There are less than 100 days until the Olympic Games come to London. I know it, the kids know it and with the amount of media hype around the landmark 100 day countdown, I imagine there are some comatose patients at University College Hospital that know it. The large custom-made clock, the one shaped like the 2012 Olympic logo (and affectionately known to Londoners as the Lisa Simpson blowjob- look at the logo for yourself and you will understand) has been ticking away in Trafalgar Square, for the first time, displays the DAYS TO GO in double digits. Woo hoo.
You will forgive me if I seem cynical, dear readers. I didn’t start out this way, honestly. Flashback to an early summer afternoon in 2005, finishing lunch in a school I was visiting somewhere in Chelsea: an unknown teacher burst through the door breathlessly announcing that London had got the Olympics. I remember a feeling of elation and surprise we all expected Paris would get it due to Britain’s involvement in George Bush’s Second Iraq War. The elation came as it dawned on me that the greatest sporting show on earth would be coming to my home and I would be a part of it.
I was even more thrilled when in 2009 I took on my current school, deep in the heart of the East End and in the sight lines of the new stadium. Immediately, I forged every link I could with the Olympic powers. Our school was one of the first in the country to be awarded the Olympic Quality mark. In my head I harboured a great dream of our school’s children taking part in the opening ceremony. And that’s where my enthusiasm started to unravel.
I approached the organisers with a request for a set of large Olympic rings to put in the school entrance. Denied.
I approached the organisers with a request to use the Olympic rings on our school letterhead. Denied.
Denied unless we were a corporate sponsor that is. MacDonald’s, Coca Cola, Visa could all use the logo but a local school was not afforded the same opportunity. The lottery for tickets came and went and no one I know got a single seat at a single event. This was about the same time polls were being published reflecting those who lived in the shadow of The Games were feeling disenfranchised from them. Increasingly 2012 was becoming a sponsored corporate money event that had nothing to do with the city at all. Yes I was naive enough to think it would be different.
So I made a display from the posters that the organisers sent our school (instead of a set of rings). I blew up the balloons that marked the countdown from 300, 200, 100 days to go. I planned for the school to shut early and open late to accommodate the Games.
I went to the meeting called by the local government in which we were briefed on security and how it would impact on our school during The Games. We learned that staff could not drive to work, that stations would be closed and to expect journeys taking two hours longer than usual. We learned which of our children’s’ families were being watched by unknown security police.
At some point The Games became something happening to us, not for us or even with us.
But still I tried to keep positive. When 20 tickets for the Paralympics arrived at our school, we were thankful. At least a handful of the children would get the Olympic experience.
And when 16 more children were invited to take part in a Test Event at the Olympic Park; one which aimed to smooth out the kinks in a 90 days to go dress rehearsal, of course we said yes.
The bus that dropped the children off at the edge of the Olympic Park went as far as security would let it. In the pouring rain the children had to walk from there. A few were in wheelchairs and were pushed along the sparkling new pavements until…well until the pavements were no more. The park is still a building site and finishing touches are being undertaken everywhere. It was vast and windswept in the unseasonable cold rain. It had the feel of a sea-shore pier before the season had started.
The walk was compounded and complicated by the pockets of ongoing construction. The group, wheelchairs in front snaked around the back of the stadium like a train. Nearly an hour after being deposited by the bus we had arrived at the arena.
“We have a shuttle scooter for the wheelchairs,” an organiser announced.
I wanted to award a 10.0 to the man for stating the bleeding obvious.
As the event wound down to its conclusion, our staff noted some of the other schools with wheelchairs leaving the arena early. Outside 50, maybe 100 wheelchairs stood in a long line waiting for the single shuttle to take them back to the gates.
“We will need at least 10 shuttle scooters for The Games,” an organiser announced.
And so this once in a lifetime event will pass me by. I have begun to look at air flights for the period just after July 27 so we can leave this city to its party. I haven’t been invited, nor has anyone I know. It will be the neighbour’s big shindig on the other side of the wall and we can listen to the dance music and hear the merriment all night but we will never be invited in.
The school is expanding. A new extension is being built. The architect asks me what pattern I want in the brickwork. I ask him to do the Olympic Rings. It will immediately identify the date it was built for all eternity. That will be this school’s Olympic participation. That will be my addition to these Games so long-awaited. By the time the bricks are laid, the corporate sponsors will have long left town in search of the next hyper venue. The bricks will be there a century, maybe more.
Keep the Faith,