Friday, 24 August 2012

After the party and recollections of riots

With the main Olympics a week past and the Paralympics opening ceremony less than a week away I feel a sense of being surrounded by the post party lull mixed with having to gear up again for the next one.

Roll up - the party's about to begin

Working in Queen Mary reception means that we are right opposite the stands for the equestrian events and the whole area was buzzing.  Our daily toil was accompanied by cheering from the stands that became a roar when the gold medals were awarded.  Sitting at our desk, we caught glimpses of people in the stands jumping up and down energetically waving flags. Going out at lunchtime we found the campus lively with people from all nations leisurely strolling up and down, those looking particularly lost being helped by the ever-so helpful ‘games makers’. The big screen in the centre of the campus broadcast sports all day and people took advantage of the free deckchairs or lounged on the grass enjoying picnics and refreshments from the stands surrounding them.  While the sun shone, the beautiful tall ships sailed up and down the river giving an impression that all was right with the world.
Tall ships on the Thames

A party atmosphere on Campus

Following the very British quirkiness of the Opening ceremony I was really looking forward to the closing ceremony – how could that possibly top the opening event?  Rather than risk the dodgy sound system of the big screen at Blackheath we decided to sit back with our feet up at home.  After a lovely meal we plumped up the cushions, lined up the snacks and set the lighting to ‘just right’ mode ready to settle down to a comfy evening watching the show.  I decided to embrace the general ‘feel good factor’ splashed all over the press and experienced on campus, feeling slightly guilty for the cynicism expressed in my last blog. Half an hour before the show was about to commence, the normally very chilled Him-at-home rushed out the front door.  Rather alarmed - and curious - I followed him out.  Standing in our front room he’d observed a man brazenly helping himself to the side mirror of our car parked just two metres from our front window.  We made it just in time to see him legging it down the road to jump in a waiting car that sped off before we had time to take the number.  I was left feeling really upset. I do not understand the mentality of people who do things with an attitude of ‘what is mine is mine and what’s yours in mine when I want it.’

It was a salutary reminder that so close under that surface glow of Olympic fever lurk the same problems that led to the riots of last year.  During that madness, I was working in Clearing at the Greenwich Maritime Campus and remember walking through the streets at lunchtime watching the market traders packing up early and shopkeepers boarding up their windows.  There was a real sense of fear with panic lurking just below the surface veneer of organisation and activity. We waited anxiously for news, hoping we would be able to make it home safely.   My friend Janine has specialised in photographing civil unrest and protest since the 1960s.  As I was reflecting on the difference between this London Olympic summer and the last Riots summer, I had an email alerting me to her latest photo blog that featured archival photos of the 1969 ‘People’s Park’ Occupation and subsequent riots in Berkley, California.  I had never heard of this event and was fascinated to find that it was a one of the first ‘Occupy’ movements  ‘and a rare political victory against the corporate state’.  Although this and the London Riots are separated by 40 years and a large ocean, they were both situations that spiralled, unnecessarily, out of control.  However to me the protest in California was justified with police and state acting completely outrageously with a shockingly over heavy hand.  In contrast, the London riots escalated with the help of social media from a badly mishandled attempted arrest to mindless violence and senseless destruction while police were often depicted as often standing by, seemingly stunned into inactivity, overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of rioters.

When the situation was finally brought under control, stiff prison sentences were handed down, CCTV images of offenders were published in the press, and there was talk and column inches of plans to tackle the underlying causes of the behaviour and curb the use of social media to prevent such organisation in the future … and then the preparations for the Olympics began. It was time to sweep all that under the carpet and let the party begin. 

Well the next party will be over in two weeks and Londoners will be left with a hefty debt that will take years to pay off while those promises to repay the Lottery Fund money diverted from other worthy causes and charities to the Olympics will be forgotten.  Just as I have been enjoying the party atmosphere around the campus, I may as well continue to join in for the Paralympics before the belt tightening winter sets in. After all, I have helped pay for it via all those extra taxes.

However a note to the opening and closing ceremony planners: Please don’t roll out Paul McCartney doing Hey Jude.  It is downright embarrassing and he doesn’t know when to stop.

