Having spent much of the last fortnight watching the Olympics in a Gallic farmhouse, my family and I were relishing our visit to Stratford. Not for sporting reasons, admittedly; to my eyes the Games would be much better if they combined the events (synchronised swimming/taekwondo or the ten metre dive/javelin, anyone?) but simply to be A Part Of It All.
As Londoners there was a sense that we were somehow missing the party; no amount of video-montage highlights, slow-mo Hi-res repeats of Mo Farah being pushed along by the other runners from behind as if by repelling magnets, could compensate for being present: for being able to tell friends and future generations: “I was there”.
So it was that on Saturday we set out for Stratford, in order to soak up the ambience, be a part of this joyous celebration of modern, multi-culti Britannia; for our children, aged 8 and 5, to one day tell their own gilled grandchildren “I remember 2012…”
It’s probably safe to say that our kids won’t forget the 2012 Olympics; hopefully in future years they, like the country, will dwell more on the sunshine, the happy, mingling crowds, the fantastic achievements of the athletes and the stunning opening and closing ceremonies than any negative aspects to the occasion; nevertheless, while conceding this may seem rather curmudgeonly, it should be placed on record that attending Stratford wasn’t quite the triumph of humanity I had been led to expect from the telly highlights.
On arriving at the Park, we were filtered through airport-style security, manned by machine-gunned policemen, relaxed-looking army types and volunteers. I do get the reason there has to be security – really I do – but did they REALLY think we might have somehow poured flammable glycerine in our water bottle? And what did they really expect to find beneath my five-year-old son’s hat, a stick of TNT – or, worse, a Pepsi?
Worse even than the hard-nosed security was the prevalence of purple-clad volunteers, many of them sitting in high chairs, exhorting everyone to “SMILE!” After a while this, and the fact our kids were constantly being implored to give the foam-fingers of volunteers “high-fives!” (has a more empty, meaningless gesture ever been conceived?) began to take on sinister undertones.
Before attending the Olympic Park I found JG Ballard’s “Kingdom Come” slightly disappointing; too much fear of the masses, the football crowd and housing estate. But as we walked through the milling crowds, and orders to “have fun!” crackled through loud-speakers, the book didn’t seem so far-fetched.