There is a very good chance that when she is all grown up, Kitty will have absolutely no recollection whatsoever of these London Olympics. She knows that the television shows more sport and less Waybaloo, and she likes the pretty horsies who jump around (that would be dressage to you and me) but more that that isn’t really registering. My teeny tiny hope though is that at the grand old age of 22 months and 10 days she was just, just old enough that something will stick of the day we took her to the Games.
Hockey is H’s main sport, and he plays at a relatively serious level, and I just wanted to go and see the biggest sports day in the world and be part of it on the only occasion during my lifetime when it is likely to come to these shores. Combine that with an early morning ‘pay your age’ session for under-18s and a bit of luck in the ballot and we were the proud holders of three tickets to the Mens’ Olympic Hockey Heats on Monday morning.
I know I had my fears; fears that with the world’s gaze focussed on London and the British we would be portrayed as a pastiche of ourseleves, a nation of reality TV, plastic manufactured popstars and a culture of celebrity, with an overly enthusiastic military presence, fears that the negatives would be dwelt on and the joy stripped away.
I needn’t have worried. Danny Boyle’s opening ceremony was quirky, eccentric and, I should imagine, almost entirely incomprehensible to the rest of the world. From Kenneth Branagh reading Shakespeare as Brunel to James Bond escorting the Queen (the actual genuine real Queen – that still makes me smile) it captured the essence of this lovely homeland of ours, and not an X-factor winner in sight (phew).
If there was a message to the world’s gathered athletes, I think it might have been, “welcome to Britain, would you like a cup of tea?”
And as for the foretold doom and gloom – my ‘get ahead of the games’ plan was to tell H that it was going to be nasty but we’d survive and it would all be worth it, and in the event our worst train trip was the ride from Warwickshire down to London on what should have been a relatively quiet Sunday morning, packed to standing room only by an incoming train of tired, muddy and shorts and welly-wearing Global Gathering revellers. I’ve had far far worse underground commutes travelling on the Waterloo and City line on a normal working morning than we found on even the Central Line.
The vast army of games makers from all branches of the military, and what does at a skim glance look to be a slightly renegade Sainsbury’s, were chirpy and friendly and we had no problems or delay getting through the Park entrance, save for when H, wearing Kitty in the sling, set off the scanner with his belt and bemused the RAF as to quite which of them they should be patting down.
The Riverside stadium is the far end of the park from Stratford station and at 8am it was buzzing not heaving as we strolled all the way down in bright morning sunshine, past the pool, the helter-skelter and the main stadium with the flags lining the top of the velodrome standing proud on the horizon. Kitty’s absolute favourite was this ‘Olympic pavement’ at the centre of the Park
and if she looks less than impressed in the photo it’s only because in asking her to turn around for the picture I’ve interrupted her crucial game of running from colour to colour loudly pronouncing “Gree! … Peenk!…..Lellow!…..Lellow!…. Boo!
By the time we reached the stadium itself the first match (S Korea v New Zealand) had started but it probably made it easier to find our seats, in the third row from the very top of the north stand. Once we’d got there (and remembered how to breathe again) we had fabulous views, both of the hockey down below and out across the Park and to London beyond.
My treat in all of this was really just to be at the games themselves and I’d thought I’d end up spending most of my time half watching hockey and mostly entertaining Kitty with snacks and sticker books but she was enthralled by the first match, and spent much of it stood on her chair leaning up against H listening to his commentary and explanations of what was happening.
She had a little nap for the first half of South Africa v Australia
but woke up ready to cheer the Aussies to their 6-0 victory (we decided our allegiance based on (a) we share our Queen and (b) a whole hoard of Australian cousins, and one cousin-to-be spread over both sides of the family).
And for the icing on the cake – the Ravellenic knitting came too, and I even knit a couple of rows in the break between the two games while Kitty was distracted with a pretzel.