Saturday, 19 September 2009

The Thin Man of 2012

Before I begin blabbing about my Open House trip to the Olympic Park this afternoon, let me say I think I must be a bit odd. You see, perhaps I ought to have been struck most of all by the vast 500-acre site that the London 2012 Games occupies. Or maybe, the inverted Pringle-shaped roof of the Aquatics Centre (see photo). Possibly, I should've been hit for six by our tour guide's favourite fact - that contractors excavating the bowl for the Olympic Stadium dug out enough mud to fill the Royal Albert Hall nine times. Strangely, it seems to me though, what lodged most of all in my mind was the physique of John Armitt, the chairman of the Olympic Delivery Authority. 

In a sort of modern tipi inside a sports hall opposite Leyton Orient football club, Armitt stood up and spent ten minutes or so effortlessly answering questions from visitors to the Olympic Park. But it wasn't anything that he said that struck me, interesting, charming and frank though some of it proved. No, rather it was that Armitt is just so thin. I mean, as thin as a rake. Lean as a bean.

Armitt wore a light blue shirt and fawn Chinos that hung from his slender frame. I began to wonder if John is - on the quiet - training heavily to be a competing athlete in Britain's Olympic Team. Maybe, a middle distance runner like Sebastian Coe, Armitt's main London 2012 compadre. Imagine the TV commentators in 2012 gasping, 'Unbelievable! he takes the final bell leaving the chasing pack way behind. Armitt's not only delivered the Olympic Games, he's gonna bag the 800 metres gold medal as well!'

Sincerely, I trust Armitt's condition is due to an admirable regimen of healthy food and exercise and hope it's not down to any illness. I often used to think Armitt cut a reassuring and quietly confident figure when he was chief executive of Network Rail. I used to admire him field awkward rail industry questions and subdue stinging criticisms during press conferences. Of course, he was tall then - with the severe stare of some upright grammar school headmaster - but only today did I notice he's a lean beanpole too.

The severity of that stare seems to have softened too. Maybe Armitt's more relaxed manner is because the ODA job is a dream job for someone with his civil engineering and rail industry experience. Maybe, he's just happy to be out of the the rail industry's daily grind, gripe and snipe. More likely, it's because Open House was an event for the general public, not one for rabidly cynical media types. When I sneakily asked him to explain to the group of visitors exactly why Eurostars would not be stopping at Stratford International Station during the Games, Armitt looked me squarely in the eye - none too severely either - and simply explained replicating customs and immigration at Stratford would be impractical.

As for the Olympic Park tour itself, it was part of the fantastic Open House weekend where London buildings and institutions allow ordinary Joes and Joannas to glimpse behind normally closed doors.

The ODA say 4,000 folks have booked to ride around the Olympic Park in a fleet of coaches over the course of this weekend. Of course, security and safety meant we couldn't get out and wander around taking photos but the 35-minute coach trip allowed visitors to gain a clear impression of the vast size of the construction undertaking - and understand where much of the Games' £9.3 billion budget is going.

Editorial and Photos: Copyright Paul Coleman 2009

Paul Coleman is a freelance journalist and writer who investigates transport, regeneration and manufacturing issues. Paul also explores and writes about London's history and culture.


BuckshotLefonque said...

Funny and interesting.... I enjoyed this :-)

Anonymous said...

Good article!

Anonymous said...

Good Man, plainty of ideas nice words, but something is missing...curry and roties!

Motoway man

Anonymous said...

Great article and photographs -enjoyed reading it! Witty and humorous and gives a new and unique insight into this huge olympic area.

Anonymous said...

Very interetsing articles