London was pronounced winner of the bid on the 6th July 2005. A rare and overwhelming wave of euphoria and pride swept over the city, only to be thwarted the very next day by the bombings and bloodshed on the London Underground and buses. I will never forget that day. I had been back in London only a few weeks, having spent the last 10 years of my life in Germany, taking up residence in Leyton. When I arrived at Leyton Station to go to work that morning, the barriers had been drawn closed and a notice taped to them informing us that there was a failure in the electrical grid system and that no trains were running. Like nearly everyone else, I cursed London Transport for its over-pricing, under-achieving and inefﬁciency and for good measure threw the incessant meaningless platform announcements into the boiling pot in my head. The pot soon simmered down when the truth became clear.
There was electricity in the air that night, an atmosphere both curious and moving. Where last night England had been drawn together by the sparkle of success, tonight we were united in grief and horror. But we were united.
Over the years, the Olympic Hand counted down ﬁnger by ﬁnger. Politicians espoused The Games as the ultimate tonic for an ailing economy, only to then hand franchises to companies based some three and a half thousand miles away. Being only two stops from Stratford, Leyton became part of the massive stadium building site. Property prices and rent in the area soared. The merchandising rights and restrictions ﬂew around like Valkyries and claimed one notable victim in Stratford, Kamel Kichane, who had opened a small cafe which he called ‘Cafe Olympic’ – only to be told by Newham council that he would face legal proceedings if he did not change it. Facing a cost of £3,000 to do this, Kamel (in true British form) found the easy way out and painted over the ‘O’. Cafe Lympic thrives to this day.
On the 4th June 2007, Great Britain was shocked and appalled when Wolff Olins unveiled the ofﬁcial Olympic logo. This clumsy arrangement of trapezes begun to appear everywhere, making a mockery of one of England’s ﬁnest talents and successful industries - that of Design. The travesty continued to annoy me until someone pointed out that it was actually a picture of Lisa Simpson giving head (editor’s note: the language and imagery here is appalling and beneath our standards, but to be honest the meaning of the entire piece would be diminished without it, so we’ve decided to leave it in).
From then on it could only bring a smile. No such observation has been made regarding the equally hideous mascot, another Olins triumph, which is a sort of cross between a phallus and Cyclops. Many champion athletes have been seen hurriedly giving the gold-coloured mascots they were presented with to their Coaching Team for safekeeping.
I escaped the following year which saw the ﬁnancial crisis and the collapse of the banking system by moving back to Germany but on my return to London in 2010 I found England still suffering from its legacy.
With only about 365 ﬁngers left to tap on the Olympic Hand, Lisa Simpson looked down upon London, Liverpool, Birmingham and many other parts of England as rioters took to the streets and the nation burned.
Promises were made, the ubiquitous lessons learned yet again, and endless debates and recriminations further soiled an already tainted country. But as is nearly always the way, the shock abated or was rather shrugged off and people got back to living life in the shadow of economic collapse. The Games for a time became seen as a ﬁnancial burden, an unnecessary extravagance, and the pervading consensus was that we were being governed by an elitist club of ex-Etonians who didn’t even know the price of a pint of milk.
But there’s nothing better than a right royal knees-up to bring cheer to the masses and right on cue, as the start of the games drew tangibly close, we were treated to the pre-Olympic spectacle of her Majesty the Queen celebrating her Diamond Jubilee. 60 years on the throne. That’s a long time for Prince Charles to have waited outside the locked door hopping from foot to foot. The Duke of Edinburgh took to his bed during the proceedings with a bladder infection which the great British mothers put down to the rain. I have never been a Royalist, but hats off to Her Majesty for the tireless work she has done for her country.
Long before these celebrations the Four Great British Birthrights of the Apocalypse had already saddled up and ridden out, namely Cynicism, Complaining, Dissent and Expecting The Worst. Given our governments, football team, bankers and weather, it is hardly surprising that even our most stoic and upstanding citizens fall foul of their genes.
In the weeks prior to the opening ceremony the Heavens opened and deluged half of the British Isles. While the nation baled out, the Border Control ofﬁcers and London Transport workers held The Games to ransom by threatening strikes, the London Transport system creaked and groaned, the Chancellor exposed his dubious grasp of ﬁgures by promising that the government would dedicate 110% of its time to solving the economic crisis and McDonalds announced that nobody would be allowed to take their own food into the Olympic Park or Arenas and would be force-fed Big Macs and Coca Cola. London was full of holes. The rain wasn’t going away. The security company G4S failed to provide the agreed number of staff. The army was called in. Missiles appeared on people’s rooftops.
Rough-hewn Mitt Romney said the run-up was disconcerting. The whole shebang was doomed to disaster. The Press, particularly the Mail immediately smelt copy and launched into a campaign which echoed the nation’s fears and resulted in a great many people defying British Airways’ billboards urging ‘Don’t Fly – Stay and Support Team GB’ by buggering off on the double.
This may have been how it looked to outsiders. It is certainly how it looked to those parts of Great Britain as yet un-visited by the Olympic Torch, particularly London. But what was happening behind this raging fear was extraordinary. As the torch relay progressed, thousands of people again took to the streets but this time to cheer on the fantastically diverse range of citizens who bore the ﬂame to London. All 8,000 of them, from Caro Clarke to Sir Steven Redgrave, who heralded the spirit of the games by passing on the honour of lighting the 205 petals making up the Olympic cauldron to seven young and unknown athletes. Before we knew it, not even the £320,000 in ﬁnes for driving in the ORN (Olympic Route Network) lanes could douse the spirit of enthusiasm and excitement in the British people.
The ceremony as you already know was as unceremonious and quirky as the British are wont to be, from the Queen’s gamesome participation in the James Bond joke to the down-and-dirty rave at the end. I commented that it would take a great deal to follow this - and was promptly put right when I was reminded that 2016 was Brazil’s, and if anyone could follow it, they could.
So Bradley Wiggins struck the bell and the games began. There’s no need for me to re-document the successes and disappointments of the athletes, but the close proximity to these hopes and fears had an overwhelming effect on the soul. Nobody seemed to care who you were or what country you came from. The Olympic Games echoed Worldwide Web inventor Tim Berners-Lee’s illuminated message to the world – ‘This Is For Everyone’.
The day before yesterday the last races were run. Mo Farah (who became my favourite athlete after his performance in the 10,000 metres) achieved the double in a riveting 5,000 metre battle and Jamaica smashed their own world record in the Men’s 4 x 100 metre Relay, the baton brought home by the indomitable Usain Bolt. Yesterday were the closing ceremony, but the experience will never leave me. For while some women were hiding behind Shades Of Grey, I was basking in shades of gold; gold in the victories, gold in defeat and gold in the people who cheered it all on.