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London has been Olympicised...

...The only consolation is that the gloomsters will win gold.

And so, like mushrooms in a damp field, up pop the Olympic ring symbols along dozens of roads in London. Those readers who live outside the metropolis can thank their stars they have avoided them. In the past I have thanked mine that the Hovel, however crumbly inside (the latest household item to achieve 100 per cent non-operability is the downstairs loo-seat, which skids from its moorings at the minutest shift in position from its user), does at least have a pleasingly central location.

This is not now the blessing it was. Thanks to my proximity to Lord’s, where the archery will be taking place, I now appear to live in an anomalously well-stocked network of Games Lanes, those dedicated channels through which the greased turds of the Olympic committees can zip by, while the common-or-garden Londoner lurches, inch by gridlocked inch, at an even slower rate of peristalsis than normal.

I only have use of a car every fortnight, when I ferry the brood to and from Shepherds Bush, so I’m not going to be too inconvenienced, but even last weekend, when I could have sworn that the Olympics had yet to commence, there was a big illuminated sign telling drivers to avoid the Lord’s vicinity. That this was placed right next to Lord’s – ie, far too late – only added to the absurdity. (One of these big yellow signs went up on Baker Street a week or two ago. I noticed a sticker near its base warning potential thieves that mechanisms were in place to hinder their efforts, though why anyone would want to steal such a thing for profit is beyond me.) But, driving back to the Bush last Sunday, I noticed the Olympic rings painted on one of the two lanes available on the first elevated section of the Westway (westbound) and reflected on how miserable those drivers confined to the single lane are going to find it when the Games Lane goes “live”. (I suggested to the children that we sneak out one night and paint dummy Olympic rings on various random roads to bring the place to a complete standstill. They liked the idea.)

One is not confined to traffic chaos. The general advice being offered to users of the public transport network boils down, basically, to “don’t”. Posters have sprung up in which cartoon characters, drawn in the style of a wretched knock-off of Pixar, happily walk to work in bright sunshine (ha!) instead of taking the stuffy old Tube. Or, most offensively in my opinion, a couple of outrageously bulked athletes barely squeeze through an open pair of Tube train doors while the commuters behind them look on. (The offensiveness resides mainly in the suggestion that the steroid-pumped freaks – yeah, I said it, sue me – who
are competing in the absurd event are going to be using the Underground. This might have been the case in the 1948 London Olympics but it sure isn’t the case now.)

What else? Oh God, there is so much. Just one trivial example. Baker Street – a station that we are being begged to avoid because it is relatively unavoidable, unlike, say, East Finchley – is now disfigured by garish pink signs, accompanied by that Maggie-Simpson-sucking-Clinton’s-cock logo, pointing people to Wembley. That these signs seem to point to four different platforms will not, I think, help matters, unless Transport for London wants visitors, who should have known better anyway, to think that the Underground network was designed by M C Escher.

Daily rant

All this Olympic crap would not bother me so much if I weren’t under obligation to pay strict attention to the proceedings. Some months ago, in the course of a hugely enjoyable lunch with one of Penguin Books’ editors, it was suggested that I stay in London during the Games, plonk myself and the laptop in front of the telly and write two or three thousand words of bile every day about the proceedings. At the time this seemed like a bit of a wheeze and a good way of turning the whole depressing spectacle to my personal advantage; but as the Games, and the scale and degree of my commitment loom ever larger, I am beginning to sweat.

I can’t get out of this. But worst of all is the fact that I can’t pretend the Games aren’t happening and I can’t get out of town for the duration. Or, indeed, any of the duration.

I remember, a couple of months ago, Boris Johnson describing those who cast a dyspeptic eye on the impending competition and its impact on the city as “gloomsters”. It is my one consolation that we gloomsters in London now outnumber the bubble-headed boosters of the Games by about 14 to one and that the forthcoming chaos means this jackanapes will not see public office again for a long, long time.


Nicholas Lezard is a literary critic for the Guardian and also writes for the Independent. He writes the Down and Out in London column for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 23 July 2012 issue of the New Statesman, Israel: the future