London-2012-Olympics

Owing to a musical theatre production of Kander and Ebb’s Curtains on which I am working in a tiny theatre in Clapham, I am obliged to take public transport to work. Although not a particular chore (nor, be assured, an unparalleled joy) it’s sort of a novelty as I do not ordinarily take the tube all that often. Well, not London often. Probably once a week or so. I mostly cycle, run or drive to work because I have a surfeit of energy, a cash deficit, and a burden of drums. On Mondays, when the theatre is ‘dark’, I now experience the liberating luxury of riding my bike. The middle of the show’s run coincides with the two weeks of the Olympic Games, or ‘London 2012’ as even BBC news readers insist upon calling it (as though nothing else has happened or will happen in the capital this year). I admit that I’ve been dreading this. The government and media have for weeks – months – been urging us Londoners to stay off the transport network for fear of over-crowding mayhem. Boris Johnson, Mayor of London, was featured in announcements on buses for the fortnight leading up to the Games, advising us all that the ‘vast number’ of people visiting the city would mean that the public transport network would be ‘extremely busy’. I found these incursions into my aural solitude highly irritating; indeed, there are perhaps fewer things more grating on the first leg of a morning commute than an old bellowing Etonian interrupting my train of thought every couple of minutes to announce that lots of people will be coming to London to watch a lot of other people running and jumping and shooting in the most over-advertised, media-saturated piece of choreographed public hysteria since Princess Diana died. At least my fellow passengers on the 43 and 134 buses in the mornings had the good manners to shut up, ignore one another, and continue shooting silently indignant glares at the all-too-chic wannabe Hoxtonites seeking to impress with their dull selection of music relaying its high-mids to the rest of the bus through the backs of rubbish default iPod earphones.

One of the first things I notice about the tube during the Olympics, then, is that it is pretty much empty. I can get a seat at just about any station at any time of day or night. The trains and buses are similarly deserted. Well, deserted is a slight overstatement. They are actually quite full, but not the holding-your-breath, face-in-someone’s-armpit-and-elbow-in-someone-else’s-ribs-with-your-bag-hopefully-still-between-your-legs-rammed that the capital’s daily commuters know and love. With most of the seats taken, and the odd dozen or so customers occasionally having to resort to standing, swathes of the city feels as though they have been abandoned. I secretly suspect that this is (as I had long speculated) because the people watching the Olympics are either at home staring at a TV screen, or 10 miles away in a stadium in East London yelling at celebrity cyclists. The notion that sports fans in Stratford would severely impact my journeys between Muswell Hill, Kilburn and Clapham always seemed far-fetched, truth be told.

All is not entirely acceptable on the transport network, though. The oddest behaviour on the tube is people talking to one another. I have occasionally done this with my wife, when either one or – rarest of all – both of us, have forgotten to bring a book, or if I’m slightly drunk and with a colleague who I feel the (almost certainly misplaced) need to entertain. But these folk are just wantonly chatting – as though it were perfectly OK. Some are discussing The Games, others whatever comes to mind. All are unnervingly cheery (but otherwise seemingly normal) husbands and wives, boyfriends and girlfriends, couples with kids. Not the usual, head-down-pretending-to-read-the-free-paper-while-listening-to-an-audio-book commuter set. All very weird and disconcerting. An equally unsettling feature of the Olympics is the incidence on public transport of uniformed ‘Games-Makers’ (who, let it be noted, are not creating, designing, taking part in, or in any other way making any games at all). They look (including the women) like a cross between boy scouts and rooky package holiday reps, and always seem more than slightly smug – presumably on account of their free trainers, beige trousers, bags (with obligatory water-bottles), t-shirts and water-proof jackets. I hope they enjoy the bounty while it lasts – they’ll be back in the line for Job Seeker’s Allowance, come the second half of August.

And what the hell is it with those weird, Cycloptic furry robot mascots plastered over every available surface?! The decision makers at Olympic Branding PLC had clearly taken leave of their senses. The robots are almost as bad as that little orange turd (complete with the pinch-finish twist) that power company Eon keeps putting in adverts, popping (or pooping) up all over people’s homes and furnishings. And at least that guy has two eyes. There’s a plush toy version you can buy too – way too close for comfort to Mr Hanky from South Park. And then there’s all these TV presenters fawning like teenage girls over British diving star Tom Daley – ‘wow! Aren’t you happy?! You must be so pleased!’ They must have said ‘bronze medal’ about 18 times in the short interview piece I saw with him this morning. And not once did they ask the question that must have been burning a hole in the minds of every viewer: ‘How does it feel only to have come third?’ It was a very good achievement – don’t get me wrong. I mean, to come from a privileged background in one of the five most economically advantaged nations in the world, with our country’s alleged pride (I didn’t feel a thing, but hey) resting on his diving into water several times in a fortnight, it is very impressive that he is now officially (albeit very temporarily) the third best person in the world at jumping into a pool head-first. But I’ll bet he would have loved a gold medal. Or even silver. Thankfully, though, no-one asks about that. At least not out loud. Or at least not to Mr Daley himself, who is doubtless incredibly chuffed to be nearly as good as two other people at falling from a plank.

I know. I don’t really get it. I believe in excellence and aspiration, but I don’t really understand the competition. I don’t get the Premier League (or the football league system at all, come to that) for the same reasons – so what if such-and-such team wins?! ‘They’ have another chance next year, probably with a totally different line-up of players; yet, miraculously, millions of people will believe it’s somehow the same team playing. Trigger’s Broom all over again, if you ask me. Liverpool Football Club to me seems like a large, sporting (if not necessarily sportsmanlike) version of The Beatles with none of the original members, paid similar wages. But I digress.

The Olympics were probably great. I didn’t watch a single event. Travelling between the places where I was doing things, though, was easy and fun, albeit strange. I enjoyed doing well at something myself rather than sitting, staring passively at elite professional athletes duking it out to see how many 1000ths of a second they could shave off of a world record to attain or retain supremacy in something as helpful as running 400 meters slightly quicker than some of their highly trained and branded contemporaries. As for being bullied by the carpet-bombing media campaign into joining the exaggerated and false euphoria over how many gold medals ‘we’ achieved, it just didn’t work for me: no one I know earned any gold medals – the closest any of them came was to shout, grin and cry with empty, vicarious pleasure over the hard-won and extremely well financed victory of a citizen of one of the richest countries of the world demonstrating the improvements made on his or her genetic and anatomical predispositions to excel at moving ever-so-minutely quicker/further than a handful of others. Yawn…

 

 

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