Sunday 16 September 2012

Livin' London 2012 - My Short Life as a Games Maker Volunteer

Summer of 2012 - this short period of my hopefully long life I call my Games Maker Life.  I need to be at the Olympic Park by 7.00am for a morning shift as a 'GM' - my identity during the English summer. Afternoon shifts don't start till 2:00pm which gives me a little time to catch some of the morning coverage on T.V. Morning shifts means a 5:00am bus ride and hop on a summer mornings tube up to the Stratford, the home of the Olympic Park in the east of the city. Funny enough I actually enjoy the getting up early part, but I can never sleep very well knowing that I need to be up at the crack of dawn to travel into the city. I leave in my generously free special purple and poppy uniform, which only a handful of people have been selected to have. Looking very militant, I could almost feel myself totally out of character marching down the street like I'm on duty somewhere. That's just dumb.

I'd been through two bouts of training though, role specific and venue specific courtesy of LOCOG - obviously getting to see the Olympic Park again (lucky me) so volunteers who will be stationed there needed to be prepped. They drilled us with two very important things to remember before coming to the Park 1. Don't leave home without your accreditation and 2. Don't leave home without wearing your uniform....enough said.

I do in fact get to keep my uniform mind, consisting of a jacket, two tops, 2 pairs of trousers, 2 pairs of socks, bag, umbrella, baseball cap, watch (by Swatch must I add) and a nice set of trainers - all designed by Adidas (well except the brolley and watch) but man what a deal for getting up early! and I've never thought purple would suit me. The 5:00am bus is always a bit of a discovery to see if there are any other Games Makers buddies in my local area heading out too, much more easier to strike up a conversation when you're wearing the same thing. LOCOG had generously given us free oyster cards - FREE OYSTER CARDS for unlimited travel around London! I'm in heaven! Games Makers are getting so much coverage on the television that I already feel people's smiles and acknowledgements on the public transport, recognising me as a Games Maker - its pretty cool. I may feel like a loner on the 5:30am tube but as I near Stratford, I find more and more sleepy eyed people wearing purple uniforms boarding the trains as we all come together. The power of London 2012 is taking over the city and turning it into a protected bubble - I love it. I stand literary near the armpits of the USA Judo Team as they chatter away on the tube, surrounded by colourfully dressed fans visiting from all over the world excitedly sitting opposite each other in peace! I can't help but laugh at little children pointing at me as they walk through the underground saying,

'Look another purple person' ha! As long as I'm not seen as evil then I'm cool with it.

Sometimes people feel the Games Maker helpfulness and approach me asking for directions how to get to Stratford on the tube, something that is never a regularity in the 'normality' of London! Its pretty flattering though and I try to momentarily live it up as the know the spell will break by the end of summer.

When I arrive at the park, the London summer weather is 9 times out of 10 been good, which puts the public in a super good mood if they're not already in one (you would hope so if they've got golden tickets into the Olympic Park!). I get into a ritual of going to register in Car Park B outside Stratford tube station, where I'm given a piece of paper with a colour, sport or country which determines which team and location I'm in each day - so I'm rarely with the same people twice and get moved around to different areas. This is kind of nice in a way as you get to mix with different Games Makers but is also nice to see people again during the Games. Every time I've shown up for shift, I'm given a different badge from McDonalds and a sticker for my accreditation to show what a dedicated Games Maker I am haha. Badges and pins are a huge craze during the Games, people are weighed down with them as gifts from the athletes, fans and sponsors - I'm building up a nice collection myself. My role is with spectator entry so we are pretty much acting as stewards and warm the crowds up before going into the park - which I have ground access too hehe.    
Cadbury's are one of the nice healthy sponsors as well as McDonalds for the Games and we are welcomed to take any complimentary chocolate treats on hand as we mill around with other Games Makers in hot pink High-Vis Vests (we get to keep them too). As the Games progress, faces amidst the mash of purple become more familiar and people gravitate  into little clusters of GM's they recognise (human nature right? but that's where the mix and match of the shifts are pretty good). I'm pretty open to talk to any of the volunteers, you're like friends instantly as we're all there for the same reason - its nice. We're constantly reminded to use the free water coolers and the sun cream before going out into the sun on shifts as you could be exposed to it for the majority of the day.
So...the general routine before shifts commence abruptly start when the general supervisor begins to get our attention and round us all up, attempting to shout or if they happen to find a megaphone (which for them, does them a huge favour) and begin very army-style drafting us out from the group on our piece of paper. I later learn, that some Games Makers are being paid as hired temporary workers for their involvement in the Games as stewards, so the bosses seem to not take any nonsense and are automatically excluded from receiving any privileges that volunteers will have (including a BIG fun mascot badge and spare tickets to the sports hehe) thats what I was told anyway, the attitude is more relaxed when you volunteer. I get paid with the three E's - emotion, excitement and the experience.  
I'm drafted out and taken to a location for the day with a different team and team leader the majority of the time, but I have my favourites. One of my top spots is right at the front of the Olympic Park which goes by the codified name 'Cherry Park'; its the best location to be drawn out in as the visiting public are generally in great spirits with the view of The Stadium and Orbit in sight. On one of my shifts, my team leader I get is Terry, a flamboyant friendly guy who gives us out these big pink foam hands to us which are destined to be known as the 'The Pink Fingers' and the universal iconic symbol for the London 2012 Games Makers (even making a cover page in the Times). We are told all the information we need to know for the day, which made our role specific training a bit non applicable when our role was very on-the-day influenced (and I think there's only so much training you can have for actually just pointing in the same direction!). Who care's though its fun to be involved.

