Published: July 30th 2012July 29th 2012
In the arms of her father, with her new doll.
Chris and I ended the previous day by splitting to visit a brother and some friend respectively. I wake in the Hawksby household, breakfast most excellently on waffles and raspberries, of which their small daughter HJ attempts to eat her own weight. She has taken most gratifyingly to my guest-offering of a knitted doll; it has been put to bed in the garden, held up to be kissed by everyone, and carried around with almost as much solemnitude as was involved in unpacking and repacking the contents of my cosmetics bag. We walk at toddler-pace to the tube station, and I wave goodbye onto a transport system that ticks along like clockwork and spits me out at Stratford without any fuss whatsoever.
Rather than bewilder people on their arrival outside the Olympic gates with an excess of signage, all needs have been met through another great swarm of volunteers. Dressed in purple and orange, they are determinedly cheerful and enthusiastic in a way that doesn’t (yet- this is only day two, after all) appear at all forced. The ones on direction duty have great pink foam hands with which to point the way. (Pink, in fact, is the
At the gates
Approach to Stratford Gate
colour of all the signs concerning the Olympics in and around London. It sure is easy to spot.) The volunteers reminding us to empty our water bottles before we enter security intersperse the message with “And have a great day! Wooo!”
The policeman standing on duty outside the security barriers carries a great big thwacking autopistol. I can’t really remember having seen that in the UK before, and it’s momentarily disconcerting until a crazy Italian in a massive clown wig and flag bounces straight up to him to get his picture taken. The policeman grins and goes with it, though not so far as to move his ands from his weapon.
I time how long it takes to get through security. The military are being efficient. It’s five minutes. Chris tells me that, going through the gates half an hour later, he didn’t even have to break stride.
There’s a long walkway up to the gates themselves. Everyone’s excited and smiling and getting the volunteers to take their pictures in front of the entrance.
Inside, (Inside! Inside!) and it’s a little like Glastonbury crossed with a theme park
Us in the park
Helpful strangers take photos of us
and all about Sport. There’s tarmac underfoot and the toilets are civilised. The volunteers are still densely packed, directing everyone to wherever they want to go. There are islands of grass and swathes of wild-flowers. Cheers drift out of the stadia on the breeze. Up-beat music plays over the speakers- I notice Norah Jones, Amy Winehouse, Blur and the Beatles. The stadium where all the Opening Ceremony madness took place just a day and a half ago is right in front of me. There are a lot of McDonalds, Cadburys and Coca-cola stalls.
British reticence is on holiday. No-one’s in a rush, everyone’s still smiling, everyone’s respecting the queuing rules- and there are a lot of queues, though they are staggeringly well managed. I am at the Actual Olympic Games. I call Chris to check where he’s got to and to arrange a meeting-point, and can’t help but start the call “I’m here, I’m here, I’m here!”
11am We meet, and almost immediately it begins to rain. There is very little shelter- official policy is apparently that if it rains, people just get wet. All the stalls open up boxes of rainbow-coloured disposable ponchos
The queue for the gift shop.
at £4 a piece. The field blossoms with umbrellas.
We go to one of the gift shops. The queue to enter (it’s the only non Mc-Donalds shelter in the area) is enormous but well managed and fast-moving. The retail team wave little flags at their check-out positions to indicate when they are available for the next customer. I spend £48 on gifts, souvenirs and a polo shirt- almost exactly the total of my ticket and transport costs combined.
We have lunch, and the rain continues, with extra thunder and lightening. The venue at which we’ll be watching hockey is unsheltered…
The sun returns just as we take our seats. The Riverbank Arena is a temporary structure, built of scaffolding and held together with bolts and plastic tags. We hold our bags on our laps until the puddles under our seats dry up, and I bless the name of Mr Rutherford who lead my group at school for Duke of Edinburgh’s Award for advising me so strongly to always pack a pair of spare socks on expeditions. Warm, dry feet are so much more cheering than cold damp ones.
In front of the main stadium, in the picnic area. Hard to connect this with all the madness on television.
1.45 pm The first match in our session is China vs Korea. There is only marginal confusion in the crowd about whether ‘Korea’ here means North or South. (South.) The majority of the crowd elect to cheer for Korea, but Chris and I cheer on good old Zhong-guo out of a vague sense of loyalty- having lived there for a year- and in a reverse-underdog kind of spirit. The game is fast-paced and vicious. The crowd cheers and claps every good tackle, impressive pass and attempt to score. Two girls get injuries, but elect to play on and are cheered. China score first. The few empty seats in the arena fill up with late arrivals. There is a Mexican wave at half-time. Second half, and China pull ahead; Korea have yet to score. The teams are fairly evenly matched, but Korea just can’t get the ball past China’s defence. 4-0 and China switch to entirely defensive mode. Time up. Both teams get cheered as they make their cool-down / victory laps of the court, which is a startling combination of high-vis blue and Olympic pink.
Thunder and lightening greet the start of the session’s interval, and dark
Me posing Chinese-style in front of the Orbital tower, the only structure in the park which we considered unacceptably ugly.
clouds start pouring rain over us all. The ponchos and umbrellas reappear. I nest under my umbrella, reading the paper with my feet on the chair-back in front of me, while Chris makes a dash for the hot drinks stand. The ‘mocha’ that appears is really just hot chocolate, but it’s hot and sweet and absolutely right for the occasion.
As if by magic, the rain disappears exactly in time for the second game, which is South Africa vs Argentina. Even to my eyes, this game is played in a different style. The passing is faster, further, more frequent; it’s wider and more athletic, though at least as dexterous as the previous match. South Africa score a beautiful, heroic goal in a dash straight down from a penalty corner at the other end of the pitch, but Argentina are really very, very good, and lead 5-1 by half time. By the end of the match it’s 7-1, but South Africa keep making valiant attempts til the last minute. Showers start up again, but almost everyone stays to see the match to its finish; to do otherwise seems highly disrespectful.
5.45pm. The match is over.
The view from our seats
We amble out of the arena as part of a huge crowd, and start making our way back to the gate. We need to head to Waterloo, there to meet my brother and his girlfriend for a meal and some catching-up before boarding the Megabus back to Bristol. The crowd of people heading out the Stratford gate is vast and broad, yet it just keeps moving at walking pace along the bridge, through the gates, through the Westfield centre and into the tube and rail stations. We board a tube, and meet our last Olympic volunteer of the day, a friendly Australian (on her way home after a hard day’s work greeting athletes off airport-style buses as they arrive at the various venues) who advises us on the best route to our station given the traffic and time of day.
I’ve been childishly excited for 48 hours straight, and now I’m as sleepy as a toddler at the end of a big day. I’ve enjoyed everything, seen everything I wanted to see, and have had conversations with at least a dozen total strangers. I put my new Olympic polo shirt on over my other clothes to keep
warm, and start thinking about how I’m going to tell everyone what it was like.
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