Paralympics 2012 – Diary of a Games Maker

What follows is an entirely subjective, first-person account of my time as a Paralympic Games Maker. All opinions expressed are, of course, mine alone!

Paralympics 2012 Diary. Day 1, Opening ceremony, 29th Aug.

A completely different shift pattern to the Olympics, working all afternoons/evenings except one day. My shift starts at 13:30, so make sure I turn up well before, and am there by 1. Sadly several hundred other folk thought the same way, and huge queues snaked out of the registration tent.

Unfortunately, this is the point when nature decided to have a laugh, and unleashed a torrential downpour over everyone. The tone has been set for the Games, I think!

Managed to get blue zone again (Stratford Gate), which I was pleased about. After a delayed briefing (see photos and video!) we’re deployed up to the top of the bridge. Latched myself onto the row G team leader like a limpet: I know my comfort zone, and it’s row G. Lovely to see some familiar faces from before, especially Tracey.

A fairly quiet day, by Games standards, is expected. Just 58,000 paying customers in the stadium and a few thousand freebie corporate ones too, so a nice break-in for those folk who’ve not worked a gate before, or seen the ticket scanners. A disappointing number of people who KNOW they’re supposed to go through the accredited security channel trying it on, including a terribly pompous MOD type and an even more pompous Metropolitan Police inspector, who wouldn’t take no for an answer until the site security manager, the army AND half a dozen Games Makers (including me, obviously) had told him NO! “We have a bomb alert and you’re delaying me” has to be the most unconvincing, desperate and frankly unprofessional line I have ever heard come out of a policeman’s mouth. He made the mistake of going high-and mighty on me, and that doesn’t work. You’re not in my management hierarchy, son, you don’t get to break the rules. Tosser. Anyway, that uniformed w**ker aside, the entry part went by with little drama, and by 8pm, pretty much all the lanes had closed as everyone was in.

So, we went for a wander. Someone had accidentally left open the enclosure with crates full of VIP picnic cooler boxes with fresh food in. Big mistake. Games Makers are like locusts when it comes to things like that and our bee-like mentality doesn’t require that we actually communicate finds like this. Within seconds, the enclosure had been stripped bare and we were down by the Orbit enjoying our posh nosh, listening to the music (well, the bass, anyway) coming from the stadium.

Come 10pm, it’s time to get back on station ready for the 11pm finish of the show (yeah, right…). I’m again in my comfort zone, as “Team 1 Hotel” radioing in egress counts. As my back’s killing me, most of this is done from on top of an umpire’s chair. Tall but comfortable. Much like myself… Many, many shouts of “thanks” from departing people, which is lovely and much appreciated.

Sitting down was a good place to be when The Radio Conversation Of The Day came over the airwaves: Control to Group Leader: “Please be advised that the mounted police will be moving off across the bridge now”. Group Leader to Control: “Please could you despatch a cleaning team to the end of row C please?”. Control: “Please state the nature of the clean-up”. Group Leader: (long pause) “Large amounts of faeces”. Control: “That’ll be the horses then…”. Collapse into fits of laughter of everyone on that radio channel. I had tears in my eyes, which didn’t help the accuracy of the counting 🙂

Completely out of left-field, during the evening our Group Leader wandered down the closed row G toward me, touched my foot (which was within reach because I was on my perch) and said “You exist! The infamous Team 1 Hotel is real!” and walked back off again. Still haven’t quite figured this out yet… Is my fame spreading?!

It didn’t help my rapidly-developing fame complex when the comedian Jimmy Carr left the park having shouted “Thank you Games Maker” up at me. Very kind of him to think of doing that.

With all the predictability of water being wet, the ceremony over-ran by more than an hour, and folks must have been sweating getting home. I finally finished just before 01:30 as the gates were closing and pretty much everyone else had gone home. I had to radio the control room to find out what they wanted me to do with the radio!. A brilliant, and very enjoyable day, officious tossers notwithstanding. Lovely seeing Natalie and Tracey and a few other old faces again too. Kermie enjoyed himself too. More tomorrow, but a “normal” day, so it’ll be busier, but hopefully won’t over-run as I’m knackered already!

Paralympics 2012 Diary. Day 2 – 30th August

The first day of “live” sports for these games, and a real mixture. Got onto blue area again, and despite the manager trying to be diplomatic and spread people around different jobs, Tracey and I shortcut her system of allocation and went to lane G anyway!

No great hassle today – a few people turning up with tickets for different venues, and home-printed tickets caused some issues when wet – the scanners don’t like smudged barcodes, and Games Makers can’t read the numbers either. Back to the box office for you, sir…

Tracey was being her usual effervescent self. At one point, accosting a couple of young kids wandering down the lane, saying “where’s mum and dad then?” only to get a pair of male voices from behind her replying “it’s dad and dad, actually…” Oops!

I spent most of my time on the egress count station, taking the opportunity to sit up on the umpire’s chair to rest my back which is, inevitably, killing me. Fielding off tennis “jokes” with “new balls please” and queries as to whether I’m “cold up there?” with “Madam, I’m cold up everywhere…”

Went home for dinner, as it’s quicker to get home than to get to the staff restaurant, and I can stretch out on my own sofa for a half hour. Was very tempted not to go back, as not only was my back killing me, but my clicking finger was very sore too and to be honest, I was rather bored. BUT, I’m glad I did return. By the time I got back, they’d closed several lanes, including G and everyone from our area was working egress.

But instead of doing it the usual way, by heading out onto the bridge, they had formed a single line down one side of the exit pathway and were multiple-high-fiving everybody that left. They made more noise than the aquatics centre in full roar, and everybody – but *everybody* that passed anywhere near them left with a huge smile on their face. It was brilliant to witness, and put a huge smile on my face too.

So many customers were tired, and wet (it had been raining on and off throughout the day) but having passed through that line of volunteers, they left the park feeling great. What a superb bunch of people! I was back on my chair, and I was getting waves, “thank you”s shouted out, and people attempting to high-five me. I have to admit, slightly shamefacedly, that I did give a high five to a slightly tipsy young guy but move my arm out of the way and watch him collide with the umpire’s chair, but if you don’t tell anyone, I won’t…

When it got quieter and I could “estimate” my egress counts, I went and joined them. Nobody got away with it – kids, “grown-ups”, elderly folk, wheelchair users – the lot. They all got a shout of “Go on, you know you want to” and almost involuntarily broke into a run to go down the line which, by this time, was around 30 people long. It was brilliant, because – in the spirit of the games – everyone got treated the same, got the same “dare” to run the line and most did. Disabled people, kids, corporate people in formal suits, even police and army ran the line. It was a credit to the games and to games makers. Brilliant stuff.

