I know, crazy, right? But it’s true, it happened. Several times. Why? The Olympics.
I know there are people who are not remotely interested in sports and I know there are people who are anxious and irritable about organised displays of happiness and blase about big communal displays of woo hoo. I know all this. And as a person who get’s overwhelmed by too much stimulus sometimes I feel that as well. But no one can deny the amazingly beautiful effect the Games have had on London. Sociologists sometimes say that sport is our replacement for war, but the irony is that like love, sport is a universal language and people unite through sport. You don’t have to be a sociologist to see it happening.
People do not speak to each other on the London underground (the tube) or trains. They sit within micro-millimetres of each other and pretend they don’t even know the other exists. One person will open a paper to read and the other will sneak looks at it but look away quickly if the owner of the paper raises their head. People will scowl at someone if they Make a Scene because it forces them to interact. These habits don’t make Londoners bad people, they just demonstrate coping mechanisms for dealing with the hundreds of people each person must bump into every day of their lives. It must be the same in all big cities.
An isolationist approach can be beneficial. But it can be too isolating at times.
Anyway, it’s kind of nice when interaction does happen, but perhaps only because it so rarely happens.
1. Nathaniel, who might have bought David Beckham a pint.
The first time a stranger and I spoke on the train these past couple of weeks was when I sat opposite a guy who had one of those badges on lanyards hanging from his neck that showed he was a part of the Olympics in some way. He seemed happy but restless and kept almost making eye contact. I read that his name was Nathaniel and that he worked in catering. I finally asked him, ‘are you working tonight?’ This was Friday, the day of the Opening Ceremony. ‘Yes!’ he said, excited to talk about it. We talked for 30 minutes about the whole thing. He had already met Princess Anne and as he worked in the VIP area he was hoping to meet David Beckham. ‘I’m going to buy him a pint,’ he said. ‘He might refuse, but at least I can say bI offered to buy David Beckham a pint.’ I hope David accepted.
2. New York. Not City.
That afternoon I was on the tube on my way back to my home station when an American guy asked me how to get to the Hammersmith & City Line. I had seen him looking at the map and pointing out West Ham, which said ‘Olympic Park’ on the map we were looking at but I knew Stratford was the better station so I told him so and told him how to get there. He thanked me, asked if I was from the States, and when I said yes he asked ‘Where in the States are you from?’ and I said Minnesota but I was immediately embarrassed because I was with my Texan sister and I felt I should explain to her why I said Minnesota even though I don’t even know if she heard me. Then I asked him where he was from (‘New York’, he said, but I could tell he meant State, not City) and we talked about what Games he was going to see. As we parted ways he asked my name, thanked me again and shook my hand. The sort of guy one’s grandma would call A Nice Boy.
3. Guys who can’t help themselves when sport is on the telly
The third time was on the train to Hampton Court to see the cycling time trials. The women’s rowing was happening as we pulled out of Waterloo so husband had it playing live on his iPhone (which is why his phone died later and we had such difficulty meeting up–how did anyone cope before mobile phones?? I kept wondering and finally saying out loud to anyone who would listen). A man behind him heard the live video, jumped up and came over to us, talking excitedly and watching it over my husband’s shoulder. A man in a row of seats facing away from us got all twitchy, looked over his shoulder a few times (I thought he was cross with the noise of the video) then finally threw his paper down, got up and joined us too. When the women won gold we all cheered together and clapped.
4a. People who caught the Team BG cycling fever
That afternoon on the way back to Waterloo from Hampton Court on an incredibly, I mean INCREDIBLY, hot and airless train one of the Olympic helpers, a retired man, started talking to my neice and I about the crowds at the time trials. He was more than proud, he was thrilled to be a part of such an historic event. It was the end of a long, hot, exhausting day but he was almost jumping around with excitement. He told us that the cycling road race had more spectators than there had ever been for a single event. I wondered about the Tour de France, but decided I wanted to believe him. It all sounded so exciting.
Oh, and this was fun–the little LED readouts on some trains (the one’s that tell you what stations the train will stop at), read ‘Gold Medal Express’ on the way back to Waterloo after Bradley Wiggins gold medal win that afternoon. I love that the train company thought to do that. Everyone was taking photos of it but I was too far away for my camera phone or you would have seen it here.
That same evening on another tube my brother-in-law was talking to me about seeing Bradley Wiggins ride past and a guy behind me asked ‘were you there?‘ with awe. Bro-in-law said yes, and the guy started telling bro-in-law how exciting it was and how he watched it on the telly and how…etc.
And I was happy. Happy to be swept up in the goodwill and happiness of it all.
It’s great being in a country that does well in the Olympics, that helps. But what also helps is that the organisers have done such an amazing, I mean AMAZING job with the Games. When I first arrived here 20+ years ago to a land of grocery store hours 8-6 every day and closed on Sunday with checkout staff angry that they have to be there at all and I could jolly well find my own toilet rolls because it wasn’t their fault I couldn’t find them when they reorganised the shop, I would never have expected this same country could organise something as huge as the modern Olympics, with as much friendliness and excellent customer service and excellent transport links and fantastic shopping nearby and…and… am I gushing? It’s just all so lovely and I am so happy to be in the UK while it’s happening.
What an amazing experience.