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Am I falling in love with Wenlock & Mandeville?

Written by Kirstie Pelling

Falling in love at London Olympic Park

I never thought we’d have anything to do with The London 2012 Olympics. Our summer expedition to Iceland was always scheduled to clash with both the Olympic and Paralympic Games.  But in the last few days I’ve unexpectedly bumped into the torch relay in Windermere, attended the spectacular opening of the London 2012 Festival and this weekend found myself standing at the gates of the Olympic Park wondering if perhaps we should have planned to stay around…

It’s like a party that hasn’t started

It’s a strange feeling, similar to the sensation of standing in front of New York’ s Ground Zero.  I feel alone, slightly choked and…well….a little voyeuristic.

Stratford’s Westfield shopping centre is at my back and the London 2012 Olympic Park stretches out in front of me. It’s like I’ve crashed into a party before the host has put out the nibbles. It’s almost ready but not quite. The stadium is up in all its glory, along with the Waterpolo Arena, the Aquatic Centre and Anish Kapoor’s tangled helter skelter-like observation tower Orbit.

The Orbit, Olympic Park, Stratford

Art meets capitalism meets sport at the Olympic Park, Stratford, London

But on this quiet Sunday morning the place has an air of unfinished. Scattered along the road are piles of bricks, traffic cones and little JCB’s; probably left when the builders downed tools on Friday to go the pub. A selection of rusty wheelbarrows catch my eye. Somehow I never imagined anyone would use a wheelbarrow to build the Olympic Stadium. It makes the whole project seem, well less Olympian somehow.

Fittingly for a wheelbarrow strewn site, wellies are everywhere in Stratford today. On leaving the underground I began to worry there might be some kind of Isle of Wight style mud bath zone around the stadium, as so many people around me were booted up. And then I remembered it was Hackney Weekend and everyone was heading for a pop concert on the Marshes.

Wheelbarrow Olympic Park Stratford

The builders assure us everything will be OK on the night

Cranking up the sound of 2012

A journalist friend who has been inside the stadium told me she was surprised how small it looks on the inside, so much so she worried a particularly enthusiastic javelin thrower might breach the walls and accidentally spear a WAG in the nearby Prada. But whichever way I look at it (from a lot further away) the stadium looks huge. As I stand peering into the Olympic building site from behind the barriers music suddenly blasts back at me. Perhaps engineers are testing the sound. Perhaps they play a CD every Sunday to whet visitors appetite for The Games. Perhaps it’s being piped in from the concert at Hackney Marsh. Or perhaps its from the iPod of an Olympic God? Whatever the source, it’s coming straight at me through the gate.

Olympic Workforce This Way

I don’t think they mean the athletes

There can’t be more than three or four notes played in various combinations, but it’s quite heroic music. And it gets me right in the pit of my stomach when I imagine the action this place will see in just a few weeks time. Chariots of Fire suddenly comes to mind, and I always cry when I watch that.  To my dismay, tears spring to my eyes. And through the gates, twenty or so security guards leave a briefing tent as I struggle to hold back a patriotic sob.

Hold on, why am I crying?

It’s not often I have the space to cry. If I had the kids with me now, all my energy would be taken up with stopping them from climbing in the wheelbarrows or pilfering bits of Olympic rubble to sell at school. But today I am alone and have nothing but a hanky to stop my tears. But why am I so emotional? I don’t have an Olympic dream. I don’t have an Olympic ticket. I didn’t even apply! And I’m not going to be in the country when London is lit up by the Olympics.

View of Olympic Park

View across the Olympic Park.. from John Lewis.
(You won’t see much of the Games but there’s lots of souvenirs)

I decide the energy of The Games must be in the walls; seeping out into the Westfield shopping centre,  assaulting passing tourists with its emotional lure. Maybe the energy isn’t modern but ancient; this weekend my name was down to run in the original Olympics; the Nemean Games near Athens and perhaps that drew me here. I was in London for a bloggers conference; nothing to do with sport. This morning when I woke up, I planned to get a train straight home. I came to Stratford and the London Olympic Park on a whim. Or so I thought.

You can’t go to the Olympics without going to Westfield

Liberty's Westfield, Stratford

Everyone is very patriotic at Liberty’s

As I wander back through the shopping centre, I suddenly have a personality change. I’m not a patriot but this place makes me feel quite patriotic. I smile at the Union Jack Liberty Print archway on the flagship store.

I find the all the red, white and blue paraphernalia quite cheering. I don’t even get cross at all the sponsors branding that wound me up so much on the torch relay night. Maybe I really am British?

Worse still I normally hate Wenlock and Mandeville (the Olympic mascots) but on impulse give my camera to a tourist while I drape my arm around a cyclopsian neck. In the John Lewis London 2012 shop I browse the cuddly Wenlocks and struggle to keep my wallet in my bag.

What am I even doing in the London 2012 shop?

I start to think an Olympic lunchbox for the kids would be a good idea. I consider buying a red, white and blue model mini, and brush my hand over a ceramic Concorde (didn’t that crash?). I worry that in a moment I’m going to break into the national anthem and decide I need to get out of London and back on a train north before I flip out and buy some Union Jack flip flops and a funky London 2012 keyring. I head back to the station via Prada, just hoping the javelin throwers aren’t practising today.

London 2012 Olympic Mascots

There were so many to choose from. I looked and looked and finally found the one I love.

Are you getting into the Olympic spirit (or planning to escape like us?  

You might like these other 2012 and Olympic themed posts

About the author

Kirstie Pelling

Kirstie is the Editor of The Family Adventure Project. A professional writer and poet, she's the creative and journalistic force behind many of the stories and features published here. She's a co-founder and co-director of The Family Adventure Project and also works as the #poetinmotion producing and performing poetry for print, video and live performance.

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