Tuesday, July 31, 2012

OLYMPIC DAY: Part II - Fencing at the ExCel Centre

Olympic Day, Part II, involved going to what I dubbed "The Land of Marginal Sports," the ExCel Centre. I know that seems harsh, but the sports they have there are fencing, weightlifting, boxing, judo, table tennis, wrestling and taekwondo. See what I mean?

The day got off to a fine start with Olympic foam fingers. There's nothing like a foam finger to show that you're taking the sport seriously. As we walked to the bus stop, the volunteers with their Pink Foam Fingers of Authority (as I like to call them) kept giving the boys Foam Finger High Fives. Classic.

As we waited for the boys, we recreated the "Creation" portion of the Sistine Chapel with our foam fingers. As you do.
(I wanted to include this picture in my 52 Weeks photo project for the Guardian, but I couldn't because we're not allowed to submit anything with the Olympic rings, the British lion or Team GB. Bummer.)

I totally scored with these tickets. They were another set I got only about two weeks before the games, and they were only £20 each. Bargain. Sure, we were in the last row and my legs fell asleep pretty quickly given how tight the space was, but who cares. The Olympics for 20 quid! You can't beat that bargain.

Fencing itself was interesting, even though we didn't know much about the sport. The man next to me (who also was pleased about his £20 tickets) and I tried to figure it all out together, with mixed success. I think the fencing might just win the gold medal for the most dramatic arena, though. Check this out:

During one of the breaks, the boys got the autographs of two Italian fencers. The one on the right is Andrea Baldini, who fought in the bronze medal match but lost. They were very nice, though. Sorry for the out-of-focus picture but I think I was so excited about (a) meeting actual Olympics and (b) who were lovely Italians, that I had shaky hand syndrome.

Here's a picture of the American fencer Race Imboden in action. He's the one on the left with his helmet off. Unfortunately, he lost. But he lost to the nice Italian Baldini, so we considered that a win-win. We tried to do our bit by waving our American flag for Race Imboden, but it wasn't enough.

Here's a shot of Thing 1 & 2 at the end of the day. We were all very hot and very tired. I think it was the bright lights.

Finally, we left the ExCel. But so did what felt like about a million other people from the other events too. Here's what it looked like as we all left the ExCel:
Those are all people, believe it or not. I'm starting to hyperventilate just seeing it again, but then again, they were being marshalled by polite British people, who were explaining how we do things over here. If you can say anything about the British people, it's that they know how to queue AND leave in an orderly fashion.

It was another brilliant day. Roll On, London Olympics!

Monday, July 30, 2012

OLYMPIC DAY: Part I - Water Polo in the Olympic Park

Here's one for the history books: Our first day at the London Olympics. It was brilliant, and even better than expected, which is saying something given that I could barely sleep the night before since I was so excited. We decided to call this "Olympic Day: Part I" because we're going to take full advantage of having the Olympics in our hometown of London, so we're going to see lots of things over the two weeks. Happy Olympics everyone!

Here we are, walking into the park. The aquatic centre is on the left, "The Orbit"-- the red swirly sculpture-- is next, and the Olympic stadium is behind the welcome/bienvenue sign.

While walking into the Olympic Park, we happened upon this security guard WHO WAS WEARING A NIKE HAT. We warned him that the LOCOG police would be tackling him to the ground at any moment and replacing that hat with an Official Sponsor Adidas one. You'll notice he was clever enough to turn his ID badge over when I took his pictures. Kudos, security guard man, kudos.

Water polo was a somewhat random ticket choice for us. I only bought them because (a) they were available in early July (b) it was on the third day of the Olympics and (c) because I thought it would be fun. I was right. It was fantastic to watch. Here's some water polo action, with bonus flags.

This is the Coatian team doing some sort of pre-game awesomeness. I know it looks like synchronized swimming, but they're probably giving each other wedgies under the water. Because that's how they roll in water polo.

During the match, my cousin in North Carolina tweeted me to say how cool it was that we were watching water polo. He said he got into it after seeing it at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta. We agreed that it was an underappreciated sport. I mean, really, any sport that has to outlaw wedgies (though they happen all the time anyway), is pretty amazing. Also, I love how I was talking to my cousin in America via Twitter. Here's a gold medal to the wonders of the Interweb.

After the match, we had a wander around the Olympic Park. First of all, it's huge. It would take a good 30 minutes, or longer with crowds, to walk from one end to another. It also has some beautiful gardens. I mean, I know it's England's birthright to show everyone else how ace they are at gardening-- all the rain has to be put to good use, after all-- but they were breathtaking.

But then the clouds started to gather. The storm should have gotten a medal for appearance alone, belive me. We were caught out too. I know we should have known better, but drunk on sunshine in the morning, we left without any wet weather gear. We learned our lesson. Here's the gathering storm, though. It really was that dark.
Most of these people are probably thinking, "Oh shit. I forgot my umbrella." Or maybe that was just us.

We found shelter from the rain in an underpass, and eventually it stopped so we toured the rest of the park. Here's a sampling of the rest of our day:
With Wenlock, the Olympic mascot, in front of the Velodrome, otherwise known as the Pringle.

The temporary basketball arena, with the Athlete's Village behind it. Before you think, "Oh, how convenient for the men's USA Basketball Team," think again. They're staying at some fancy-pants hotel in the middle of London.

Another view of the stadium and the Orbit. And yes, it did start raining again. Thing One is wearing our picnic blanket for protection. Did he share the blanket with Thing Two? This is the Olympics, my friend. It's every man for himself.