At around this time, I had my first lost person. As I had the only radio on the high-five-line, I got asked by one of the other GMs if I could help a rather panicky lady find her elderly and rather frail mother who’d last been seen on one of the mobility buses and who “definitely wouldn’t have left the park”… (you’re ahead of me here now, aren’t you?). I replied that she had nothing to worry about because we normally charge extra for losing a parent and we had no record of any payment, so she wasn’t to get concerned…

After checking with the lovely mobility GMs, it turns out that not only had the elderly lady asked to be pushed in a wheelchair to a train at Stratford to make her own way home, but mobility had messaged the daughter to let her know so she didn’t worry. Not only had she not checked her phone but it was turned off!

Several lessons there – “lost” people usually aren’t, phones work best when turned on, and it pays not to be too certain about others intentions when you can’t find them! Well done to the GM who handled it and to mobility for doing that extra bit to help. It was all sorted in five minutes.

I finished around 11:15, which was great after the 1:30 finish the day before. No problems returning the radio, so I was home in time to get a hug from hubby <grin> More tomorrow. Can’t wait!

Paralympics 2012 Diary. Day 3, 31st August

A dry and mostly sunny day, which makes a nice change to recent rather more soggy weather – at least I don’t have to face thousands of people running towards me at the gate when the downpours start, with me yelling “slow down”, trying to make it sound like it’s their health and safety I’m worried about rather than my own selfish desire not to be flattened against the Cow pub by the population of the Olympic Stadium running for cover…

I have decided that I really *really* am not an evening person! This shift pattern is too much and I have asked if some more of my shifts can be moved back to mornings where my normal sleep pattern (especially my afternoon “nana naps”!) is more closely matched. My lovely limpet, Tracey, has asked that her shifts be changed to match mine. Damn. There goes that cunning plan to sneak away from her… (kidding, she’s lovely!!)

Asked for blue again today, so working with group leader Greg on egress at the gate again. My right thumb clicks on reflect now, so when people wonder if it’s okay to ask a question as they leave, I can multi-task. Yay, evolution! We have a lot of Ghurkhas manning the exit gate these games – a lovely friendly bunch of guys, and it’s brilliant to be working with them.

Lots (and lots and lots) of ticket hand-overs at the gate today, where people can’t leave, but they have tickets for outside. We’ve got that running as a smooth operation now. Tracey was chatting away to a guy who was waiting with tickets for his son, and he looked vaguely familiar. When I heard his voice I realised it was someone I probably haven’t met for 15 years, who used to be part of the Babylon 5 fan group I helped organise “back in my youth”. Small world.

We had our first accident with a mobility buggy today – I am surprised that it’s taken this long, given that we’ve had well over three million people on the park since the start of the Olympics. A buggy was stopped at the main pedestrian cross-over point between the Stratford entry flows and the main exit stream. It suddenly went into full reverse and hit four people, including a member of our team. Police, medics, all sorts of people involved. All four were taken to the medical centre and detained there for a while. I checked at the end of the shift and despite being very shocked, and having cuts, bruises and abrasions, everyone escaped any more major injuries, thank goodness. I was chatting to one of the Shield Security guys about the accident, and when he said that one of the people involved was a G4S employee, he couldn’t help but give a little smile. “We’re probably not supposed to smile about that, are we?” I said. “No”, he replied. “But we’re going to anyway, aren’t we?” I asked. “Yes” he said. <grin> Security company rivalry, don’t you just love it?!

Still getting a smattering of people who see thousands of others walking towards them and assume this is an entrance. Why, I have no idea, as it’s bleedin’ obvious this is an exit, and do they really think security is so loose that they can just wander in off the street? One gobby guy wasn’t happy about being yelled at: “You’re supposed to be a volunteer helping” he whined after I stopped him some 50 feet into the park. “You’re quite right sir. I will go and get the Ghurkhas to throw you out, shall I?” “I can find my own way” he moaned as I escorted him and his wife back out. “You didn’t do very well last time did you sir? Have a lovely day”. Prat…

A lovely thing that’s really noticeable about these games is the *huge* family support that the athletes have. We must have had dozens of rightly very proud relatives walking out through the gates carrying the posies of flowers that their family member had won. None, of course, got away without that special Tracey moment where she stands directly in front of them and refuses to move until they’ve told the entire family history! She’s our very own Games Maker Mobile Roundabout!

As ever, by back was killing me, so I spent a lot of the time perched on my umpire’s chair again. At one point the crowd was particularly dense (as in crowded, not as in… oh you know what I mean!) so I took a picture. This isn’t something that can be done discretely from eight feet in the air, so they all saw me, and waved and cheered! I looked at the photo on the screen on the back of the camera: “My God, you lot are ugly!” I shouted. Another cheer!

Towards the end of the shift, a completely random guy from halfway out into the stream of people suddenly shouted out “Three cheers for the guy in the chair” and I got three cheers from the hundred or so people within earshot of him. Put a great big smile on my face, but nearly reduced me to tears!

With two main stadium sessions and multiple sessions in other venues, today was always going to be very busy. But in no way did I expect to be clicking out 115,833 people – a number etched forever in my mind! By far a new personal best and, I suspect, a record for both games. Tracey, of course, said farewell to each and every one of them, individually…

The flow was constant and always very busy, but never got the point where the “stop and hold” manoeuvre that we practiced in the dress rehearsals was needed. To my mind, this means that the planning had worked, and worked well. A good job done by the team responsible for that. Despite being busy, there were only a few tailenders left by 11:30, so off home at a reasonable time again.

Late shift again tomorrow, but we’ve decided we’re going to take a “blue break” and head out into the park to experience something a bit different to clicking and “Yes sir, you can use your travelcard on the Javelin”. Watch out pink zone, I’m bringing Tracey over to you tomorrow…

Paralympics 2012 Diary. Day 4, 1st September

I’m really very tired from previous shifts, so I thought I would give another area a try. As I got on really well with group leader Ian when he worked blue, and he’s now pink, I thought I would shift over to there and try that area. What a good move! Loved it.

Pink is Britannia Row, the area between World Square and the Riverside Arena. It’s got major traffic routes and a couple of big bridges too, with people heading for Basketball, Velodrome, Copperbox, Eton Manor and Riverside Arenas, as well as assorted eating and drinking places and finally, the south side of Park Live – so it’s *very* busy!

Sadly, all the electric signs put up to help people know whether there were available seats in the four day-pass venues weren’t remotely helpful as they were totally wrong. So our main job at the start was to make sure people didn’t head off to already full venues. After some initial reluctance, I grabbed a megaphone and started using that to tell people. We positioned an umpire’s chair (they’re going to bury me on one of those damn things!) directly in front of a sign to try to hide it. When people still read it, we ended up taping maps over it to hide it! Probably pissed off the owners of it, but who cares.

For some reason, the Met decided to park a lot of their horses at the end of the bridge where we were working. This meant large piles of their shite everywhere, including in the middle of the main walkway. A bad move with me on the megaphone. Every time I warned people about it, the message got longer. It ended up as: “Ladies and gentlemen. As part of London 2012’s commitment to the environment, we have here a special exhibition of country smells. This horse poo is Olympic-standard horse poo, so do not step in it as it will dissolve your shoes. As this horse poo has been generously donated by the Metropolitan Police Mounted Division, your tax money has paid for it. So do enjoy your poo. If you really like it, LOCOG will be selling it on Ebay after the games”. It got a laugh, which is no mean feat for a pile of poo!

Other shout-outs included “Give me a cheer if you’re happy! <cheer> Give me a cheer if you’re beautiful! <cheer> Give me a cheer if you just lied to me! <slightly louder cheer>”…

When the crowds died down a little bit, the clean-up crew arrived. Still having the megaphone, I lead the crowd in a rousing cheer for “London 2012’s crack team of horse poo pickers-up”. First time all day that those poor guys had smiled.

Working, as usual, with Tracey, we were in a team of four with two other ladies. One was on the umpire’s chair as a mobile programme seller wheeled up. She changed her slightly desperate “anyone want a map?” cry to “would you like a programme?”. Sadly, with my rubbish hearing, I misheard that as “would you like a blowjob?” and stage-whispered over to her asking if that was what she said. She burst into fits of giggles and made a point whenever a cute guy walked past her chair of asking if he’d like a programme. They must have wondered why all four of these nutters in Games Maker uniforms burst into fits of laughter at that simple, unfunny question.

During the final session in the Basketball arena, and with Riverside, Eton Manor and the Velodrome finished for the day, it got very quiet, so instead of going for dinner, I went for a night-time wander around the Velodrome end of the park which I’ve not visited before. As I’d brought my good camera, I got some great photos of the park at night, and saw a fox wandering around the Park Live area on that side (which as a tip, is a much nicer, roomier area than the Copperbox side).

When I got back, Tracey and the other ladies were chatting to the park Chaplain, and he was talking about how attitudes and moods change when people are in the park and watching the athletes. He very kindly gave us some badges (which I passed onto Tracey, not being a badge person). Afterwards, with it still dead in our area, we went and watched some action in park Live – it was good to be able to lie down and stretch my spine out!

Eventually, the basketball finished, so as the crowd approached, I led them in some hand-clapping exercises. “If you’re happy and you know it clap your hands <clap>, If you’re happy and you know it clap your hands <clap>, If you’re here because you think it’s cool to watch the Paralympics and you’re happy and you know it clap your hands <claps and cheers>”. Loved it!

All in all, an utterly brilliant day. Long, tiring, exhausting even, but as we walked out of the park with the tail end of our customers, we walked through the World Square, Orbit and Stratford Gate Games Makers all doing their stuff at full pace and making everyone smile as they left. Like our customers, we left the park with a great big smile on our faces. Well done, guys!

Days off tomorrow and Monday, and on early shifts from Tuesday-Saturday. Looking forward to coming back on site on Tuesday refreshed and raring to go!

Paralympics 2012 Diary. Day 5, 4th September

After a couple of days off, shift no. 5 loomed… A bright, hot day on the park (at least until it clouded over after the shift). My first “early” of the Paralympics.

Having had such a good time in pink area (Britannia Row) last time, I asked for it again. Not having got my sleep patterns sorted yet, I was checked in by 05:20 and sat in one of the parked mobility buggies by the Aquatics Centre, listening to the soundtrack of the Olympic Opening Ceremony on my iPod, waiting for the briefing to start.

The usual early morning shenanigans of assorted medieval ritualistic waving of arms in time to tunes that exist only inside Mary’s head signalled the end of the briefing and we formed into our teams and headed off to find Ian.

Tracey had already wandered down there, so we grabbed our position at the bottom of the bridge and waited for our customers to appear. And waited. And waited. And waited… No activity in the Basketball Arena today because the wheelchair basketball had finished and they were re-setting the arena for wheelchair rugby which starts tomorrow, the Velodrome having finished completely, and the seven-a-side football not being on today, meant that we had just the Wheelchair tennis at Eton Manor, the five-a-side football in the smaller Riverbank arena, goalball in the Copperbox and Park Live to manage.

We can do this with our eyes shut and three hands tied behind our backs, so “stretched” we definitely weren’t. The signs were working, and accurate in a fairly timely manner today, so we didn’t have the hassle of correcting them, either.

In fact it didn’t pick up at all until after the first session of athletics in the Stadium finished at lunchtime. So we got to have a bit of a wander – we visited the Samsung and BP showcases (the BP one is especially worth it, even if just for the weird sensation of having the floor revolve underneath you!) and a quick run up the Coca-cola Beatbox to take a few photos from the top.

But once the athletics finished, we were back to our normal busy selves, especially as it was hot and sunny. Queues formed to go into Park Live on our side of the park, so we were directing people over to the other Park Live side, which is much roomier and far less crowded anyway. Lots and lots of “how/where do I…” queries were sorted for people, and I think we left a trail of satisfied customers in our wake!

We handed over to the PM shift, to find that Janet was down in pink for the late shift and had relieved us, so it was lovely to see her again. More of the same tomorrow? Yes please. I’m going to miss all of this when it finishes on Sunday.

Paralympics 2012 Diary. Day 6, 5th September.

The weather forecast being for temperatures in the mid-20s, it’s safe to leave the jacket at home. As much as the feeling of polyester against skin is deeply erotic (has your irony detector gone off yet?) I am not going to miss carrying it around. Unfortunately, the skies being clear at 5am also means it’s ruddy cold. Something that didn’t really hit home until the second quarter-hour sitting under the lip of the Aquatic Centre!

Fortunately, I was rescued as Ian walked past and dragged me down to Britannia Row again for a nice warming cuppa. As it turned out later, a very good decision to not take the coat, but at that time of the day I wasn’t sure – I am definitely solar-powered, and since the sun doesn’t rise over the Athletes’ Village until after 7, I had to wait to get my radiation fix…

It was very interesting watching how the park works before it’s opened to the public, with dozens of athletes training first thing in the morning in what would become very crowded areas in just a few hours. It really has become a home-away-from-home for them.

As the wheelchair rugby started today in the basketball arena, and the first match was GB vs USA, interest was very high from very early on in the day, despite the match not starting until 2pm. People were asking about it from around 9 and actively trying to queue from 11:30ish. This caused issues with the team at the Basketball Arena, who didn’t have the facilities to manage the queue, so we were asked to not send people up to queue. The question “what *would* you like us tell them?” didn’t get any sensible answer, so we kept pointing out the arena to them, just didn’t say to queue.

By early lunchtime, the temperature had hit the low 20s and there hadn’t been a cloud in the sky all day, so when 75,000 people exited the stadium morning session, they, en masse, headed for us. Park Live became very busy very quickly as did all of the food and drinks stations. But when we’re busy is when we’re happiest, so the time just flew as we pointed this, that and everything in between out to people. “Keeping Left” was an aspiration that missed reality by the length of the park and then a bit, so folk leaving the park, and mobility shuttles had a very hard time fighting their way through the crowd.

At this point I started to lose my voice – there’s only so many times you can yell into a megaphone “There are mobility buses heading your way and you will lose the argument. Please keep left to allow them, and people leaving the park, to safely pass”. One smiling lady customer just handed me a sheet of Strepsil throat lozenges, saying “These might help. Keep up the good work”. What a lovely lady!

Loads and loads and loads of questions asked and answered, mostly correctly, I hope. Thankfully, we soon got word that the wheelchair rugby was officially full, which made that side of things easier to deal with.

Sadly, one area leader (NOT our one!) displayed a spectacular lack of professionalism by yelling at one of his stewards using what I can only describe as most inappropriate language to use in any situation where there are customers around. Very unimpressed by him, I must admit, not just for his rudeness and inappropriate behaviour, but for his lack of appreciation of the proper chain of command. F***wit!

Him aside, a really very enjoyable day, full of smiles and happy people. Several sightings of athletes on the bridge, and they all seem very willing to stop and talking to spectators and sign autographs for them. A lovely friendly attitude all ‘round and brilliant to watch. Didn’t get to take lunch today, too busy, but this isn’t a problem at all as we’re responsible for managing our own time, and I really didn’t fancy fighting my way through the crowds to the workforce area.

More tomorrow – BRING IT ON! 🙂

Paralympics 2012 Diary. Day 7, 6th September

Another early start, but with a weather forecast that’s better than yesterday, I decided to leave the jacket at home again. Good job too, as it turned out – a warm one it most definitely was!

I am very aware that we’re into the “home stretch” of these games, and that we’re all going to be heading back to our “ordinary” lives very shortly. It occurred to me that it’s not just the big things that we’re going to miss, but the small ones too. The way that the hot water in the staff rest areas always makes tea or coffee not only taste foul but taste the same. The huge thuds we get as we walk down the steel ramps after checking in at Cherry Park each time, the way that the competence of our paid steward colleagues is always inversely proportional to the amount of makeup they wear, and so on.

As has become habit these games, I asked for pink (Britannia Row) again. And as usual, the Japanese team were out training very early, well before the spectator gates were opened. I was, perhaps unfortunately, reminded of the cross-Australia athlete that featured in the movie version of Priscilla Queen of the Desert, who popped up every now and again, making strange “beep beep” noises… At that time of the morning, all I can hear is the sound of Japanese trainers making very similar noises as they all ran past. They probably wondered what this nutter was doing smiling over-broadly as they went past but being Japanese were far too polite to ask why.

Today was officially a “yell at buggy drivers” day. The Channel Sea Bridge is officially pedestrian-only after the park opens, so all the buggy drivers *should* know to stick to the official route after 7:30. Sadly some, especially the very self-important media ones, choose to ignore this. Not while I’m on shift, sonny… I turned around six buggies during the day, two by the power of voice alone, and one with the pathetic excuse “I’m running an errand for Mark Walker” (our common domain boss).  This got an even more short reply than usual: “Makes no difference. Do you want me to call her?” – exit stout party, defeated. Whatever Mary says, I am 100% sure she doesn’t say to break the rules on buggy routes!

Several speeding buggy drivers were also halted in their tracks, especially when both Ian and I yelled simultaneously “SLOW DOWN”. Since this sound is well over 100 decibels, it had the required effect. With, literally, dozens and dozens of school parties on site today, both keeping buggies slow, and keeping them off the pedestrian areas is vitally important for safety. No kid is going to get injured on my watch, I swear.

Mid-way through the afternoon, after Tracey had got herself another blow-up head-dress (don’t ask!), but sadly had gone to lunch, Clare Balding and the Channel 4 crew decided to turn up at the bottom on my bridge (yes, MY bridge – not LOCOG’s and not anyone else’s… MY bridge!) and do a piece to camera. This totally blocked the bridge and the buggy routes past the end of it. For some reason, the camera guy wasn’t happy with me on a full-volume megaphone saying “Make it quick please, Clare, you’re causing a hell of a blockage here”). They have their job to do and I have mine. Mine takes precedence, move on…

One lovely moment in the day was when a whole team of the disabled “muscle warriors” team came by and one of their electric wheelchair people parked under my umpire’s chair, elevated herself several feet into the air in a way not unreminiscent of a Dalek, and gave me one of their wristbands. “I want to give you this” she said, which was absolutely lovely, and very kind of her. A big smile on my face then, and I made a point whenever they went past me the next few times of making sure they knew I was still wearing it for them. I got more than a few cheers from them each time! I’m still wearing it now, and will continue to for the rest of the Games.

After the shift, I went to the Podium Bar outside Stratford Gate for the first time ever. A really nice venue, and if anyone’s thinking about it, much recommended. There I met four family members who had 4pm park tickets, so we had a couple (*only* a couple!) of drinks and chatted. A lovely relaxing end to a shift, I must admit.

Finally, homeward bound, I got a touch of laziness and decided to get the DLR back to Stratford High Street. There was a guy at Stratford International holding a sign with a wheelchair symbol and “Board Here” written on it for wheelchair users. He’d obviously had a long day (or had lost his thesaurus) because when I said to him “That’s not how you spell bored”, he didn’t react beyond a brief look of contempt and/or confusion…

It’s the last “normal” shift tomorrow morning. It’ll be a bit emotional, I think, as it’s my last morning shift, so my last briefing under the lip of the Aquatic Centre. This is it – the beginning of the end. (Sad face…)

Paralympics 2012 Diary. Day 8 – 7th September

A very hot, clear, sunny September day today, and our beautiful Indian Summer continues as the Paralympics benefits from Mother Nature’s kindness once again. Another day on Britannia Row started with group leader Ian briefing us that this was going to be a “quiet start” – something greeted with incredulity by those of us who had looked at our schedule of events for the day, which showed morning sessions in both the Basketball Court for wheelchair rugby and the main Riverside Arena for 7-a-side football. Yeah. Quiet. Just 38,000 lost people to deal with before 9am then?…

Having settled these folk into their seats without major issues, for the next several hours we dealt with a steady stream of people heading back and forth between our area and the main stadia for Athletics and Swimming, but unlike other days, we had no sudden “hit” of people from that side of the park. It just slowly got busier and busier and busier – they snuck up on us until without realising it about mid-morning we were awash with people in one of the most crowded days we’ve had on Britannia Row since the Paralympics started.

The buggy drivers are getting used to Tracey’s Bridge being pedestrian-only, with the notable exception of the media drivers, who still think that because they have someone with a camera in their buggy that they are in some way above the rules. Not when I’m controlling my end of the bridge, son! “We got through here yesterday”, whined one video guy, “the f***ing rules change every day…” – “No you didn’t”, I replied, “because I was here and the f***ing rules have been utterly consistent, and remain that way”. Self-important tosser.

It never ceases to amaze me how these low-brow, under-educated media types think that by using gutter language they can intimidate people. Wrong. I can happily join in with them if they want. It makes no difference. They’re still not driving across my bridge. It has never been so satisfying to put on my Games Makers smile and say “Have a lovely time in the park” as they drove off back the way they came <grin>

During this shift, I realised that we had wasted a huge amount of money. Around 25 billion pounds, to be exact. We didn’t need to build the Large Hadron Collider at CERN. All we needed to happen  was what we achieved yesterday in Britannia Row. By pointing at the same point in space three long streams of junior school children, all identically dressed, but heading in different directions, combined with two mobility buggies heading in opposite directions and finally adding six lost police horses, I am sure that not only did we confirm the existence of the Higgs boson, but discovered several new classes of previously unknown subatomic particles due to the various collisions that occurred…

With the sun beating down all day, Tracey and I decided to have a little refreshing drink in the Podium Bar after the shift. The problem with this is that since neither of us have drunk much at all since the start of the Olympics back in July, our antolerance of incohol has dramatically increased. We were still there three hours later when hubby came and met us. He then made it worse by buying pitchers of Pimms. Instead of the scheduled pie & mash dinner, we ended up having a Kenfucky Tried Chicken on the way home instead.

Loud snoring then ensued from my sofa, so to bed by 9, and thus I am awake again at 2am writing this rubbish! Last “normal” shift today, and hubby is back on site with an afternoon day pass, so we’re meeting again at the Podium for a swift one after the shift with our friend Tony. Thank goodness my final Sunday, closing ceremony shift is a late one!

Paralympics 2012 Diary. Day 9, 8th September

Feeling rougher than a hedgehogs bum today! Absolutely shattered and yesterday’s long day has taken its toll. On site as per usual around 05:30 and checked into pink again, then headed off for some recuperative cups of tea and Pro Plus!

It’s going to be a quiet day today – events in the Copperbox have finished, and the only venues with day pass ticket seating are Basketball for the rugby (all day) and the smaller Riverbank Arena for the five-a-side (morning only). The afternoon session of football and all day at Eton Manor for tennis are ticket-only as they’re finals. So not so many awkward day ticket issues to deal with today, which is great!

I have long ago decided that there is nothing – in the entire universe – that is as lost as a confident-looking man holding a map. “Are you okay, sir, know where you’re going?” will nearly 100% of the time be answered with a “yes, thanks” which will 100.000% of the time be a lie. What is it about the male gender that makes it so difficult to admit that you wouldn’t mind a few pointers to your destination? Is it a threat to our manhoods, or something equally pathetic?!

A real competition today between various forms of being run over – running athletes, speeding wheelchair users or media buggies, all of which got shout-outs to slow down at assorted points during the morning.

Depressingly early, my back gave out and I felt really *really* rough. My “get up and go” very definitely got up and went by mid-morning, and as we had a huge surplus of Games Makers (due, I presume, to the Copperbox not being used), I asked to go home to get some rest before tomorrow’s final day. No issues at all, so just a half-shift for me today.

I felt a bit guilty about that, but as I said, there were more than enough other team members on hand to cover, and it’s not as if I’ve been slacking on the work front since the end of July! I think I have only actually taken a half dozen lunch breaks in all the time I’ve been there, so any guilt soon passed, even though I suspect the staffing people didn’t really approve. Tough!

On the way back through Cherry Park, I picked up my Paralympic Baton so I don’t have to carry it around tomorrow, and also got the personal certificate – No idea where the Olympic one got to, none of us EVS CDM Games Makers got theirs, which is a bit rough!

Anyway – last day tomorrow, and I’m on a late shift. It’ll be an emotional day, no doubt, but tempered slightly by knowing that we have Monday’s fun and games in Trafalgar Square to look forward to. Bring it on!

Paralympics 2012 Diary. Day 10, 9th September.

And so here we are. The last day of the games and closing ceremony. Very mixed feelings about it, and very unsure how I will deal with it all.

I checked in very early – in the pre-noon queue! – as Janet (my ex) and our girls were on site for the morning and I wanted to see them, and give them a laugh seeing me in my uniform. There’s no pink today, I was told (not true, as it turned out) so they gave me brown. No idea what that area is, so I’m hoping it’s something special for the last day.

Having got on site so early, my family were just finishing watching the football at Riverbank, so I headed down there in searing heat to find them and say hello. Really lovely to see them all again, as I have very much neglected them during the Olympic/Paralympic season. They’re very understanding.

That done, I headed off to the briefing room early as from memory it is air-conditioned and the heat was already making me melt in a most wicked-witch kind of way! It turns out that brown is helping out in the athletes’ parade, which will be a great change from the normal.

We’re told to re-gather in the briefing room at 5, but until then “go out there and do some work”. Which to those of us who self-manage, was fine, but it did leave a few people a bit lost as to what was expected of them. Tracey and I headed off to pink again to see if we could be of use there, and to say goodbye to Ian, our group leader. But there were already flocks of Games Makers in that area looking a bit under-employed, so we headed off to our old stomping ground of Stratford Gate Bridge to say farewells to leaving spectators until it was time to re-brief for the evening.

In true form, we got there a bit early to cool down, and it’s just as well that we did. We were all supposed to get high-vis “Athlete Parade” (which presumably had that written on them because someone wasn’t too sure about the “s” and the apostrophe in “ Athletes’ “) bibs to wear and keep as a memento, but there were only about a dozen or so left. We grabbed ours and got settled down to hear details of what we’re to be doing. We’re to be based right at the exit of the Athletes’ Village, so as they come out  in random order, not team-by-team like the opening. We are to keep them moving, encourage them to move a bit faster, please, and give them claps and cheers and that “Special Games Maker Experience (copyright Mary Walker)” as they start their parade.

This was lovely because so many of them paid us compliments – including several “we should be applauding you guys” comments, that we all started to feel very emotional and appreciated by the people at the sharp end of the Games. And whoever designed the Netherlands uniform was a structural genius. The view from the back of their fit athletes was quite spectacular…

And then they were gone. Having got used over the last few weeks on Stratford Gate of dealing with crowds in six figures, a couple of thousand athletes go by like a knife through hot butter. We’d been tasked with getting the athletes into the stadium by ten past eight, and managed to get them there before eight o’clock, so well done us! We followed the tail end down back towards the stadium and looked around for things to do. Not a huge amount going on, so a dinner break was taken.

As we were in the general area, I popped home for a back-rest and to watch the very start of the ceremony. A bit too much Coldplay for my tastes – there’s only so much of their music I can listen to without wanting to find a convenient cliff to throw myself off, and we had been listening to rehearsals all bloody day…

Then back on site again well before the egress started. Met up again with Tracey and we parked ourselves at the start of the bridge to catch people as they left the stadium. This didn’t last long as the person on the loudhailer behind us was doing our head in with banal comments, so we moved a bit further up the bridge out of direct loudhailer range.