We're positioned around to meet and greet the lucky spectators with their tickets for the morning and afternoon sessions, waving these wacky enlarged pointing pink fingers in the right directions like actors in eccentric costumes, performing as stewards and crowd entertainers. There are LOADS of us everywhere, some well manicured with their stylish hairstyles and sunglasses - a chance to make their impression. I would think visitors probably start having nightmares and hallucinate about being greeted by hundreds of pink fingers surrounding them!, but it adds to the electricity of the atmosphere and safe to say it would be impossible for someone to have difficulty following an endless stream of Pink.Happy.Fingers to Wonderland.  

When you have the Pink Finger on its almost impossible not to get swept up in the 'High Five' trend (one night I must have given five hundred high fives to visitors flooding out of the park - yeah pretty sore hand) or resist teasing kids by poking them with it. Shifts can be long so you have to entertain yourself - the best thing was to be up in 'The High Chair' like an umpires chair with a megaphone talking to the crowd, whether you were listened to who cares! It was fun to pick out and talk to the different nationalities of visitors who were baring their countries flags, their faces dolled up in face paint - some costumes were really far out, like these guys who didn't need to be asked who they were rooting for...   

We got a lot of interest and requests from the media, which we were told to ask our team leader for permission before we posed and blabbed away. Twice a radio station approached me to give them a sample of my voice over the megaphone haha which was quite somethingI It was a great opportunity to interact with a fantastic mix of the worlds population who were bubbling with excitement requesting a photograph with me and my 'Pinky' (the finger I'm talking about, which I think was getting the most attention). I was more than happy to oblige, when will that ever happen again!

Being a more relaxed laid back person, I was more than happy asking them where they're from, what they had tickets for, tell them what gate to go to, where they could collect their tickets or what sports were on - it was fun to be friendly and to contribute in making it an experience they'll always remember. Maybe Pinky and I are in someone's scrap book or photo album somewhere in the world. Its a nice thought. I liked the rarity of the opportunity to be exposed to a situation where I could interact with people who I wouldn't normally run into - including athletes from different countries coming into the park and raising my awareness towards people with disabilities or impairments. Honestly, the colours of the world were all blended into one right here.    

But....although the pink finger brought us a lot of popularity, it sometimes invited the inevitable sarcastic jokes like 'Pull my finger' and 'Which way do I need to go?' errrrrrr. Sometimes they were so popular that I had mine swiped off my hand a few times with some volunteers even going as far as chasing people! I laughed when a supervisor I had for one shift once tell me that it was in fact 'theft of uniform' haha - of course I had to turn down many pleading requests for visitors to take mine as a souvenir with that in mind. They weren't happy but they're weren't getting it! The strangest question I ever got on a shift was from an overseas visitor who handed me their ticket for the Underground Tube asking me if that was their ticket into the Olympic Park....eerrr.....I think he got annoyed when I didn't give him the answer he wanted and got frustrated - must have been all that pink. The bizarreness of people don't stop Games Maker was asked where London was.  
'Where can I buy tickets?'.....I stop and hold my breath. I couldn't believe the amount of people who would ask me that and had shown up to the Park without a ticket.

I would feel sorry for them knowing that I had an unlimited pass inside as they look sorrowfully at the gates to say 'No tickets sold on site'. Getting into the Olympic Park was like trying to get in to see a glimpse of Eden for all the guys without tickets. The overwhelmed ticket website was not getting anyone anywhere, so the only thing I could think of was to give them a Twitter webpage which gave feeds and alerts on when tickets were available and a tip off on where they could get a panoramic view of the park from inside John Lewis. What else can you say to people who have come all the way from Kent? Awkward, very awkward. Or if they were really keen, I suggested they could have done what this guy did at the Paralympics....its worth a try. I would have done it - its was London 2012!

We were let off for the afternoon at around 2:00pm when the night shift teams will come on and take the pink fingers away - when I was in a good spot having a good time I'd feel a bit disappointed as the shift had gone very quick, but it left me the rest of the day to go have some fun with all the shenanigans going on in the Park. When I was on the night shift, which usually ended at 11:00pm, I was free to go home to bed after wishing hundreds of people goodnight and sang different renditions of 'If you're happy and you know it' in unison which has sort of become the song of the Games Makers haha - who would have known talking to people could be so exhausting!

Remember what I said about free tickets? as a volunteer for giving up your time and energy, any spare tickets that were going were awesomely given to us regardless or not whether we were in the middle of a shift as they didn't want the tickets to go to waste. Any sports fans dream! Even when I'm off duty I still play the role of helping people in the park, an honoury photographer taking numerous photos of them in front of the Stadium and giving directions - like I say, its a special experience for them to be here.

We were advised to bring a change of clothing having been told off whilst watching the tennis at the Paralympics haha. Its quite a challenge in itself trying to stuff anything extra in our little cubic Games Maker bags (tessellation skills were seriously tested but some clever people did it) but man what a treat, I was in the most in demand place on the planet every day!

Inside The London Olympic Park and Stadium

If you want to get a peek of what is was like in the colossal London Olympic Park and the atmosphere inside the Stadium...I made a couple of little crazy on-location videos 


And the race of the Paralympics - Jonny Peacock's head to head showdown with Oscar Pistorius


 The Closing Ceremony of The Paralympic Games

Yes, one of life's painful mottos 'all good things must come to an end' - London 2012 and the Games Maker bubble must burst, coming to a close on Sunday 9th September at the end of the Paralympic Games. Boo!
In thanks, LOCOG threw us a small mad party the day before with a quirky band and free ice creams and raffle to celebrate - the band being the fabulous 'The Top Bananas'. So sweet of them. My accreditation still allowed me into the Olympic Park (yes!) so with other Games Makers we hid out in there, soaking up the last day of a spectacular summer of sport and historic event. As I pass by the outside of the Stadium again, I hear the echoing of a familiar voice. No its not from my Ipod, it's the real singer Rhianna rehearsing with Cold Play who have been confirmed to perform in tonight's Closing Ceremony. Having a last wander around, the Olympic Park officially holds the World's Biggest McDonalds, not a fan personally, but I watch the hundreds of people tucking in to their whoppers evidently taken by the Games biggest sponsor yet again.
Moving onto the other big sponsor, Coca Cola have endorsed a pin shop which make me realise how much of a craze pins have become. Around the park they are frankly called 'Pin Heads'  - avid collectors who are sitting on tables inside and outside the shop proudly wearing badge invested baseball caps, displaying blankets and flip books covered in what looks like a lifetime collection of pins that they're hoping to swap. Katy B and Mark Ronson's tribute song to the Games 'Anywhere in the World' (who I saw perform live at the final torch celebration in Hyde Park) plays repetitively in the background of the shop. I'm a curious cat so I start to look at their collections and feel their eyes studying the pins on my lanyard hanging around my neck like hungry wolves. Not a chance, these are my memories. I pick up a few cool funky ones to add to my collection though. The pins are getting addictive. 

