Our Paralympic Adventure Part 4 – Swimming

Four events in three days with 2 four and a half year olds. Insane? Definitely.

We were all feeling quite droopy when the alarm went off on Sunday morning. The girls were perky enough but, on severely reduced sleep, we wondered how long that would last. We needed to get to the Olympic Park slightly early as I had tickets to give to my Mum and sister, but in typical Aunty J style she was running late so I sent Dh and girls through security while I waited for the others.

The Aquatics Centre had become a home from home for me during the Olympics as I had picked up last-minute tickets for swimming and diving events in really decent seats. I had looked up at the upper tiers from my press seats (really) and wondered what the view was like from way up there. On Sunday I found out. We weren’t right at the back but there were an awful lot of stairs to climb before we reached our seats. Every time the girls announced that they needed the toilet we groaned inwardly as they were about a zillion steps away.

Like the Velodrome, the Aquatics Centre is really warm and it was packed, so we were all a bit red-faced by the end of the morning session. I think it was the least interesting event for the girls, partly because they were tired and because there was very little for them to get a handle on, aside from the appearance of a Paralympics GB (“COME ON GREAT BRITAIN!!”) competitor every so often. The fact that we were so far away from the action may not have helped either.

The grown-ups enjoyed it though and it gave me a chance to reflect on the differences in the way that we appreciated the sport and the girls’ approach to para-sport. Beforehand, I had expected to field lots of questions from the girls with regards to the disabilities of the competitor. I had visions of them asking at the tops of their voices WHERE IS THAT MAN’S LEG? WHERE HAVE HIS ARMS GONE? WHY DOES HE WALK WITH A STICK? WHY IS SHE IN A WHEELCHAIR? but actually, I don’t think they asked anything like that all weekend.

We had explained the differences between the Olympics and Paralympics in the days leading up to the events. R and G were aware that the Paralympics were for athletes whose bodies didn’t work in quite the same way as those in the Olympics did. They knew that some people had been born that way and others had acquired their para-status through life events, accidents, wars, etc. They were, quite simply, unbothered by the whole notion of para-sport as distinct from any other. G was more interested in the colour of their outfits and the flag of their country and R was only bothered if someone from Paralympics GB won a gold medal.

I approach everything with a research mind (and basic sheer bloody nosiness) so I wanted to know why the person was a para-athlete and what had led to them competing in the 2012 Games. At the Equestrian the announcer explained each rider’s disability before they entered the arena (many of them acquired their disability through an accident whilst horse riding and I was amazed it hadn’t put them off horses for life.) I think Dh and I now have a pretty good understanding of the classification system (cat and class is bread and butter to me anyway) and the subtleties therein.

It’s hard not to talk about it in a way that doesn’t sound massively patronising but there were moments over the weekend where I watched a competitor do something completely amazing with their body (or what was left of it) with my mouth wide open in shock and awe. The human body – and mind – are extraordinarily adaptable. We watched men in wheelchairs wheeled out by their trainers to the side of the swimming pool, lifted gently into the water by two helpers to compete with a variety of legs and arms (and often both) missing. The athletes in the 150 metre medley weren’t able to do Lochte-style turns (or the back bending butterfly stroke) so they simply stopped swimming at each end, gently manoeuvred their bodies around in the water and set off again.

It sounds like a cliché (and it is) but 95% time I was watching sport, not para-sport. It was only when the cyclists got off their bikes, for example, I realised that they weren’t moving around quite as easily as Chris Hoy or Laura Trott after a race. I can’t even ride a bloody bike!

God, I loved the cycling. I did. I joked with a friend that they should take a leaf out of the divers’ handbook and just wear speedos when they compete but I guess they wouldn’t be quite as aerodynamic then. Also, if they were topless (I have put some thought into this) they would have to shave their chests and I get the impression that a lot of the cyclists are hairy, manly men and I wouldn’t want them to lose that.

I’m digressing hugely here. The main thing to take away from this is that we took the girls to the Paralympics and we survived. More importantly, so did they. Also, I now like cyclists more than divers.

Our Paralympic Adventure Part 3 – Athletics

Four events in three days with 2 four and a half year olds. Insane? Definitely.

We had a few hours to spare between the Dressage in the morning and the Athletics in the evening (one of the huge advantages of living so near to the Paralympic venues) so we popped home in the hope that the girls would have their first daytime nap in more than two years. R and G insisted on putting their pyjamas on, but we stopped short of reading them a bedtime story. After about half an hour of going backwards and forwards to the toilet, bed-swapping, singing, arguing and chatting the girls settled down and managed to fit in a two hour nap.

They were slightly confused when we woke them up but after some food and a change of clothes we were back out of the door and heading towards the Olympic Park. All week we had been asked the same question by different people: “Will you be seeing Oscar?” and it turned out that we were. We saw him the night before his now infamous wobbler so we saw him in full, majestic, blade running, world-record breaking glory. People keep saying that Oscar (he needs no surname) is one of the most famous Paralympians in the world. I think he’s one of the most famous people in the world, no question about it.

It was our first time in the Olympic Stadium and, like the Velodrome, it blew us away. I was expecting it to be a bit like Twickenham, where the seats in the upper tier are so high up you may as well be watching the rugby version of Sensible Soccer from 1994, where everything looks far away and you can only see the tops of the players’ heads. Again, we were in the cheap seats and still had an excellent view of everything at the athletics. The girls loved staying up late (we’re mean and still have them on a rigid 7pm bedtime normally) and there was enough going on to keep them occupied. I only unleashed the iPad when they started to get a little restless and droopy.