Just in time to catch the fireworks, which were absolutely spectacular. Hope the photos come out okay. As the crowds started to come out in force, we move a bit further up and joined a huge line of “high-fiving” Games Makers. My shoulders are still aching from this, but oh was it worth it. Thousands of happy, smiling, grateful people walked, ran and wheeled past us high-fiving for all they were worth. *So* many lovely thank-yous and hugs and smiles that we were all very emotional very quickly. In no time at all the line had doubled in length as Games Makers came out in force to say a final goodbye to our customers.

And then, suddenly, that was it. The flow of people slowed and stopped, with a few stragglers, cast members and staff walking slowly over the bridge looking as tired as we were. We’d come to the end of  our last egress, and they were (literally) turning the lights off.

No time really for long farewells, as so many of us will meet tomorrow at the parade, so a few quick “goodnight”s were exchanged and I made my way back home to hubby at midnight – a lot earlier than had been feared.

It’s just the parade left now, so I’ll do a diary entry for that then try to wrap my head around some closing thoughts on the whole experience on which to finish.

Paralympics 2012 Diary, Day 11. 10th September.

Anyone who has known me for more than ten minutes will know that I am not an idealist. If cynicism was a Paralympic sport, I would be a medallist every time. But the Great British Public’s capacity to disappoint never ceases to surprise me.

Today’s the day of the athlete’s parade, and despite being in two minds due to being very tired after yesterday’s late shift on the park, I decided to go down to Trafalgar Square to meet up with other Games Makers and watch the parade on the big screen.

Mistake. BIG mistake.

Meeting up with the other Games Makers was great fun – Mexican Waves, seeing Tracey and various other familiar faces again for probably the last time, getting on telly – all marvellous stuff. While we had Trafalgar Square to ourselves, all was well: “Take a picture of me with Eamonn Holmes“ said Tracey pointing at Sky’s Adam Boulton was probably the high point, though having a photo taken with Ken Livingston (just to wind up my Tory other half) came close 🙂

A couple of dozen of us positioned ourselves at the barriers near the screen a good hour before gates opened to make sure we got a good view of proceedings, and then they let The Great Unwashed in, who promptly sat on the floor four feet behind us and started demanding that *we* sit down behind tall barriers without any view of the screen so that they could see. Sorry, but we were here, first and we’ve worked bloody hard to get this spot. You go find your own vantage point.

“I see your stock of good will went out with the flame last night” said someone who thinks he’s a poet. “Go fuck yourself” was my slightly less eloquent reply, forgetting that I should simply have asked him what, exactly, it was that he did to help…

They’d already scared off Tracey who was nowhere to be seen, and everyone else around us decided that these arseholes weren’t worth the effort and left. Judging by some of the comments, it’ll be a long time before any of us volunteer to help wankers like that again – they can run their own Olympics in future.

So I didn’t get to see the parade, or the athletes, or even many nice people other than Games makers.

I also got bored waiting to be served in the Welly, so ended up having a quick pint in Comptons and heading home even more pissed off. I did, however, have the satisfaction of spotting an apostrophe error in a poster on Comptons’ wall detailing the history of the pub, so that made me feel better.

I got the DLR to Stratford High Street to avoid the old Stratford Centre – if I had walked through there I would have ripped off someone’s head, the mood I am in. Walking past one of the local pubs near to home, some guys smoking outside shouted over asking if I’d had a good games and saying thank you, which went some way to making me feel a bit better about it all. Very sweet of them (and no, they weren’t drunk!)

I am currently in no mood to accurately sum up the whole Olympic and Paralympic experience of being a Games maker, so I will leave it for a day or two then post one final diary entry before stopping. I suspect polyester will feature strongly…

I hope everyone who was down there today had a better day than we did, and enjoyed themselves. Fellow Games Makers – you’re a great bunch of people and worked well above and beyond the call of duty for people who occasionally are not worth making the effort for. Well done, all of you.

Olympics and Paralympics 2012 Diaries. Final Thoughts

… and then it was all over. A Summer never to be forgotten or equalled. A rollercoaster ride of emotion and exhaustion. It’s probably too soon after everything has finished to be entirely objective about the experience, but I think it is best to get things written now while they’re fresh in my mind and before the rose-tinted glasses get too opaque! All of the comments below are personal and my views based on what happened to me and me alone in just one place. I speak for no-one else but myself here, and please don’t feel slighted if your venue isn’t mentioned or your role has been missed.

As in anything in life, there are plusses and minuses, and since we learn more from the latter, so let’s get a few small (and in the greater scheme of things they are tiny) minuses out of the way first. Let’s head right back to the beginning.

Training

Oh dear! The training was very heavy on HR fluff and very light on actual details of what we would need to do on a day-to-day basis. I didn’t need to be told how fantastic I am – I built a 35 year career in ICI on being good at what I did – what I needed was specifics about what I was going to be doing, who I was going to work for, what problems I was going to have and how to solve them or refer them up the line for solution. The Wembley bash was fun, but otherwise useless, the Hackney thing was too light on details and too full of fluff and the venue visit in the Copperbox and the site walk was so bad I nearly walked out. As I noted at the start of my Olympic diary, I had never felt so unprepared for such a major undertaking.

Thank goodness for the technical rehearsal day. Pretty much everything that could go wrong that day did, and as such it was incredibly valuable. Ticket scanners didn’t work, misread tickets or just plain rejected them; team organisation broke down and needed re-building; team leaders didn’t always lead and team members pulled together to fill in the gaps and deal with the issues. I have a very strong suspicion that a major criterion for Games Maker selection was the ability to think on our feet, and it was greatly reassuring on that rehearsal day to be surrounded by people who seemed to be good at that. Potentially, all the problems that evening could have put me right off, but it had exactly the opposite effect, it was reassuring. We’d had a load of problems thrown at us in a fairly low-pressure and safe environment, and we’d dealt with them.

Organisation

The idea of having a well-defined management structure is good, but those above us at the “grunt” level HAVE to be better at their job than we are at ours for it to have any significance in organisational terms. Just taking a volunteer and adding a few extra hours training in how to organise loo and lunch breaks didn’t work as well as it could have. What people like me on the ground at the sharp end of customer delivery need to have is faith that those to whom we answer can be relied upon to know what to do. This broke down far too often, and some people’s management ambitions out-stripped their capabilities. Being in the first year of a university management degree doesn’t make you a manager, and being assertive isn’t the same as being effective!

