Simon Calder: A post-modern pentathlon to the future

The man who pays his way

Rebecca Adlington was late. Not the actual Olympic swimming champion, but the high-speed train to which she has lent her name. The double gold-medallist at the Beijing Games is among the sporting celebrities for whom trains in the Javelin fleet are named; another, shrewdly on the part of the train operator, is London 2012 supremo Lord Coe.

As Rebecca crawled up from Dover, I shivered on a railway platform. The wind was whipping the sleet around the jagged angles of one of Britain's most-expensive and least-used railway stations: Stratford International. This £210m structure stands astride the "High Speed 1" line to the Channel Tunnel – whoosh, that blur was a Eurostar train. And I was nearing the end of a post-modern travel pentathlon to the Olympic venue and beyond.

This winter, two years after the station was completed, trains have finally started to stop there. Not Eurostar's, but Southeastern's. Every 15 minutes or so, one of the company's Javelins lands at the ill-named "International" station on the way from Kent to London. As a result, you can take a magical mystery tour through sporting history in the making.

The chance to take a cross-section through the future arises because of a basic flaw in Stratford International station: it is a third of a mile from the "real" Stratford station, one of the busiest transport interchanges in the capital. No one could make the journey on foot, because the two stations are separated by western Europe's biggest construction projects: the Olympic village. But because we travellers have the right to board or leave the trains at Stratford International, there has to be a bus link.

This being a very British adventure, it was never likely to be an easy journey. The first event in the pentathlon is: get to Stratford. Initially, I fell at the first hurdle: signalling problems on the Jubilee Line meant that, after three Tube trains had come and gone at London Bridge station with no sign of the crowds abating, I abandoned the quest. But three days later, I finally made it.

Event two: find the bus. "Platform 11, pal," I was told. This stretch of concrete turns out to be almost as far east from the Jubilee Line platforms as Beijing, venue for the last Olympics.

After a journey of trans-Siberian proportions, you finally reach the frozen platform. At the far end stands a prefabricated hut, a Checkpoint Charlie standing between you and the hard-hat zone of the Olympic Village – courtesy of the waiting bus.

The third event: find a fiver. Youssef Trabulsi, the cheerful chap who controls access to the bus, also sells rail tickets. Without a valid train ticket (cheapest journey, £5), you can't board the bus.

Fourth in the pentathlon was the event that is my specialist subject: looking out of the window. The view during the three-minute ride is breathtaking.

The tower blocks in this part of E15 were routinely demolished at weekends in the Seventies, in time for the teatime TV news. The area resembled the "after" picture of a nuclear apocalypse, a distillation of desolation.

Today, a futuristic phalanx of tower cranes soars from the toxic earth, their clawing and juddering choreographed by scurrying orange figures – aliens from easyPlanet? The bus link through centre stage, 2012 provides a hard-hat tour that would otherwise require months of notice and a personal invitation from Ms Adlington or Lord Coe.

When Rebecca finally turned up, she took just seven minutes to sprint to the world's greatest railway terminus, St Pancras. The fifth, final hurdle: getting past all the Southeastern staff looking out for travellers with the wrong kind of ticket.

Always on my mind: a free bus ride

A free bus trip to the sporting future comes at a price; the cheapest way to experience the 2012 site it to buy a £5 ticket from Stratford International to St Pancras. This punitive fare must be designed to deter freeloaders from shuttling back and forth all day across the venue. As a long-term abuser of courtesy buses, I am exactly the sort of person the Olympics site does not need.

Many second-division US airports (such as Memphis) have no public transport. So take the free Heartbreak Hotel courtesy bus instead. The hotel is not located "down at the end of Lonely Street" but at 3677 Elvis Presley Boulevard, whence you invest $1.50 (£1) in a ride on bus 43, marked "Elvis Presley", to downtown Memphis.

I always intend to buy at least a coffee at any hotel to which I travel free, but don't always follow through: Elvis Presley Boulevard is paved with good intentions.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Guru Careers: Marketing Executive / Digital Marketing Executive

    COMPETITIVE: Guru Careers: A Marketing / Digital Marketing Executive (CRM, Eve...

    Recruitment Genius: Receptionist / Sales / Customer Service Assistant

    £8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: The role is likely to be 4on 4 off, days and ...

    Ashdown Group: Print Designer - High Wycombe - Permanent £28K

    £25000 - £28000 per annum + 24 days holiday, bonus, etc.: Ashdown Group: Print...

    Recruitment Genius: Business Travel Consultant

    £20000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: With offices in London, Manches...

    Day In a Page

    Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

    Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

    But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
    Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

    Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

    Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
    Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

    Britain's 24-hour culture

    With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
    Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

    The addictive nature of Diplomacy

    Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
    Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

    Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

    Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
    8 best children's clocks

    Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

    Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
    Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
    Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

    How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

    Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
    Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

    'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

    In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
    Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

    The Arab Spring reversed

    Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
    King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

    Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

    Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
    Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

    Who is Oliver Bonas?

    It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
    Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

    Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

    However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
    60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

    60 years of Scalextric

    Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones