For work reasons I find myself travelling up to Town on a Monday. Pretty ordinary tale so far, eh? More: I am heading to the Pearson Group HQ on The Strand to play my (small) part in a video project they’ve got going on. Still fairly ordinary I think you’ll agree.
Last time in this neck of the woods was when I raced/wobbled along on a Boris Bike with a brave/foolish colleague a few months ago.
No cycling-to-work today even though it’s warm and dry. Partly because this is a smash’n’grab off-peak in’n’out London gig to fit in to the project timelines and my precision schedule has no slack for frippery. But mainly because it’s pretty much impossible to WALK along The Strand let alone cycle. Pourquoi? For today is the day our oh-so-successful Olympians are parading through London town.
When I stuck this date in my calendar, I didn’t give it a second thought. After all it’s merely a Monday in September…
Now I am faced with a walk along The Strand akin to making ones way across in front of the stage whilst Take That gyrate to a stadium full of ecstatic fans. It is surreal. They can’t see me and are not giving way in a good natured fashion.
Walking to an office has become some kind of adventure sport. If Bear Grylls was making a documentary here about extreme urban crowd navigation – armed only with a stale Pret a Manger baguette and soya latte for survival – I’d not bat an eyelid. Nor would the million plus folk who have lined the route. They are here for Olympians, not TV tough guys. He’s better off staying in New Zealand where he is a sensation. Come to think of it, there are (apparently) more people craning their necks here than living on the whole of the South Island… It has a touch of the bazarrs of Old Delhi about it – minus aroma – because it’s okay, it’s non threatening, it’s just rammed.
The Games Makers are out in force – the tube was peppered with their distinctive garb and their infectious smiles – and so are Union Jacks. (Have you noticed that Union Jacks are cool now? Not the George Cross. No. Not cool. Just the ‘Jack.) On ladies faces, dog-jackets (fashioned out tee-shirts at a guess), flags, banners, bags, hanging out of office windows. Just fantastic!
I am writing this from the sublime calm of The RSA (8 John Adam Street) where I happen to be a fellow. In the library, there is the occasional sound of newspaper pages being turned, the tippedy-tapping of laptop keys, perhaps a cough or two and a side order of background noise from hovering police helicopters. You’d never know there was a mass outpouring of joy and admiration outside. In deference to the jingoistic pride I am preparing for my studio interview and am getting anxious. A sandwich and Diet Coke do little to settle matters. I avoid coffee these days, so we can’t blame caffeine for my jitters.
Time to head for my appointment, I emerge from the RSA to a wall of sound, a sea of people plus a chap getting stopped and searched (in good humour).
It is properly good natured on the route of the procession. Seriously, seriously busy. From the RSA I have maybe 150m to walk to my destination? It takes 10 minutes. (I’m not the fastest walker.) It’s a feast of folk jostling to get a great view. With a side order of corporate handouts near the camera locations. (It’s all about branding in this century isn’t it? You can brand an event and have a good time, right? I mean, that’s okay?) So people wave their (BA) signs with the touchingly heartfelt scrawl “We love you team GB!” (Smiley-face.)
I manage to make it the entrance for my appointment and am halted: not allowed in to the atrium by security. No pass you see.
“I’ve got an appointment.”
“Right you are sir, in you go.”
Genius. I could be a ruddy spy/crim’ I could. Get in anywhere me…
[Backup: was going to use the force by slowly waving my hand in an arc saying – a la Alec Guiness – “You will let me in and not speak of this moment.” Am a bit sad I didn’t get to try it out.]
I complete my assignment. It goes okay. Now I need to head out of town.
Of course, the side effect of all this wondrous Olympic joy is the surplus of bodies trying to leave the area. I hoped we’d conclude filming ahead of the parade conclusion. Hopelessly optimistic, I emerge through the revolving doors onto The Strand as ROAARRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR. Wha’ the f…? Ah, that’ll be the Red Arrows then doing a flypast. I heard ‘em but all I saw was their patriotic smoke which hung perfectly in the air above Trafalgar Square. Not that I have time to take in the view.
I imagine an action hero looking at his watch. It was a simple question of racing the clock.
[Cue parkour-esque leggit back to Paddington action sequence Mr Director.]
Having been effectively “kettled” at Charing Cross I had less than 20 minutes to get from the Embankment tube to my Paddington train. It takes – what – maybe 25 minutes? I did it in 19.
[Okay, it wasn’t remotely Bourne. Mainly shuffling, tutting and walking quickly in the time honoured opposite-of-action-hero inept British fashion.]
Note to Boris: What is needed here was a two tier system where people who were working and had genuinely somewhere else to be could be whizzed without fuss onto the Tube. Loafers, tourists and time rich hoi-poloi could surely wait for the next train? Maybe fast and slow lanes for the pavement whilst we’re at it?
I despise running to catch public transport. It smacks of desperation, wreaks of disorganisation and leaves you a sweaty discombobulated heap when you lurch, gasping into your seat. Typing this on a westbound (Swansea) train, my heart rate will probably dip below 100bpm by the time we reach Didcot. I am sweating freely which is simultaneously a) uncomfortable, b) uncool [pun intedned] and c) just not pleasant for the rest of the travelling public. [The smug normal body temperature rail-going types that they are quietly sneering at my dishevelled appearance. I imagine.]
Now I recall my Super-duper-saver ticket. (Purchased to match the austerity my employer insists upon.) So it remains to be seen if my ticket is valid on this train.
At Didcot, Mr Inspector doesn’t really look at it despite asking for it, so I still don’t know.
By the way… I Didn’t see a solitary athlete.
Not a sausage. Nay Queen Victoria. Nary an Ennis. Nul point Simmonds.
Just the oozing crowds and the Red Arrows wakes.
So whilst I can say I was there, puh-lease don’t ask me for any details.