Paralympics baby! Cue much whooping and waving of little flags.
I’ve just returned home from two days of Paralympic excitement in London Town. There was athletics. There was wheelchair basketball. There was a lot of high-fiving. Here are some things that I learnt.
1. Soft toy characters of indeterminate species are like hard drugs to six-year olds
We went to the Games with my nephew, who is six and, like all the best six-year olds, largely focussed on running along stuff, jumping off stuff and playing superheroes. He’s also completely engrossed by the Olympic and Paralympic mascots, Wenlock and Mandeville. And it appears not just to be him, as attested to by the size of the queue outside Mascot House on the Olympic Park – an attraction essentially comprised of many Wenlocks and Mandevilles and culminating in the opportunity to have a picture taken with the real Wenlock. Yup – I said real Wenlock. Any suggestion that Wenlock and Mandeville are not real might be met with crying in some quarters, and that would be a Bad Thing. Never again will I greet the unveiling of Olympic/Paralympic/World Cup/Whatever mascots with scoffing. It turns out the little people are entirely captivated by them. Who knew? Well, parents, probably…
2. Being massively overstaffed makes everything run more smoothly.
To those of you with jobs, this might be unexpected news. Most of us who do any sort of, you know, work, will be very used to being told that we must work smarter. That there’s no point just throwing money and people at a problem, that our chronic stress levels and inabilty to complete essential tasks aren’t to do with being woefully underfunded and understaffed. They’re simply representative of our need to improve efficiency. Turns out that may have all been lies.
I was astounded by how smoothly everything ran at the Paralympics. Hardly any queues to get onto the Olympic Park. Hardly any queuing to get into venues. You no sooner had to wonder which way you needed to go now, than a shiny purple games-making volunteer with a big foam pointy finger would appear to foamily point the way. And all the shiny purple volunteers were in high spirits, presumably partly because there were enough of them for them not to be running about the place like crazy people.
There were enough security checks open that you could just walk straight through even when arriving right in the busiest time to attend the evening athletics session. They had enough people directing you to the shortest security queue so that there were no bottlenecks. Most excitingly of all, there were enough toilets. Enough women’s toilets at a major event. No standing watching men walk straight past. It was like a weird vision of a more egalitarian future. Aaaaah…. happy sigh…
3. USA are like totally awesome at wheelchair basketball
We saw two wheelchair basketball matches and it is a rather cool sport to watch – fast-paced, high scoring, relatively easy to follow for the uninitiated. The only downside was that both the matches featured the USA against slightly less top-notch opposition, which meant that by about 5 minutes into the first quarter it was entirely obvious that America were going to win by an absolute shedload of points. For a neutral spectator it would have been nice to see a really close match to facilitate a maximum amount of having to go “Ooooh..” and “Aaargghh” and do whooping. Nonethless, it was still marvellous fun and the USA, the men’s team in particular, did provide something of a masterclass in how to do wheelchair basketball. It looked a bit like hard work.
4. And finally, I would very much like to move to the Olympic Park
The Olympic Park felt like a weird oasis of happiness and good-heartedness, and I want to stay there forever. I would build a little cottage, probably just by the band stand in the little garden next to the velodrome and I would live there in much contentment for the rest of my days. Seriously, anyone who has a Park Pass and is wondering whether it’s worth going if you don’t have tickets for an actual event, you really really should go before the Games finish. The Park is amazing. It has street performers, and gardens, and places where you can have a go at a wheelchair obstacle course, and people selling waffles and hot pork rolls, and pretty multi-coloured paving, and happy policepeople on horseys, and big screens to sit on the grass and watch the sport. It’s like a magical fairytale land where everyone smiles and things are just a little bit simpler and more primary coloured than out here in the real world. Aaaah… lovely.
And that is what I learnt at the Paralympics. I’m super-glad I went and experienced the whole Games vibe, and now it’s time to get back to reality. I’m writing this in my dressing gown, postponing the process of actually having a shower, getting dressed and doing work. So, please keep my happy vibe alive a little bit longer by commenting, and I’ll be back next week talking about something else probably.