Seb Coe’s Torture Dungeon

Missiles on Blackheath
So, last week, this letter arrived from Chris Roberts, leader of Greenwich council. We may have heard, said Chris, that the Government was putting in arrangements to ensure the safety and security of the Olympic Games in London –

And, well, I’ll stop you right there, Chris. Because, at the risk of setting in course a train of events that will end with a crack squad of LOCOG goons turning up on my doorstep, hauling me off to Stratford in the back of a black people carrier and tossing me into a dank oubliette beneath the EDF “Magic of Electricity” pavilion with only Coca-Cola, Big Macs and a picture of Seb Coe dressed in leather and wielding a large whip for sustenance, I think the Government’s role should actually be to ensure the safety and security of, well, me… rather than a two-week jamboree of running, jumping and splashing. But no; if evil-doers do their evil worst come July and/or August then, with Chris Roberts’ blessing, the people of Greenwich will, after a short prayer to St Alfege, be sacrificed so that the Olympic Stadium, the Aquatic Centre and the Basketball Arena might live on – ironic, really, as the Basketball Arena is only supposed to be a temporary structure.

Here’s a story you may have missed. Just under three weeks ago, tens of thousands of people descended on Greenwich and occupied the park. They came early one Sunday morning, when many of us were still in our beds. Some came on foot, and some came by car, but most used common sense and came on the DLR or took a train from London Bridge. Some, I don’t think it’s too melodramatic to say, were fanatics, and wore outlandish dress. Because that’s the sort of people the London Marathon attracts. Nearly 40,000 runners plus families, friends, well-wishers, casual observers, TV crews, medical staff – rather more in total, I suspect, than the 65,000 expected to visit Greenwich Park on the busiest day of the horsey stuff, when dressage fever will be at its height. And yet the transport infrastructure didn’t collapse, there were no outbreaks of panic or looting, and nobody went home saying that all the day had lacked was someone being accidentally shot in the back by paranoid paramilitaries.

And, of course, back on November 5th, over 100,000 people managed to make their way up to Blackheath in the dark, and by themselves, and despite a complete lack of road closures or travel restrictions, to see a series of high-velocity ballistic missiles packed with explosives being launched from, I believe, giant milk bottles (I know I’ve already mentioned this, but I thought it was worth saying again).

My point being… and this applies not just to Seb Coe’s meddlesome minions, but also to all those joyless souls whining that ever since the games were announced their lives have been barely worth living… are we not all overreacting, just a tad? At this rate – as I said to the woman queueing beside me in the Co-op the other week, tutting at a copy of the New Shopper – we’ll wake up one morning to find batteries of surface-to-air missiles by the TA Centre on Blackheath and a massive great aircraft carrier moored at the mouth of Deptford Creek.

She laughed.

HMS Ocean
So, anyway, last weekend, this massive great aircraft carrier moored at the mouth of Deptford Creek. She can’t pull right up to the pier, because she’s too big – largest warship in the Royal Navy, apparently – so she sits out in mid-river, and little boats – lighters, I believe, is the correct boaty terminology – ferry visitors back and forth. How they’re ever going to sail her up the Lea when the fighting starts, I don’t know, but – well, despite the hat, I’m not an admiral of the fleet, so what would I know about naval strategy?

Other than slightly more than I did before this Bank Holiday Monday when, in a well-run piece of PR, us newly expendable denizens of SE10 were allowed to go and have a go on her, for free. And great fun it was too. We sat in helicopters and played with assault rifles and got our faces painted with camouflage paint just like real soldiers and generally moseyed about and noseyed around as much as we pleased, even up on the flight deck, around the perimeter of which – deep breath – there’s no guard rail, because… well, it’s an aircraft carrier. A guard rail would get in the way of the aircraft. They have some nets to catch anyone who absent-mindedly walks off the edge, but that’s about it.

“What about Health & Safety?” joked one of my fellow residents to a smiling sailor. “Oh, we don’t worry about Health & Safety in the Royal Navy,” came the reply.

No, they don’t. And nobody died.

That’s all I’m saying.


The other photos are of the surface-to-air missile battery by the TA Centre on Blackheath.


I know this is a blatant bit of self-pluggery, but… as some of you might know, in real life I’m the editor of Smoke: A London Peculiar, and we’ve just relaunched after having a rather long sabbatical while we decided what to do about the collapse of the publishing industry. In our new guise, we’re going (unsurprisingly) to have both web and printed elements, and one of the projects we’re working on is a book about the London Olympics. So, if you feel you have anything to contribute, or just want to have a look at what we’re up to, go to, and then look under New Book Projects to find out about the Olympic stuff.

Missiles on Blackheath 2


2 Comments on “Seb Coe’s Torture Dungeon”

  1. Franklin says:

    Errr, I have no idea what point you’re trying to make Matt. Sorry.

    Are we being sacrificed metaphorically, in the sense that the missiles and/or the big boat somehow denigrate our humanity? Or do you expect the Army and Navy to open fire on the checkout queue at the Co-Op? Or should we all be more relaxed about the whole affair?

    As for me, I’m all for being relaxed. Except about that green paint they’re using on the ORNC railings. What happened – did they get a job-lot of ‘naval surplus’ off some enterprising member of the Ocean crew?

    • Matt Haynes says:

      Speaking of the ORNC railings, when I walked past the other day the guy painting them was using a paint roller. Now, I’m no expert, but… a paint roller really doesn’t seem like the most sensible tool to use on what’s essentially a line of metal sticks.

      As for my general point… I think I was just trying to contrast the Navy’s gung-ho attitude to health and safety and mollycoddling with the attitude of LOCOG (and the government/council in general), who seem to think people are completely incapable of finding their own way from a station to a large park without having stewards and designated walking-routes and all the rest. As the Marathon and fireworks proved, people really can manage… you can even let them wander round the open deck of an aircraft carrier without them falling off the edge…

      The sacrifice bit was really just to do with the wording of Chris Roberts’ letter, which tended to imply that the safety of the games was more important than the safety of the people…

      In general, though, yes… everyone should just calm down…

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