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Wednesday, 18 July 2012

London and the Olympic Games are clearly not made for each other.

Photo Gallery: London Stage Set for the 2012 Summer Olympics
 Visitors will need determination and, most of all, patience to reach the venues at all. And, for the locals, it all can't end soon enough.It's never easy to be a Londoner, not even on a perfectly normal workday in an English summer.

 

Everyone, whether rich or poor, experiences the same hardships of big-city life in London. For Londoners, the day begins with aircraft noise -- which some never get used to -- partly because double- or triple-paned windows are in short supply, even in Europe's most expensive city.

 

In London, cars, cabs and buses are inefficient forms of transportation for medium- and long-distant trips. As a result, day after day, millions squeeze into the clattering London Underground, the oldest, probably hottest and often fullest subway system in the world. Then, after prolonged inhalation of the melded odors of perspiration and perfume, the crowds pour into downtown London's too-narrow sidewalks before disappearing into their offices. There, they can finally do what some still do very well in this massive, sometimes magnificent but often excessively wound-up city: make money.

The same drama unfolds every evening, only in reverse. About half of London's workforce commutes more than 45 minutes each way -- if all goes well, that is. Is it any surprise that so many people there have a few drinks at a pub before heading home, resorting to alcohol to cast the place where they live - and their lives -- in a somewhat rosier light?

The Economist claims that London "had the best infrastructure in the world" 100 years ago. But, today, the city is already being pushed to its limits on a daily basis. And now this major city is about to host the world's most challenging major spectacle, the Olympics, for the third time, after hosting it in 1908 and 1948.

No Room for Problems

This time around, it's already clear that the London Olympics, which will run from July 27 to August 12, will be an arduous obstacle course for everyone.

Starting this week, the world's biggest financial center will be gripped by a special condition usually only seen in wartime. Its 7.8 million inhabitants are about to be joined by an average of 1 million additional visitors per day. The already overloaded public-transportation system will be burdened with an additional 3 million fares per day. A total of 175 kilometers (109 miles) of the city's streets will be closed off to normal traffic. Almost twice as many soldiers as Britain has in Afghanistan, a helicopter carrier and special forces units armed to the teeth will make the city look like it's under siege.

Transport for London (TfL), the city's bus and rail authority, is nervous -- so nervous, in fact, that it has issued an earnest appeal to Londoners to avoid using the Underground if at all possible during the games.

TfL is urging residents to stay at home, walk, bike, rollerblade or simply go on vacation during the Summer Games. It is also begging banks to set up home workstations for their traders, hoping to dissuade them from using their usual mode of transportation, the Tube. TfL knows that the success of the Olympics will be decided in the Tube's tunnels and stations, some built in the Victorian era, especially those on the Northern, Central and Jubilee lines.

After conducting traffic simulations for years, TfL officials believe they know what's in store for them. But they also know that there is little tolerance in their ancient system for everything that can and will go wrong. There isn't much wiggle room between having things go as planned and total chaos. All it takes to disrupt this delicate balance is a broken-down train, a foolish tourist, a suicide, a panic or a bomber.

Those who have to remain mobile in London during the Olympics are well-advised to rethink their strategy. The German package delivery service DHL, for example, plans to shut down part of its London delivery fleet, knowing that traffic will be moving even slower in the downtown area than at the typical snail's pace of 11 kilometers per hour (7 miles per hour). Instead, DHL plans to have extremely fit jogging couriers making package deliveries during the games.

One Big, Soggy Mess

Even in good times, Western Europe's biggest and most colorful city is a place that demands a high tolerance for stress of its residents. Everything there is almost always simultaneously expensive and full, whether it's buses, restaurants, concerts, hotels or living spaces. As a result, London assumes only a modest spot, 38th place out of 221 cities worldwide, on the Mercer 2011 Quality of Living Survey, far behind Vienna (1st), Munich (4th), Toronto (15th), Hamburg (16th), Berlin (17th) and Singapore (25th).

The Olympics are not about to make life any easier for ordinary Londoners. "To inflict this on London was not kind," says well-known columnist Simon Jenkins.

London's ailing major airport, Heathrow, is already at 99 percent of its capacity during normal operations. But now it will have to handle hundreds of thousands of additional passengers arriving and departing within a short period of time.

In recent weeks, the lines in front of passport control at Heathrow have already grown to seemingly endless proportions. Angry passengers -- including some from the European Union, who receive preferred treatment at passport control -- have sometimes had to wait more than three hours to enter the United Kingdom, which steadfastly refuses to join the Schengen open-border agreement that 26 other European countries have signed. And what does Heathrow do in such a trying situation? Effective immediately, police protection for customs officials is being boosted owing to the anticipated turmoil.

