When he was still wrapped in a blanket stamped ‘Property of Hammersmith Hospital’ and I was drinking milky tea, my 8½lb baby son was put down for Harrow. In the fog of childbirth, you accept things that, in more lucid moments, would meet objection. As I held the precious boudin blanc in my arms, the future seemed as hazy as a daydream.
Which is how I’ve tended to look at the Olympics. On that day, seven years ago, when the envelope was opened, my heart sank. Of the billion things I’d like to see all that money spent on-an urban Poundbury for instance, with mixed-income housing, crèches, communal vegetable gardens, artists’ studios, a small theatre, an ecumenical church, a kind of Prince of Wales meets Kevin McCloud-a temporary Olympic village, however inspiring, was not on the list. But hey ho, back in 2005, seven years into the future seemed as hazy and distant as the Land of Oz.
And for the most part, I’ve kept quiet about it. Even as the vagueness turned to steel and concrete and I monitored the transformation like a time-lapse film on train journeys from Suffolk to Liverpool Street station, I grumbled quietly. Although I’m not inspired by men and women on bicycles riding around in circles, I decided the velodrome had architectural merit. Pictures of the swimming pool looked good.
Still, a few things could get me bucking and snorting like a horse with snakebite. It’s hard to feel good about the International Olympic Committee, with its 115 members, only 45 of whom are directly linked to sport. The other 70 are like members of the court of the Sun King, beneficiaries of patronage who win a specialised lottery of first-class air travel, five-star hotels, and, for some, it has been known, bribes.
It’s also hard to embrace the big-business aspect of the Olympics. Although my husband weeps like a baby whenever he watches it, the good old days of Chariots of Fire are gone with the wind. Not me. I cry for an Olympics paid for by McDonald’s, whose sponsorship won’t begin to undo the unfitness epidemic that began with Big Macs and 32oz Cokes.
And then there’s the Orbit tower. Who would have thought, when case number 10/90250/ FULODA was submitted to the London boroughs of Newham and Waltham Forest planning committees in 2010, that this was going to be the symbol of the 2012 London Olympic Games? A gigantic model of a colonoscopy made in red steel, lit up at night and visible from six miles away.
There are some reasons to be grateful. It was first designed to be 180m (590ft) high, but the budget-most of it a gift from Britain’s richest man, Lakshmi Mittal-was a mere £22.7 million. That brought the artist, Anish Kapoor, and the engineer, Cecil Balmond, down a peg. Or rather, down to 115m (377ft). So, it could have been worse, but as the permanent legacy of the Games, it could have been-should have been-better.
Now, however, the time is nigh. I have good friends who are thrilled with their tickets and young friends who’ve got jobs for the month. The touching joy at the torch-carrying caught me off guard, making me feel like a heathen at a christening, pushing me to look on the bright side and stop sounding so mean-spirited and unsporting.
And despite the fact that my god of sports writing, Simon Barnes, says watching the Olympics on television is like looking at the heavens through a telescope, I’ll be watching the games on a flat screen. I’ve taken a vow of silence over the £27 million price tag for the opening ceremony, but I look forward to seeing Danny Boyle’s vision of our ‘green and pleasant land’, complete with village cricket team, 12 horses, 10 chickens and 70 sheep. I’ll be silently thanking my lucky stars that I’m watching this extravagant evocation of English country life deep in the heart of it.