They hunted dogs with guns, the Berliner said, to clear the streets for the Olympics. He was in Hackney now, an architect, but he had been in Athens in 2002, when the deals were going down and the grand project was underway. I sat in an afternoon pub, beside a street market that seemed to have migrated across town from Notting Hill, close to a stretch of the Regent's Canal that had been peremptorily closed, fenced, drained. Instead of dogs, perhaps they were going to kill unsightly eels and fish, or the birds that feed on them. No work was in progress, but the exclusion zone had been briskly set up and was policed by the usual yellow tabards. The challenge, of attempting to discommode stubborn pedestrians, always comes from the wrong direction: 'What are you doing on the towpath?' Good question. I've been trying to find an answer for years. But it is where I am, where I like to be, every morning. The invaders assume absolute authority, without explanation or apology. What are you doing here? The double-banked lines of narrowboats, council tax dodgers, have been dispersed. Cyclists are thrown into the murderous stream of Mare Street. A procession of women, all ages, being taught how to swing their arms while marching (and talking), runs slap against the plywood barrier. As a precaution, the authorities have painted a white line around the former boating lake in Victoria Park, along with a helpful notice: caution water. You can't be too careful of this stuff, this alien medium. Comb off the algae carpet, the scum, and prepare to airlift in a dune or two, with deckchairs and parasols, for an urban beach. A rising hysteria grips the fortunate Olympic boroughs; funny money is available, in serious quantities, for those who can come up with the right kind of fun. If you were going to hunt dogs, Victoria Park wouldn't be a bad place to start.
LRB 27 May 2010 | PDF Download