If you’d said the word ‘Olympics’ to me a week ago, I would have launched into a tirade of moaning worthy of any Gold medal. Tickets? I didn’t get any, despite being a Londoner born and bred. Transport chaos? Tell me about it – Transport for London couldn’t organise a piss up in a brewery. Legacy? Do me a favour – who is going to go to Stratford to use a velodrome once the games are over? However, something very strange came over me on Friday night. Sitting alone on the sofa, I switched on the TV to watch the Opening Ceremony, as there was nothing else on and I was interested to see what it would all look like. As the strains of Elgar’s Nimrod filled the stadium and hordes of volunteers dressed up as the labourers of the Industrial Revolution marched in, I found myself welling up with tears. Then there were drums, and giant chimneys, and WW1 soldiers, and speeches from Shakespeare…followed by Mary Poppins bouncing on the beds of children in Great Ormond Street Hospital…and then Land of Hope of Glory sung by a choir…and then a beautiful memorial to the victims of the Tube bombings, which happened the day after London was chosen as the Olympic city…and finally everyone on their feet singing the British end-of-any-big-night Classic, Hey, Jude. As the ceremony drew to a close, I was a crying mess, thankful that no one was there to witness this so un British display of sentiment brought about by a ridiculous but wonderful start to an Olympics I had never felt remotely bothered about. Suddenly I found myself feeling proud, even enthusiastic, about my city hosting the Games. After months of moaning, I finally felt like celebrating. And all it took was a bit of Elgar and some chimneys. I’m a soft touch, clearly.
Today I was in town to meet the lovely Miranda, and my spirit of Olympic cheer became even more buoyant as I saw flags everywhere and hordes of excited tourists dressed in Olympic gear, revelling in the sights I have long taken for granted. There was a real buzz of excitement in the air, and with the shop windows filled with red white and blue, the fluttering flags, the Olympic mascots and everything looking so clean and tidy, I couldn’t help but feel proud of how fantastic it all is. After Miranda and I had been to the From Paris exhibition at the RA and had a delicious spot of lunch at Rose Bakery, we parted ways and I wandered off down to Southbank to soak up the atmosphere and meet up with another friend. Southbank was absolutely packed with people enjoying the sun and the variety of entertainment put on by the various arts institutions along this stretch of the river. Floating on the river itself were the Olympic rings, glinting merrily in front of the impressive array of iconic buildings laid out along the river bank. As I helped tourists take photos, I couldn’t help but feel blessed that this scenery has been the background of my life, and seeing all these people from other countries delight in it has given me a fresh appreciation for how truly impressive and beautiful London is.
After checking out the books on the Southbank Book Market, I met my friend and we wandered up the river to Tower Bridge, from which the Olympic rings are currently hanging. It looks marvellous, and so iconic. Next to Tower Bridge is a mini park called Potter’s Field, and here a big screen has been erected for the public to come together and view the action. As the sun came out, we sat down to watch the men’s synchronised diving; sadly no medals for Team GB, but an impressive event nonetheless. However, the best was yet to come. As I am at every Olympics, I have been absolutely glued to the gymnastics since they began on Saturday. I think there is no greater demonstration of human strength and skill than gymnastics – it takes my breath away every time and I can’t get enough! I am the best armchair gymnast you’ll ever meet – double double? Spiked landing? Double pike? Triple somersault? Forward half twist? I can spot them all. So, when the men’s team final came on, I was beside myself. Team GB was fighting for a Bronze – and what performances! Together the crowd cheered and clapped, winced and gasped, waited and hoped. It was announced we had Bronze – we all stood up, whooped and cheered, amazed at the feat our men had achieved – no British team has even made it into the final for over 80 years, let alone won a medal! Then, disaster on the other side of the arena- the final Japanese competitor fell off his pommel horse. Gasps followed by a deafening roar filled the stadium – it was announced that, due to the final error by the Japanese, they had dropped into fourth and we had won Silver! We all jumped up and down, clapping wildly – we couldn’t believe it! Then, it all came crashing down. The Japanese contested the judges’ scoring on their final pommel horse routine. What had looked very much like a fall should have been classed as a dismount due to both feet touching the floor, and scored accordingly. After an agonising ten minute wait for news, to a chorus of boos the Japanese appeal was approved, and we dropped back to Bronze. What was in itself an amazing achievement suddenly appeared second best, which was a real shame. Nevertheless it was wonderful to watch the final on the big screen, surrounded by other fans – not quite as good as actually being there, but still a brilliant experience. I loved every minute!
Later on, walking back to the station across the Golden Jubilee Bridge, I took a moment to stop and enjoy the view. The sky was pink, St Paul’s shone majestically in the distance, and the Olympic rings glowed softly as they bobbed up and down on the river. The bridge was crowded with people from all nationalities enjoying the same view, and it really was lovely to see. I might not have any tickets (last night loads more were released, and I stayed up until 2am trying to get just about affordable gymnastics tickets, putting them in my basket and then waiting ages in a series of virtual ‘queues’, only to then be told that they were all sold out – CRUSHING) but I can still enjoy the Olympics nonetheless. I love the atmosphere of patriotism and bonhomie that it has brought to London, giving us all a much needed reminder of the many things we as a nation have to celebrate and be proud of. Politically and financially it’s been a tough couple of years, and having something positive to focus on that unites everyone, no matter who they are or where they’re from, is a pleasant change from protests and prejudice. I am a total convert. Go Team GB!