I am not under any illusion that the nation’s direst current need is a corrective for excessive Olympomania. Even the now refers to money being ‘shovelled’ into the opening ceremony, and his item the other day was very unkindly edited to imply that said event was intended to give spectators a laugh at the expense of the NHS – which would be fine, of course, except that unfortunately they’ve been selling tickets to all sorts of common people, and not just David Cameron and his close friends.
But still, I was impressed when my friend Aurora confessed to me over coffee that she was making £80,000 renting out her house for the duration.
That’s quite a lot of money for six weeks in south London, even if it is quite a big house. Who can blame her? If all the countries of the want to send vast delegations to London a month before the Games even open, and they’re prepared to pay £200 per bed per night, I’d say go for it. I’d be going for it myself, except that I’d have to divorce Mr Fixit first, and it might not come through in time. (NOTE TO CHILDREN: THIS IS A JOKE. Divorce is way too expensive for people on our budget).
You don’t have to look far to find out where the demand has come from. The IoC wants for the duration, including 1,800 four and five star ones. (The IoC also needs , including 500 air-conditioned Audis, to drive along the 250 miles of , not just in London but all the way to Weymouth (for the sailing, of course) – so you can forget trying to rent one to escape).
It was what she said next, however, that stopped my croissant knife in mid air. “I said I wasn’t having the guns in the house, though. We get enough of that sort of thing in a normal week round our way.” It transpired that she’d met a man who used to work for an oligarch, and was thus well connected in the security business. And it’s this man who’s spotted a gap in the secure accommodation market in June. He’s offering rooms with or without armed guards, because that is apparently what the market wants.
He also does armed guards as an optional extra, in the transport that comes with the deal. No point in having a Kalashnikov at the front door, only to get gunned down on Streatham High Road. You can see the logic.
Nobody knows how many unlicensed guns are coming in to town, along with the armour plated cars, bullet proof vests, performance enhancing drugs and crates of alcohol, to celebrate all that is finest in the progress of the human spirit in 2012. Nobody even seems to have much of a clue about the for that matter. But my friend – who is much better connected than I for many reasons, and not just because she lives in South London – also has a colleague who’s ex-MI6, and who advised her, categorically, not to go anywhere near the Olympic stadium. Even for badminton.
Whitehall and public sector staff have been ordered not to commute for those seven weeks, are under way to find out whether they can actually work from home, and special briefings have been drawn up, presumably at yet more cost, offering advice on how to avoid Waterloo. ‘Stay on the train’ would do it, I’d have thought. But then I’m not being paid to write them.
Of course, if it turns out that they can, it’ll be good news for public sector paymasters; they can have their own Whitehall Legacy programme and rent out all those newly redundant offices, conveniently located for lobbyists, special advisors and anybody else who needs to be within strolling distance of a Cabinet minister at all times. (Ministers loved it when their staff stayed home during the strikes – so much easier to implement their pet projects).
Meanwhile, in the face of three million extra passengers desperately scouring the capital for a bed, the rest of us are being asked by to ‘try different routes, stagger journey times, or use video conferencing for meetings.’ And indeed to ‘dig out the walking boots.’ Just like he’ll be doing.
Walking eight miles to work and back each day will, after all, replace all the community and that have been cut to fund the Olympics.. If the Victorians could do it, surely we can too? Of course we can video ourselves eating toast and drinking coffee instead of sitting in a nice café with friends. It’s just the same, really.
And probably a lot safer, with 24,000 extra ‘security guards’ on the loose. Well, they did promise we’d be out of it. (At a cost of £7m a month just to . Not sure if I’d be more scared of the terrorists or the guards, myself). And just in case they still need help, are piling into the capital too – the biggest peacetime invasion ever.
Staying home is cheaper, too. We’re all going to have to make a few new holes in our belts, now that on top of the spending cuts we have to find not £9bn of public money, but £12bn – or depending on whose estimates you believe.
How did it get to that point? Well, let’s begin with for the opening and closing ceremonies. No cheap laughs for Danny Boyle, who’s just been given an extra £41m because David Cameron didn’t like his previous plans. Maybe now he’ll come up with something truly dreadful and get another £100m. That’s the way to get ahead in life. Just ask a banker.
