London 2012

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!

52 comments

  1. I have been won over too – I wasn’t anti the Olympics – just not that bothered until it started now I’m hooked and yesterday the TV kept taking me away from lovely Elizabeth Bowen : ) (I’ll finish it today though) I woud love to be there, but I coudn’t justify the expense even I were able to get tickets which seems unlikely.

    1. It’s funny how it just overcomes you, isn’t it? I can’t get enough! I would have LOVED to be there, but I missed out on every ballot and eventually the tickets just got too expensive. Never mind – I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it regardless. Hope you’ve managed to find time for your Bowen today!

  2. It was so lovely to meet you!! Such a fun afternoon🙂 And your enthusiasm for the Olympics is very infectious – I feel I should be getting more into the spirit of London 2012 too! Love all the pics🙂 M xxx

    1. Miranda, it was such a pleasure! Can’t wait to see more of you!🙂 Oh yes you definitely should – I am officially addicted.🙂 Glad you like the pics! x

  3. I was swept away by the opening ceremony and only managed one grouch about athletes who couldn’t be bothered to take out their chewing gum.
    Still haven’t watched any events … but it would take more than D Boyle to get me interested in sport.

  4. My Olympic spirit came alive last week when DB and I made the effort to go and see the torch
    relay. And then the Opening Ceremony (which I had been dreading) was fantastic. (We watched it
    with friends in 3D which was even more spectacular).
    So no more snarling about the fact that some of us have to go to WORK and can’t avoid congested
    stations.
    I wonder how the Closing Ceremony will top the Opening?

    1. Ooooh 3D opening ceremony?! I bet that was fantastic!
      I think part of my enthusiasm is that I’m not working over the summer so I’m not commuting – if I had to face the commute then I would be far more miserable!
      I don’t think anything could top that opening ceremony, surely?!

  5. I really enjoyed your insider’s perspective on this! The large screen for communal viewing sounds wonderful. Here in the U.S., there are commercials depicting that kind of thing, but it always seems like something that wouldn’t actually happen in real life.

  6. Rachel, I have enjoyed every moment of the Olympics thus far and I have enjoyed your Olympic enthusiasm here. I was so moved by the opening ceremony, which was the subject of much, much discussion at a baby shower Saturday afternoon. Please know that your friends across the pond thought it to be fabulous, from beginning to end and I had tears in my eyes several times, especially the homage paid to literature and your national health care system, the Queen, and to honor the 500 workers was such a tribute to the spirit of working people everywhere. Well, I could go on and on. Enjoy every minute of the Olympics being in your London, Rachel, and enjoy your pride of place.

    1. I’m so glad, Penny! That’s so good to hear.🙂 I have heard there’s been a lot of controversy over the American transmitting of the games so I hope you’ve been able to watch everything you wanted to. Thank you – I most certainly am!

      1. I’ve not been happy with our coverage, or many of the commentators. NBC is covering it. With at least three channels to their name, I really think they can cover more. We, or at least I, am not seeing the awards ceremonies, which I miss, and there is a great deal of breaking away before a competition has completed. Having said that, I am so proud of all the athletes, cheering when winning and tearing up at the mishaps – for ALL of the athletes – and enjoy this immensely.

      2. That’s such a shame, Penny – but glad you have felt involved nonetheless. I am so into the Olympics, it’s an experience I will never forget!

  7. Loved your post. It must be abuzz there and how lucky to be amongst it. The men’s silver/bronze debacle – what a story. It had paased me by so I will have to You Tube it all. It is a bit tricky keeping up when we are all asleep here down under. Although, I did stay up tonight to watch our wonderful equestrian team. GB wasn’t too shabby either:). Enjoy – I shall look forward to more updates.

    1. It really is! Oh definitely – you must catch up as it was a real nailbiter! Yes the equestrian stuff was down to the wire as well, wasn’t it?! I loved that!!

  8. I understand! I can be surprised at what makes me feel sentimental. BUT what books did you get??? Waiting with bated breath…. Kathy

    1. Sometimes it just hits you, doesn’t it?! Oh I didn’t get any books – I was on my best behaviour!🙂 I find the books there to be rather overpriced anyway!

  9. Rachel – How wonderful indeed it is to be in London at this moment, you’ve captured it so well. Having been so fortunate to experience the Opening Ceremony I know want to go to everything! I quite fancy going to Potters Field or Greenwich to watch on a big screen. Go Team GB indeed!
    Ps So far today I’ve watched canoeing & archery (never seen them before) & looking forward to more gymnastics later. How glorious to be on hols.

    1. Rachel I was thinking of you and how fabulous a time you must have been having – I am not ashamed to say I was incredibly jealous! Potter’s Field had a great atmosphere so I recommend going there if you want to see it en masse! Isn’t it glorious?! More great gymnastics today – the talent just bowls me over!!