Spotted in Greenwich town - a little reminder that the Aussies are in town.

Monday, 6 August 2012

The Olympics with mixed feelings

Olympic rings on barge

At Greenwich it is wall-to-wall Olympics, Olympics, Olympics.  There are Ambassadors dressed in the now familiar pink and purple everywhere, pink signs to direct the hordes of spectators to the equestrian events, roads divided off into different lanes, buildings freshly cleaned and painted, all green areas manicured to perfection and groups of police, army and navy personnel strolling around; lovely for those who like a man – or woman – in uniform!

Olympic stall

It has been very strange working in Clearing Reception, with part of my time spent at Avery Hill and part in Greenwich. Once I leave the immediate surroundings of Greenwich Park with all the Olympics fever, I feel like I am entering another country.  I only live an hour’s walk from there and as I meander my way back home after work, gradually the streets become shabbier and quieter.  My street is almost ghostly quiet – the impact of so many locals leaving to avoid all the disruption.  As a scooter rider and cyclist I notice the increasing number of potholes the further I travel from Greenwich – evidence of the uneven distribution of our council taxes used to smarten up certain areas at the expense of others. As a former business owner, I feel sorry for those traders suffering decreased takings as people avoid areas expected to be very busy with Olympic traffic. I have such mixed feelings about it all.  When London won the bid to host the Olympics just as the world slumped deeper into recession I was one of those sceptics concerned with how much funding would need to be diverted from other areas to fund it all in an “enjoy now pay later” culture quite alien to my upbringing of living within one’s means. Despite the hype and excitement, I have not changed my views.

In contrast to our Maritime campus, the Mansion site on our Avery Hill campus is very quiet - the usual summer quietness when students have left for their summer break.  This is the first year we have had a Clearing reception area open at Avery Hill and it is an ideal place for visitors to pop in for advice or help to complete their applications if they would prefer to avoid the crowds in Greenwich.

Big screen bill board

To my great surprise, I enjoyed the Games Opening Ceremony. In preparation, Him-at-home and I had an evening picnic, the ingredients sourced during my lunchtime stroll through Greenwich Market.  We ate wonderful fresh sushi freshly made by ‘T’ and Laslo followed by strawberry custard tarts from Saint Sugar of London.  We ate sitting by the Thames entertained by a succession of graceful boats sailing past as the sun began to set.

Sailing ship

After watching the aerial acrobatics by the Cutty Sark, we washed our picnic down with a welcome pint of locally brewed Meantime bitter at the Old Brewery.

Aerial acrobatics

Acrobat on ropes

By this time the area around the big screen was filling with people gathering to watch the ceremony.  We all oohed and aahed at the flypast by the Red Arrows. 

Gathering for the show

Still with an hour to wait and nowhere comfortable to sit, we wandered up the hill to watch the screen in Blackheath instead, preferring to do the steep climb early rather than later.  As we walked up past Greenwich Park the familiar horsey smells reminded me of countryside adventures with my daughter.  We arrived at Blackheath to a wonderful festival atmosphere just as the opening credits rolled. The exuberant crowd entered fully into the spirit of the show, greeting different segments with cheers, laughter, and applause.  Following the much enjoyed segment with Her Maj and James Bond, the crowd rose to their feet as the opening bars to the National Anthem rang across the green. It sounded like as football match as they sang along lustily while enthusiastically waving their Union Jacks.  It was quite an experience for those of us holding more republican views; we stood by, quite bemused by it all.

By the time the athlete’s parade began our feet were sore from standing for so long and with our ears ringing from the rather dodgy unsynchronised sound system, we headed back home intending to make it in time for the fireworks.  However the parade went on for so long that after our half hour of fast walking followed by a rush to switch on the telly, they were only up to the ‘E’ countries so we sat comfortably with feet up and a nice cup of tea to watch the F to Zs and then the closing extravaganza.  It was well worth the wait and as we watched on TV, we could hear the real thing faintly in the background.  With the bangs of fireworks and the roar of the crowd ringing in our ears, we tumbled into bed at 2am after awarding the ceremony a gold medal for its British eccentricity factor.