Saturday, 23 June 2012

What Olympic legacy?


There's a little cafe stand at the back entrance to Highgate tube. It's owned and run by a pair of Algerians, one of whom is called Samir. The two men take such extraordinary pride in their work. If you approach whilst they're on the phone to someone, they immediately hang up so that they can give their full attention to serving. They remember orders. They smile. They're obviously incredibly intelligent men, who speak beautiful English and French. They're open every morning, even on bank holidays, and when the tubes are closed for engineering works, they're there to pass on information. I feel very proud to give them my custom, and, if they are immigrants, I feel even more proud to welcome them to the UK.

I’ve just watched the news and they’re “and finallying” with images of the massive music festival in Hackney this weekend. Now, I don’t have a problem with anyone staging a large music festival, but I do have a problem when the Cultural Olympiad tries to big up the event as a much needed boost to a troubled area, which will have a long lasting legacy on the young people who live there.

Right, here we go...

1) The people who go to the festival will not just be Hackney residents. In fact, very few of them will be Hackney residents. They’ll be music fans from across the world. A Hackney resident is no more likely to visit a music festival on their own turf than they are a festival in Finsbury Park, or West London, or even Glastonbury.

2) There are music festivals every year in Victoria Park and London Fields. This just isn’t something new. It’s not even something that big.

3) Why would kids be any more likely to be inspired by a live concert than they would by watching singers on the telly? This isn’t an opportunity for young people to learn musical instruments or get a better education. It’s an opportunity for Leona Lewis to promote her new single and lord it over the people she once went to school with.

4) Hackney probably has the largest concentration of artists in the world living within its borders. The kids of Hackney have access to hundreds of activities; theatres, sports centres, dance schools, community projects. When you launch a community project in London, no one wants to do it, ‘cus they’re all too busy doing more exciting things!  A two mile walk from Hackney, and you’re in the West End. Some of the most expensive houses in London are in Hackney. It’s riddled with middle class people. If the cultural Olympiad decided to do a big music concert in Corby or Scunthorpe or Hattersley, then maybe they could argue that they were doing something that would encourage young people to think beyond their natural borders. The kids who have nothing, aren’t those who grow up in inner city estates, they’re those who grow up without any form of stimulus or anything which they can aspire to. I grew up in a town which was effectively a council estate in the countryside. The nearest cinema was five miles away. The nearest theatre was 16 miles away. I was lucky enough to live in a county with a first rate, council-run music system, and furthermore to have parents who encouraged me to dream and look beyond the perimeters of my own town, but about 90% of the kids I went to school with weren’t that lucky. They had no concept of the wider world - and if they had dreams, they were often cruelly stifled. There were kids in my A-level groups who’d never been to London. Our careers advice was this: “some of you might not be able to find the job you want in Rushden... some of you might need to travel as far as Wellingborough...” (4 miles down the road).

I appreciate that this is the London Olympics, and therefore that doing a concert in the Midlands might be hard to justify, but even within London there are areas which are a lot more troubled than Hackney. Just say it like it is. It’s a big music concert. People will enjoy it. Some will take drugs.  Its only legacy will be a few more sales for Jessie J, a couple of hangovers, 500 blurry YouTube films taken from within the audience, and a few shocking photographs for the virtual scrap book. Legacy complete.

I spent much of this afternoon walking around London, a pair of headphones plugged to my ears, recording the sounds of the city for my requiem. I want many sequences of the CD to be recorded against a backdrop of natural sounds, many of which will come from London cemeteries. The Holy Grail is the sound of a siren, which really shouldn’t be that hard to capture in London, but I’m so used to blocking out the sound, that it’s proving almost impossible to remember to switch the recorder on when I hear one! When you’re focussing on sound only, you do enter a very different world, and you hear things through a directional mic which can be really quite disconcerting; the low rumble of a helicopter which continues long after your naked ears have blocked out the sound, the eerie moan of the wind drifting through tall buildings, the deep hum of a passing lorry...

At midnight tonight, I am going to head to Hoop Lane, and stand outside the cemetery recording the sound of rain hitting the gravestones.

350 years ago, and workmen arrived in Pepys’ house to take down all his hangings because of the great amount of dust that was being kicked up during the process of his neighbour’s house being pulled down, and rebuilt with an extra floor. Pepys’ house would similarly be altered.

He spent most of the day “abroad” doing business in various taverns, attempting to avoid large quantities of alcohol, and opting instead for glasses of mum, which was a type of ale brewed with wheat.
Pepys spent the evening looking at ships, and soaking in detailed information about how they were built, which, at the end of the evening, he felt very proud to have learnt.

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