R and G go to the Olympics

We tried in every ballot to get child-priced seats for various Olympic events. We failed miserably. When Olympic tickets were put on general sale at the end of May I snapped up four Olympic Park tickets for the first Wednesday of the Games. We wouldn’t be able to get into any venues but we could take the girls and soak up the atmosphere. Dh was working, so the girls and I went with my Mum.

It was a hard concept to explain to R and G. We were going to the place where the Olympics was happening, but we weren’t seeing anything ‘live’. The weather in the morning was decidedly iffy and I wondered what on earth I had let myself in for as we huddled under umbrellas (it’s only the Union Jack when it’s at sea) eating McDonalds (the girls’ first Happy Meals – I’m not sure they were terribly impressed) and gazing up at the big screen in Park Live.

Things brightened up considerably when, courtesy of the women’s rowing team, we won our first Gold medal. The atmosphere grew and it was electric as we watch Bradley Wiggins (Mum’s a big fan) win the road time trial. At that point the girls finally ‘got it’ and G stopped asking when we were going home. Actually, she remained spectacularly unbothered by it all. R got into the spirit of things and started cheering while G played games on my iPad.

We actually managed to have a really good day, thanks to the strategic use of food, ice cream, temporary tattoos, golden Wenlock’s (don’t ask) and electronic devices. Sunshine and success also helped. By the end of the day the girls were strutting through the Olympic Park wearing the Union Flag as a cape and moaned when I said it was time to go home. We’d been there from 10am and finally left at 5.30pm so we made the most of our day passes.

On our way out of the Olympic Park we passed a man doing live interviews for radio. He finished his piece, stuck the microphone in front of me and asked me a series of questions about our day, the Olympic experience, the effect on London, etc. I think I managed to babble convincingly and some poor saps somewhere were subjected to me saying the word amazing 37 times and sounding like I’d been brainwashed by LOCOG.

Next day, the girls told everyone at nursery about their day at the Olympics with Mummy and Nanny. They are really looking forward to going to the Paralympics and R keeps pointing out that we’re going to be seeing stuff ‘For real’ this time.

On a side note, the success of the Team GB women was wonderful to see and, as someone with two daughters it was great that they got to watch hours of women being really good at sport on TV. The sport that we watch tends to be male-dominated (being rugby and cricket fans doesn’t help) and I don’t think there are many healthy, inspirational female role models for girls outside the sporting realm. At certain points the girls demanded to watch sport with girls in and I was happy to let them. I’d much rather they wanted to be Jessica Ennis than Jessica Simpson.

The girls can’t make up their minds which Olympic sport they’d like to take up. On Friday afternoon G declared, while riding her bike around the garden that she’d like to do indoor cycling. The next Laura Trott or Victoria Pendleton? Maybe when she takes the stabilisers off. They are both into gymnastics at the moment, thanks in no small part to the gym classes they are attending in lieu of ballet over the summer. R quite fancies having a go at diving and she and R are already looking forward to starting swimming lessons in September. I reckon the identical twin thing would give them a nice advantage when it came to synchronised diving.  There has been a lot of talk about legacy and ‘Inspiring a generation’ I’m not sure that R trying to triple-jump across the dining room was quite what Seb Coe had in mind, but it’s a start.

The girls may not fully appreciate their Olympic experience now, but I hope when they grow up they look back on it fondly and realise that they were part of a once in a lifetime event.

House of Groupies, or stalking Tom

For months I moaned to anyone and everyone about not being able to get tickets for the Men’s 10 metre platform diving. At the end of the first week of the Olympics I – more in hope than expectation – clicked on to the ticketing website and additional tickets for the preliminaries the following Friday had been released. Moreover, they were in a price bracket I could afford. I put one in my basket, waited 14 agonising minutes for the website to decide whether I was worthy of the ticket or not (I feared that LOCOG may have blacklisted me) and squeaked with joy when the magic payment screen appeared. My hands actually shook as I confirmed my credit card details.

The reason for my excitement? When I said I was going to watch the diving my friends laughed and said: ‘He’s a CHILD Jo. A child’. I protested my innocence until I was blue in the face: I just wanted to pat him on the head; he’s the sort of boy that I’d like the girls to bring home one day; I’m almost old enough to be his mother, all of which was true. Then I SAW him in the flesh (as t’were) and I became a proper 15 year old Tom Daley groupie. The boy had become A MAN.

