From The Slopes Of Olympus To The Banks Of The Lea – Book Review

For some years I used to look forward to the regular arrival of a small A5 magazine on my doorstep – through short stories, poetry, photography, illustrations and more, Smoke: A London Peculiar used to tell strange and tall tales about this wonderful city of ours.

book review from the slopes olympus banks of the leaAlthough editor Matt Haynes no longer produces the magazine, he has been doing other things in the interim (including producing the Soho! Board game) but he’s clearly been busy lately, because a shiny new book has just landed on the doormat – From The Slopes Of Olympus To The Banks Of The Lea.

In it’s 200 pages the reader will learn about the reality behind the London 2012 dream – in found minutes from imagined council meetings, civil defence briefings on missile batteries, email exchanges and through the regular stories, a series of writers recount their own experiences of the vast global event that landed on our doorstep just over a year ago.

From The Slopes Of Olympus To The Banks Of The Lea starts with a short account of the announcement of London’s winning bid from co-editors Matt Haynes and Jude Rogers, and then the clouds quickly gather for Helen Sandler’s short story about what happened twenty four hours later, in London Attacks.

What I really appreciated in this new book is that there’s a genuine exploration of what came before London 2012 – over a series of pages, contributing writers talk about the old streets, the factories, the pubs and the allotments that disappeared under the relentless march of the diggers. The continuous messages on TV and in print that the Olympic Park replaced an ‘urban wasteland’ were, and are, utter rubbish – pure and simple.

From The Slopes of Olympus… also takes a wry look at the security theatre that surrounded every aspect of London 2012. Take for example, this excerpt from the book where Matt Haynes attempts to photograph something behind an ‘Olympic’ fence, in An Altercation At The Gate:

SECURITY GUARD – Could you not do that, sir?
SECURITY GUARD – Could you not take photographs?
SECURITY GUARD – It’s a temporary structure – they don’t want people taking photos of the temporary structures
HANDSOME PHOTOGRAPHER – I can’t take a photo because it’s temporary?
SECURITY GUARD – You can take a photo when it’s gone
HANDSOME PHOTOGRAPHER – But then it won’t be there

Exit, pursued by a squirrel

Inevitably, the stories in the book turn to the street art-covered streets of Hackney Wick – with its towpaths barricaded and rail services reduced, as far as residents were concerned this little area literally in the shadow of the Olympic Stadium might as well have been on the moon. Also in the frame are the endless frustrations of Greenwich residents and shopkeepers who find themselves in the middle of what sometimes feels like a war zone…

From The Slopes Of Olympus… isn’t uniformly doom and gloom however. In Nine Scenes From A Ceremony the reader sees the London 2012 Opening Ceremony from the point of view of one of the participants (one of the dirty-faced flat cap-wearing coal miners I suspect).

It’s all good stuff as far as I’m concerned – I think the entire book is magical – but I do have two very particular favourites. Chris Long’s two page missive about his incredulity at the happy-clappy, doe-eyed visitors in Of Course It’s Because I’m A Londoner, and Thomas McColl’s deliciously dark story Boris And The Banshees about the blonde haired one’s demise at the hands of magical creatures from the marshes around the Olympic Park are particularly impressive.

From The Slopes Of Olympus To The Banks Of The Lea can be found in all good bookshops, although the editors would urge you to buy it from their website if at all possible . A perfect gift for anyone who is even slightly sceptical about the London 2012 spectacle (that rhymed!).

The wings of the Aquatic Centre are being stripped and dismantled, bleak expanses of puddled tarmac are dotted with scaffolding poles… …where, just months before, athletes had flexed and caught their breath and crowds queued for souvenirs. The boy considers all this. Then, at last, he glances back over his shoulder.

“Daddy” he says, “it looks just like Stevenage”