormley have the audacity to scatter himself so widely?). This is art as a visual puzzle - how many of the hidden mannequins can you spot - and would make a very good long-distance eye test, should any central London optician be interested.

And secondly, inside the gallery, there's Blind Light - a glowing white cloud in a sweaty glass box. Fancy going inside? A gallery attendant stands by the narrow entrance wielding a health and safety laminate which you have to read before you're allowed to enter (warning: floor may be wet, claustrophics discouraged, etc). You may well laugh, but three steps through the portal and you'll soon discover that the warning was deadly serious. Everything in your field of vision, including the doorway, has completely vanished in an all-enveloping white fog. Try not to be distracted by the microscopic floaters swimming around in your eyeball, suddenly visible with crystal clarity. Time for a disoriented wander. Do you dare to stride bravely into the centre of the room, or will you sidle cautiously around the perimeter of the box for fear of getting lost. Occasionally a grey human form passes fleetingly by, then fades back into the swirling mist on a separate aimless voyage. Stumbling upon the glass wall always comes as a surprise, and here vision partially returns as you squint out into the surrounding gallery. Everyone outside the box is now watching you, trapped like a helpless zoo animal in a steamed-up cage. You've become part of the art, part of the show... maybe permanently if you don't manage to find the way out. Well, it feels like a genuine possibility at the time.

This being a particularly humid attraction, they have to close it down every now and again for a good scrub down. It's quite surreal peering in through the fading mist and spotting a man de-squelching the floor with a mop and bucket. And, as the white glow fades further, spotting a mass of chunky humidifiers hanging from the box's ceiling. Gormley's illusion is broken as the magic mist slowly drifts away.

There are plenty of other exhibits to view. Allotment is a room full of stacked concrete cuboids representing the bodily measurements of 300 Malmo residents (I was approximately the same size as person number 201, who's probably called Sven or something). Space Station is a 27-ton 'asteroid' assembled from scores of steel boxes, jammed diagonally into one of the Hayward's larger display spaces. Hatch is a room-sized box filled with sticky-out geometrically-aligned aluminium rods (step inside, carefully, and it's like being a Crystal Maze contestant in your very own two minute mystery challenge). Matrices and Expansions is a room full of Gormley's trademark cryptic bodyforms, each 'hidden' within a surrounding polyhedral aura. And there are further bodily images within the exhibition wherever you look - hanging from the ceiling, climbing a wall, splayed across the corner of a room, even nibbled out of a sliced bread mosaic. You'll certainly walk out with an intimate knowledge of Antony's multi-talented torso. And a smile on your face.

 Saturday, June 09, 2007


Royal Festival HallThe Royal Festival Hall reopened to the public yesterday after a two-year internal revamp. This iconic building was cutting edge, architecturally speaking, as the centrepiece of the Festival of Britain back in 1951. But the concrete grandeur slowly faded, and the acoustics were never great in the first place, so a major refurbishment became increasingly necessary. Has it all been worth it?

I headed down to the Nu-RFH at half past four yesterday afternoon, to see if the big bronze and glass doors had finally been unlocked. And unlocked they were, but only just. The central foyer was a hive of last-minute activity, mostly handymen and service staff, with only a few bemused members of the public wandering around inbetween. "Are we actually allowed in yet?" "Yes, looks like it." The bar was open, of course, and already doing brisk business. A herd of black-shirted catering assistants hovered round one pillar awaiting their final pre-launch briefing. Large bowtie-shaped plastic display cases were being wheeled around on trolleys, ready to to dispense multi-coloured leaflets to weekend visitors. Down half-a-level, on the Ballroom floor, members of a semi-Chinese Gamelan Orchestra were practising sedately for two performances later in the evening. Meanwhile, up a nearby stepladder, last minute adjustments were being made to overhead signage - this way to Level 3.

proper retro carpetBeing not quite properly open yet, most of the internal staircases were still taped off. No chance of gatecrashing that TV interview downstairs, but at least the upstairs walkways were semi-accessible. The carpet underfoot was a nigh perfect copy of the well-worn 1950s original - all muted green and geometrically retro. The handrails were still proper grainy undervarnished wood, not black plastic upgrades. Even the 'new' Skylon restaurant, overlooking a Thames-side terrace, looked like it might possibly serve up rationed ox-tongue and strawberry trifle. Indeed the whole ambience of the interior remains that of Modernernist austerity Britain - if you'd not been here before you'd almost never guess that the place had changed at all. Which is a bit of a triumph really.

