By Sarah Jost
Last week, I arrived in London for a month of fun, exploration, museums, memories, food, pints, markets, and Olympic festivities. Aside from a one night stay en route to Norway in June, this marks my first return to London since working here in 2008 and studying here in 2007. I was anxious to discover how the city had changed over the intervening years since I left, and interested to see how I, having changed, would experience the city differently. I am pleased to report that London is somehow, and I can hardly believe it’s even possible, better, more charming, more innovative, more creative, and happier than ever before.
One of my first days in London coincided with the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games. London’s hosting of the Olympics was one of the reasons I had chosen this particular month for my return to the city. The Urchins and I watched the Beijing games in our London flat in 2008 and couldn’t wait to see London’s spin on it. I also love the Olympics for the oftentimes unbelievable displays of athleticism, as well as the global spirit of enthusiasm and camaraderie that surrounds them. I couldn’t wait to see London dressed in its Olympics best.
Excited beyond description to be a part of London’s enjoyment of the opening ceremony, my partner and I headed to one of the BT London Live sites at Victoria Park in east London. I had never been to Victoria Park before and it is incredibly lovely. Surrounded by enchanting canals, the Park is a huge green space with giant trees and friendly fountains. BT London Live’s five massive cinema screens, numerous food stalls, and other entertainment goodies had taken over a large part of the park. After a short queue, we were in! My impatient nerves had gotten us there perhaps a tad overzealously early, and we secured prime real estate near the biggest screen, which also had a distant view of the stadium for the opening ceremony.
It was endlessly delighting to watch Londoners and Brits from around the UK arrive throughout the day and stake out their viewing spots. Parents bringing their small children, grown children bringing their parents, couples young and old, and many an after work Londoner quickly filled the space around us. By the time the opening ceremony began at 9pm, the entire park was teeming with people.
For the next three plus hours, an electric excitement and warmth filled the crowd. Though I’d be hard-pressed to pick a favourite moment of the night, a top contender would be the Queen’s first appearance onscreen, which immediately sent the entire audience to its feet. It was wonderful to see that, despite all of the pre-Olympics griping and the occasional anti-royalty sentiment, in that moment, everyone in that park was incredibly proud to be British.
That joyful, genial, and, of course, humble, pride has been the pervading feeling around London since the games began. Every day, the numerous outdoor screens throughout the city are jam-packed with people cheering on not only the British athletes, but all of their competitors as well.
A few days ago, I headed to Hyde Park to watch the men’s artistic team gymnastics final and couldn’t believe how the majority British crowd applauded sincerely after each performance, no matter where the athlete was from. They were sporting and kind, never booing or discouraging another team, even when the medal race grew close. The reaction of the BBC announcers and the nearly sardined crowd around me to the Great Britain’s men’s bronze medal was one of the most emotional things I have ever witnessed. They were so proud of their athletes, cheering them each on by first name. ‘You can do it, young man,’ encouraged one BBC commentator, voice trembling.
Even London’s daily newspaper the Metro has gotten in on the good vibes, refraining from any negativity surrounding the games. The day after the opening ceremony, I tentatively opened my Metro, worried what criticism of director Danny Boyle’s great British spectacle I might encounter, but there was none to be found. That even a publication usually thriving on gossip and scandal has chosen to only focus on the positive throughout London’s Olympic run speaks volumes. The world would do well to learn from London’s class and kindness throughout this massive event.