My mother vaguely rebuked me about the blog the other day. “People can’t do all the things you have done. They can’t watch the Olympic Opening Ceremony, so why are you telling them to do so?”
Well yes, sort of and sorry. It’s a very specific service I offer: part review, part quest. Technically, you can’t see the next thing I’m going to blog about either (watching the women’s road race final at Box Hill). I included it for three reasons:
1) to demonstrate it is possible to see a ticketed Olympic event for £10 (not including postage and packaging).
2) it is actually perfectly possible to see a lot of them completely free (and I would guess much of what I say about Box Hill will be true of those events)
3) honestly, for Anglophiles of all denominations, this was one of the most British things I have done for a very long time indeed.
One morning the postman arrived with a large envelope I had to sign for.
“I wonder what that is,” I muttered.
“It’s your Olympic tickets,” said the postman. “I’m right naffed off with them.”
And so our Olympic adventure began. I signed, and then ripped open the envelope, like Charlie Bucket in search of a golden ticket. There, surrounded by leaflets telling you how to get there, what articles were prohibited, and two Olympic travelcards were two entirely innocuous pieces of blue paper which would grant us access to the Donkey Drive bit of Box Hill. Spouse looked over my shoulder. “They’ve given you a zone 1-9 travel card as well? That must be worth more than the ticket itself.” (It was, fact fans, that bad boy costs £11.60 normally).
Regarding the day itself, all I can say in retrospect is that I was damn glad I caught the BBC weather presenter making an off the cuff remark that if you were going to Box Hill you should be packing a lot of waterproofs. The day may have dawned blue and bright, but it didn’t stay like that. By the time we’d caught our three trains and started walking the half hour journey to the venue itself, downpour was far too small a word for the heavy duty meteorology flinging itself upon the hills of Surrey.
“Keep to your left for Box Hill! Not only is it safer it is moderately drier!” bellowed an olympic volunteer, as we edged ever closer to the security check in.
I’m prepared to bet that if you’ve just come from a tour of active duty in Afghanistan, operating as a security guard for the Olympic Games seems like quite an easy task. Having to do so whilst you were planning to be spending quality time with your family after a tour of Afghanistan is less easy I think. The lovely chap from the RAF who riffled through our allocated single bags containing our allocated empty bottles of water for refilling at the venue, our small waving flags and our cameras with less than 30cm of lens attachment. We thanked him, genuinely, for giving us his time when he wanted to be with his nearest and dearest, and then we walked long and hard up another set of hills until eventually we found ourselves somewhere or other on Box Hill.
The reason I’m uncertain where we were is because we were given a upgrade. Apparently Donkey Drive was both waterlogged and full, so we were told to go somewhere else. “It’s an upgrade,” one of the squadrons of volunteers told me. “There’s a big screen, and shops.” She eyed me before saying, sotto voce, “Nicer toilets.” I nodded. Nicer toilets were good. I’m big on plumbing, and good quality bed linen, come to that.
Anyway, Chris and I then went scouting for a suitably good spot, and blow me, we found one. Elbows out to protect our space, we spent the next hour waiting patiently. Without access to wifi or Olympic coverage for the first time in days, we texted our friends and family to find out where the female road racers were. “Some muddy field somewhere,” came the reply, swift as the Internet age could manage it.
So we engaged in the all time classic British pursuit. Waiting. People got their entirely illegal homemade food and sheet-sized waving flags out.
They waved enthusiastically at all the police officers, who i think it is fair to say are not used to having quite such a positive reaction.
Sensing the lady road racers were imminent, the spectators prepared their cameras for action. The cameras thing is a fairly recent addition to the Games, I would think. The blokes in pursuit of action shots compared NEXs with Nikons, and debated the many benefits of ISOs with apertures when wanting to produce the pinsharp image that would define the day. Here’s mine (which I smugly observe was in strict automode).
My observation is that capturing pin sharp images that define the day is very difficult to combine with flag waving and cheering, which I had naively supposed was the point of the enterprise.
So for about a minute, the lady racers zipped past. We waited another twenty minutes, and they whizzed around again. And then we walked up the hill to the upgraded field of dreams, where we could watch the ladies whizz through Kingston and Richmond (where we had come from) and from thence on to the Mall where victory, and the first British medal of the games, waited.
Now the British do know quite a lot about being rained on. By and large the spectators’ response to the thunderstorm taking place in Box Hill was to treat their umbrellas as mini-tents, get as many limbs as possible underneath and try jolly hard not to drown as we watched the lady cyclists pedal on in a great more detail than when we were next to them.
We weren’t watching the BBC coverage: some bloke narrated as best he could, and kept pressing a button which started a loop of dramatic “bonnnnnggggg” noises, a bit like those at the beginning of Chariots of Fire, but less tuneful and chirpy. Sadly, because they were a recording they bonged on to encourage drama, regardless of whether drama was needed.
I used to cycle through the streets of London fairly regularly (this post explains why I stopped https://1000thingsinlondon.wordpress.com/2011/09/02/another-extra-curricular-thing-that-really-ought-to-be-in-the-1000-things-but-isnt-join-in-the-skyride/). It was very odd indeed to see all these top flight Olympic athletes pedal where I have pedalled quite so oft. I am not so fast, not so slender, not so determined, but I knww what it was like to ride those streets in the pounding rain all right. I watched as the Dane, Russian and Brit pedalled on, taking turns to go first, last and middle, sharing the load, preserving their strength, and guaranteeing their medals. The tension was diminished a bit by the compere having to remind those who wanted to leave early to leave by the safe (unflooded) route. The truth is we were going blooming nowhere. It was increasingly clear that unlike the men the day before, the women’s collaboration was going to net someone a medal, and one of those someones was BRITISH.
You can only imagine the cheers when Lizzy Armisted dashed through second. Two days in to the Olympics, we weren’t winning everything as we did later on. The nation was beginning to doubt. Home advantage or no, our inherent Britishness was showing in day two of the Olympic Games. People spoke of the home disadvantage. We knew not that our athletes were revving up to win every chuffing thing, British or no. So Lizzy Amisted and her silver was the first glimmer that good things were coming, and that yes, we are still good at pedalling.
Sodden, and on the point of hypothermia, we purchased our hot tea and the hot pork sandwiches that might selotape body and soul back together. They had to pour the water out of the apple sauce before we could use it, and the sandwiches and tea cost about as much as our tickets, but we weren’t in a position to argue. We went to the merchandise store, hoping to replace some of our sodden clothing, but anything warm had already gone. There was one couple who only wore Olympic hoodies, straining to keep their dignity covered.
The steep hill was too dangerous to walk down, so our weary feet trod where, hours before, Olympians had pedalled. On both sides Olympic volunteers stood on the way, sheltering from the rain under the trees like hobbits. We thanked them all for their part in our day, and then went home, to sleep perchance to dream of all the gold to come.
Here’s a link to Olympic and Paralympic events you can watch for free. http://www.visitlondon.com/events/sport/free-sporting-events-at-the-london-2012-olympic-and-paralympic-games