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Review: Iain Sinclair's 2012 Fears Aren't Mayan; They're Olympian

For writer Iain Sinclair and the other quarter-million locals of Hackney, east London, there is a very good reason to be concerned about the year 2012, and it's already rocking the neighborhood: the Olympic Games.

For writer Iain Sinclair and the other quarter-million locals of Hackney, east London, there is a very good reason to be concerned about the year 2012, and it’s already rocking the neighborhood: the Olympic Games.

His newest book, Ghost Milk, is a four hundred page journal, poem, travelogue, catalog of horrors, occult ledger, phantom reminiscence and irate 'not-in-my-backyard' petition to the council, all rolled into one deranged knockout blow, aimed squarely at the jaws of the £9 billion sporting behemoth.


No aspect of the Games is spared a lashing from Sinclair's razor-edged tongue. "The scam of scams was always the Olympics… Orgies of lachrymose nationalism. War by other means. Warrior-athletes watched, from behind dark glasses, by men in suits and uniforms. The pharmaceutical frontline. Californian chemists running their eye-popping, vein clustered, vest-stripping androids against degendered state-laboratory freaks. Bearded ladies and teenage girls who have never had periods. Medals are returned by disgraced drug cheats: to be passed on to others who weren't caught, that time" .

His interest isn’t in the gold-silver-bronze of the podiums, and focuses on the mysterious stones and minerals of the Olympic site. Sinclair shares tales of hijacked platinum, thorium-poisoned building sites and radioactive uranium-plutonium freights on vulnerable, adjacent train tracks. His ire is continually heated by over-zealous site-guards, "…paranoid security measures required to counter the threat of terrorism: a threat they provoked by infiltrating this grand project park".

He pays visits to previous Olympic stages like Hitler's 1936 Berlin games, or Greece's bankrupting 2004 pantheon, and takes detours to Manchester, the home of a literary ancestor, the late JG Ballard. He’ll go anywhere to clear his mind of the monstrous developers which he likens to "Dr. Frankenstein with a Google Earth programme and a laser scalpel".He also picks open previous grand projects including his favorite scab, the Millennium Dome, ("hard to decide, as CCTV cameras swivel, if it's an English Guantánamo or a car-boot sale waiting to happen") and makes a convincing case as to why that project was just a warm-up lap for the miserable 2012 "five-hooped handcuffs".

As a microcosm of the bureaucratic ineptitude he uncovers, Sinclair cites the flurry of publicity when council officials prevented him from promoting his ideas in a public library, inadvertently bringing the writer into the national media.

Sinclair's greatest gift is to link seemingly unconnected dots to bring new meanings to landscapes so familiar that they have become almost invisible. He imbues dirty streets with artistic magic and hidden energy that might, for example, connect tired Stoke Newington with Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness and the Kubrick recreation of Vietnam in nearby Newham. The outcome of this semiotic redevelopment is one that leaves the legacy of these historic 'non-places' with a greater sense of value than any multi-billion pound CGI promise. The greatest part of the 2012 aftermath, he writes, will be a huge shopping center. "The proper response… is a happy slap of enchantment."

Although it refuses the possibility of grey collar politics, this book might prove to be the manifesto for the people's mayor of Hackney, or perhaps the epitaph on a white-elephant's gravestone.

'Ghost Milk: Calling Time on the Grand Project' by Iain Sinclair. Published by Penguin, 7th July 2011