I didn't stay for the party because the official kick-off was still a couple of hours away. But a non-stop 48 hour cultural event, entitled Overture, is now underway should any of you fancy popping down to see the RFH makeover for yourself. It's been arranged in short dip-in dip-out chunks, and there's bound to be something at your level. Maybe some poetry, or jazz, or a bit of African gospel. Or a sit-down in St Etienne's Turntable Cafe, or a strum-along with Billy Bragg, or even a proper orchestral extravaganza. There'll be thousands of proper orchestral extravaganzas in the revamped auditorium over the next few decades, and it would be great to see one of the first. All 24000 tickets for this weekend are free, so you've got nothing to lose.

Appearing RoomsAppearing Rooms: Meanwhile outside the Royal Festival Hall, at the northern end of the first floor terrace, they've installed an enormously enjoyable walk-in water feature. Fountains are the new face of interactive public art, so it would seem, and this square-shaped gusher is up there with the best of them. Imagine a 2-by-2 grid with water jets along every edge, each of which can be switched off independently. Every so often one of the liquid walls disappears and you can nip inside, or dash through from one square to another, without getting too damp. And then the jets re-spurt and you're trapped inside your watery cell... at least until another wall fades (or you risk running through the upward torrent to freedom). Anybody under the age of 10 will adore it. Anybody with a child under the age of 10 will love having an excuse to dive into it. And I'd have loved to have had a go myself, had there not been quite so many serious-looking people all standing around with predatory cameras poised. Maybe later in the summer, when nobody's looking...

Overture - 8-10 June 2007
Saint Etienne - artists in residence
The Festival of Britain - building the future

 Friday, June 08, 2007

London in picture's (4)
the endless sale
T.M.Lewin - City shirtvendors

 Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Three things you may not have noticed about the London 2012 brand

London 2012Nigh everyone in Britain must have noticed this image by now. This pink splodgy thing has been everywhere over the last 48 hours, invariably accompanied by a rare torrent of vitriolic criticism. But this is not the brand, this is the logo. This is only one small part of the brand package launched by the London 2012 team on Monday. Because, as marketeers repeatedly insist on telling us, there's a lot more to a brand than just a logo. A brand is an overarching umbrella concept embracing associative expectations of public perception. It's not about what the logo looks like, it's about what it stands for. And, in the gruesome media dogfight of recent days, I reckon that 95% of the British public have completely missed what this epileptic zigzag stands for.

1) "London 2012 will be everyone's Games, everyone's 2012."
Every modern brand needs a slogan - a few choice words to encapsulate what it's all about. The 2012 team appear to have plumped for a single eight-letter word - everyone. It may not be cutting edge, and they probably paid someone far too much to think it up, but it's a clever choice. Ever since Seb and friends sealed London's 2012 bid, the team's emphasis has been on getting people involved. Don't just wait for the Games to start, join in now. Get up off the sofa and you too could be on the winner's podium. Or two stone thinner. It's a noble concept, totally in line with Olympic ideals. It's what Tony Blair was actually talking about when he said he hoped the new brand would inspire people to make a positive change in their life. But most Britons undoubtedly failed to spot that on Monday, because they were too busy grimacing at the logo.

2) "Passion", "Inspiration", "Participation" and "Stimulation"
Every modern brand needs brand values - a selection of key concepts aligned to core intentions. Or so we're told. But brand values are surely one of the most pointless inventions in modern corporate history. Who gives a damn that an organisation has distilled its core values into a handful of abstract concepts? Only marketing managers and PR facilitators, and never the man or woman in the street. Brand values may sound impressive on paper but they're always deceptively meaningless. Take the four 2012 brand values, for example - "Passion", "Inspiration", "Participation" and "Stimulation". This verbal quartet could be the brand values for a nightclub full of cokeheads. Or a gang of football hooligans. Or even a brothel. That's how meaningless these brand values really are. And my apologies if that third suggestion has made you look at the logo in yet another different way.

3) "I used to smoke 40 cigarettes a day. I decided to try karate."
Every modern brand needs a video - a reel of YouTube-able frames which personifies the core message in an appealing dynamic presentation. The 2012 team launched two videos at their grand presentation on Monday. You probably haven't watched either of them. That's just as well in one case, because the amateurish flashing images have already induced epileptic fits in several sensitive youngsters. Most definitely not the increased physical activity the 2012 team were hoping for. But the second video hits the spot a little better. Various ordinary Britons, with seemingly no Olympic connection whatsoever, describe how they've made a simple physical change for the better. If the 2012 team can keep up this particular idea up for five years, their brand might still succeed. But only if you lot can be bothered to watch, and be inspired, and get motivated. And stop being distracted by that logo.

