Thursday, 30 July 2009

London Olympics

This week the press has made much of the fact that it is exactly three years until the opening of the Olympic Games 2012, so I took the prompt and cycled over to Stratford. The Olympic Park is vast, a huge site, and if you tried to walk right around the perimeter I guess it would take about 4 hours.

Some years ago Toby and I walked most of the western and southern edge, after the bid had been announced but before the “win” in July 2005. In those days it wasn’t entirely clear just what facilities would go where, and of course there was not only much dereliction, but there were also people living in the Clays Lane estate, others squatting, and many businesses in place; all these would have to be relocated.

However, since the construction teams got possession of the whole site the progress has been remarkable.

New factory for H Forman & Son - one of the displaced businesses - just outside the edge of the Olympic Park

I made another visit with the RSA in September 2006, in the final weeks before the site was closed-off to allow demolition and remediation of the ground to begin. We went round most of the south, east, and north perimeter and were able to drive along Carpenters Road and Marshgate Lane, large parts of which have now disappeared. We also walked along many of the river and canal paths.

To get a sense of what the area was like before work started on site, use Google Maps satellite view, which appears to be about 3 years old: I guess they’ll update it soon and the ‘old’ view will be gone forever. (Type in "Carpenter's Rd, E15"). You can see the open cutting of the underground section of the Channel Tunnel rail line, heading west to St Pancras and east to Ebbsfleet.

For up to date maps and lots of other information the London 2012 site is the place to look:

Some friends have seen both the Main Stadium and Aquatic Centre from the train to Stratford, which passes to the south of the park.

You can also get glimpses of the Stadium from the canal towpaths but I can suggest a much better position.

It is The Greenway, which runs from Wick Lane, Hackney Wick, right through to Beckton, a relatively unknown route, which runs along the top of a major sewage pipe. Because it is raised, you get very good views, and can see the Stadium close up, the Aquatics Centre in the middle

distance, and all the construction work, which is great for those who like watching dumper trucks and diggers – it’s a boy thing I believe.

It is a wide and safe route, with some minor diversions due to current construction work, but well worth the visit. An alternative point of entry is for people to take the DLR to Pudding Mill Lane station and then walk for about 3 minutes. (Don't be afraid to ask the construction site security guards for directions: they are very helpful and the footpath from the station is a bit obscure)

TFL have a very helpful piece about The Greenway on their site:

So, go and have a look around: it is very impressive. And anyway, we are all going to be paying for the Olympics for the rest of our lives!

Tuesday, 28 July 2009


This blog has been a rugby-free zone so longer! The IRB announced in Dublin this afternoon that England has been awarded the rights to stage the 2015 Rugby World Cup AND we will also host the Rugby League World Cup in 2013. This is fantastic news.

Two thoughts: Let's hope that the organisers have learnt a lesson from the recent Lions games in South Africa, where many thousands of seats went unsold, and prepare their business plans accordingly. And, is this another reason why the new Olympic stadium may not after all be reduced in size after the 2012 games?

A very happy Toby travelling back from Marseille, where England have just beaten Australia in the 2007 RWC.

Fishy business

The only thing we didn’t move in the Streetvan on Saturday was Hannah’s goldfish. He’s called Dan, and she collected him yesterday in the car. I hadn’t realised that she’s had him for about six years and this new flat will be his fifth home. In fact he’s not gold anymore. He is so old that he’s lost that shine and is now a sort of matt grey colour; time for a re-spray perhaps.

Dan the (gold)fish in his new home

Sunday, 26 July 2009

It's late July, which means end-of-lease time, so Hannah and Robin moved flat today. Those nice people at Streetcar gave me a helpful discount on one of their Streetvans - "£25 free driving for kind fathers who help their daughters move house"

I don't know how two young people can have so much 'stuff' to move, but we still got it all done in just five hours. It's another really nice flat, in an area they already know well, and as you can see, they seem very happy.