Flipping heck.

When I was actually 15 I was a total nerd. Very academic, very geeky, extremely gawky, didn’t follow the crowd, liked to be a bit different. A bit weird. When my friends were drooling over Take That I was listening to Pulp and Blur. Mis-Shapes by Pulp was my anthem. My classmates didn’t understand me; Jarvis Cocker did. I missed out on a whole chunk of my adolescence trying (and mostly failing) to be a grown-up. I didn’t really go through the posters on the wall, screaming, sobbing fangirl thing. I’d liked Bros when I was 8 but by the time New Kids on the Block came along I was, like, so over the whole boyband thing.

On Friday night I became the 13 year old I had missed out on being first time round. Every time Tom stepped up to dive I squealed like a One Direction uber-fan. I watched his dives though my fingers, yelling GOOD BOY! GOOD BOY! as he splashed into the water. He wasn’t diving at his best on Friday (maybe I jinxed him with my presence) and squeaked through the prelims. At the end he went over to the mix zone (I’m up with the lingo, me) and I took the opportunity to get a bit closer and take some photos.

Now, I have this weird thing with celebrities and sporting heroes. I’ll watch them perform, I’ll buy their stuff but the thought of actually meeting them fills me with dread. They do their thing, I do mine but I won’t ever put myself out there and press flesh or exchange words with them. My sister will happily stroll up to any cricketer in the country and have a chat, but I always hide in the background praying not to be noticed. I have an irrational fear that they’ll laugh at me, or be rude and I don’t want to put myself through that. I guess it’s one of the reasons Dh is so secure about it all. I admire from afar but I’d wet myself if I ever actually met any of them.

So, I was hanging over a balcony taking pictures of Tom and I realised that everyone around me doing the same was at least 10 years younger than me. Some of them were wearing glittery t-shirts bearing his name. At one point Tom’s Mum looked up at us with an unfathomable expression on her face. She wasn’t cross, more bemused. I tried to put myself in her place. As a parent, it must be weird for one of your children to be revered and adored by total strangers. I can’t imagine how I would feel if R or G were down there being leered at by a bunch of lusty blokes. Actually, I can and I’d take a shotgun with me…

It felt a bit wrong, so I stopped and went home (not before going to the toilet and practically bumped into Team Daley on my way out as they waited for their boy to finish his media commitments) and resolved to get over myself. Then I got chatting to one of my Mum friends the next day. She’s 45 and when I mentioned that I’d been to watch him dive she went into proper PHWOAR HE’S GAWGUS mode and I calculated that, actually, thanks to being a late developer I’m not old enough to be his mother and that it’s all perfectly fine. As it turns out, there’s quite a cohort of 20, 30 and 40-something women that think he’s rather marvellous so I’m not alone.

My friend and I are already hatching plans to go and watch the Commonwealth Games in 2014. The Games themselves are in Glasgow but the diving competition (sorry, ‘meet’) is taking place in Edinburgh. I quite fancy going up there on the overnight sleeper and making a girlie weekend of it. I just need to get a diamante t-shirt made. Then there’s the British diving championships in 2013…

We asked R and G who their favourite Olympians were. G tends to favour ‘OO-SAIN BOLT’ whilst R likes doing his stance. She’s also fond of doing the Mo-bot, in honour of Mo Farah. They both said that Tom was their favourite tonight as they pretended to dive into the bath. In four years’ time the girls will 8, Tom will be 22 and they can take over the fangirl mantle from me.

Down the Olympic rabbit hole

I didn’t ever doubt that London could pull the Olympics off. As a nation, we’re pretty great at doing large events and pageantry. I wasn’t quite prepared for how amazing the Opening Ceremony was going to be. Danny Boyle produced a take on British social history of which my 17 year old self would have been proud, featuring Brunel, the Industrial Revolution, the Suffragettes, the NHS, Windrush and a tour through popular music that only lacked a burst of Pulp to make it complete. The torch lighting ceremony made me weepy with joy and the night was only tainted by Paul McCartney’s inability to sing his own songs any more.

