The final day of summer…

…and the first day of autumn.

Yesterday felt like the definitive end to the summer in London. Temperatures soared to 28c – but were set to plummet the following day; schools had returned the week before and university students were on the brink of return; and, to top it all off, it was the day the Paralympic Games ended. That end meant the end of six awesome weeks in the capital.

Sure, I was almost inconsolable at the end of the Olympics, but at least there was the Paralympics – and they exceeded all expectations. This time last week I was sat in the stadium watching athletics and it turned out that at least six friends of mine were there at the same time. The Paralympics succeeded where the Olympics had been rather lacking – they were accessible to virtually everyone who wanted to be there.

But I don’t want to see it go.
The Olympic rings had already left St Pancras when I was there last week. Soon the brightly coloured bunting, banners and pavement art will vanish too. Huge lanyards will no longer be must-have fashion accessories – nor will the attractive Games Maker and Ambassador uniforms. But what I fear most isn’t what’s disappearing, but what may return. We Brits love a bit of cynicism, but if this summer’s proved anything it’s that actually, we quite enjoy being positive about life!

Easing us into autumn and this new reality, the first day of autumn had a surprise up its sleeve – for just a few hours, we could have the Olympics back.

Really, I should have spent today putting in some hard graft on the two essays I need to hand in a week today, but I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to cheer our Olympians, Paralympians and volunteers by way of saying thanks for helping provide us with a summer of epic proportions. Miraculously, I acquired a position on the steps of St Paul’s, giving me a cramped but nonetheless excellent vantage point from which to watch proceedings.

Just going into a Mobot…

A pensive Tom Daley

Gymnasts

The rowers getting all athletic…

It was a beautiful, beautiful thing. Suits jostled with school children and slightly-bemused tourists. The noise of clapping was only dimmed by the inability to simultaneously clap and take photos. Strangers made conversation with each other and we all watched in glee as this family nearly fell off a plinth in their enthusiasm for cheering a relative of theirs who was on one of the floats:

Once home, the Olympic joy continued, as Zhen – one of my students, who’d had the honour of carrying the sign for UAE in the opening ceremony – turned up wearing her opening ceremony outfit. (She’d been at the Mall so had dressed appropriately for the occasion. This also explained why I’d spotted an Edwardian nurse at St Paul’s.) This was the first (and probably only) time I’d got to see the dress up close and can reveal that the faces are in fact taken from photos of Olympic volunteers – every single face is a genuine person. 

Talking of the volunteers, my final words on this epic summer have to go the amazing Games Makers – not least the contribution made by the Kilvert family, three of whom were on the driving team during the games. I loved Jenni’s updates on which colour car she was driving each day and her Dad’s tale of ending up at the Tongan High Commissioner’s house one evening, but her Mum trumped everyone with this photo:
Yes, that is the actual Eddie Izzard.

I’ve told my Mum that she now needs to have her photo taken with someone like Stephen Fry in order to beat Anne in ‘cool Mum points’! Eddie has been an amazing advocate of the Games Makers, encouraging them to wear their uniforms with pride today, no matter what they were up to, and it was great to see – as was his smile after awarding Johnnie Peacock his gold medal last Thursday. Here’s hoping his mission to ensure we say thank-you continues beyond the games…
Goodbye to the summer of 2012. You will never be forgotten.

Para-para-paradise

I have a vague recollection that in 1988, I got to hold a Paralympic swimming medal, recently won in the Seoul games. It might be a dream, but it would be a randomly detailed one, so I’m inclined to believe my memory that it belonged to a relative of one of my classmates. It has to be said, that between 1988 and 2008, I paid scant attention to the Paralympics. In fact, when the 2012 Paralympic tickets went on sale, I didn’t bother – though this was less lack of interest, more intense frustration with the LOCOG website…

But at the end of our day in the Olympic Park on Day 1 of the Olympics, I wanted more. Specifically, I wanted to get into the stadium. By the end of the games themselves, I just wanted more of all of it – more of the Park, more insane patriotism, more happiness and more Games Makers. And thus, I was glad that the evening of our Park visit, Gill booked tickets for an evening of Paralympic athletics finals.

Everything was just as it should have been, even before we left St Pancras on the ever-wonderful Javelin train. A comic security guard was ushering passengers up the escalators towards the train while singing (loudly): “Smiling happy people catching trains. Smiling happy people catching trains…” to the tune of the REM classic. Sure, she was out of tune and looked ridiculous, but people were smiling and were happy, and she was simply delightful.

The Games Makers were still wonderful too. Cheery en route into the Park and once there, doing the best to make the world as perfect as it ought to be. In less than 5 minutes, I came across Games Makers holding races for small children, and one who’d lent his loud-hailer to a small person who was now vigorously instructing people to “keep left”.

Beautifully, people were still dressing like loons in honour of Team GB. My only concession had been to wear a blue & white dress (with a red cardi in my bag in case of chilliness), but my goodness, did others go all-out. Like these fine people:

I tried taking a surreptitious photo, but I couldn’t do it justice so I bit the bullet and went had a genuine conversation with them. In doing so, I told them the story of my previous favourite Team GB outfit – the lady Morven and I had the privilege of queuing behind at the Olympic Museum. Voila:

All this was before we’d even entered the stadium. Once we had, things got even better…

There was even more cheesy music. Seriously, I love the fact that the Olympic Park has cheesy tunes pumped into its atmosphere. In the stadium were endless rounds of Coldplay’s Paradise, some Kings of Leon riffing, plenty of Bowie at appropriate Team GB moments, heck, there was even a bit of Tom Jones at the end of the evening.

We were sat just four flags away from the Tongan flag, and got to see a South Pacific gold medal – congratulations to Fiji for their first ever Paralympic gold in the high jump!

Which brings me to the sport, which was utterly awesome in itself. Take the high jump – it was the men’s F42 High Jump, i.e. people who had lost one of their legs. These athletes weren’t jumping, they were hopping, it was simply amazing. The winning height was 1.78m, 7cm taller than I am. Wow. Then there was British victory in the men’s T53 100m – cue vigorous flag waving and the happiest I’ve ever been in singing the national anthem. Oh, not to mention an Irish victory in the men’s T37 15,000m, where McKillop was awarded his gold medal by his mum. Beautiful.

And talking of awarding medals, we were also witness to a wonderful moment of political protest. Politicians often get in on the act of victory ceremonies, we all cheered for Poplar & Limehouse’s MP, but at the announcement of George Osborne MP, there was quite a different reaction. If you haven’t heard what happened, just watch this video:

This crowd was seriously good natured. Heck, immediately prior to this particular ceremony, we had just cheered an athlete throughout the whole two laps he’d had to run after the rest of the race had finished. But this same crowd couldn’t bear the sight of a politician who had been primarily responsible for the disgraceful changes recently made to the DLA (Disability Living Allowance) awarding medals to disabled people. Hypocrisy at its greatest. Obviously, I tweeted about this turn of events, to which someone responded that they hoped the 80,000 people in the stadium would vote accordingly in the next election – thing is, (as I pointed out in a reply) I’m not sure that the people who pay good money to watch Paralympians do their thing are people who would ever dream of voting Tory…

At the end of the night I was sad to leave. I leave you with the words of the tweet I composed in the (extremely friendly) queue for the Javelin home: