When I stepped out of my car to pay the car parking charges in Windsor on Saturday morning I was full of apprehension. There was a person in LOCOG clothing watching me. I had ringing in my mind the many officious emails I had received as someone who had dared to buy a ticket to go to the Olympic rowing.
I had been told on no account to go by car. I had been told there would be nowhere to park and nowhere to drop off by the games. Was I going to be sent back to the Maidenhead park and ride? I had been told to buy my railway tickets early, even though there was no obvious way for me to get there by train at the early hour in the morning they told me I had to go. Indeed the railway website routed me via London the night before. The railway company of course stayed silent, failing to contact me as a potential passenger. Probably they failed to do so as they knew that as they were putting on no specials from anywhere near me there was no point. I would explain patiently if asked that I had examined the train option and found there wasn’t one which worked.
I had in my mind that I could not take a large umbrella even though it was clearly going to deluge. Surely the umbrella I had selected was small enough to squeak by? Had I perhaps offended against the rules on what I could take with me? I had made sure there was no bottle of more than 100ml with me, but was she worried about the bulge of the binoculars in my pocket? Perhaps taking a mac as well as a jacket was against the regulations? I readied myself for the questions and the likely official mind seeking to find fault with my preparations to be a spectator.
The first suprise I had was the empty car park and the absence of any prohibition on parking there for the morning. I did not have to retrace my drive to Maidenhead as I had feared. The second amazing surpise was the lady in the official clothing smiled at me, and called out that I should walk following the pink signs to get to the rowing! She wanted me to have a nice day, did not object to my way of travel or dress, and was trying to help. It made my day.
It made me realise just how cowed we have all become by the endless petty minded officiousness in our daily lives in the snooper society. The Locog emails and literature had seemed just like that – the worst kind of airport bossiness, treating spectators out to have a good time as possible threats to the planet if they dared to use a car, and possible threats to security if they came with a bottle of water in their bag. Instead I found an army of volunteers helping us spectators on our way to the games, as we walked the thirty minutes from Windsor to the venue. They were cheery, encouraging, friendly. They did not voice a single criticism of how we were turned out. There were people with big umbrellas and large bags filled with all sorts of things that probably offended against the email holy grail, but no-one seemed to mind.
As we got nearer the venue the trickle of walkers became a torrent, a happy flow of people out to have an enjoyable morning watching great athletes at the top of their game. We watched empty buses rushing by, with no stops along the walk to pick any of us up. We walked past an enormous car park, presumably reserved for officialdom, and past the car and taxi drop off point which did not exist for us. I thought the walk was an enjoyable start, given the friendliness of it all. The security post was well manned and allowed us through easily, making the necessary checks. Despite the large number of people, the security posts did not create a queue when I went through, as there seemed to be plenty of entry points, personnel and scanners. The army personnel manning them were polite and efficient.
We endured a downpour in the early races, but everyone remained good spirited. The volunteers were everywhere trying to help the visitors, were polite, happy, positive and informative. Instead of criticising spectator choices, they told you where the queues for food were shorter if you needed to know, told you how far you were from your destination, or helped you find your seat. The spectators were happy and in good voice. I was close to Australian and New Zealand supporters, who cheered their teams strongly to the general aproval of the many Brits in the crowd.
The sun came out just in time for the four big medal winning races. Team GB was in the first three, and powered to two golds and a silver. It was a great event, with the sport well managed and the competitors in good form.
Please can officialdom learn from the volunteers? They made the day happier and easier for all concerned. It was such a relief to be allowed to enoy yourself, instead of feeling you were competing in the compliance hurdles.