I was already in love and the sport hadn’t even started….

LOCOG started releasing extra tickets at very short notice and I became addicted to the London 2012 ticket website. At 10.30pm each evening they release returned tickets and unwanted Olympic Family and Press seats. Dh had selflessly got everyone Paralympic tickets but didn’t manage to get himself any Olympic tickets. I decided that he had to go to something and picked up two single tickets for the swimming on the fourth day of competition as a wedding anniversary gift. As we approached the Stratford Gate of the Olympic Park I felt quite overwhelmed and we didn’t stop smiling the whole time we were there. We only watched a few heats but the atmosphere in the Aquatics Centre was fantastic and whenever a Team GB competitor appeared the whole place went bananas.

Dh’s Olympic sojourn ended there: mine was only just beginning. My Mum and I took the girls to the Olympic Park for the day – our adventures will appear in a separate post. After two heady days at the epicentre of the Games I took myself off to Lord’s for the Archery. It was the Olympics, clearly, but much more civilised – aside from one set of fans shouting MEHICO MEHICO and a whole gang of South Koreans chanting and banging sticks together whenever one of their countrywomen competed.

My late night forays on the ticketing website secured me three diving events in the second week. I had to go on my own, but that was not exactly a hardship. I went to the Men’ 3 metre springboard preliminary and was so into it all that the couple sitting next to me mistook me for the diving expert and started asking me about the nuances of the sport. I think I bluffed fairly well, largely thanks to listening to the expert commentary by Leon Taylor and Bob Ballard over the years. I have enjoyed watching diving for a while but I wasn’t expecting to become a fully-fledged groupie. My binoculars and the zoom on my camera were really put through their paces as I shamelessly peered at buff young (very young) men in tiny speedos. No need for Fifty Shades of Grey when you’ve spent a few hours in their company. In the interest of balance I also watched some women’s diving. I didn’t need to use my binoculars quite as much, but it was still really interesting. My second night of men’s diving gets a post to itself, too.

When I wasn’t at the Olympics I was watching them at home. We had access to a zillion channels of red button awesomeness so I set myself up with my work laptop on my lap, my home laptop to once side, my ipad on the other and the remote in east reach. I went into the office a couple of times for a few hours to get some bits and pieces done but I was largely based at home for the duration.

I watched more of this Olympics than any other. After a slow start, the gold medals started coming in and Team GB lived up to their pre-games billing of ‘Our Greatest Team’. One of my favourite moments was the first Thursday afternoon when we won Gold and Silver in the canoe slalom (who knew that canoeists – and kayackers for that matter – could be so charmingly geeky? They are an endearing counterpoint to the uber rah male rowers) and moments later won Gold in the shooting. Two more disparate events are hard to imagine. Alongside that I developed a fleeting love of judo or, more accurately of local girl Gemma Gibbons as she fought valiantly, with a broken thumb as it turned out, to win a silver medal and looked to the heavens to thank her mum. I, along with a million other women, did quite a bit of sobbing.

I became an armchair expert in a range of sports. I almost hurled my dinner at the screen when the men’s gymnastics team were demoted from silver to bronze thanks to a protest by the sulky Japanese team. Had I been in company I would have been arrested as I shouted expletives at the TV. Luckily the girls were fast asleep in bed and Dh was at work. The gymnasts (Max Whitlock for the teenies, Lewis Smith for the more discerning older lady like myself) were a million times more gracious about it all than I was.

I used to watch a lot of athletics as a kid but have fallen out of love with it in recent years. Too many whingers and too many druggies kept me away but on the magical Saturday night when we won three Gold medals courtesy of Jessica Ennis, Greg Ruthford and Mo Farah re-ignited my love of track and field. I sat with a glass of wine and a plate of cheese and biscuits and marvelled as Mo’s wife, heavily pregnant with twin girls lumbered over to congratulate him. I didn’t leave the house in the last six weeks of my twin pregnancy and yet she was there cheering her man home despite being in obvious and entirely understandable discomfort. Richard Curtis could not have scripted it better.