The Athletes closing parade was scheduled to kick off at 6:00pm when they start to make their way from the Athletes Village towards the Stadium - what an opportunity to see them all (and I am hoping to catch a closer glimpse of Oscar Pistorius).

I don't. He's not there, Boo!  

The park has now been split into two sides with Games Makers acting as a barrier wall with the rest of us anchoring ourselves outside on the sidelines as the Athletes come through, waving their national flags to us as they pass by- its pretty cool to see them all in their clans up close in all their different outfits. The Russian one is my favourite uniform over the entire games, the red and white jacket - I told a couple of Russian athletes that once when I was perched up in the high chair one shift, but I don't think they understood me....or maybe they was just ignoring me echoing out the megaphone.

I have to get my photo with one of those outfits....

The British team come through in their stylishly hip red trousers and blazers courtesy of Next and hand us union jacks and high fives - feel the love. Darkness eventually falls and it takes almost an hour for all the countries to pass by and take their places inside the stadium to join the rest of the world. We then go and hang out in another part of the park to watch the ceremony unfold on the TV screen.  

We continue to stay in the park as we want to be right there when the final firework extravaganza (you saw the three previous ceremony fireworks right?) go off, so we head on out as the ceremony is winding down and Cold Play and Rhianna finish their duet of 'Princess of China' - the song that will forever remind me of the Games.

A Games Maker friend had been volunteering on mobility and had been lucky enough to score a spare ticket from someone to the closing ceremony! Still, it was a good deal being outside in the meantime, as I was busy greeting the athletes as they were coming out and even scoring some more free pins and a squeeze of their medals - some people even seizing the chance to swap tops with the athletes themselves as mementos.

We knew that the highly anticipated fireworks were due to go off very soon as athletes were barred by going any further into the park - so were left to linger with us. Poor things, I think they were frustrated. But not for long as a sudden bang prompts the most spectacular fireworks display I have ever seen, filling the vast openness of the night sky - I'm actually gobsmacked, it was stunning. The stadium rocks and rumbles with streams of laser lights shooting everywhere as if it was about to take off into space. Now that would have been an impressive end to London 2012.

Oh and I did get my Russia photograph...saying hello in Russian got his attention haha

The night finished off with a HUGE conga line from the remaining crowds still in the park to the beat of Latino drums following a giant costume of the Paralympic Mascot dubbed 'Mandeville' out of the Olympic Park. It had officially marked the end of the Games' time in London and a spectacular unforgettable summer the city has ever seen, now taking the first step on the road to Rio 2016.

I was going to miss it and 'The Games Bubble' which had evolved around my routine and short life as a Games Maker... but we had one more treat the next day to come....   

I got drawn out again! The Athletes Victory Parade in London was a final farewell to the summer of 2012 and chance for the athletes to say thanks to the adoring public who had shown their support and cheered them on to win our record medals total of 172 - not bad for a small island with terrible weather!

Names of Games Makers were automatically entered into a lottery for a ticket to be representatives at The Mall to see 'Our Greatest Team' up close, passing by on twelve floats showing off there medals coupled with a closing speech from the Major of London ole Boris Johnson himself and a performance of 'West End Girls' by the Pet Shop Boys. My section was right up the front with a view of Buckingham Palace - one Games Maker thought he'd have a better view scaling a lampost like a monkey for a better view....the dedication of GM's. Not too sure how he long planned to stay up there though!

So what can I say, it was a spectacular end to a seven year journey for London hosting the Greatest Show on Earth and I count my lucky stars to have been invited to make it a part of my life which will never come round again. Following the parade, all 70,000 Games Makers were recognised by being awarded 'Communicators of the Year 2012' by the Institute of Internal Communications, the 50th 'Big Society' Award along with a personal letter from Prime Minister David Cameron and 'The Queens Diamond Jubilee Award 2012' - not too bad things to have under your belt hey hehe
So volunteering at London 2012 reaped a lot of benefits and adventures for me so if you find yourself stuck with some spare time go volunteer! I recommend it. I did get to keep this special gift though to look back on or maybe use in a relay race if the opportunity arose haha, along with a stolen Pinky that's stored away in the archives for another day...but at least I know I can make a friend whenever I see another 'Purple Person' in the special club.


Howz That! Thanks Seb Coe. You did a bang up job

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