Monday, 13 August 2012

The day after -- a Londoner's view.

Two weeks of Olympics have elapsed, and after moment upon moment of inspirational action and drama from both Team GB athletes and talented human beings from across the globe, we can stop holding our breath. We pulled it off. Hurrah London!

It's certainly been wonderful. Despite a dearth of tickets for real people (shame on you corporates who left empty seats; some of us would very much have liked to have been there), there has been a real and genuine buzz about my home town. Many of us had some initial reservations; one of my favourite places on Planet Earth is The Home of Time, Greenwich Park, which has been sealed off and somewhat altered by the Equestrian and Modern Pentathlon events. I was worried about this, but now, with the park finally reopening for mere mortals yesterday, I begin to think that Greenwich will have a new and historic chapter to add to its long, intriguing history. And it was certainly more inspirational than Johnny Depp's Greenwich visit, sparrowing about in the Naval College when they filmed Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides.

Meanwhile, I was in London's West End on Sunday, about the time the men's marathon was finishing and a brave Ugandan called Stephen Kiprotich made his much-troubled nation proud. I couldn't get anywhere near the finish, but it was a buzzing Sunday afternoon in the capital, and the area around Trafalgar Square, just a few hundred yards from the marathon's end and Buckingham Palace, was heaving with smiling and excitable people. There were many Canadians and South Africans (perhaps unsurprisingly; stately High Commission buildings for both nations face onto the square). I also saw some Japanese fans, some Kenyans waving their nation's flag enthusiastically (they came second in the marathon; a fine performance by any measure), and numerous others in numbers too great to count. Some Brazilians were having a little samba, some Spaniards were all talking at the same time, and many Brits had shed their usual reserve and were friendly and chatty. Road closures helped, and I was even able to take a family snap of my children giving a life-size statue of Olympic mascot Wenlock a cuddle. It was a fun a lively place to be.

Further onwards, along Charing Cross Road, we made it to Leicester Square, in search of a yard or two of grass on which to plant our weary backsides for a few minutes. The trees over the central gardens had all been draped with giant-sized replica medals, and the new fountains bubbling little streams of water made a cooling diversion for my young children on a hot day. The Olympic buzz pervaded, and more people with flags and souvenirs and cameras were visible in every direction, cheerfully doing their thing.

This was just one afternoon on a sunny day in the life of a city's Olympic experience, but I've been in town most days during this adventure, and have experienced happy people constantly as I've gone about my life. It's been wonderful, and I'm delighted that my home city has felt the way it's felt. And I find myself suddenly quite saddened that this brilliant adventure has come to an end.

I hope the mood on our city pervades. I think that it's been wonderful for us, and as a fairly hardcore cynic under more usual circumstances myself, I defy my fellow cynics to disagree. You'd have to have a heart of stone not to have been entertained by Usain, moved by double distance Gold winner Mo, or fallen in love with talented and likeable heptathlete and Olay model (as I discovered on opening today's London Evening Standard), Jessica Ennis, whose gold was amongst Team GB's first athletics achievements. You could blog every day with a different tale from a different athlete from around the world, and everyone's personal story of triumph and commitment would be endlessly compelling. And the people of London, if you speak to them, have their own Olympic stories to tell. Where they were when... How they overcame the transport disruption, how they watched the rowing on the big screen in Hyde Park. Everyone wants to know, to join in the fun with other Londoners.

But it's at its end for now. We eagerly await Rio and the MaracanĂ£ Stadium in four years time (perhaps I'll get luckier in that ticket lottery, and perhaps by then I will have convinced my mother that it's NOT the Macarena Stadium). London, though, has a new community spirit which I would love to see continue. It's the end of the affair, but let's hope we can still be friends.


  1. It was fabulous and I felt so proud of London, which I think always has that community spirit - just needs a little motivation to bring it out :)

  2. You're so right 'Tash. I've felt like that too. The Olympics has been so compelling it's been hard to find time to do anything else (except go to the beer festival of course -- and that was at Olympia (and I was in for the high jump myself when I got home!)). It has been wonderful and I bet you'd have loved it here the past couple of weeks. Everywhere is decorated with Olympic signs, and a Kiwi friend in my office has enjoyed everyy moment of being a volunteer. Really great.

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