The Olympics

Four years ago, I was a volunteer for the London Olympics. In my childhood dreams I was a competitor, but as with almost everyone reality soon intruded on that ambition. 

Therefore when London won the bid back in 2005 my hope was to somehow be part of it, and when the call went out for ordinary people to assist, I signed up along with a couple of million others. By the time the Games were upon us that number had shrunk massively, but the volunteer numbers were still astounding, the involvement still impressive. 

A home Olympics is a once in a lifetime opportunity. I run a small business, I have some degree of flexibility. But it was an investment, a commitment and any other term you care to choose for deciding to give up my time to help.  I’m not noble, I’m not a selfless saint – I wanted to be part of it. 

I was assigned to the rate card team, and the months before the Games began was given over to training sessions as to what was expected, and a dawning realisation that this was real. Turning up to a training session hideously hungover from watching Manchester City beating United on their way to THAT last minute title win may not have been my finest moment, but an awareness of the scale of what was happening was never far away. 

I worked in the Olympic Village and learnt a few valuable lessons. That only a minority of the athletes present win medals was part of it, that the excitement at seeing those early medallists was shared by all those there to compete was startling. That the openness of the athletes talking to those of us there to help was simply joyous. 

There are so many things I could tell you. The member of the Irish team telling me that since it was unlikely they would ever host a Games meant that as far as they were concerned this was their home event was touching. That he proceeded to talk about how the love from the British crowd for our family across the water had been felt by the whole Irish team nearly made me weep. 

Perhaps I could tell you the downsides. But the truth is there were so few. In the end I saw barely any sporting action. But I was part of the Olympics. I was a small part of making it happen. 

As I finished my last shift, as I went to Stratford station, a sign said “Rio, this way, 2016”. Beautiful. 

People of Brazil, you will have three weeks where you are the centre of the world. It is not real life, and real life cannot be eclipsed or pushed aside by a sporting occasion. But I envy you. We had it four years ago, and it was extraordinary. It is now your turn, your privilege. Enjoy it. Just…enjoy it. It really is that special. 

Travelling – A Guide for the Terminally Stupid

One of the “joys” of travel is watching your fellow humans happily go through the experience without being remotely aware of what is going on. Sometimes it’s amusing, sometimes it leaves you shaking your head in disbelief. So here’s a non-exhaustive list of the basics:

1) Check In
Seriously, what the hell are you doing? It takes 30 seconds to show your boarding pass and passport, pop the bag down and get it all done. The agent really doesn’t care about your family history or the hotel you’ve booked or the fact you’ve just recovered from a heavy cold and nor do the 300 people behind you. You’re told the baggage limits when you book. Did you seriously think they wouldn’t notice the grand piano you’re trying to check in?

2) Airport Security
I don’t know whether you’ve noticed or not, but security is fairly common these days, some might even say it’s to be expected. The queues that go with it are too, meaning you have several minutes to know what to do. Special clue here: watch the people in front of you.  So why do you wait until the security officer actually starts talking to you before you think it might be an idea to empty your pockets? Why do you wait until the belt before realising the €50 in change might trigger the alarm? Put it all in your bag while you’re in the queue. Take your belt off before you wander through the gate. This is clearly challenging stuff.

3) Travelators
Stand on the right. Just stand on the bloody right. It’s the same the world over, get out of the way will you?

4) Leaving Baggage Unattended
Oh come on, you aren’t that stupid are you? Are you?

5) Getting to the Gate on Time
Airports are very good you know. They put the time up on your ticket and tell you at check in. Then they also put it up on the screens too, which tells you if there’s a delay. Oh and where to go. And when.

Get your arse out of Wetherspoons and down to where the aircraft is. 200 other people managed it, why didn’t you?

6) Escalators
Take a look behind you. See all those people moving at the same speed as you? What do you think will happen when you decide to stop at the top or bottom?

7) Visas
The airport is really not the best place to realise you needed one

8) Flying economy
It’s crap. Everyone else on board knows this too, loudly whining about the seat to the crew doesn’t do anything except ensure everyone else on board is silently contemplating violence.

9) It’s not a playground
Yes, kids are excited. That’s great too, and really rather
charming. But other people do exist, and maybe, just maybe want to walk through the terminal without being tripped up.

10) We don’t do this at home
The point about travelling is to have new experiences. It’s a different country. They are not required to do everything the way we do. Don’t like it, don’t go. Amazingly enough, they do some things better too. If you actually tried them instead of complaining that the signs aren’t in English you might appreciate that.

11) The Food
Just a thought here, but if you don’t for example like Indian food, India probably wasn’t your best choice of holiday. Oh and the lack of a Burger King in the tiny, remote village you’ve selected from Google Maps is your problem, not theirs.

12) The Locals
They actually live there you know. Stop treating them like zoo exhibits

13) The Wildlife
That selfie next to a lion isn’t a good idea. Actually, what am I saying? Go ahead, in fact you’ll be doing us all a favour. I once saw someone standing up to the waist fishing in the Daintree river. That everyone else was there to see the crocodiles might have been a clue.

14) Insects
You’ve gone somewhere tropical. What did you expect? Seriously, what did you expect?

15) Overcrowding
You’ve gone to one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world, and you’re amazed that other people have had the same idea.

16) The Wet Season
Why did you think it was so cheap? They’ve even given you a hint in the title. Oh and it might be why the landscape is so green too. And while I’m at it, did you actually think about why it’s called a rainforest?

17) Monuments
Yes, you’re right, they’ve been there for a thousand years just waiting for you to carve your initials into the stone. Everyone else is deeply impressed, that’s why they’re there actually – to see just who the numpty who has ruined a global landmark is.

18) Clothing
Of course there’s nothing wrong with walking through a Dubai mall in your bikini or speedos. Why would anyone think that might be a problem?

19) Clapping when the Flight Lands
This is fine if you happen to be being flown by the Wright Brothers a hundred years ago. These days, amazingly enough, the pilot has actually done it before. In fact the definition of a good pilot is one who has the same number of landings as take offs and you didn’t applaud that did you? If a passenger in your car stands and applauds you when you drop them off safely then its allowed. Otherwise you’ve just made everyone else shrivel into their seat in embarrassment.

20) Holiday Clothes
That sarong you bought on holiday looked ok when you were on holiday. In the High Street when you get home, you just look a twat.

Ignoring the threat – Munich

Last week I was scheduled to go to Munich; it was a work trip to see colleagues at the ICS European office, with a couple of days tagged on to the weekend to spend time with friend and colleague Rhett Lego from the Conjoint Marketing Group.

I’d been looking forward to it for a while, not just because of the chance to catch up with people, but also because despite visiting many times previously, it had always been purely for work and almost always in the suburbs. The centre remained largely unexplored except for one short visit.

Munich hit the headlines last week given the shootings and the timing of the trip turned out to be less than ideal. Due to meet Rhett on Friday evening, messages were coming in from him that the trains were being halted as the police thought gunmen were heading in to the city.

Still, I waited outside a bar just off Marienplatz and was about to order a drink when mayhem broke out, hundreds of people running from the square in panic, with some falling and being hurt. At the time I was thinking that I hadn’t heard any gunfire, but clearly in such circumstances the individual has no idea what is happening or what caused it; that it ultimately proved to be a false alarm doesn’t affect the situation at the time.

So clearly this is the time to get out of the city and go home, right?

No. You see there’s nowhere in the world that’s completely safe, and while that evening was disconcerting, it also showed the very best of people too. The bar staff were fabulous, reassuring those who were distressed and looking after them, while amused at my response of deciding that since I was in a bar I might as well have a beer. After a couple of hours, we were all let out and so I walked back to the hotel, where of course the reality of the false alarms in the centre was becoming apparent.

Saturday morning I went back into the centre, again meeting in Marienplatz and heading off for a brunch. The city would surely be empty and subdued – except that it wasn’t at all. People were sat outside, the cafes were full, the squares were busy, the street performers were out in force. In other words it was normal, a mix of locals and tourists in an attractive regional city with much to offer.

And here is the point, it is the easiest thing to decide to head home, and once home to stay home. It’s also completely understandable, events like those in Munich are shocking and distressing, but the truth is that it can happen anywhere, and the alternative to accepting that is to never leave the house.

Munich as a city break has so much to offer, the architecture is outstanding, the Bavarian food delicious, while the numerous beer gardens are a delightful place to spend a few hours at very little cost given the ridiculously low prices. It’s also fairly flat so wandering and exploring is the key to experiencing the city.

I’ve never quite understood why Germany is not a more popular destination for the British. Sure, it lacks beaches except in the north, so that kind of holiday is unlikely, but the people are so warm and welcoming and the cultural fit with the British is a strong one. On one previous visit I carelessly allowed my passport to fall out of my bag whilst in a provincial station. A lady found it, and searched all the platforms until she found me and returned it. She didn’t speak any English and in common with much of the English speaking nations, my language skills are pathetic. So being able to convey thanks beyond repeated dankes was limited. But while I have no doubt that this would happen in many places, it is also illustrative that I was entirely unsurprised it would happen in Germany.

We live in troubled times, but it cannot stop us from living our lives and experiencing the joy of trouble and the pleasure of spending times with our fellow people. The Germans were undoubtedly shocked, but they showed the best possible response by getting on with their weekend. In the English Garden the surfers (yes really) were demonstrating their skills before the ever appreciative audience, the families were playing on the grass and the tourists were exploring.

Hard as it may be sometimes, it’s the only way. I love Munich, it’s a truly wonderful place. I’m glad I was there, even on that Friday night, and I’m even more glad I stayed for what turned out to be the best weekend imaginable – a great city, great people and good friends.

Never let us forget the importance of that.