For 7 years since we in this city knew we’d got the Games, we’ve experienced a mix of moaning about it, dreading it, fearful of being bombed for it…and, yes, cautiously expectant and even excited for it. I’m writing this post today because we are in the final furlong. We’ve got to that part of a very delicious dish where we have just a few choice cuts left on the plate to savour before the waiting staff take the plate away to wash clean and we will never know its savour again in our lifetimes. Tomorrow evening London 2012 ends.
I am a lifelong Olympic watcher, as I have blogged before, remembering every Games since Montreal in Canada. I never expected in my lifetime to live in a host city and experience what that is like. 7 years ago in Singapore City the President of the International Olympic Committee, Jacques Rogge, opened that white envelope in front of the world’s media to reveal that against all the odds, London had beaten our arch-rival Paris to win the Games. The next day on 7/7 we were bombed and that swiftly turned joy and pride into fear and dread. Yet in all that is a personification which not only embodies the spirit of this city, but of this country when a Martine Wright, who lost both her legs while travelling to work on 7/7, took her place with Paralympics GB as a sporting competitor on view to millions as she paraded into the Olympic Stadium barely 2 weeks ago.
Even as I type, something inherently British in me is asking me to tone it down and not be so, well, ‘boisterous’ about what I’m going to say. And what I’m going to say is this: living in an Olympic host city has been an amazing experience I will never forget. Not just any host city but this city of London that I love/hate in the same breath. And not just London but as these Games have revealed, what happened here was embraced by all the nation. No, life didn’t really change that much for those of us who chose not to flee abroad on holiday. In fact it got better for me at least as I had far less of the usual miserable sods to look at on the daily commute. Yes, our retailers took a loss (apart from those in east London by the Olympic Park who raked it in). Good! Serves you right for regularly ripping us all off all the rest of the year.
I was in Victoria Train Station, one of London’s busiest, yesterday lunchtime. As the crowds bustled around me I stopped to take in a scene I won’t see again. The Union flags draped from the high ceiling everywhere…the ‘Games Makers’ in their vile pink and purple uniforms still smiling, still helping…the pink directional signs everywhere telling visitors how to get to the nearest Games venues…the tons of people wearing Team GB T-shirts…the general mood of happiness. No, it’s not been all glitz and glamour and no we here have not been living in a carnival atmosphere for the last month…but I think all of us in this city and beyond in the UK will know we have lived through some extraordinary few weeks of pride and dare I say it…joy. For anyone reading this outside the UK and who are not British, we might seem a bullish pompous nation but believe me we are not. We are actually very self-deprecating and very aware of our decline from former glory. But I stand with my fellow Brits in the belief that we gave the world a Games to remember, not least because we delivered on something not many nations can and which we ourselves were unsure would emerge: our passion. From the time I took a day off to watch the Flame come through my part of this great city and saw my own community galvanised as I have never seen it before to when I watched with sheer astonishment as the Flame was run through central London and my co-workers leave their desks to head for the banks of the River Thames to watch it make its way to it’s final stop on the ‘Gloriana’ before the Opening…I knew then something extraordinary was happening here.
All that is about to end soon. The flags and pink signs will disappear. The Games Makers in their pink/purple uniforms will melt back into whatever jobs and home duties they were doing before. The TV breakfast news teams will no longer have that wonderful Olympic Park as their backdrop and the storms of the world will finally be allowed to rip through our media as before thrusting us into gloom once more. But wasn’t it good while it lasted huh? I’m so glad and thankful to the friends who allowed me to say for the rest of my life that I set foot on Olympic soil and I will never forget that day in the Stadium watching the athletics and hearing the amazing acoustics inside there that magnified the roar of the crowds.
The Olympic Flag has already left these isles and is now residing in Rio. Tomorrow night, the Paralympic Flag will follow. Time to savour the last choice cuts before we have to pay the bill and dash out into the rain for our journey back to reality.