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In his new book, Iain Sinclair bemoans what the construction of Olympic Park and the Olympic Stadium has done to his East London neighborhood. (Getty Images)

For U.K. Author, Games A 'Smoke And Circuses' Affair

by NPR Staff
Jul 23, 2012 (All Things Considered)

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Iain Sinclair's other works include Slow Chocolate Autopsy, Downriver and Lights Out for the Territory.

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Thousands of elite athletes have descended on London for the 2012 Olympic Games, and spectators the world over are tuning in to enjoy the action.

But five years' worth of development has left some locals feeling invaded, and some austerity-weary Britons resenting the bill. Between construction and security, the British government's budget has soared past $14 billion, about $10 billion over original projections.

East London, home to Olympic Park, the hub of the games, is also home to some of the poorest parts of England. Officials have touted the long-term benefits the games are bringing to the area, like low-income housing and better infrastructure. But author and longtime East London resident Iain Sinclair isn't buying it.

Sinclair's latest book is called Ghost Milk: Recent Adventures Among the Future Ruins of London on the Eve of the Olympics. He tells NPR's Guy Raz that the 2012 Olympics have been challenging for the people living closest.


INTERVIEW HIGHLIGHTS

On residents' perspective

"The further you step back from it, the easier it is to look on it as a great event. When you're close, it actually becomes an invaded city. We have armed helicopter gunships flying overhead to shoot down any planes that come within. And where are they going to crash? We've got surface-to-air missiles put on top of occupied blocks of flats. We've got more troops in place now than have been used in the whole of the Afghan campaign."

On the Olympics revitalizing East London

"Well, that's the pitch — to revitalize the area — but it isn't actually the truth. It's meant an expulsion for the poorer people of the area. People who cannot now achieve the rents demanded because it's an Olympic borough, have been put on buses and are invited to go off to the English provinces. ... Near lots of the brand-new developments, which look quite exciting, I am aware of 30 to 40 people sleeping rough on the streets."

On what's really needed

"What we badly need are new bridges across the river, we need some practical engineering. And what we're getting is this sort of smoke and circuses affair that's intended to take our minds off it and order us to be in a celebratory mode. We will celebrate, you know, there will be great moments. But I don't think that's the deep reality that's underlying it all."

On his own Olympic plans

"There's a slight family difference of point of view here. My wife thinks this is a spectacle once in a lifetime that could not be missed. ... So we're going to be seeing the final of the 200 meters. And I'll be enjoying it all for 19 seconds, or whatever, for which we've suffered a long five or six years."

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