Being blessed with luck in so many things, I was sent to the Olympic Park in early May to write about an evening ‘test event’ – and I have to say, if they can keep it as quiet as it was then, I shall really enjoy the Olympics, because I do so hate a crowd, don’t you? On the chilly evening of my women’s water polo matches (in which the British team performed dismally, but we’ll draw a veil over that), stewards outnumbered visitors by about five to one, which is just the way I like it.
It was rather lovely. We privileged few scuttled noiselessly at dusk across the acres of pristine bonded gravel, past the mighty Olympic Stadium, trying not to look at the ugliest piece of public sculpture Anish Kapoor has (sadly) ever produced, and across a little bridge guarded by teams of efficient (and rather jolly) security staff.
If I felt strangely happy, though, it was because I had only just understood how wonderfully near the Olympic Park is to the Westfield Stratford City shopping centre. Did everyone else know this? I expect they did, but it was a fabulous surprise to me. In all my experience as a sportswriter – travelling to ghastly football stadiums in ghastly industrial wastelands – shopping at John Lewis at half-time was never a remote possibility.
I long ago accepted the fact that, to see sport in the flesh, you must cross over into a comfortless out-of-doors world where, if you happen to need a box of Cath Kidston mini-notelets in a hurry, you’re stuffed. The unexpected fact that you can actually see a John Lewis from inside the Olympic Park simply filled my heart with joy.
As I passed the Olympic Stadium, I’m not kidding, someone was testing out the sound system, playing the opening of Chariots of Fire. And for the tiniest moment, I found myself stopping and thinking, ‘Oh, this is going to be marvellous’. But of course, being British, I didn’t say it out loud; I didn’t allow myself even to think it for very long.
I mean to say, what if it’s all truly been a terrible mistake, and we’re not going to host the Olympics after all? I have mentioned before my genuine belief that the man who awarded the Games to London was supposed to say Paris. What’s to stop him coming clean, and dropping his bombshell, any time up to July 27?
Meanwhile, it’s only natural to be afraid of tempting fate, surely? My own horror of premature celebration means that I sometimes continue to refuse to enjoy things even while they are happening. I don’t count chickens until they’ve not only hatched, but actually died after a long and quite productive egg-laying career.
There was another reason, however, for feeling sheepish about my pathetic ‘This is going to be marvellous’ epiphany. I remembered how a dear friend, years ago, famously stood in the ruins of Pompeii and pronounced, ‘Something very bad happened here’. (Don’t get me wrong, this is a woman who has made many treasured original comments over the years, my favourite being to a state official handling her application to become a US citizen at the age of 80, when he asked whether she was at all interested in overthrowing the government of the US. ‘Well,’ she said, ‘someone would have to hold my stick.’)
But to predict that something marvellous might begin to unfold in London’s E20 at the end of July this year is rather similar to saying that something very bad happened at Pompeii – especially given that I was standing beside a completed marvellous stadium in a multi-billion-pound sporting pilgrimage site dedicated entirely to the production of marvellousness. I will, however, stick my neck out and say there won’t be enough bins. On the other hand, the gravel looks very hard-wearing.
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