London’s only evening newspaper last Friday:
“Hundreds of protesters” at Greenwich Park, 8:45am this morning:
I counted no more than 25 people outside Greenwich Park – requiring a load of security fencing and four police officers to keep an eye on them. NOGOE tell me that at its peak, the protest hit 30 people, and claim some 50 passed through. Either way, this looked like a display of English eccentricity rather than deep-seated anger at the horsey takeover of the park. One passer-by I spoke to had some sympathy for them, a man taking his kids to school heckled them: “It’s a public park, it’s what it’s there for!”
Which goes to the nub of it. These are people who regard the park as their back garden. Beyond that immediate area around the park, and beyond those who think the Olympics as a whole will be awful, far fewer people share their point of view that this will be a disaster.
But the photographers lapped it up, and no doubt NOGOE will get its day in the sun. The protesters aren’t giving up, claim it’s actually illegal to ride horses through Greenwich Park, and there’s talk of trying to get a judicial review of the planning decision (surely a bit late now). It’s all very well claiming the support of 5,000 locals, but if only 25 show up to your demonstration – huddle together now, it’ll look good on the telly if they zoom in – what happens next?
Even the placards were perplexing. If you don’t know the backstory to the Greenwich Park saga, holding banners with pictures of stag beetles just makes you look like members of a strange, secret society rather than a mass protest movement. The most baffling banner read “go Piggy go!” – a reference to British rider Piggy French.
Especially the day after a man was shot dead ten minutes’ walk from the gates, proving there’s more pressing issues around here, the park protest looks ever more like a niche interest.
With the argument arguably lost, there’s still room to spread misinformation around the place. NOGOE handed The Greenwich Phantom some photos implying the cross country course was running via the Saxon burial mounds to the west of the park. Not so.
There’s a course laid out for the horses to walk around – they were having a gentle trot around on Sunday – but it’s not the cross country course, and it skirts around the edge of the burial mounds. No big horror there.
In the meantime, LOCOG have lucked out with the weather, with day one of the test events taking place under blue skies. LOCOG could do more to tell people it’s still business as usual in the park – the closure to through traffic is wonderful, but it’s not clear that walkers and cyclists are still welcome in. These are minor gripes, though – a bit like complaining about a trotting route around the park.
Rob at greenwich.co.uk is in the arena today. For those of us without tickets, Tuesday’s cross-country event will provide the best chance to grab a glimpse of the action. If you’re free, I’ll join you peering through fences…