The Team GB medal tally kept growing, thanks in large part to our amazing cycling programme. It’s always amusing to piss the French off and we are properly good at the two wheel stuff. I’m really hacked off that the events in the Velodrome have been reduced to make way for BMX and mountain biking. I could happily watch that old bloke with the cob-on expression trundle round on a Keirin bike for hours. I miss the individual pursuit and the madness of the Madison. I like the fact that the cyclists and their entourages all go out with each other and I fervently hope they all combine genes and create cycling babies.

I didn’t really watch the sailing but I do rather like Ben Ainslie. I bet I wasn’t the only one to go all wibbly when he did his ‘THEY HAVE MADE ME ANGRY AND YOU WOULDN’T LIKE ME WHEN I’M ANGRY’ speech. I half-expected him to wrestle a bear to the ground and invade Poland armed only with a teaspoon, just because he could.

As things started to wind down I felt overwhelmingly sad. London had been building up to this for 7 years and now it was nearly over. The Closing Ceremony was the epitome of a curates egg. One minute I was bouncing with excitement and the next I was groaning and sinking into the sofa with embarrassment. I watched the whole thing though and felt quite choked up when the Olympic flame was extinguished.

I knew I was going to be consumed by the Olympics. I didn’t quite realise how hard I would fall for it and how bereft I would feel afterwards. On Monday it felt like I had the worst hangover ever and I felt genuinely downhearted.

A butterfly-like phenomenon had, in my lifetime touched down in Russia, America (twice), Spain, Australia and China landed six miles from our doorstep and stayed for a very brief 17 days. It is now in its way to the more exotic climes of Brazil and I can’t imagine that it will come back in my lifetime. Maybe the girls will get to experience it again. I hope they do. I hope they take me out of my nursing home in my wheelchair and plonk me in front of the male divers so I can get one more use out of my ancient binoculars. I don’t want this to be the end of our real-life Olympic adventures*

*Actually it’s not. We’re going to the Paralympics in a couple of weeks.

Life charted by Olympic Games

Moscow 1980

I was seven months old. The memories don’t exactly come flooding back.

 

Los Angeles 1984

I was 4 years old. Again, not many memories here, only the ones that YouTube can give me retrospectively.

 

Seoul 1988

I was 8 years old. This is the first Olympic Games that I have memories of, even though it took place during the school term. Mum bought me a guide to the Games and I read it from cover to cover, again and again. Ben Johnson taught a generation of children that taking performance enhancing drugs (or, in fact, any drugs) is a Really Bad Idea – or at least, don’t take one that will immediately show up in a bog-standard doping test. Florence Griffith-Joyner’s nickname led to me being called Flo-Jo at school for YEARS. Greg Louganis hit his head on the diving board, but still won two gold medals. The GB Men’s hockey team winning gold against the odds.

 

Barcelona 1992

I was 12 years old. Otherwise known as BAAAAARRRCELLLOOOOOONNNNNA thanks to Freddie Mercury (RIP) and Montserrat Caballe. The lighting of the cauldron by the Paralympic Archer. The mascot was Cobi. My sister (8 years old for this one) and I really wanted a Cobi. A unified Germany. South Africa  were allowed to compete for the first time since the end of apartheid. The USA Dream Team in the basketball – to twelve year olds in rainy England, those guys were superstars. Chris Boardman and his bike made in a shed. A far cry from the cycling superstars we know today. Derek Redmond and his Dad. Dh and I went to Barcelona six years ago BT (Before Twins) and visited the still-impressive although slighty frayed around the edges Montjuic Park

 

Atlanta 1996

I was 16 years old. I’d just finished my GCSEs and was working in our local Argos so I don’t have quite as many memories of this Olympics. Michelle Smith’s swimming achievements still appear in the record books, although she was banned in 1998 for doping offences. Michael Johnson’s ‘broom rammed up backside’ running style and all-round brilliance. GB only won one gold medal (a low point in our fortunes, which took place before lottery funding for sports kicked in) and it was, of course, won by Sir Steve Redgrave. He didn’t win Sports Personality of the Year, losing out to Damon Hill which led to a ‘heated’ exchange between my Dad and my Nan (his mother in law) over the phone at the end of the year which is now part of our family’s folklore.

