My spaceship this week (I am trying to be vague about where I actually live and do not want assumptions based on previous articles) landed in London, during the Olympics.
Transport for London (TfL) scared residents and visitors from coming into the centre if not for the games and that transport, the tube especially, would be dreadful. I sat in Sloane Square watching empty buses go past as passengers were confused by all the changes for the various road stopping exercises – torch parades, cycle races. London seemed if anything slightly quieter and it’s been irritating to leave early and find oneself hovering around often at either end of the day unnecessarily. I even witnessed an Olympic venue and its nearby tube. After having the threat of waiting for an hour to get a train at a peak time, it all went very smoothly.
I did alot of walking, in 30 degrees (or 90 Fahrenheit, which sounds worse) and a big bag to lug, believing it would be (as TfL) advertised quicker and easier than using transport.
Having one’s road networks commandeered by official vehicles for a month, even being unable to cross on foot whilst cycles whizz past and horns honk as a gold perforated torch passes, having cattle market railings everywhere makes London hard especially for those who live and work there.
The custom needed by shops (and surely part of the point of hosting the Olympics) is being denied as Olympic watchers are herded from their sports venues to tubes ala apres football matches and not able to buy wares from nearby outlets.
Worst was the army led security, not just in Olympic venues but in major museums. No I do not take the attitude, it’s got to be done and good they’ll catch terrorists. This is making the terrorists win whilst intruding on regular people, and taking up more of our time. You can’t just wander into the National Gallery at present, there’s a queue round Trafalgar Square. The signs are pretty blunt – “We will search you and you belongings” – no “Please bear with us, sorry but we feel we have to”. I am not sure if Olympic ticket holders were warned about this airport style of security which stipulates what you can have in your bags and how big they can be. Checking on the venue’s websites, none of this was obvious. Clearly a terrorist would be thinking round these rules, whilst making it inconvenient for travellers to lose their toiletry items. It’s inciting fear and suspicion and conformity. With the security being administered by the army (who have rocket launchers dotted round the city) it all feels rather frightening and an odd mix with the festivities and more genial atmosphere created by helpful Olympic Ambassadors (who I mostly consulted to find out how to avoid inconveniences and carry on with my day).
I don’t think it is right to be expected to accept this and all the money spent on making fences, security signs and paying staff to deal it means money that most of us are paying but not seeing back in a positive way. Fear and violence are not the way to overcome it. Our search rules and procedures need to be changed and so does our attitude so that we don’t create another cold war type society when we suspect everyone and it becomes a military state.