From the agony to the ecstasy; the magic of the Games
In a few months time, when the head of the International Olympic Committee, Jacques Rogge, has a bit of time on his hands as he basks in the warm after glow of the London 2012 Games, I like to think he will, like so many do, head to his sock draw.
Because there, hidden at the back, will be an unmarked DVD.
When Mrs Rogge is out, he will slip it into the machine beneath his no doubt vast flat-screen television, crack his knuckles and settle down for a bit of adult entertainment.
It will excite each and every time.
It will send a shiver down his spine and the hairs on the back of his neck prickle. This is good stuff.
He’ll sigh and moan and ooh and aah.
Were you to sneak in and peer around the pulled curtains to catch a glimpse of what he’s viewing you may be a little surprised.
Because the screen would be filled with people in queues.
Long queues, packed with adults, which snake around and around and then around again for good measure. The best clips are when that queue slithers along, hundreds strong, even as the heavens open and the rain pours on them.
And it will excite the IOC chief like no other because each and every person in that queue is armed, not only with a smile, but money eager to burst out of a Visa-branded debit or credit card (Mastercard is a dirty and usable name when it comes to shopping here).
And each and everyone in that queue wants to spend it in the London 2012 Megastore in the Olympic Park.
Jacques Rogge may be focused on sporting excellence, but who could deny him the guilty pleasure of seeing vast quantities of cash spurted inside the cash tills by thousands desperate to take home an over-priced memento of their day at the world’s best-loved sporting event?
It is perhaps the finest sign of quite what a remarkable, satisfying and thoroughly enjoyable event London 2012 is becoming that so many people head for the shop in the shadow of the Olympic Stadium.
It even dwarves the queue for the enormous McDonalds sat opposite it; a shrine to all the nutritional no-go areas which the sportsmen and women of the 30th Olympiad are warned against.
On the opening Sunday, and with the rain pouring so hard it sticks the clothes to your skin and streams down your face like you’re sat under a tap, the remarkable queue snakes back and forth; showing absolutely no signs of slowing. It’s not just in pursuit of shelter either.
Granted, once inside the over-riding noise which echoes around the sprawling store is the sharp exhalation of breath at the cost of everything, but London 2012 is such an intoxicating experience the agony to the bottom line of your bank account can be overlooked as you snap up a £28 T-shirt or £50 Team GB replica top.
We have, of course, waited so long for the Games to reach these shores, endured seven years of slow and gradual build-up and anticipation, that there was a very real danger we’d all be bored rigid by the time it actually turned up and ushered us in through its heavily-guarded doors.
But, perhaps just because the weather is so miserable, perhaps because none of us have more than two pennies to rub together courtesy of the economy, or perhaps just because the Games is so fundamentally very exciting, it is fair to say that fever pitch was reached in the hours leading up to the Opening Ceremony.
The way we portrayed ourselves to the watching world, the reminder that more than a billion people would be tuning it, jarred us all into feeling a communal anticipation. Even the extent of the travel chaos seemed to be an event worth looking forward to and snapping up some seats for.
Suddenly, all the frustrations of getting tickets – any tickets – became irrelevant, because attending anything was something worth shouting about and looking forward to. Greco-Roman wrestling you say? Bring it on! Synchronised swimming? Can’t wait!
Granted, travelling up from Kent early on a Sunday morning was unlikely to be the best time to put to the test the under-strain transport system. The 6.30am high-speed train from Ashford was buzzing but seats were not at a premium. Just 30 minutes later and we were at Stratford and strolling towards the Olympic Park.
Security was thorough, but speedy, and a little under an hour from standing on a platform in a bright morning in Ashford, I emerged blinking into the bright sunshine and clear blue skies of the Olympic Park.
It’s a bit like a Disney park but without the sickly sweet syrup of cartoon characters, instead you get purple-clad helpers at every turn, quick to help with a smile and a point in the right direction. They were exceptional.
The atmosphere is devoid of the often Neanderthal pack-mentality of a football match; there is a desire to see Team GB do well, but not to the extent of booing all others or failing to appreciate the talents of the world’s best dualling for glory. It’s all a little more grown-up and good natured.
Think Wimbledon without quite so much Pimms or strawberries and creams, and you’re getting close.
The venues themselves all look thoroughly resplendent in their respective colour schemes and logos; the Velodrome a swoop of dark woods, the Aquatic Centre a wave of impressive design and soaring corners.
Yet it is the sight of those iconic five rings which really remind you where you are. You may think the somewhat anal protection of the Olympic rings is over the top, but when you see them deployed on venues they pack an almighty punch.
The Riverbank Arena – home to the hockey – was an entirely open venue, so when the rain fell you got thoroughly drenched, but the views from the cheap seats were great and the atmosphere light and friendly.
And there at the heart is the Olympic Stadium – fresh from being the most remarkable and talked about stage of the year. It’s not the most impressive stadium you’ve ever seen; there’s none of the grass-fronted finery, or ever-changing colour panels which deck so many other high profile buildings. It is, instead, more functional but no less impressive. The fact it is the beating centre of the Olympic Games injects it with a certain awe-inspiring quality. It’s like going to Buckingham Palace and seeing the Queen.
The park is also huge – it seems to stretch in every direction, with some landscaped areas providing a little tranquillity and the athletes’ village clear with flags fluttering from every window so you know exactly who you’re nosing at.
The only gripes? Granted, the food and drink is a bit pricey, but that’s only to be expected. The speed and competency of some of those manning the food and drink stalls, so early in the Games at least, left rather a lot to be desired; I wouldn’t care, but when you’re stuck in a queue for 30 minutes you miss the start of your event, it becomes a bit of a pain in the backside.
But let’s not quibble too much about that sort of silly thing, or indeed the slightly insane one-way system operating in Stratford International for Kent-bound passengers which forces you into a bizarre loop-the-loop for what seems like an eternity in a bid to identify the platform for your train and then find said platform.
The London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games is one of those events you really owe it to yourself to attend. It is unlike anything else and the sheer diversity of sports and venues makes it a wide and varied landscape and a fascinating one too. The sheer organisational scale of it too is remarkable.
Although perhaps nothing prepares you for strolling around the nearby Primark in the giant commercial colossus which is the Westfield shopping centre and into which all visitors are siphoned through, to find yourself looking at clothes on the same rack as members of the Uzbekistan Olympic team.
But then that’s the Olympic Games. All power to your elbow, Jacques Rogge.