Olympics, you looked better on the telly
Having spent much of the last fortnight watching the Olympics in a Gallic farmhouse, my family and I were relishing our visit to Stratford. Not for sporting reasons, admittedly; to my eyes the Games would be much better if they combined the events (synchronised swimming/taekwondo or the ten metre dive/javelin, anyone?) but simply to be A Part Of It All.
As Londoners there was a sense that we were somehow missing the party; no amount of video-montage highlights, slow-mo Hi-res repeats of Mo Farah being pushed along by the other runners from behind as if by repelling magnets, could compensate for being present: for being able to tell friends and future generations: “I was there”.
So it was that on Saturday we set out for Stratford, in order to soak up the ambience, be a part of this joyous celebration of modern, multi-culti Britannia; for our children, aged 8 and 5, to one day tell their own gilled grandchildren “I remember 2012…”
It’s probably safe to say that our kids won’t forget the 2012 Olympics; hopefully in future years they, like the country, will dwell more on the sunshine, the happy, mingling crowds, the fantastic achievements of the athletes and the stunning opening and closing ceremonies than any negative aspects to the occasion; nevertheless, while conceding this may seem rather curmudgeonly, it should be placed on record that attending Stratford wasn’t quite the triumph of humanity I had been led to expect from the telly highlights.
On arriving at the Park, we were filtered through airport-style security, manned by machine-gunned policemen, relaxed-looking army types and volunteers. I do get the reason there has to be security – really I do – but did they REALLY think we might have somehow poured flammable glycerine in our water bottle? And what did they really expect to find beneath my five-year-old son’s hat, a stick of TNT – or, worse, a Pepsi?
Worse even than the hard-nosed security was the prevalence of purple-clad volunteers, many of them sitting in high chairs, exhorting everyone to “SMILE!” After a while this, and the fact our kids were constantly being implored to give the foam-fingers of volunteers “high-fives!” (has a more empty, meaningless gesture ever been conceived?) began to take on sinister undertones.
Before attending the Olympic Park I found JG Ballard’s “Kingdom Come” slightly disappointing; too much fear of the masses, the football crowd and housing estate. But as we walked through the milling crowds, and orders to “have fun!” crackled through loud-speakers, the book didn’t seem so far-fetched.
Hockey has somehow always escaped my radar; when my wife announced she had tickets my brief moment of excitement dwindled when I realised it was for the men’s tournament, which meant no athletic ladies in short skirts; worse, our tickets weren’t for the final, nor even the third-place grudge-match play-off between the Brits and the Australians.
We would instead be watching the play-off to decide fifth and sixth place between Spain and Belgium, in a roofless stadium apparently designed purely to focus the sun’s rays down onto my hatless head and, in a misplaced attempt to liven up proceedings, music blared at every yellow card green card, and goal.
My son, Sean (5), being of Irish stock and allergic to direct sunlight, wisely decided to have a little snooze beneath the flip-seats as my wife, daughter and I attempted to comprehend the complexities of a “penalty corner”.
Unfortunately, the game itself being so one-sided (Belgium stuffed the Spanish 5-2, if you’re more interested than I was), a Mexican Wave started rolling round the arena. As the Wave approached, I exhorted our daughter Emma, eight, to jump up and down as it reached us: she did so; as she left her seat it shot up; Emma decided to sit back down; and of course the seat no longer being there she landed firmly on Sean’s sleeping head.
Suffice to say he was awoken. Rudely…
Sean bawling with the indignity of it all we left the hockey arena in search of refreshment and shade. My daughter and I being hatless, I purchased two luridly-decorated caps from a stall: twenty seven pounds. Then ice-cream (for the kiddies) and lager (for the grown-ups): just short of fifteen quid, “Visa Card ONLY”, thank you.
There were huge queues everywhere; all the tables were full and we found ourselves sitting on the concrete in the shade of some monument to the power of mammon. For all the well-earned sobriquets being heaped on “Team GB”, by far the biggest amassers of gold at these Games were the “retail team”.
The Games may indeed be inclusive – there were people of every race and religion, of all ages and abilities, every shape and size – but one group seemed conspicuous by their absence at the Park: the poor. Unless you were actually competing, the Olympic Park was as out of reach as that Martian crater.
Drained by the sun, the sponsors and the constant exhortations to “High Five!” we walked towards the distant exit. As we did so we came across poor Steve Redgrave, attempting to make his way through the park; like everyone else we asked for a photo, which he took in pretty good spirits (“I’ll never get where I’m going at this rate – walk with me”). My wife got her star-struck photo; whether Sir Steve ever made it out alive I have no idea.
Leaving the Olympic Park was a relentlessly grim experience; the overall feeling was: “we’ve got your money – now get lost”. We were channelled through huge corridors of shops and bars, rather like being in an airport, as people on high chairs barked orders through mikes: “No taking photos on the steps – the reasons will be obvious!” (Umm – not to me, they weren’t). “High five! High five!”
Finally, my son Sean gave in: as yet another pleasant dimwit stuck out a mitt and commanded him to “high-five” he reluctantly did so. As we walked down the platform to our train he looked up at me and explained:
“I had no choice”.Tagged in: London 2012, olympic park, olympics, sponsor, Stratford
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