Here we are, in front of one of the two of the Olympic Park's McDonald's. Originally, we tried to go there for lunch but thought better of the idea when they said it was going to be a TWO HOUR WAIT. So we ate our snacks and went back later when there was no queue. I though that an Olympic McDonald's would be really cool and different. But guess what? It was just like every other McDonald's we had ever been to, which I suppose is the point and the secret to McDonald's success.

It looked like it was going to rain again, so we bid farewell to the Olympic Park, knowing we'd be back there a week later. It was an epically good day.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

2012: Week 30

Bye Olympic Park! We had a brilliant day.

Week 30. Easily the highlight of the week. Since we're not allowed to post any pictures INSIDE the park, I thought this one, taken on the DLR on our way home, would be OK. It was a brilliant day, and one we will never forget.

Friday, July 27, 2012

The Olympics Are Here! The Olympics Are Here!

July 27, 2012 has finally arrived, and with it, the 2012 Summer Olympics. I am incredibly excited. I've always been a big fan of the Olympics. It all started with the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal, when my Dad's company made the scoreboard. It was the closest I'd gotten to fame in my short life, so it stayed with me.

When the Olympics were awarded to London in 2005, my adopted hometown, I could hardly believe my luck. All of my hard earned Olympic trivia could now be put to good use!

But now that we've lived through all the preparations and the restrictions, I can say this with a great deal of authority:
The Olympics are a massive pain in the ass for the people who actually live here.

Don't get me wrong. I am really excited. This is going to be a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and we plan to make the most of it. We've got tickets for eight different events and we plan to watch as much as we can on the 24(!) additional Olympic channels that BBC will be providing. But bear in mind that I say that as a lifetime fan of the Olympics. There are loads more Londoners who don't have that much goodwill toward the games and are pretty grumpy about it.

The games definitely create many inconveniences for Londoners. Our rubbish collection will be at 2 a.m. No, that's not a typo. I consider it a prime example of what local residents have to put up with to host the greatest party on earth. We also got a letter advising us that we could get deliveries during the Olympics either at 6 a.m. or 11 p.m. Ours may be a more extreme example, though, since the Olympic equestrian events are happening just a stone's throw from our house.

To buttress my argument, of how it is to be a local resident during the Olympics, here's some more photos:

This is an Olympics "Games Lane" which is reserved only for people in the "Games Family" (athletes, IOC officials and crucially, sponsors). They've been given the nickname of "Zil Lane" after the special road lanes in the former Soviet Union that could only be used by high-ranking officials. Londoners, by the way, are not members of the "Games Family."

This is a sign in Greenwich. In case you can't read it, it really does say, "Avoid Area." However, it doesn't include any helpful advice on how to avoid the area if you actually live here.

OK. I feel better now. I got all of my complaints out of my system. By the way, the British people feel very strongly that they are the only ones allowed to whinge and complain about the Games. Hey, we're paying for it, so we're allowed to say whatever we want. U.S. presidential hopeful Mitt Romney? You can just shut up about your concerns about the games. Like a house guest, the only thing you're allowed to say are compliments. Show some manners. (You can say whatever you want when your rubbish gets collected at 2 a.m. So there.)

But even with all that, I'm truly excited about the games.  London has never looked better. My street, even, has never looked better-- they've painted, cleaned, swept and even added flowers. I've spotted loads of interesting things around town in the run up. Here in Greenwich, I got to see them test this aerial camera:

In Leicester Square, they hung these enormous Olympic medals in the trees:

Finally, the best Olympic moment so far (BAR NONE) was seeing our great good friend Zoe Ayling carry the Olympic torch on Monday morning. I'm getting choked up just thinking about it again. She won the honour because of her charity work, but frankly I think she could win it for being all-around awesome.


Monday, July 23, 2012

2012: Week 29

2012: Week 29 by MAStapleton
2012: Week 29, a photo by MAStapleton on Flickr.
Seems only appropriate that in the weekend that Bradley Wiggins became the first Brit to win the Tour de France that I include a picture taken at the Herne Hill Velodrome, where he used to train. My sons now go there every Saturday. Will they become the next Wiggo? Only time will tell.

Monday, July 16, 2012

2012: Week 28

Two fine ships: HMS Ocean and the Cutty Sark, both in Greenwich this summer.

Have you heard? It's less than two weeks to the London Olympics. For those of us in Greenwich, this means deliveries only at 6 a.m., rubbish collection at 2 a.m., and the addition of the HMS Ocean into our neighbourhood. The ship is part of the security forces for the games and will be our new neighbour in SE10 until mid-September. They had an Open House-- or should that be Open Ship-- on Sunday, which was fascinating.

I took this snap just as the launch was about to leave for shore. Luckily the captain was patient enough to give me the 10 seconds I needed to frame this shot, otherwise I might have had to swim. I think the 52 Weeks project is really getting to me.

Monday, July 09, 2012

2012: Week 27

Celebrating the end of music exams with some classic British bunting.

For Week 27, I'm choosing this image. As we hurtle toward the end of term-- sports days, summer concerts, exams-- I think it's important to have a snap that marks all the hoopla. I took this snap as my son and his best friend walked toward their celebratory lunch after they had finished their brass exams.

The bunting is a bonus, which seems to be going up everywhere in London in preparation for the Olympics. (I saw some men putting some up last week on a local street at 9:30 p.m. Madness).