 

Sydney 2000

I was 20 years old and just about to begin my final year at university. I watched half of it with my housemates in Reading and the other half with my Mum at home. Cathy Freeman lit the caluldron and won  gold. Ian Thorpe and his MASSIVE FEET. Redgrave’s fifth gold medal (thankfully he won SPOTY that year, so family harmony was restored.)

History note for HoT fans: The Games finished on 1st October. I had my first date with Dh on Friday 13th October.

 

Athens 2004

I was 24 years old and Dh and I had got married the week before. Kelly Holmes finally won gold and got her Damehood. Michael Phelps (swimming man/giant/geek/freak) won 8 medals. I’m sure I must have watched lots of it, but we were in honeymoon mode and had other things on our minds…

 

Beijing 2008

I was 28 years old. R and G were 8 months old. The Bird’s Nest Stadium. Team GB being abso-bloody-lutely amazing. I’d read good things about our athletes before the Games but dismissed it all as newspaper hype. I was proved wrong on the second day of competition when we won our first gold medal (Dh and I watched it in bed with the girls) and it just kept getting better after that. I even wrote a blog post on it, parts of which I’m going to replicate here:

“Most children watch cartoons, Baby TV or a music channel depending on the preference of the parent. R and G watch sport. They have already watched baseball, cricket and rugby and since last weekend they have been watching the Olympics with us. They were absolutely fascinated by the synchronised diving and were reduced to girlish giggles at the sight of extremely buff young men tumbling (mostly) gracefully into a deep pit of water wearing nothing but a pair of tiny speedos and sporting an impressive array of tattoos and body jewellery. I feel they are a little too young to be introduced to the concept of .gaydar., especially as mine is legendarily wonky.

 

Dh has refused to let them watch any of the equestrian events because he has an irrational fear of them becoming horsey girls. There’s no precedent for a predilection for horses in either family so he’s got nothing to worry about unless they pick up on his dislike and decide to rebel.

 

The girls have watched an American bag of muscles [I think I was referring to Michael Phelps here] break all sorts of records and be declared the greatest Olympian EVER. He’s not. I.ve explained this to them. They have watched the British women wipe the floor with their male colleagues: .SEE! SEE! Girls can do ANYTHING!.. They have also watched cycling, archery, rowing, swimming and canoeing. I didn.t let them watch the boxing or shooting.

 

The most important thing they are getting from the Olympics is a sense of what it is to be English/British. We’re good at the sailing, rowing, cycling and equestrian events. We.re quite bad at judo, weight-lifting, athletics, diving and almost everything else. It’s good that they develop an acceptance of mediocrity, failure and the “It’s been a great experience and I’ll learn from it”. (NO IT.S NOT! YOU ARE TWENTY EIGHT!!) culture now so that they can avoid years of disappointment caused by faded hopes and crushed dreams”.

 

During the Closing Ceremony the handover to London took place which was great except that it featured the twin evils of Boris Johnson and Leona Lewis “Don’t worry!” I declared triumphantly.  “Boris won’t be mayor in four years’ time”. Oh.

 

London 2012

I am 32 years old. R and G are Four (AND A HALF!) years old. It’s here. In our city. The city in which R and G were born. This is MEGA. This is once in a lifetime stuff. We have seen the torch relay. I have spent more hours than is strictly normal on the ticket website. I’m GOING to a couple of events (Archery and Women’s Diving) and the girls and I have Olympic Park tickets next week. For the next few weeks, life is going to be AMAZING.

Team GB*

We’ve got Olympic and Paralympic fever in the HoT.

It’s even worse than the Jubilee fever we experienced earlier in the Summer** where I went from ambivalence to running around Sainsbury’s during the Jubilee weekend buying flags, bunting, union jack paper cups, bowls and an enormous Jubilee cake and insisting that we blow out candles for the Queen and invite everyone over for cake during the flotilla. I went so insane that I actually bought OK! Magazine

I was strolling down Oxford Street on 6 July 6 2005 when London was awarded the 2012 games. I had half-planned to go to Trafalgar Square to watch the announcement but had convinced myself that Paris were going to win. I found out from a random cyclist yelling LONDON 2012!! as they screamed past Nike Town. I hot-footed it over to Traf Square to join in the celebrations, just as they were packing up. Oh well. I was there. Kind of. There was a huge sense of OH MY GOD from everyone. London was a great place to be for 24 hours. Then the July 7th bombers ruined the euphoria the next day…

