I’ve been very anxious about Olympian Steps in London almost since we got the gig. We committed to painting footsteps allowing passers-by to recreate twelve gold medal winning Olympic performances, on the between Euston and St. Pancras stations in London. Though the Birmingham version was our first outing with the temporary outdoor paint it was also just up the road and we were our own bosses. This was more ambitious, at arms length, commissioned, in a place we didn’t know and at a time of ceaseless rain.
Things started badly travelling down on Wednesday when the M40 was closed. We arrived on site significantly later than we had hope. With misty rain then drizzle in the air we erected our two gazebos over areas of pavement with a high concentration of paint required and using blow torches dried the paving slabs. Using vinyl stencils to speedily apply complex designs proved a triumph once technique was perfected but the gazebos proved inadequate as the rain strengthened. The weather cleared up in the evening and we pushed on until eight But though it was tempting to keep going discretion won out and we retreated for curry and cold beer.
Denise was staying locally and her 05:56 text message triggered the planned early start. We were underway by 07:00 and working fast. The painting team, Alice, Billy, Denise and Jack, were conscientious in keeping the quality high but their pace kept me under real pressure to mark things out accurately and quickly.
Rain fell to the east of us a couple of streets away, we put the gazebos up but amazingly / miraculously never needed them. At 10:00 the 13m ladder arrived for the painting of the 10m diving platform. As our employer’s liability insurance contains a clause excluding all work above 10m it felt like a tough job to delegate so with enough caution to elicit ridicule from a local crane operator I climbed the ladder and painted that line. It was an exhilarating and not entirely fun experience. If only Tom Daley had been passing I’m sure he would have dealt with it much better.
On and on we worked until we had ten events done. Thus far I had left Usain Bolt’s 100m but as the first event found on leaving Euston it felt important to get done. We all descended on Eversholt Street, including Special guest star Hanna and ripped through the forty plus steps at a startling rate but with heavy pedestrian traffic conditions were not ideal even with the paint drying fast in the warm evening.
At 18:30, having worked twelve hours almost without a break it was time to stop. Delirium was setting in, unforced errors were creeping up on us, it was time to quit.
Alice dropped in a lay-by off the A40, Denise in darkest Warwickshire, Jack in South Birmingham, in The Jewellery Quarter, hire car with the people I would mention we’re they to give us a discount – which they don’t, me to bed via the shower.
There remained the complicated finale of a judo bout to do, as well as an anonymous medal ceremony. We knew we had to re-do out the first title we had painted on Wednesday when it was raining. On arrival it became clear we also had to touch up some of the yellow Usain Bolt footprints when commuters had walked on before the paint was fully dry, plus a worrying amount of tidying where the yellow high diving hands had amalgamated with the blue splash paint beneath and were the purple foot has merged with the white steeplechase barrier. It turned out to be four and a half hours work for three of us, plus the excellent Sarah Davies from our commissioner Up Projects we put in decent shift layer on.
It had been fascinating working on the streets of London and chatting to those who want to engage. The overwhelming majority of passers-by were inquisitive, enthusiastic, polite, cheery and friendly. Two clearly had anger management issues and one a major axe to grind with Camden Council on this and many other matters. We made a major new friend in Alex who must be six and passed us three times on his way to or from school and always stopped to watch and chat.
Billy is on maintainence duty for the next six weeks or so and we move on to other things – principally Wellingborough and whatever steps will be appropriate there.
On Friday night whilst ironing I recalled my brother gave me Somers Town, the Shane Meadows film for Christmas. It turns out to be a great film made slightly better form me by being made largely on the street corners we had just spent two days making Golden Steps on.
You will notice that in the journey from Birmingham to London the piece has changed name, this is because it has now moved under the intimidating eye of the Olympic copyright lawyers and we’re not up for an argument with them.