Games For A Laugh #olympics #memories

It’s nearly Olympics time again and as happens stories around it brought back memories of my time working for the Organizing Committee of the London 2012 Olympics. I wrote a similar post six years ago but maybe this will resonate again. These are the top ten (actually eleven) takeaways from my time. I wonder if the Japanese equivalent of me has/will suffer/ed/enjoy/ed any or all of the below?

1. Working for The Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA) – crispy described as a non-governmental statutory body – make of that what you will – and then the London Organising Committee for the Olympic and Paralympic Games (LOCOG) – basically the events company – this was the most unhealthy time of my working life. Sure the hours were long and the meal times erratic but you can say that about a lot of modern high-pressurised businesses. No, the problem was the sponsors. They gave us treats. Cadburys especially but also Nature Valley with their MDF muesli bars. I accept the Games would not function without sponsors but boy did we sugar high. And the habit caught on so much that the filing cabinets were strewn with biscuits and cakes and chocolates and goodies of all sorts, generously donated by the team and other groups. We surfed our way to the Games on snacks and incipient diabetes. I hear you say, ‘but you could have said no…’ Oh sure.

2. This may be true of Government generally, I don’t know, I had always worked in the private sector before this, but we were controlled by the tyranny that is the TLA. The three letter acronym. LOCOG was a pleasant exception and PLUG probably the neatest (Power Lines Under Ground – the need to remove the electricity pylons which criss-crossed the Olympic Park meant an enormous tunnel was the first thing built under the site) But otherwise, at every turn a code would be inserted into a memo or a mail or a message that seemed to be there deliberately to confuse and obfuscate – the Enigma machines had nothing on these jonnies. You would ask more experienced colleagues who might shrug or have a stab and leave you none the wiser. The purpose of the acronym, lest we forget, is space and therefore time saving but if recipients can’t work out what the “£$%^&* is going on…. well.

3. The biggest department appeared to be the communications team. It was essential to scotch bad news stories at source or ridiculous amounts of management time would be spent answering daft questions. If there was always a spokesperson available, day or night, with a rebuttal this risk was minimized. And the comms. team could tell you, almost to the day when the press would turn from broadly neutral (in that they were happy to shoot us down as big us up) to universally positive. Early January 2012. And they were right. As the count down to the Games began, big smiley faces appeared everywhere, even in the Standard and the Metro.

4. Do not, ever again, let me bid in an on line auction for an Olympic torch. Or anything. There was a surplus of torches made, just in case. When it became clear a number were not needed they were auctioned off, some being signed by celebrities. One warm afternoon, in about March 2012 I was sitting at my desk and I had this mad urge to bid. A neat souvenir, I thought.  I looked at the latest available torch – signed by Jonathan Edwards. They were timed auction and this had about 25 minutes left. The price was somewhere around £2,200. The last couple, not signed, had gone for about £2,000. So I thought, you know, I’ll spend a bit of cash here. I registered, I thought about my bid and decided to go in at £2,750. I’d knock out the competition. I  remember being very careful where I put the decimal place – after all I didn’t want to bid £27,500 by mistake, did I. I clicked ‘bid’ and a short message appeared on my screen.

‘Congratulations Geoffrey. You have bid £1,375,491.72. Keep an eye on the  bidding to see if you have been successful. There are 15 minutes left.’

I shat myself. It couldn’t have done that. I hadn’t typed that. There was a mistake. A MISTAKE. I banged the Esc button, I tried to go back. I ripped the cables out of the machine and rebooted. How on earth could I stop this happening. By now I was pouring sweat. I’d just sold the f*****g house to pay for a sodding torch. ‘Hello darling I’m home. Shall we pack now or after dinner?’ I hunted for a contact number. All I found was an email.

Dear sir. I have just bid – I could barely put in the number – but I didn’t. I couldn’t have. I withdraw. It’s clearly a mistake. Please. Call me.

I gave my mobile number. The message was full of typos but off it went and I sat back. Of course, nothing happened. I stood. I prowled the floor. I worked in an open plan office and no one was aware of the humongous catastrophe that was about to rip the nadgers from me in less than the time it takes to make a decent cuppa.

I had a moment of inspiration. We were the body in effect selling these torches. Someone had to have a contact number I could call. With as much sangfroid as I could muster I found that person, I calmly asked for the details, trying not to pool sweat into their key board as I leant over their shoulder to read what came up on screen and hurried to find a private space to call them. Less than 5 minutes to go.

‘Hello, is that [name withheld]? Can I just check about the current on line auction for the torch.?’