Team Leaders who knew less about what they were doing than team members were occasionally an issue. It was quickly spotted early on during the games that the idea of “spreading around” work areas for team leaders wasn’t working well at all. It might have been better to have team leaders who have only two specific areas – one on a particular gate and one elsewhere in a specific area in the park, and they alternated between the two over the course of the games. This would quickly have built up in them an intimate knowledge of their two areas, but would have kept them happy by not being stuck in one place all the time.

Don’t get me wrong, there were some brilliant team leaders (those who worked with me will know who they are because I have told them) but there were some that weren’t so good. Having said that, most Games Makers that I came across were of fairly independent mind – I know I was – and where slack was found in the organisation we filled it ourselves, cutting out the ineffective elements from the process. But it would have been better not to have that added pressure.

There is, of course, the other side – I am sure we caused endless issues for team leaders by being over-independent at times! The benefit we had being volunteers of, in the ultimate analysis, not being answerable to anyone, didn’t always help, I am sure.

Stewards

Another “Oh dear”. Why most of them were there, I have no idea. The Sword management folk (Group and Area leaders) were mostly fine, if occasionally ineffective as managers, but the ordinary stewards on the ground were to a great extent utterly useless and seemed to actively get in the way most of the time. Lazy, feckless and more interested in standing around talking to each other than actually doing anything useful, they ended up being treated as very slow-moving roundabouts most of the time by both Games Makers and spectators. As ever, there were exceptions – the lady Sword steward who we suspected of being a journalist was actually very good at her job, for example – it’s why she stood out and wasn’t as “undercover” as she thought! But most were a waste of space, oxygen and money.

G4S during the Olympics were worse than useless. The ones I saw and heard of were rude to customers, dismissive of the military and of us, and had attitudes that far outstripped their actual value. During the Paralympics, however, there seemed to be a sea-change in G4S and they were pleasant to work with and helpful and smiling towards customers. I don’t know what was different in their set-up between the two games, but the difference was so huge it was almost as though they were two different organisations. Well done to the Paralympic G4S people.

F***wits

As I mentioned in an earlier diary entry, the ratio of “bloody idiots” within the ranks of our customers seemed to be very much lower on the Olympic Park than in the real world “out there”. That didn’t stop there being some prize plonkers, though!

Several people saw a solid mass of several thousand others walking towards them at the main Stratford gate exit and decided that this must be the entrance and they got most miffed when the error of their assumption was pointed out. Hell hath no fury like an assertive male who’s self-image of invincibility has been shattered by an unpaid volunteer wearing garish polyester…

Police inspectors and MOD types who put into place a security system then decide that they are going to circumvent it were high on the irritants list too.

But, thankfully, these were a tiny minority (see below).

Mixed Messages

Far too often, we Games Makers were told one thing, then a half-hour later told the opposite then again a half hour after that, told something entirely different. This had the net effect that after a while we just stopped listening and went and did what our training told us to do – be ourselves and apply common sense. As this invariably worked, and worked well, it became our standard modus operandi from then on. We’d listen, politely, to what we were told, then go and do it our own way anyway.

As it turned out, this had no noticeable negative impact, but I am sure that had the project been longer-term, it would have had some serious effects. While I agree with Emerson that a “foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds”, being consistent is reassuring and quite effective when assigning work patterns to people new to the job and a bit nervous.

The Media

Finally and most irritatingly, our beloved media, who are very *very* high on the f***wits list.

Arrogant, self-important and utterly misguided about their role in the Games, they were without exception, nothing but trouble. Dismissive when asked to show their passes, speeding dangerously in buggies, foul-spoken and rude when told they couldn’t do something. While our athletes, Games Makers and spectators covered themselves in glory, our media covered themselves in something a lot more malodourous…

They also think that we only have short-term memories. Within days of the games starting, every media outlet in the country became firm, life-long supporters of the games and the people involved. This was the same media that had for the previous four long years been slagging it, and us off, predicting queuing chaos, travel melt-down, terrorist atrocities and any number of other disasters.

They were, as always of course, completely wrong. Their predictions of doom and gloom conveniently forgotten as the public embraced the games whole-heartedly and the media had to race to catch the mood before they got found out for being the clueless twats that they are. Why we pay any attention to these people is quite beyond understanding.

That’s about it for negatives, and none of them were even close to being show-stoppers. Now – the positives, in finest X Factor tradition, no particular order:

The Park

Stunning, brilliant, and absolutely staggering in its ambition and size, the park was for me a major highlight of my time as a Games Maker. Getting onto the site at 05:30 in the morning and being able to wander around by myself in the beautiful dawn light taking photographs and seeing parts of the park I would never get the chance to see otherwise was enough to get my soul soaring. I have never been emotionally moved by a location like it and probably never will again.

Just walking through the security scanners each day and rounding the corner to see ahead of me the Aquatics Centre and the main Stadium lightened my mood and made all the previous day’s aches and pains go away (well… *nearly* go away!) It became so much more than just a location, it became a place where magic happens, and not just happens, but happens where I could be a part of it.

Seeing all of this in front of me, empty and ready for a new day of as yet untold adventure, was tangibly exciting. I always had the music soundtrack to the Olympic opening ceremony playing on my iPod as I wandered around in the morning, and quite frequently “had something in my eye” while doing it. The designers and builders of that place should rightly be very proud, because they build so much more than just a massive sports venue.

Military

Imposed-upon, abused too often by governments and used to putting themselves in harm’s way for our benefit, I really wasn’t sure how well the armed forces would come across when presented with thousands of over-excited members of the public who’d been queuing in sunshine or rain waiting to get into the park.

They were brilliant. After a few days getting used to it all, they were just as smiley, chatty and personable as the keenest Games Maker. A staff sergeant that I was talking to admitted that he’d had some reservations about the whole last-minute deployment of thousands of extra troops, but having seen how it was working, thought that it might just be the military’s finest hour in terms of how the public sees them.

I didn’t hear a bad word from a spectator about the troops, and having them there working with their usual marvellous efficiency was a huge bonus in terms of keeping people happy, including us. I have never felt so secure anywhere.

Efficiency

One of the big surprises for us at the sharp end and those higher up was just how efficient and effective the park entry system was. We’d been budgeted around 360 ticket scans per hour per Games Maker but ended up pushing through four or five times that many. People had been warned to allow a couple of hours to get into the park, but with the except at absolute peak times, very few people ever actually stopped walking from the point of hitting Westfield to being in the park on the safe side, all security checked, and scanned in.

Many many people commented on this as they came through the gates, saying that they “wished the airports were as good as this”. This had the very positive effect before they’d even seen the park and started enjoying themselves, that they were in a good mood and smiling. I am sure that our role to make sure our customers enjoyed themselves was made twice as easy because of the efficiency of this system, from the last mile teams, the soft-checking, the security teams and finally our ticket checkers and wayfinders on the clean side of the barriers.

It was superb to watch it all work and was a triumph of process engineering.

