Yesterday we have the privilege of attending the opening ceremony. One of my Gen Re clients invited me and how could we turn down that opportunity. Now I am sure the ethical people are saying how can you accept an invitation like that. Yes, you’re right – I cleared it with my company who when I asked the powers that be just replied said “ENJOY”. And ENJOY we did.
We had to be at the hotel (Strand Palace Hotel) at just after 1pm in order to register, get our tickets etc. The hotel was pretty much taken over by Lloyds Banking Group (who invited us). We registered, got a whole lot of free stuff (British scarf, Olympic pin, Olympic guide) and most importantly got our tickets. We only used the hotel room to discard of the packaging. It was the typical small London hotel room. Double bed but the one side of the bed was up against the wall so if two people were sleeping in it and the one up against the wall wanted to get out, it would be impossible without jumping on the other person.
At 2pm we had an invite to lunch at Christopher’s for a select group of the Lloyds invitees. Lloyds Banking Group own Scottish Widows (an insurer) and that is who invited us and they organised the lunch. The lunch was good but nothing spectacular. After lunch we headed for Waterloo to catch the tube to Stratford and the Olympic stadium. They did not organise a coach to take us as you can’t really get near the Olympic Park and they were told to rather take the tube. After about 1 stop the tube was packed. It did thin out a little but not much. Everyone was heading to the Olympic Park.
From the station it is about a 15 minute walk to get to the Olympic Park. They asked to see that we had tickets about 5 or 6 times before we even got near the Park. At the Park you have to go through airport type security. It was an absolute breeze again. And again I was expecting to queue and they were warning it could take up to 2 hours. Absolutely no queue at all. Straight through. And the people involved were incredibly pleasant. I told them I hoped they would move to Heathrow airport after they were finished the Olympics. They had more scanning machines than I have ever seen at one place.
We walked around the Olympic Park and had a look at most things. They have a 30000 ft MacDonalds (or as Paul calls it – the Devils food). Purpose built for the Park alongside everything else. The problem is that there are not enough food and drink stations. They could have double what they have. It is the one blemish on their organisation. If you’re looking for a good queue then the beer stand was the place to find it. It never let up the whole evening. After we had done the walk (and called to wish my parents for their 49th wedding anniversary), it was 6pm and we were hot (it was very humid) and ready to sit down. We headed to our seats. You have to go onto ‘Olympic Island’. The stadium has water on three sides and so you have to go over a Bridge which is also the ticket entry point to get into the stadium itself (you can see the entry in background behind Helen’s head).
Our seats were 5 rows from the top but almost in the middle of stadium (just slightly to the left). For the opening they were great because you had an amazing perspective and can see everything happening. If you watched the opening we were exactly opposite where Her Majesty, the Queen, was sitting. We were asked to be seated by 7:30pm and most people were though the show only started at 20:12. That was the pre-show where they warmed us up and gave us instructions of what was required from us. All this time the opening country scene was in operation in front of us with people playing cricket, others having a picnic, sheep being herded, a horse and cart in operation, farming etc. And they just kept going until the opening was broadcast live on TV which was about an hour later. They even had fake clouds and they could even rain but the British weather played its part at this point and the heavens opened instead. It wouldn’t be England without a little rain.
The countdown to the beginning started and the excitement level rose. Bradley Wiggins (Tour d’France winner) opened the show with a strike on the Bell which is the biggest tuned Bell in the world and will remain where it is for 200 years (God willing that is) until it needs to be retuned. The manufacturers already have that date in their diaries apparently! And then the show commenced. And it was a show to remember. I did have relatively high hopes for a good production but this exceeded it by miles. There is no way that TV could capture the whole thing and the atmosphere around it. Helen was almost moved to tears at parts.
They changed scenes from the Village to the Industrial revolution and they did it without stopping the show. How does someone think up 4 hours of entertainment like this? Danny Boyle was the man behind it and he must have an amazing mind to envisage something like this. And where did those smoke stacks come from? And if you looked closely you would have seen that there were people on the sides of the smoke stacks. There is no way to really properly explain the whole thing and what was going on. It really was incredible. I battle to come up with sufficient superlatives to describe it.
The arrival of the Queen was also very well done and for a second or two we thought that they were going to land the helicopter in the stadium. It was a brilliant touch having Daniel Craig ‘taking’ the Queen to the stadium. The crowd loved it and it was great to see her ‘playing’ along. The highlight was Rowan Atkinson playing in the Orchestra during Chariots of Fire. The whole stadium was in hysterics (and believe from the comments on Facebook so was most of the World).
The only slightly boring part was the almost two hours it took for all the athletes to come in. 208 countries. About 100 of them I never heard of before. I needed an atlas. Everyone took the opportunity to go to the toilets and join the food & drink queues. I went to the toilet just after Canada came in and when I got back to my seat it was Czech Republic being announced. I never even missed a letter in the alphabet! Helen and I started playing a game of thinking up what countries would be in the next letter to see how many we could get. I think we only got ‘R’ correct. When South Africa came in Helen and I both jumped up and shouted and cheered (we were the only ones in the whole section doing it) and that at least gave us (and everyone) else some entertainment. The entry of Team GB was amazing. The crowd went crazy and everyone was caught up in it.
The lighting effects were amazing as well. Behind each seat was a light panel and created the effects that you can see in the photos. We also had to move them around from time to time to give effects of movement or flashing. Again, who thinks up these types of things? The torch lightening ceremony was also a highlight (how many highlights were there!?). And after the lighting of the torch, Paul McCartney finished off the evening with the singing of ‘Hey Jude’ and everyone in the stadium joined in.
And then it was over. It took us about 20 minutes just to get out of our row. I also wonder what would happen in an emergency. We certainly would have been burnt alive or buried in the rubble. And we still had to get to a station and then onto a train. Helen and I managed to walk past about 10000 people when we did get out of the stadium. There were a number of routes home and Helen and I just went for the route that seemed to keep moving and we criss-crossed the crowd to find it. We eventually ended up heading for Stratford International station. We had to wait to get into the station and while we were waiting one of the volunteers just entertained us with his megaphone. The volunteers were amazing. They were always smiling, chirping and commentating. They kept you entertained even when you were just standing doing nothing. And they aren’t even being paid.
We got onto the Docklands Light Railway and then changed at West Ham onto the District line. By the time we got onto the District line it was 1:20am and we had 16 stations to get back to St James. We got back to the flat at 2:15am. But every minute of inconvenience was worth it.
We are flying back to SA this evening but don’t worry – I am back next week again for more Olympics. I have 4 more sets of events and so you will definitely get some more blogs in the next 17 days. Go SA – just watched Chad le Clos whip Michael Phelps in the heats of the individual medley. Let’s hope he repeats that tonight in the final.