R has been a bit funny about completely dark spaces for a while (she and G used to sleep in complete darkness but now have night-lights) and when Dh went to get drinks she leaned over and whispered in my ear ‘I’m a little bit scared because it’s so dark but I’m ok and don’t tell Daddy’. I asked if she wanted a cuddle and she said no. She’s a funny old thing. G was too busy screaming ‘COME ON GREAT BRITAIN!’ at the top of her (very loud) voice to notice anything.

We left the Stadium at 10.15pm and the whole Olympic Park was lit up. I had seen it at night a couple of times during my Olympic adventures but the others hadn’t. It looks absolutely magical at night. I felt sad that it would all be over in just over a week. We had to carry two tired little girls back from the bus stop to home and they went to sleep straight away. We flopped into bed too; there was more to come in the morning.

Our Paralympic Adventure Part 2 – Equestrian

Four events in three days with 2 four and a half year olds. Insane? Definitely.

I’m not a fan of horses. Dh most definitely isn’t a fan of horses. He also thinks that dressage is a completely pointless ‘sport’: “Its horses dancing in a square” he moaned when I told him that Para-Equestrian was exclusively dressage (quite how he thought disabled riders would go round a show jumping course I don’t know.) I wanted to watch the dressage to see how our local park had been transformed to host the Olympics and Paralympics and to understand the sport a bit better.

It turns out that the horses actually ‘dance’ in a rectangle, not a square and it’s a bit like figure skating in that there’s a ‘free’ programme and a compulsory or technical programme. In dressage both competitions stand alone, although there is a team competition as well. We watched the more ‘technical’ programme on Saturday morning so everyone was judged on the same set of ‘moves’ and no-one danced to the music from The Great Escape. There was music throughout, but it was all very mellow and the competitors didn’t choose their own music.

The one thing I didn’t realise about dressage is how quiet the spectators have to be for large sections of the competition. R and G don’t ‘do’ quiet. They have two settings: extremely LOUD,  fast asleep and have nothing in-between. Much of the morning went like this:

G: ‘MUMMY? WHY IS EVERYONE SHUSHING?’

Me: (whispering) because we have to be quiet while they do their performance.

G: (whispering) ok! (120 decibels) THAT HORSE IS SWISHING ITS TAIL!!

Me: (puts head in hands in despair)

During one of the breaks in competition we stepped out to get some food and I asked Dh to buy the largest bag of chocolate he could find. For the rest of the competition I bribed the girls with chocolate: ‘If you’re quiet you can have four chocolate buttons at the end of the performance’ and this tactic worked well.

Some of the horses get quite freaked out by the arena and the crowd so for certain performances we were asked to wave rather than clap. Other horses were accompanied by a ‘friendly’ horse and a handler, who stood to one side of the arena while the performance took place. The thought of a horse needing a friend nearby to settle them made me feel quite teary. I’m getting soft in my old age…

Dh was bored rigid by the whole thing so I got him to take lots of photos. R and G liked the horses so we evaluated each one based on its size, colour and shagginess. There was one horse that looked like a miniature shire-horse, with shaggy hooves and a huge tail. He was our favourite. He didn’t win. Natasha Baker for Paralympics GB did, so we actually got to witness a gold medal win and ceremony ‘in the flesh’ as it were…Dh and I belted out the National Anthem (tunelessly) and the girls waved their flags. Heroes by David Bowie played afterwards and I got all emotional again. We’re very good at ‘posh’ sports.

Our Paralympic Adventure Part 1 – Track Cycling

Four events in three days with 2 four and a half year olds. Insane? Definitely.

Our mad weekend started in the Velodrome on Friday morning. We hadn’t managed to get tickets for the track cycling during the Olympics and I was desperate to see some live action of our fantastic para-cyclists. We attended the cycling with my parents and we were all overawed by the venue. The optimum temperature for a velodrome is 28 degrees, so it was really warm in there. We were in the cheapest seats but the building was so well-designed that we had a great view of everything and really got a sense of what was going on, even though we were sitting in the back row.

R and G were hypnotised by the bikes whizzing around the track to start with. Television coverage doesn’t give you a sense of how bloody fast they go and how steep the banks of the track are. 42 degrees, fact fans. We all cheered like nutters when a Paralympics GB cyclist was on track, although R got into a right cob when our tandem cyclists were beaten and ‘only’ got a silver medal. “YOU CHEERED THEM” she berated us. She sat on Dh’s lap and pouted for about half an hour. R will only cheer GB competitors, maybe an Irish athlete at a push and simply can’t understand why we clap someone from another country. She is the most single-minded, competitive four-year-old I have ever met.

G and I played a game when the GB cyclists weren’t competing where we picked a cyclist to cheer, usually based on the colour of their outfit. G would then ask their name and the country for cheering purposes (she’s quite scary when she’s screaming ‘COME ON SPAAAAAIIIIIN’ at top volume) and she also wanted to know the flag for each country. Luckily I’m not too bad on flags, so was able to point out the correct one hanging from the Velodrome ceiling.

I knew that the cycling wouldn’t totally hold their attention for three hours so I took some distractions in the form of colouring books, crayons (of course) and stickers. They set about decorating their little GB flags and when they got a bit too restless I unleashed the iPad, which kept them occupied when the cyclists didn’t.

I was lucky enough to attend several Olympic events but none of them gave me the buzz that the cycling did. We all agreed that the Velodrome was our favourite venue. I liked the cycling at the Olympics. I loved it at the Paralympics. I think it may have even replaced the diving in my affections. Confession: one or two (well, one) of the cyclists have definitely replaced Mr Daley in my affections.

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