‘Jonathon Edwards? Yes it’s going really well.’

{Groan} What is the highest bid? I think I may…’

‘Two thousand four hundred.’

‘What? Have all the bids come through to you?’

‘Yes we have instant updates.’

It turned out they had me registered but no actual bid. Shaking somehow I explained what had happened. My new Bessie laughed. No one bid that sort of money. I tried to join in his gaiety and failed. He rummaged around his site but found nothing indicating I  had bid the national debt of Latvia. He laughed. ‘Don’t worry, I’ll clear your registration. But sorry, you’ve missed Jonathon. Still David Beckham is coming up. You can go for him.’

Oh sure I was going to do that again. I had already been self-defibrillating off a uplighter for twenty minutes. I slunk away. I went home early. I sat in a dark room with the lights out. Every time I watched another inspiring image from the torch relay my left eye twitched much like Herbert Lom in the Pink Panther films.

5. Do not watch any satirical programmes about organisations you work for. They know. They are uncannily prescient. Take 2012, the BBC’s take off – with Ian Fletcher the head of Olympic Deliverance the hapless leader of incompetence. In the very first episode the Olympic clock ran backwards. Ho ho ho. How we laughed. One week later the real clock was unveiled in Trafalgar Square. It bleeped, it pinged and it stopped. Or the video conference with some far away member of the IOC where the picture is off but not the sound. Done that.

6. If you are going to site anything anywhere that will be disruptive of the locals and there is a crucially tight time frame do not, under any circumstances, site it near where Barristers tend to live. Of all the people anywhere they are the least litigation-adverse. While the rest of us, solicitors included, fight shy of doing battle in the courts they lap it up. The Equestrian Events at Greenwich Park were fabulous but in retrospect the area was far too full of men and women in off-white wigs and a penchant for m’ludding a lot for a peaceful run up to the Games.

7. Don’t ever believe that the private sector is better able to jump through hoops than government bodies. They are both just as capable of displaying blinding skills, swiftly applied as well as breath-taking incompetence. It’s just that usually the government bodies are more exposed to the public gaze. I saw both but mostly the former. The occasional glitch – like when the bailiffs appeared to take walking possession of all our furniture because some senior numpty had forgotten to sanction an appeal against an erroneous rates bill – causing sniggering in the back row more than any real problems.

8. The Jubilee Line between 7.30 and 9 am was designed by Faust, painted by Hieronymus Bosch after a night on the piss with Torquemada and de Sade. Ever morning, into its Stygian depths I would plunge, to spend no more than ten minutes on the train to Canary Wharf; yet every morning, pressed deeply into someone’s armpit the will to live gradually eroded. And then I discovered the river bus. Sure it was expensive by comparison – but this is the man prepared to splash the cash on a torch, remember. The first time I lined up to catch the boat it was January, the river steamed gently in a warming sun and a Guillemot dived to catch a fish. Every morning I got a seat and watched the day unfold in the City as we speed east under Tower bridge.  No hassles, no tang of last night’s biryani. Perfect.

9. Being allowed to watch a dress rehearsal of the Opening Ceremony was  the most fabulous treat. It was amazing; of course certain things happened on the night we didn’t see at the rehearsal but what we did see was extra special. Any most of the performers were volunteers. All of the 160,000 of us who witnessed one of the dress rehearsals kept the content secret. It can be done.

10. We were given no favours so far as ticketing was concerned but I was lucky enough to buy six tickets for Super Saturday in the general auction. Witnessing Mo Farah, Greg Rutherford and Jess Ennis win gold medals all within 45 minutes will stay with me, of course. But the thing that elevated it to the truly extraordinary was the crowd noise. I’m a sports nut; I’ve been to big events, huge events. I’ve heard roars. But this was unique. As Farah and Ennis lapped the track the crowd noise, already deafening, accompanied them as they approached us. It was the aural equivalent of a Mexican wave, rippling down the stands as the athletes approached. You could almost see the sound waves building to a crescendo that would swallow each of us, squeeze out yet more volume and leave us gasping as it rumbled and roared off towards the start finish line. It was as mad, as ear splitting, as visceral as any rock concert or cup final multiplied several times. There are 28 laps in a 10,000 metres at approximately a minute a lap. Amazing we survived really.

11. I volunteered myself. Part of the team that interviewed recruits to be volunteers on my day off and as a volunteer too. They said the volunteers made the games. Sure. But to be one, to be on the inside, helping, guiding and above all grinning stupidly at the pan galactic joy of it all. Well that was worth a mountain of happy pills.  I was so privildeged to be part of this event. If the Olympics comes your way, please don’t miss the opportunity to be involved. You won’t regret it.