Friday, 24 July 2009

Court 13 - Verdict

After a relatively uneventful day, with the jury in deliberation for nearly four hours, at 5pm they finally returned with their majority verdict and 'found for the Defence' and so Richard Desmond lost his case. In very quick succession the judge thanked the jury for their work and they left the court, he then rose and left, and Desmond and his large legal team seemed to evaporate, quickly and silently. This left the court ushers, who of course were neutral, the six press, Tom Bower, and his smaller legal team, family and supporters. Congratulations all round, hugs and kisses, and then the sight of six jurors asking Bower to autograph copies of his book - remarkable.

It was always going to be interesting to see how Desmond's own Daily Express treated it. I spoke to one of the photographers outside in the street, by chance the one from the Express, who said he wouldn't be taking any snaps of the winner or loser: his paper wouldn't print them! The Express reporter reckoned that Desmond would now sack some more staff to meet the costs of the trial (put at £1.25m).

The Independent had a decent piece which explained why there had been two jury trials and that there had been a rare appeal to the Appeal Court mid-way through the first week, which found in Bower's favour and allowed important evidence to be heard. These were the reasons for the reporting restrictions. The Guardian's headline makes the point: Judge rebuked by court of appeal during Richard Desmond libel case. Mr Justice Eady told his decision on evidence in Richard Desmond's libel case against Tom Bower was 'plainly wrong'. The Standard called it "an unprecedented attack".

It's been most interesting to attend and observe. I wish now that I'd managed to read the book in advance, and to attend some of the earliers days of the trial.

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

Court 13

I was back in court this morning for a further two-and-a-half hours summing up by the judge. This concluded just after the lunch break and the jury then retired to consider their verdict. This is expected tomorrow.

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

The Fourth Plinth - and other art

The ‘Fourth Plinth’ is the empty base of a non-existent statue in the northwest corner of Trafalgar Square. Since 1999 there has been a succession of temporary sculptures and other art pieces. Anthony Gormley won the commission for this summer with a really different idea: to have members of the public stand on the plinth for one hour each, running for 100 days – that’s 2400 people. They have applied online and been selected at random, although the selections are weighted to represent the geographical/population spread across the UK. People can do anything they like during their 60 minutes. The project (piece?) is called OneandOther.

Rachel from London doing her cleaning

I’ve been down to see what’s going on and it looks pretty successful. Certainly, when the weather is good there are many, many tourists and passers-by stopping to watch. Some ‘plinthers’ as they are now called seem to have their family and friends come to watch and support which increases the numbers. Mind you, I haven’t yet been at 3 in the morning, or when it’s very cold, wet and dark. On those occasions it might be single-figure numbers. As a warmer alternative you can stay at home and watch the live feed.

Robert Irving reading his book

My only minor criticism is of the untidy collection of portakabins, generators, JCB’s and so on which seems to be needed to support this endeavour and which now clutters the south-west corner of this important square. It’s a pity that one of the adjacent arts organisations couldn’t be persuaded to find some space (National Gallery, the DCMS or similar) and keep Trafalgar Square uncluttered.

On a connected point, I’ve been impressed by the willingness and ability of the arts community to host these risky, big-piece numbers and not be put off by the safety issues. I’m thinking of Tate Modern’s 2007 Doris Salcedo’s crack-in-the-floor Shibboleth piece (photo), where 15 people were injured, and Tate Britain’s recent revival of Robert Morris's Bodyspacemotionthings with 20 minor injuries.

With both these projects there were some injuries, but they don’t seem to have rattled the Tate management too much. This is a welcome and positive contrast to the usual cautious, risk-averse public bodies and private companies: all rules, notices, hi-vis patrols, box-ticking corporate cultures, which would surely say ‘no’ to something as risky as allowing the public to stand on a rectangle 4m x 2m at 8 metres up in the air. Well done the Tate and others.

Back in Court 13

Back in court 13 today and it's the closing speeches from both sides.

For the defence, barrister Ronald Thwaites QC told the jury that if they were to find for the applicant Richard Desmond they should give him no more than 40p, the cover price of The Daily Express. Guardian reporter Helen Pidd was one of six people on the Press bench.

It's true, court at this level can be real theatre and very engaging. Rival press barons, trust funds, pornography, journalists bullied, private jets, Lord Black in prison, recordings of 'phone calls, accuations of lying.....goodness, wasn't life at the BBC just dull by comparison.

The judge started his summing up this afternoon and will continue it tomorrow before the jury retire to consider their verdict.

Monday, 20 July 2009

My Day in Court 13

Mid-morning on Monday and I'm in court 13 at the Royal Courts of Justice (in the public gallery, not the dock) where Mr Justice Eady is presiding over Desmond v Bower. This is a libel action that Richard Desmond, proprietor of the Daily and Sunday Express, various adult magazines, and owner of several adult cable channels, is bringing against journalist Tom Bower.

Bower’s work includes unauthorised biographies of Robert Maxwell, Mohamed Al-Fayed, Gordon Brown and Richard Branson. This libel case centres on a passing mention of Express proprietor Richard Desmond in the biography he wrote about another newspaper tycoon, Conrad Black. (Black incidentally is now in prison in Florida).

Today’s sessions were almost entirely in the absence of the jury, and reporting restrictions were imposed so I won’t say much here, but this short background is from The Press Gazette:

6 July 2009 - Express Newspapers proprietor Richard Desmond today begins his high court libel battle against biographer Tom Bower. Desmond is suing over a reference to him in Bower's 2007 biography of Conrad Black, the former Daily Telegraph owner currently serving a six-and-a-half year fraud sentence in a Florida jail. The paragraph at the centre of the libel claim relates to Hollinger's shared printing agreement in London between the Daily Telegraph and Express Newspapers.

The start of the trial is subject to initial legal submissions, including a possible hearing in the court of appeal this afternoon. It is unlikely that the case will be reportable until it gets before the jury.

There are further short reports below which are worth reading:

14th July: ”Richard Desmond: 'Damaging for me to look like a wimp'

14th July: Richard Desmond 'prepared to tell lies', court told

15th July: Richard Desmond: 'No vendetta with Conrad Black'

17th July: Conrad Black speaks up for old rival Richard Desmond

20th July: Newspaper tycoon tells business associate 'I will be your worst f***ing enemy'

It’s all very interesting, and quite a juicy tale, and I’ll be back in court tomorrow morning.

Thursday, 16 July 2009

Serpentine Pavilion 2009 - July

Every summer since 2000 the Serpentine Gallery in Hyde Park has commissioned a temporary pavilion from a world-class architect. This is the 2009 project, designed by Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa, and it is a real delight.

I've seen seven of the nine pavilions and for my money this is the best; some have been quite lumpen and even inappropriate for the parkland setting. I also really enjoyed the 2002 pavilion by Toyo Ito and Arup.

Interesting that my two favorites have both come from Japanese architects.

Wootton Bassett - 14th July

I drove to Wootton Bassett in Wiltshire to see the repatriation of the bodies of 8 servicemen killed in Afghanistan. Several thousand people lined the streets of this small town which is just 4 miles from RAF Lyneham.

The event is organised by the town council and the British Legion, and has no political or military overtones.

Very moving, very sad.

Monday, 13 July 2009

Hannah - July

July has been a big month for Hannah whose nine-month attachment to the Bush Theatre came to an end with the production of 'Apologia'. On this she was the Assistant Director, working with Josie Rourke who has been an inspirational mentor to her. Josie runs the highly successful Bush Theatre which specialises in new writing.

On the set of Alexi Kaye Campbell's 'Apologia'

Hannah then went straight to the tiny Arcola Theatre in Dalston to direct 'The List' by David Eldridge - her first professional production. It may be a very short piece, and only staged for two performances, but it is a lovely piece, Hannah had a great cast and we greatly enjoyed it.

Hannah with playwright David Eldridge in the bar of the Arcola.