  10. Brilliant, Rachel! Great account! You are such an enthusiastic blogger and so often you put into words exactly how I feel.
    I had been feeling isolated over here, kept telling myself it was all so expensive, glad I wasn’t in crowded London – all that nonsense. We tuned in anyway to the Opening Ceremony (with French commentators who were enthusiastic where they can be grudging about all things GB) and had a wonderful evening. I surprised myself. No more Mrs Grumpy, I was so proud!
    Bits of it were messy and I thought there could have been a little less pop music BUT how gorgeous the rest of it was: lovely Kenneth Branagh, the Queen doing her bit and so on. We went to bed at nearly 2 o’c (our time) and it was a long time before all those images faded so I could get to sleep.
    Now I feel even more desperate to see London again.

    1. Thanks Chrissy! You are so kind. I’m glad you share my feelings. It must be hard for you not to be here but it’s great that you can enjoy it all on TV. It was a barmy show, wasn’t it? A real display of British eccentricity!

  11. Ah, Rachel, I could have written this (if, you know, I actually blogged); I too was “bah, humbug” about the Olympics and now I am a complete convert (and settled down to an evening of the swimming finals). There is a carnival atmosphere in the air and London in the throes of no-longer-inconvenient-and-tedious Olympics fever is a joy to behold.

    Isn’t Miranda lovely? We should all have tea or cocktails at some point. I need to give you a New York debrief.

    1. Oh Claire! Isn’t it wonderful that we are having our cynicism overthrown?! It’s just such a great feeling to be British right now!

      Yes she is – and yes we definitely should! Let’s get that organised – I want to hear all about New York!!

  12. Thank goodness! I haven’t admitted to anyone that my eyes were stinging during the opening ceremony and now there is no more shame in my ridiculously over the top anglophile pride! Don’t give up on the hope of getting your bum in a seat, Rachel. There is a half-hour rule now apparently so if those corporate fat cats don’t show up for an event the seats will go to the everyman. Don’t ask me how the system works but look into it!
    Miranda and her mum had dropped out of sight when I was over last but hopefully I can catch them next time…group meet-up?

    1. No, Darlene, there is no shame in having a tear – it was a very moving ceremony!
      I don’t think I’ll get any now sadly but it doesn’t matter – I have really made the most of it anyway and I get a better view on the TV for the gymnastics!!
      You should definitely meet Miranda next time – she’s amazing!

  13. I was in the sceptics camp also but Friday night turned my head. It spectacular if at times rather bizarre. The effect on tv was stupendous but to have been in the stadium itself was surely one of those experiences of a lifetime. All those drums!

  14. You’re definitely not the only one that felt like that – I too watched it on the sofa at home, and I was A STATE. A twittering, re-tweeting, slightly hysterical state – and one who started off with a more than healthy dose of cynicism! I have been buzzing ever since!

  15. Oh I cried unashamedly while my kids kept saying, “Mom, are you alright?” of course, I was watching on American TV, so some of the commentators weren’t too sure about some of the symbolic meanings but it was still grand. Good luck on the tickets and, at the risk of interjecting politics, I’m so glad London is proving Mitt Romney wrong, wrong, wrong.

    1. Yes I did think some of it wouldn’t translate well – but glad you got to watch it and good for you for having a cry! Me too – silly man! I don’t think I will get lucky with tickets, but at least I have seen some of the Olympic-ness of London!

  16. Watching the coverage here in Texas is such a pleasure. England looks particularly lovely. Thank you for sharing how your heart warmed to the event.

  17. It was indeed a lovely ceremony and I also got teary at several points, especially in the minute of silence and the JK Rowling/Mary Popping part (and I’m not even a Brit!).

  18. Was the From Paris exhibition good? I was actually quite impressed by ceremony too though the NHS bit was bit odd?!! I also think Bonkers probably didn’t appeal to the older generation!!

    1. Yes it was, though I personally wouldn’t have paid to see it – it didn’t blow me away. Bonkers it was indeed – some of it I did think was a bit overcooked but altogether I thought it was marvellous!

  19. I cried at the ceremony too. I found it so very moving. Then of course I heard that NBC the god of all things Olympic over here decided we could do without the moving tribute to those who had died to show us a d#&* interview with some swimmer. And that you have to have a secret handshake to watch many of the events. There are a lot of angry Americans. The internet is supposed to be for all but not when greedy NBC runs the show.
    I so envy you living there, but even more for being born there. My soul is right there with you.

    1. I’m so sorry you are not getting good coverage there, Nan – other American friends have complained too. No tribute? That’s shocking. I hope they get better with their broadcasting next week!

      Oh Nan! I wish you could be here to enjoy it!

  20. What a lovely London day, Rachel. Now the Olympics are finally here, it is exciting! I’m not interested in the sports really, but am so pleased London is doing Team GB proud though a bit more sunshine wouldn’t hurt🙂 Know Miranda really enjoyed meeting you, and you have such a lovely blog, beautifully written. You’ll be an inspiring English teacher I’m sure!

    1. Thank you! I was never into sport, but the Olympics has obsessed me for some reason!!🙂 You have brought up a wonderful, lovely girl and I am so glad we met and can now be friends! Thank you so much – and look forward to meeting you in due course too!🙂

  21. Aren’t the gymnastics fabulous? I have high hopes for the elegant Russian gymnasts in floor and beam finals next week and I hope Beth Tweddle does well on the bars.

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