Cleaners and Gardeners

The unseen and largely unsung heroes of the games were the cleaners and the gardeners. Working mostly out of view of the public, these people kept the park spotless and beautiful to look at, and made a huge contribution to the way everything worked.

Their whole attitude seemed to be “good enough isn’t good enough” and they really took pride in presenting the park in its very best possible light.

Me getting on site so early, they were still around the place finishing off their nightly work, putting the last touches to something or other. The spotlessly clean public areas and the beautifully kept gardens were wonderful to look at.

This even seemed to catch on with our spectators, and even after a day with a quarter of a million people on site, there didn’t seem to be very much in the way of litter left laying around.

The Public

Well, what can you say about our beloved customers? Great, weren’t they?!

Smiling, happy, polite, grateful and for a British public, surprisingly unreserved, they had the time of their lives at these Games and were with very few exceptions an absolutely pleasure to work for.

Ordinarily, back in the real world, when hearing a small yelp behind me, I would have assumed that someone has tripped over, or dropped their shopping or something bad. It took a little while to realise that the yelps we were hearing behind us were ones of excitement as people came through our ticket checks and saw, for the first time, an unobstructed view of the Stadium. It was great!

These weren’t just little kids, either, though there were plenty of them. But “grown ups” too – relaxing and enjoying their inner-child and determined to have a good time in this marvellous, safe and non-threatening environment.

I have never been thanked so much in my entire life! People were genuinely grateful and appreciative of the work that we were all doing on their behalf. All the cynicism and negativity seemed to be dismissed as an aberration and folk willingly let themselves be swept along by it all.

Even late at night, with tired or asleep children draped over them, people made the effort to come over as they were leaving and say “thanks”, or give an exhausted smile as they heard us tell them “thanks for coming, hope you have a safe journey home” at 11pm or later.

… and as for the high-five lines, what can I say – lunacy, absolute lunacy! In the pitch dark, after a long, hot, sunny day in the park and inside various venues, people would still break into a run as they spotted a long line of Games Makers with our hands held aloft.

“Go on, you know you want to” would most times break down the most reluctant of people, and everyone from young kids, to soberly-dressed VIPs to wheelchair users would all zoom down the line high-fiving as many as they could.

We were told very early on that a major part of our job was to get the people into the park smiling, keep them that way all day and make sure they’re still doing it when they leave.

Those high-five lines achieved the latter magnificently and it was great to be a part of them Two days later, my shoulders still ache from the closing ceremony line, where we stood for a full hour and a half doing it. Great stuff 🙂

Equality and Diversity

This was the first time in my experience that equality and diversity had been treated in an adult manner. Equality and diversity mean being indifferent (in a good way) to others’ differences. To not caring if someone is different – has limbs missing, is in a wheelchair, has learning difficulties or is just plain not the same skin colour, gender or orientation as you.

Everyone got treated the same, had the same opportunities and had the same chance to do their best, irrespective of differences. And we loved them all the more for going for it.

It was great to see this not just as a theory but actually implemented for real. Pressure groups who over-focus on their one pet issue – on their “rights” – have a lot to learn from the way these games were put together. A brilliant achievement – well done to all involved.

Athletes, Coaches and Managers

For me, the Games was always about the experience, not specifically about the sport. But the athletes, coaches and managers that I came across were to a fault, brilliant people. Happy to stop and chat, or pose for a photo, they were far more approachable and “human” than I expected them to be.

A lot of the teams – from Eastern Europe in particular – weren’t sure how to deal with these mad British people that surrounded them, and it took them a while to get used to it. They’d heard a lot about the British reserve and how we got upset if things got too familiar. What they were seeing went completely against that briefing. It was lovely to surprise them and see them embrace it all once they’d got used to it.

These people were a lovely surprise during the games, and really added to it all for me. Being able to be part of the Athletes’ Parade on the final day of the Paralympics, and to be able to say “thank you” back to them was a real honour and something I will always value.

Mary Walker(Olympic Park Common Domain Staffing Manager) and her team

Getting towards specifics now… Mary’s team were brilliant. They had an unbelievably difficult job to do – take a couple of thousand people who they’d never met and shape us into a team to do a job that has never been attempted here before and which went completely against the national character.

They succeeded way beyond expectations. Motivating us, comforting us when it all got a bit much, supporting us when we felt put-upon and doing their utmost to make sure we enjoyed it as much as we could, they always had our backs for us and we knew it.

From that first nervous check-in at Cherry Park, to the final briefing on our last day, they were there for us, cheering us on.

I cannot express adequately how much I appreciate their work and what they did for us. They gave us all belief in ourselves and sent us out there to shine. And boy did we shine!

There was, as Mary said, nothing common about the Common Domain!

Fellow Games Makers

If ever there was something that I can point to and genuinely say that my belief in humanity had been restored, it would be pointed in the direction of my fellow Games Makers.

Being part of a team that was focussed on doing the absolute best we could, of supporting each other and of making our customers happy was one of the best experiences of my life. We all came from different backgrounds and have different expectations and ambitions, but I feel we shared one aim here – to be part of something that was so much bigger than ourselves, but which couldn’t work without us. Being a small but vital cog in an important machine is a great feeling, especially when it works as well as this one did.

We were on a global stage, everybody was watching us and the pressure was immense at times. But collectively we not only made it work, we made it work better than anyone, including ourselves, could ever have dreamed of.

I do not do “pride” as such – it is an egotistical emotion – but I am genuinely proud and honoured to have worked with these people and to have shared this experience with them.

They represent the finest our country has to offer. They stood up and were counted, they were asked and delivered in abundance. They put the “Great” into “Great Britain”.

Please forgive me if I limit my specifics to just one person – all of those Games Makers that  I met have special places in my heart, but my time spent with my personal limpet, Tracey, will always be treasured. People got to the point where they thought we were a couple, until she told them my boyfriend might object!

She’s mad, she won’t shut up, she blocks the exits and entrances, she has no sense of direction, she scares little kids and their parents and she is marvellous, brilliant, inspirational, funny and superb to work with. She is, for me, the total Games Maker and I will miss not being within earshot of her every day!

You were great, Tracey – well done!

Home Support

Nothing happens in a vacuum, and without the love, tolerance and support of Ashley, my fiancé, at home, I could not have even considered taking part in all this.

Without his support I would have missed the best experience of my life, and would have regretted and resented it always. I shall be grateful to him for the rest of my life for this opportunity.

I love you to bits, hubby.

Signing Off

And so it ends. 2012 was the Summer that was, and we got though it with smiles on our faces and tears in our eyes. Never to be forgotten, always to be treasured.

As with all journeys, it had its ups and downs, but WHAT a life-enhancing journey!

As I said on the Facebook group earlier, we shouldn’t cry because it’s over, we should smile because it happened. But that’s going to be difficult for a few days (I seem to have something in my eye again now…)

No goodbyes, just good memories.

Thanks for listening.

Paul Harper
Tuesday 11th September 2012

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