Say you were to walk across Trafalgar Square this week, minding your own business. How would it make you feel to discover that the Olympics start in 165 days, 12 hours and 27 minutes? Is this information you would welcome, or not? I imagine there are two main reactions to the sight of the Olympic countdown clock outside the National Gallery.
First, I suppose there are people who think they just can’t wait that long. ‘165 whole days?’ they wail. ‘Is it really such a long way off? Will the opening ceremony be as fabulous as the London contribution at the end of the Beijing Games? A London bus was involved then, you know! There was a woman singer with big legs from The X Factor, supported on the end of a long stick!’
The second reaction to the sight of the Olympic countdown is a bit less enthusiastic. ‘165 days? Oh blimey, thanks for reminding me.’ A mental checklist of Games Avoidance strategies needs to be run through yet again. ‘Cancelled all newspapers? Damn. Still to do. Located right-sized cardboard box for placing over head for entire duration? Almost. Narrowing it down. Rented out house for huge sum? Bugger, probably too late now. Booked a holiday in the Arctic Circle? First thing I thought of.’
I’m personally somewhere between these reactions. To be honest, I am still convinced that the announcement of ‘London’ all those years ago was in fact a terrible mistake, which might still be rectified. What I think happened is this: the man from the International Olympic Committee was supposed to say ‘Paris’, you see. ‘Paris’ was written clearly on the card in front of him. But something made him say ‘London’, and once the word had slipped out, he couldn’t take it back. It was the most costly slip of the tongue in the history of oratory, but my plea to him is this: it is not too late to admit it, sir, and finally put things right.
As for the countdown clock – well, I just hate countdowns of any sort. Clocks ticking forwards are fine; running backwards, they induce panic and depression. For heaven’s sake, it’s bad enough that time runs out for all of us, without having to watch it happen! Unlike most people my age, I could never even bear to watch Countdown, the TV quiz game. Show me nine random letters – WSDICAEHN – and I can probably find a few decent words, if left alone. But once the clock starts ticking, the only thoughts I have are, ‘Hold it! Stop! Please don’t! Stop! Twenty seconds gone? No! That can’t be right! Stop!’ At the end of which, 30 seconds have elapsed, and I’ve found nothing (especially tragic in this case as my favourite word, SANDWICH, is there).
I have a friend I sometimes visit, who can’t help calculating the length of time to my departure, virtually from the moment I arrive. This habit evokes the same feelings in me. ‘You’ve been here a whole day now,’ she says. ‘That means there are only 11 days left!’ I have never yet shouted, ‘Stop wishing my life away!’, but it’s been hard not to. She is someone who would, I think, be unaffected by the news that there are now 165 days, 12 hours and 24 minutes to the Olympics (I’m calculating three minutes to read this piece, but please don’t dwell on it).
This article can be found in the February 2012 issue of Saga Magazine.
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