Oh yes, a brand is much more just than a logo. But, in this case, the logo has unintentionally hijacked the entire campaign launch. Most people are already thinking "oh my God, that's crap" instead of "oh wow, I must change my life for the better", which is going to make future brand rollout a real uphill struggle. There really is such a thing as bad publicity. But hey, if this embarassing debacle inspires a few fewer kids to become PR consultants and marketing executives when they grow up, then it may just have been worthwhile after all.

 Monday, June 04, 2007

Everyone's 2012TM

Hi Seb. We're Wolff Olins, and we're global brand marketing experts. Thanks for asking us to create the official brand experience for the London 2012 Olympics. Would you like to see what we've done with the £400,000 you gave us? We've come up with a striking brand emblem which we know the youth of Britain are going to take to their hearts. We know, because a focus group told us.

What do you think?
London 2012

Great, isn't it? It ought to be - it's taken us a year to develop. It embraces aspirational vision. It embodies our four key brand pillars. It will form the nucleus of an all-inclusive marketing campaign. It really speaks to the nation. Because you can't get more cutting edge than jaggedy shapes with yellow edging, eh?

See what we've done? We've taken the key elements of the 2012 London Olympic Games and transformed them into a global brand identity.

First there's the year itself - 2012. Our logo is nothing but a giant 2012, digit by digit. Clever, huh? That's worth most of the £400,000 all by itself. Plus the compact squarish shape fits perfectly on a mobile phone as wallpaper, which is absolutely essential if we're going to get the nation's obese 12 year olds to take up archery or whatever.

Then there's the host city - London. Our Risk Assessment Team advised against using a recognisable landmark like Big Ben or the London Eye, just in case evil terrorists might blow it up at some point during the next five years. Always play safe, they urged. So we thought we'd just write the word "London" across one of the digits, but without using capital letters. How cool are we?

Next there's the Olympics themselves. The five Olympic rings are one of the most lucrative brand assets on Earth. So we've shoved them in the middle of the zero and sucked all the colour out of them. You'll like this, Seb. We're producing four different versions of the logo in four diverse fluorescent shades, and we haven't used a single one of the official Olympic colours. No really, lime and pink are very 'in' this year.

And finally there's the raison d'être of the event - the Games. We're talking sport, we're talking competition, we're talking physical excellence. Sorry, we've completely ignored that part. It didn't fit in with the image we wanted to project, so the sporting angle got binned. Nobody'll notice.

Don't worry, we've checked that the final logo passes all known quality thresholds. Kevin's Mum liked it when we showed it to her, and Steve's cousin Mandy thought it looked "well smart". There's absolutely no danger of anyone thinking it looks like cartoon characters having sex. Well we hadn't noticed anyway. Everyone'll love it, guaranteed, or your money back.

We'll admit that the new logo doesn't look its best in two dimensions. It's much more exciting, more dynamic, when you see the animated image instead. The brand will look great as a video loop on the telly, and fantastic as a flickering jpg on your MySpace page. It's just a pity that you'll have to use the static version in "old media" environments such as newspapers and advertising leaflets, and on all those baseball caps and mugs and mousemats you're hoping to flog. But never fear - everyone'll judge you on the thrilling 3D image, not the flat version.

And we've got one final visual trick up our sleeve. The logo won't always look like this - it's going to evolve over the next five years. That big pink splodge, that's really a head. The top left zigzag is an arm, that mysterious floating rectangle is part of an athlete's torso, and those lower shapes are both legs. Obviously we're not planning on telling anybody this yet, but all will become clear when we reveal later digital versions of the logo. Meanwhile the green version's going to morph into a cyclist, the orange version into a swimmer and the blue version into a wheelchair athlete. I'm sure people won't mind waiting a few years for the clever bit. Everyone will be so impressed.

So that's the inspirational brand identity we've developed for you. It's bold, it's modern and it's different. It's a cultural accessory which promotes a genuine lifestyle upgrade. More than that, it's undeniably memorable. One thing I can assure you Seb, everyone'll be talking about it tomorrow, just you wait and see.

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