My immediate thought was that if we had children they would be reasonably young when the games came along. When I found out I was pregnant in 2007 I worked out that the child(ren) would be 4 and a half when the Olympics took place. They might even be able to go to a few events…

Over the last 7 years parts of London have been changed forever by the coming of the ‘Greatest show on earth’. Wasteland in Stratford has been transformed into an Olympic Park, shopping centre and transport hub. The Olympic structures near us in Greenwich Park, Woolwich and to a certain extent North Greenwich may be temporary but they have changed the landscape beyond all recognition.

We have been immersed in all of it. Some of this has been great. Other parts – Boris Johnson’s voice bellowing out rail and tube tannoys in recent weeks, 1984 style (only lacking the video screens with him on to complete the horror) and the INCESSANT WHINGEING from people that don’t like the Olympics, think it costs took much money, is inappropriate in these cash trapped times – really really get on my tits, frankly.

At the end of my life, when the preceeding 102 (fingers crossed) years flash before my eyes, I don’t want to see endless footage of me looking cross about things in front of a computer screen. I want to see moments. Big ones. Small ones. Happy ones. Sad ones. I want to be there when amazing stuff happens. I want the girls to have great memories of the time the Olympics came to their area. It’s once in a lifetime stuff for all of us.

We were out at stupid o’clock this morning to watch the torch relay come within spitting distance of out house. The girls wore Wenlock t-shirts. I wore a London 1948 Olympic t-shirt. We waved flags, cheered the millions of police personnel, the corporate floats and buses (reminded us of the time the Tour de  France came through Greenwich a few years ago), the grey-clad bodyguards and saw the Olympic torch up-close. Although there are loads of Olympic torches and the flame lit by the Greek sun*** back in May, it did feel like we were watching an A-List celebrity. A couple of us (grown-ups, not children) got quite giddy with excitement.

Now, there is one thing I’m a bit cross about. Tickets. More specifically, diving tickets. We have tried in EVERY SINGLE ROUND to get tickets for the Men’s diving. Have we got any? NOOOOOO! Unless I want to pay £450 for the privilege, I’m going to be watching the 10 Metre platform final at home. Gah!

However, the girls and I are taking my Mum to the Olympic Park for a day (you can get into the park but not into any of the competition venues) and I have scored myself a cheeky ticket for the Archery at Lord’s when Dh is at work and the girls are at nursery. I keep looking on the ticket website to see if they’ve got any more tickets. I quite fancy seeing something random, like Handball, just so I can say I watched an event at the Olympic Park.

The big thing for us as a family, though, is the Paralympics.  If you want the experience of watching a massive sporting occasion and the chance to get inside the Olympic Stadium, Velodrome, Aquatic Centre, etc.go on to the website and get yourself some tickets. They’re £10 for adults and £5 for children. We’ve got a mad weekend at the end of August/beginning of September where we’re seeing the cycling on Friday with my parents; Dh, the girls and I are watching Equestrian on the Saturday morning and Athletics in the evening and swimming with my Mum and Sister on Sunday. It’s going to be AWESOME.

In fact, the whole thing is going to be amazing. I can’t wait to watch the Opening Ceremony on the MASSIVE TELLY that I have finally given Dh permission to buy. It’s likely to be a 48 inch jobby, so I can watch Jeremy Kyle and shout at my probation officer through the cat-flap (HT Victoria Wood) in my pyjamas.****

I love an opening ceremony, me. I love watching people represent fire through the medium of dance and playing ‘What the FECK is that flag?’ as the athletes come into the stadium. I actually get quite weepy watching that sort of thing. The fact that it’s happening in MY city may just tip me over the edge into full-on hysteria.

6 days to go until the Olympics arrives on our doorstep.

OH.

MY.

GOD.

*Title especially for Dh, who hates the whole Team GB thing. “It’s the BRITISH TEAM!” He says. Every. Single. Time.

**I KNOW. I’m being kind.

***Which is totally different to our sun, obviously.

****Not really