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.

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