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London Olympics: on time and under budget?

The UK prescription for avoiding the worst effects of the global recession? Stage an Olympics.

Sid has lived his entire 85 years in London's East End. A true cockney, born in the London Hospital in Whitechapel, he has seen the area bombed to rubble during World War II, neglected for decades afterwards, then become home to successive waves of West Indian, Bangladeshi and now African immigrants. He sits outside the busy station, where the London Underground, Overground and Dockland Light Railway intersect, playing his violin to top up his state pension, and to pass time. He is clearly popular with the ladies who keep a steady stream of coins dropping into his violin case.

He doesn't expect to be here in 2012. Not for reasons of mortality but because he doesn't fit the sparkling image London officials want to show the world.

"It's obvious," he said. "Temporary policeman have already started a campaign to smarten up the station. They are concerned about villains coming from the continent and they are moving every one along."

Sid is philosophical about it. Railroad stations are often places of drunkenness and petty crime but he wishes the authorities could see the distinction between a poor, badly dressed old man hanging around making music to earn a few coins and a bunch of young men loitering around drunk.

"It takes a long time to learn to play the violin," he cackled, showing a four-tooth smile. "It doesn't take too long to learn to get drunk."