And who knows how much it will cost to pay for the promised to the 70 police officers who accompany the Flame on its journey round Britain? Apparently they need it to help them ‘reintegrate’ into normal work after being the centre of attention for so long. (As you may have gathered, they won’t be getting a lot of attention round here).
Given their desperate situation, then, who can blame the organisers for taking bungs from sources the over-scrupulous might regard as questionable? Take the ‘sustainability partner’ who set such a fine example of sustainability every day around the globe, from the Gulf of Mexico to the of northern Canada and the pristine wastes of the Arctic. Their partners in Olympic sustainability have equally impressive track records: are so fed up of being tarred – or perhaps ‘contaminated’ – with that old Bhopal story, they’re making good with a lovely to encircle the stadium. A nice chicken tikka wrap that size would be quite a useful amenity to hungry visitors, but sadly this one is likely to be made of brightly coloured plastic, in keeping with the high aesthetic ideals of the games as a whole. Or should that be ? Meredith Alexander, one of the commissioners over this on Newsnight the other day; the Commission is supposed to monitor sustainability, but not allowed to question sponsorship.
And how about the medals? the mining company that’s providing the metals, is sourcing 99% of them from a mine in Utah which is currently being sued for clean air violations, and contributes 30% of the particulates pollution of Salt Lake City: one of the ten most polluted towns in the US, where on a bad day just opening your front door is the equivalent of a serious smoking habit. (The other 1% comes from a new mine in Mongolia whose opening has driven local populations off their lands).
The athletes’ clothing represents the biggest advertising opportunity in a decade for Adidas and the other suppliers. But Adidas has refused to commit to making its suppliers pay a living wage; a of 83 factories supplying it, Nike and Speedo, found Sri Lankan women earning less than half the local living wage
Yeah, I know you knew all that too. Did you know the of the Games is French? That might not be such a bad thing if it forces my children to realise that other languages do exist. But high Tories are unhappy that the Queen has been required to attend a ceremony to meet all the members of the IoC just before the Games open, and – worse! that the Union Jack is to be flown only ‘behind’ the Olympic flag, the London 2012 banner and the flag of the UN.
Personally I’m not so bothered about this. First of all, how can one tell which order flags are in? In my experience they are normally lined up, but rarely numbered. And the far greater objection to them is that they’re ugly. All flags are ugly. Some are pretty, but I’ve yet to meet a flag I’d give house room, let alone introduce to my parents. But it does show what an amazingly large range of people the Olympians have managed to upset.
And here – finally – is my point. Over the weekend Mrs Normal went to where reps from all these organisations, and more, were making their cases. One of them was an 84-year-old resident of the who burst into tears as she described the prospect of losing her home of forty years, a home she’d struggled to pay for, because the Regenerators have decided she and her neighbours are wrong to like their nasty old fashioned homes, the costs of improving them would be ‘prohibitive’ (more than £23bn, we assume) and the whole estate has to go.
(Before it does, however, they’re the upper floors of its 22 storey blocks so the BBC and other media companies can get their nice top shots of the stadium). ‘They’re not going to forget me’ she said. ‘I’m not frightened of them.’
The more you look at it, the more everything about the Games seems to be – let’s just say, . As somebody said at the meeting, “We wouldn’t mind so much if they just came out and said, ‘We’re going to rob you, and shaft you, and invade your lives and fill your streets with soldiers and armed guards.’ It’s them saying it’s all primroses and picnics that really gets up our nose.”
Loud cheers and growls from the room, where people were busy swapping emails and flyers and plotting their next moves together.
So that turns out to be the real purpose of the Games. They’re bringing together people who would never otherwise have met, across class and interest and neighbourhood divides. From to Bhopal Medical Appeal, from ‘s objections to high security fencing and a 500-seat restaurant in Greenwich Park, to War on Want and , and even the , they’re generating solidarity, community, activism and Big Society initiatives that should make the Coalition proud.
And none of it would have happened without London 2012. The Games have united everybody, just like the organisers hoped. They’re just united against them.