For U.K. Author, Games A 'Smoke And Circuses' Affair Iain Sinclair wishes London had never won the bid for the 2012 Olympic Games. In his new book, Ghost Milk, the longtime East London resident writes about the toll that the massive and pricey development is taking on locals.
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For U.K. Author, Games A 'Smoke And Circuses' Affair

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

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

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UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER: Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to London, and to the Games of the...

RAZ: If Iain Sinclair had his way, the Olympics would not be in London at the moment. Sinclair is a Londoner, a writer, and probably one of the city's most miserable residents at the moment. He's frustrated with the traffic, the security precautions, the costs, and architecture he calls ghastly. Sinclair is best known as a psychogeographer. A few years ago, for his book "London Orbital," he walked the entire length of the M25, the 117-mile highway that loops around the city of London.

This time around, Sinclair has trained his sometimes- unforgiving eye on how the city - and in particular, his east London neighborhood - were transformed in the run-up to the Games. The book is called "Ghost Milk: Recent Adventures Among the Future Ruins of London, on the Eve of the Olympics." Olympic organizers promised to revitalize a part of London they called a wasteland, but that wasteland is what Iain Sinclair calls home.

IAIN SINCLAIR: The reality is, there was an awful lot there. There were thousands of people who lived there. There were communities of various sorts, allotments, gardens, rowing clubs, cycling clubs, football units - all of which have been cleared away to create this rather beautiful, computer-generated image. We'll see how that goes. This is my particular vision of a future ruin.

RAZ: These are the stadiums, and the venues, for some of the different Olympic events you're talking about. And you sort of imagine walking through them as we walk through, say - I don't know - the Forum in Rome today, or something like that.

SINCLAIR: Yes because this was my experience, too, when I went to Athens as part of this book. I was looking at the much more beautiful stadium they had there, and the landscape, the glittering landscape around it, and seeing it more or less abandoned with the economic collapse in Greece. Wildlife was growing up through the abandoned stadiums. There were packs of feral dogs. There were people selling cheap watches, and all of that.

And I spoke to a young Greek architect and said oh, you're not uncomfortable with this. This was a great moment, and now look at them. And he said oh, oh, no. No, no. We are a culture of ruins. We knew they would be ruins. And we were very happy about it. They're just a new kind of ruin.

RAZ: As you know, of course, living in London, the Olympics - this is a huge moment of pride for the British government, for the - for London city officials, for many people in the city and in the country. And for you, this is just a moment of disaster. This is a nightmare.

SINCLAIR: Um - it's a moment of a kind of disaster; or at least a challenge, a big challenge, for the people who are the nearest to it. 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.

And the hysteria around this - the moment of global athletic challenge - is creating a kind of agreement between local politics, mainstream politics and the mass media, that this is a great and important moment for the country. To some extent, the local people feel excluded because there are great reservoirs of poverty very close to where the site is.

RAZ: I'm speaking with the author Iain Sinclair. His new book is called "Ghost Milk: Recent Adventures Among the Future Ruins of London, on the Eve of the Olympics." One of the ideas behind the area that was chosen for most of the construction in East London, was to revitalize that area. Obviously, part of that is successful, isn't it?

SINCLAIR: 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; of being put on buses and are invited to go off to the English provinces. And where I live - in Hackney, which is a contingent Olympic borough; it's right alongside - near lots of the brand-new developments, which look quite exciting, I am aware of 30 to 40 people sleeping rough on the streets.

We're boasting of new sports facilities coming in. They tend to be for an elite. There is a beautiful velodrome that will be for the elite British cyclists. But the old cycle track that was there in Hackney Wick - which was available to all of the local children, and people who took to cycling for the first time - that is no longer there. It's gone. 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.

RAZ: Do you wish that the Olympics would not have been held in London?

SINCLAIR: Very much so. You know, I remember the moment when we got them. There was this moment of wild celebration. And the very next morning in London, was when a series of bombs went off in the transport system. So there was already a sense of threat, and insipient paranoia was hanging over the whole process. And the security budgets leapt on that one day, you know, by many billions. And it was said that this would have to be the most secure games that had been ever been held. And from my point of view, what was really authentically an international moment to celebrate with the smaller Olympic Games, the thing had become so inflated. It was unworkable.

RAZ: Will you watch any of the Olympics on TV?

SINCLAIR: I will even attend because...


RAZ: You actually have tickets for an event?

SINCLAIR: Well, 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, even though she agrees with me about so much that's happened. So she said: I don't care what you think. We're going. 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.

RAZ: That's writer Iain Sinclair, author of the new book "Ghost Milk: Recent Adventures Among the Future Ruins of London, on the Eve of the Olympics."

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