Geoff at Olympics

About TanGental

My name is Geoff Le Pard. Once I was a lawyer; now I am a writer. I've published several books: a four book series following Harry Spittle as he grows from hapless student to hapless partner in a London law firm; four others in different genres; a book of poetry; four anthologies of short fiction; and a memoir of my mother. I have several more in the pipeline. I have been blogging regularly since 2014, on topic as diverse as: poetry based on famous poems; memories from my life; my garden; my dog; a whole variety of short fiction; my attempts at baking and food; travel and the consequent disasters; theatre, film and book reviews; and the occasional thought piece. Mostly it is whatever takes my fancy. I avoid politics, mostly, and religion, always. I don't mean to upset anyone but if I do, well, sorry and I suggest you go elsewhere. These are my thoughts and no one else is to blame. If you want to nab anything I post, please acknowledge where it came from.
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33 Responses to Games For A Laugh #olympics #memories

  1. willowdot21 says:

    None of the joy or dedication has evaporated since I first read about those days from you! Loved it .

    Liked by 3 people

  2. davidprosser says:

    Memories to savour Geoff but a fair warning to the next crew.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Norah says:

    Yay! Brisbane has just been announced the host of the 2032 games!!

    Liked by 2 people

  4. trifflepudling says:

    I am truly, madly and deeply envious of you being there on Super Saturday. It must’ve been extraordinary and I’m sure you all played your part in making the tremendous roar. It gives me tingles when I see replays!
    Can I point out a teeny little thing: musically, and therefore the same applies to sound, the gradual building up is the crescendo and the point where it reaches its loudest is the climax. Everybody now uses crescendo like you have done, so much so that it’ll become the actual meaning, much like Staycation has come to mean holidaying in the UK, rather than in your house with days out.
    There – I had to have something in return!
    Well done for going the extra mile and volunteering!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Wonderful insights, Geoff

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I bought the four roses that were used for the bouquets. Sadly only one survives as they were not hardy. However, that one (Wimbledon) is a lovely reminder of a great games.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Marsha says:

    OMG, Geoff, I laughed my head off so hard, my husband had to calm me down. This one is going on the Story Chat for Tuesday. Thanks again for participating, and thanks for this fabulous tale. Have you recovered?

    Liked by 2 people

    • TanGental says:

      Whenever they show any of those danced torches I have spasms. Someone asked me to go to a charity auction and I couldn’t do it. I’ve only the one heart. The overall experience was tremendous and eventually I shed the pounds I added… glad you enjoyed it…

      Liked by 1 person

      • Marsha says:

        You are so funny, Geoff. I’d stay away from those auctions, too. Auctions scare me. My husband and I attended a high school foundation auction. He got the urge to bid against the town hero for an old school desk that came from the 85 year old man’s elementary school, which was closed in the 1950s. I’m watching from the kitchen having a heart attack. Fortunately, my husband got tired of his cat and mouse bidding and let the man have his desk. “I was going to give it to him anyway,” he told me later. The school made a lot more money for scholarships than they would have, Frank could well afford the price of the desk. The unexpectedness of my quiet husband’s challenge almost undid me, though. I can’t even imagine the fright you went through. But yet, I still laugh thinking about it. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      • TanGental says:

        It’s the only safe release to laugh… the other way lies that Munch painting…

        Liked by 1 person

      • Marsha says:

        hahaha I’m sure you felt like that only it wasn’t appropriate to act it out. LOL

        Liked by 1 person

  8. JT Twissel says:

    Oh my – I once ended up with a very expensive pair of earrings at an auction so I’m also leery of charity auction. My nearest Olympic experience was at Squaw Valley but I was too young to really remember.

    Liked by 1 person

    • TanGental says:

      I skied at Squaw maybe 15 years ago. We stayed in a wooden chalet which had a time capsule decor, circa 1975. Fully functioning in a ‘this is how our grandparents lived kind of way. Great fun though.


  9. Thanks for this interesting article. I think, I immediately would have got agoraphobia. After that I would have become a hermit. 😉 xx Michael

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Pingback: Games For A Laugh #olympics #memories by Tangental – DEEZ – News about Art, Books & more

  11. Still laughing at the torch. Whatever possessed you?

    Liked by 1 person

    • TanGental says:

      I wish I could analyse my predisposition for stupid self destruction but I think I’ll just have to accept my life is one failed mitigation away from bankruptcy… that and the equilibrium of the Textiliste to balance out my well intended lurchings

      Liked by 1 person

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