Indeed, the potential for ugly scenes is tremendous. And this is so even if there are no terrorist attacks, a possibility that the British are seeking to avert by positioning soldiers armed with surface-to-air missiles on the rooftops of London apartment buildings. The M4, the most important motorway from Heathrow into the city, was temporarily shut down owing to cracks in an overpass. It's somewhat doubtful whether London will manage to transport the many passengers into the city within a reasonable amount of time.

And then there's England's classic bad weather, which has some wondering whether the Summer Games will turn into a fiasco. The weather has been cold, wet and gloomy since the spring, with last month proving to be the wettest June on record.

The meteorologists' Olympic forecasts are nothing short of dismal: rain, rain and, yes, more rain. And it won't just be falling on the athletes, but also on the most highest-priced seats in the Olympic Stadium. Optimistic planners decided not to cover those seats, unlike the rest of them.

Local Consensus: 'No Thanks!'

With some 28,000 journalists and technicians registered for the event, or almost three for each active Olympic athlete, all of these dramas will be reported on far and wide. Never before in history will so many members of the media be flocking to one place. The US's NBC network is showing up with three chartered wide-body aircraft and 2,700 people. Journalists are even flying in from Afghanistan, Somalia, Kiribati and Nauru.

Oddly enough, however, the global enthusiasm is not shared by locals. "We have, collectively, osmotically, decided that we hate the Olympics," the feared, London-based critic A.A. Gill wrote in the New York Times in April. The Olympics, he adds, are too expensive and will only make life more complicated, so much so that it will be impossible to get a taxi. "But most of all," he writes, "one thing this city doesn't need is more gawping, milling, incontinently happy tourists."

The British celebrate their Britishness with gusto and abandon. In 2011, their national pride led them to observe a grandiosely expensive wedding for Prince William, the heir to the heir to the throne. Prime Minister David Cameron proclaimed a four-day national holiday to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Queen's reign.

But the Olympics have nothing to do with Britishness. With sports like women's boxing, taekwondo, beach volleyball, weightlifting and synchronized swimming on the agenda, the Olympics are a foreign world event being imposed upon London from outside. And that's why the British are showing so little enthusiasm for the games.

Like so many Londoners, Mark Shand, 61, the brother-in-law of Prince Charles and brother of his wife, Camilla, will escape the city for the duration of the Olympics. He is terrified of the masses that will shut London down. And he is completely serious when he proposes: "I think the Olympics should be hosted by Greece. They are in so much trouble. I think that if they hosted the Olympics every four years, then it could help them to get them(selves) out of trouble." And, most importantly, he adds: "That way, we wouldn't have it here."

Expensive Fantasies

When then-Prime Minister Tony Blair accepted the awarding of the 2012 Olympics to London on July 6, 2005, to public applause, the proponents held out the prospect of a cheap spectacle accompanied by an economic miracle, with a price tag of only £2.37 billion (€3.02 billion, $3.71 billion). The East End of London, parts of which had been a polluted industrial wasteland for decades, would be cleaned up and blossom like never before. And an entire generation of British children would become caught up in the Olympic fever and turn into athletes.

No one is making such claims anymore.

A parliamentary committee recently concluded that the Games will cost the public sector alone £11 billion. Some critics believe that the total cost for London will, in fact, amount to some £24 billion.

According to a survey, half of the city's bankers are worried that London's mobility problems during the fames could cause serious turmoil on the securities markets. On balance, the Olympics will likely remain a losing bargain -- which Cameron, of course, strictly denies.

And the children? They haven't become athletes, either. On the contrary, the boys and girls of the British Isles are among the fattest in the European Union. London's poor East End now has an Olympic Park and the largest shopping center in the EU -- but it's still poor.

 

Though London has many natural gifts, they aren't of the kind that makes it ideal to host such a major event. And because Great Britain is both a debt-ridden and democratic country, it wasn't possible to radically reshape London for the event, as the Chinese did with Beijing in 2008.

 

The 2012 London Olympics will probably end up looking like the host city itself: a little chaotic, a little infuriating, never perfect, but with a lot of room for improvisation, charm and talent.

Those who live there will be delighted, of course, but only once it's over.

