Ian Waddell: Searching for the British Olympic spirit
Today is my day to suck up the atmosphere of Olympic London and find the British Olympic spirit, if such a thing exists.
My problem is the London in my head is the London of my student days in the year I spent at the London School of Economics. Given that I was a fellow student with a guy named Mick Jagger, that was some time ago.
All the students then were assigned tutors to whom we had to report once a month, and those tutors had some power over us. I have it on good authority (source former director Sir Howard Davies) that Mick asked his tutor permission to take a year out to promote is fledgling band. Reluctantly the tutor said OK but "bands like yours don't last very long".
On my way to Hyde Park I passed a great photographic exhibition entitled "The 50 Rolling Stones Years".
To join the designated area to view the Olympic events on five big screens, I took the Tube—the subway—to Hyde Park. Actually I started out on the Overground line, which is sparkling new. And even the old Underground looked cleaned up.
I YouTubed a speech by London Mayor Boris Johnson about his responsibilities, transit, and police. The guy is not so dumb as our press portrays him. I have to say the subway was great and the police were unobtrusive and helpful.
I entered the park near "Speakers Corner". Here anyone can rise and speak. Indeed, speakers in the past have included Marx and Lenin and a few dumb Canadian students. (Anyone have a mirror?)
To my surprise I group of horse guards marched past me. Get the camera!
To get to the actual entrance of the fenced-off area, you had to walk and walk and walk. Beside the walkway was a fast bike lane. I looked over my shoulder to perhaps get a glimpse of Mayor Roberson or Coun. Geoff Meggs or some other Vision type, but no luck.
On the way, I felt hungry and saw a booth advertising “British Food” so I bought a hamburger. I should have known better. "British food"—it’s a contradiction in terms.
When I got to the actual entrance, there was 30-minute lineup for a security check. Damn, I missed Brit Andy Murray’s gold medal in tennis over Roger Federer. Andy and I are both Scots. He does, however, play better tennis. I did get to hear the cheers.
In the queue, I talked to a cool German guy who was a big fan of woman’s soccer and, as a Christian, was going to do volunteer work in Israel. I thought that’s a pretty good switch.
Inside, the action reminded me of how we in Vancouver offered free entertainment for free those without tickets by putting up big screens and a couple of stages. People lay on wood chips on the ground. The difference was you could easily buy beer and walk around with it. This is Britain after all.
Actually, the Brits borrowed a lot from our 2010 Winter games. They had the cross\-country torch relay, fresh-faced volunteers everywhere and, of course, this free park. In their opening spectacle they didn’t have a flying snowboarder enter the stadium, but they did have James Bond and Elizabeth II—minus her corgy dogs—parachute in from a helicopter, which started at Buckingham Palace. (Well, her double).
It would have been nice if someone somewhere had mentioned the successful 2010 Vancouver/Whistler Olympics. The Economist magazine wrote a critical article about how all Olympic Games lost money. Pardon? Not Vancouver, if you look at the operating statement.
Once inside the enclosure, I sat down among the largely British crowd and watched the mixed doubles tennis on the big screen. Again my fellow Scot, Andy Murray, played, but this time the Brits lost in a nail biter.
To their credit the crowd gave a big hand to the Belarus victors. Would a Canadian or American crowd have done the same? Maybe there's a little bit of Olympic spirit here.
I exited the big field into the upscale Mayfair area. My guidebook told me it was the home of a lot of one percenters. But it also told me a story I had never heard before. Apparently, a young Paul McCartney found himself shacked up with one of his first girlfriends and on getting up for breakfast, had a tune in his head. He called it, appropriately, "Scrambled Eggs". His bandmates didn’t like the title so he changed it to “Yesterday”.
All my troubles were fading away as my route to Canada House in Trafalgar Square took me along Oxford Street. This is a prime shopping area like Vancouver's Robson Street, multiplied by one hundred. What struck me was the display setups in the store windows. Selfridges, the big department store, was the best. Numerous scenes representing the Olympics and other parts of contemporary British life and products were displayed. The self-deprecating wit and the sheer genius of the designs were true Brit.
Back at Canada House I watched more events on TV with athletes and families and, of course, sucked up on free wine, beer and snacks. I don’t know if this is courtesy of you the Canadian taxpayer or the various bad old corporate sponsors, but thanks. The tired body needed the refreshment.
I decided I wanted to watch the big men's 100-metre race with those remarkable Jamaicans at my temporary London digs, the home of a friend, David Nanson. Vancouver-born and bred,he's now a solicitor in London.
Problem is I got lost when I came out of the Tube. Luckily I ran into three young men who promptly looked up my street on the GPS on one of their phones. Turns out they are young actors. Turns out also one is English from London, one Scots from Glasgow, and one Canadian. The Canadian was Chinese Canadian from Toronto. Turns out like me, the Canadian said he was born in Glasgow. Go figure. This is our new world and I like it.
Anyway, thanks to the lads I sprinted home (forgive me) in time to take in the 100-metre dash. The previous night I had been to the vast stadium in the Olympic Park (thanks to the help of relatives of our wonderful shot putter, Dylan Armstrong, from Kamloops). It looked just as good on TV.
Quite a day. Did I feel a British Olympic spirit about in the town? It is hard to compare London to Vancouver because London is so much bigger and I am not wildly cheering each British athlete, but yes, the spirit is there in its own British way.
Ian Waddell is a former NDP MP and NDP MLA and was B.C.'s first cabinet minister responsible for Vancouver's Olympic bid. He's in London to attend the Summer Games.