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He’s a good republican (1) Travelodge in Kingston Raid on hotel results in five arrests (1) Trial of British climate protesters collapses (1) Trio in court over honeymoon murder (1) Tuesday 25 January (1) Twenty arrests over suspected £50m beer and wine fraud (1) Two Scots wanted in connection with unsolved murders are believed to be hiding out in Spain. (1) Two Sussex men and one from Surrey face extradition to Spain after a boat with £8m of cannabis destined for the UK was stopped between Morocco and Spain. (1) Two arrested in Wisbech park murder investigation (1) Two arrests over 'firearm threat' in Cumbria: (1) Two charged with Peckham murder of Sylvester Akapalara: (1) Two charges over £6million Torbay cocaine haul (1) Two gangs of men who fought a pitched battle with baseball bats (1) Two held in Galway drugs gang sting: (1) Two men accused of helping gunman Raoul Moat will face charges of attempting to murder David Rathband (1) Two men are due to appear in court charged with murdering a 55-year-old man in Belfast. (1) Two men arrested in Blackburn murder inquiry (1) Two men arrested over £1.5m cocaine seizure (1) Two men seriously injured during Samurai sword attack (1) Two men were jailed for life after an illegal immigrant was murdered and dumped in a canal following a drugs feud (1) Two more men arrested over Boxing Day gang fight (1) Two slabs of cocaine were found in a false compartment in her suitcase (1) Two teenagers who killed a man in Cheshire in a dispute over drugs have been detained for five years. (1) Two_men_on_motorbike_sought_for_murder (1) UK becomes 'cocaine capital of the western world' (1) United fans await sentence over 'Wild West saloon brawl' (1) VIOLENCE erupted in Burnley town centre on Monday afternoon when two gangs of men confronted each other with baseball bats. (1) Vince Richard Hubbard (1) Vincent Tabak charged with Joanna Yeates murder (1) WALTHAM FOREST: 367 knife crimes in past year (1) Warning over anti-virus cold calls to UK internet users (1) Wartime ‘trophy gun’ fired in gang murder of student (1) Was Browns phone hacked as well? Pressure mounts to re-open Scotland Yard enquiry (1) Wayne Bassnett shot in the head by assassin in Hale (1) Wealthy BA pilot to stand trial for 'murder of estranged wife' (1) Wednesday will see the anniversary of the killing that ended Lennon's iconoclastic career (1) West Derby (1) Whistleblowing MP shops 6 more colleagues to police over expenses fraud | (1) Widnes man shot dead in Pepper Street near Town Lane in Hale Village (1) Widowed British honeymooner Shrien Dewani will be arrested and charged with murder of his wife Anni if he returns to South Africa (1) Wilbert Dyce (1) Williams had been logging onto bondage Web sites and had visited a drag cabaret in the British capital four days before his death. (1) Woman accused of tube murder was undergoing sex change (1) Woman charged with murder of transvestite (1) Woman stands trial for double murder to which ex-lover confessed (1) Woman's body found washed up in Kent bay (1) Women jailed over bodysuit drug smuggling bid (1) Y Waen (1) Yorkshire 'car key burglary' gang locked up (1) Youth killed as Afghan groups clash (1) Zac Olumegbon (1) a British citizen (1) a class-A drug (1) a hammer and pickaxe handle in a car park (1) admitted carrying out the raid at Lostwithiel on 13 August. (1) admitted theft and fraud by false representation. (1) after he arrived at the airport on Sunday night (1) aged 32 from John Mace Road (1) alarm and distress' to people living nearby (1) and Angel Campoverde (1) and Ivan Marshall (1) and James MacPherson (1) and Jayson Hassan (1) and Rackheath (1) and Scott Taylor (1) and found to be carrying 1.515 tons of cocaine. (1) and on Christmas shoppers (1) and uses cash instead of credit cards (1) arrested over knifed pregnant teenager (1) average amount stolen equated to £1 (1) blasted 11 shots at helpless Eddie Boyd - hitting him five times - as his young daughter screamed in terror. (1) but the Navy boat crews recovered two (1) cannabis and weapons were seized by police who raided 25 houses and apartments. (1) central Clydebank (1) central London (1) charged with murder in Great Yarmouth: (1) checks into hotels under false names (1) corrupt police officer helped his drug lord brother by hiding guns and threatening witnesses (1) death of Julian Gardner (1) discovered a world where automatic pistols (1) drag cabaret (1) drugs squad found 13 mature and 35 immature plants (1) dundee-united-stars-david-goodwillie-scott-allan-arrested-after-4am-street-brawl (1) dyes his hair (1) family friendship leads to second murder investigation (1) five Italian gangsters - known locally as the Camorra - are seen sweeping into a restaurant while families are eating before marching up to a corner table where their targets are sitting. (1) fled a club soaked in blood and clutching a 6in wound (1) flew the plane but says he did not know drugs were on board. (1) former girlfriend of gunman Raoul Moat has told a court of the moment the killer shot dead her new boyfriend then turned his shotgun on her (1) found stabbed to death (1) four (1) from Ballygonney Road West In Moneymore were refused bail. (1) from Brixton Hill (1) from Deramore Gardens in Belfast and Warren Martin (1) from Fulham (1) from Moss Lane (1) from Plymouth (1) from Rushey Hey (1) from Tottenham (1) gang drugs war in Greater Manchester. (1) gangland crime in Limerick (1) gangs have shaped the streets and changed the nature of UK crime (1) grieving father of a student who was raped and murdered pleaded with her suspected killer to give himself up (1) had caused 'a great deal of harassment (1) has been charged with importing a class B drug. (1) has made a new and lengthy statement to police (1) have been accused of killing Mr Yepez (1) he claimed he was one of the main players in north London and could get hold of better weapons than Scotland Yard (1) heroin worth nearly £2 million was seized in a single drugs bust in the Scottish capital (1) highest rates of teenage alcohol-related injuries in Europe (1) highlight London's crime rate and youth alcohol problems (1) his brother Ronnie and notorious English serial killer Graham Young escaping from prison. (1) imprisonment of a woman in Wales for withdrawing rape allegations against her husband is a nightmarish addition to the discrimination awaiting women and girls who seek justice (1) in January. (1) in his mid-40s (1) including some in Rochdale (1) is due to appear at South Western Magistrates' Court in Battersea this morning (1) is the first Western on trial in an Iraqi court since a 2009 U.S.-Iraqi security agreement lifted immunity for foreign contractors. (1) jail terms totalling more than 63 years to William Byrne and 14 crooks linked to his gang. (1) just months (1) known locally as Eddie (1) made more than £1m from crime. He must pay £100 (1) major rural crime wave could break out across Wales (1) man has been arrested on suspicion of murdering a man who was shot dead in south Manchester. (1) man has been shot dead by an off-duty police officer during a suspected robbery at a petrol station. (1) man in his 20s has been arrested over the murder of a champion kickboxer in Dundalk (1) moved to Thailand in 2006 to study the deadly Muay Thai fighting style (1) murdering honeymooner Anni Dewani in Cape Town (1) night-time signalling between vessels at sea and people on the shore (1) of Ansty Road (1) of Clapham (1) of Common Road (1) of Forest Gate (1) of Haig Avenue (1) of Hapton (1) of Looe (1) of Mount Avenue (1) of Oxford Road (1) of Pennyvoss Road (1) of Queen Street (1) of School Lane (1) often borrowed from friends (1) on 3 January when he was shot in the chest. (1) prison officer has been arrested after attempting to smuggle drugs into Mountjoy prison today. (1) seized 180 kilograms of ketamine in Felixstowe (1) seized a haul of scam post in a bid to tackle the UK-wide fraudulent mail blight. (1) seven men and five women found Hodgson guilty of murder at Teesside Crown Court. (1) sleeps on sofas and floors (1) south Kilmarnock and Dalkeith in Midlothian (1) stabbed both his parents to death after his mother called him a “f------ idiot” for lying in bed all morning with a hangover. (1) submachine guns and even hand grenades were being sold for as little as £50 (1) taxi firm has been denied an operator’s licence following police claims of criminal links (1) teenager was killed and another injured when two balaclava-wearing gunmen opened fire on a group of four young friends (1) the Gilnow Road gang (1) the eldest son of Viscount Trenchard (1) the famous fashion designer recently committed suicide by intake of a mixture of the cocaine (1) three dogs performing searches on vehicles entering the 14 jails across the Republic. (1) using guns in deadly drug disputes (1) was ambushed by four young men at the gates of Park Campus School in nearby West Norwood. (1) was arrested at Bali Ngurah Rai International Airport (1) was arrested by UK Border Agency officers in Coquelles (1) was blasted at least three times outside a relative’s home in South Cantril Avenue (1) was convicted in 2003 of hiring two “mules” to carry cocaine (1) was given three life sentences earlier this month. (1) was given three years and nine months behind bars after police found £1 million from the heist in the boot of his car. (1) was released after several hours of questioning over the shooting of Nicky Ayers (1) was shot at close range at least three times outside his daughter’s home in South Cantril Avenue (1) was shot dead in Tillingbourne Gardens (1) was sitting in a silver Volvo on Utting Avenue (1) were ambushed as they were driven through the vast shantytown of Gugulethu in South Africa (1) were among 13 men from around the country involved in the criminal group. (1) were found in 24 of the 33 pubs in and around Alnwick (1) were gunned down outside Strang House (1) were not legally married. (1) were part of a gang that brought in an estimated 16 tonnes of the drug. (1) which is in liquidation (1) who 'fired shots in party battle' arrested for attempted murder (1) who attended the hearing (1) who has already been sentenced to life imprisonment for the two killings (1) who reached No 3 in April with I Need You Tonight (1) whose ring nickname was Pitbull (1) wife of BA pilot vanishes from £3million B;B mansion (1) will be extradited over the murder of Kinga Legg (1) you can never move on with your life.'" (1) young boy has been shot dead. (1) £100m cocaine gang sentenced to 200 years in prison (1) £48k seized from Amsterdam passenger (1) £6m of drugs seized from Lancashire's streets (1) ‘Sick’ Dewani’s bail strategy (1) “Fragile” Shrien Dewani leaves hospital (1)

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