On alternate days over the past two weeks, I have started and ended my day with a bicycle transect of Greater London. A thirty five mile return trip from north west to south east and back again, conducted at street level and on two wheels.
For several months prior to this, I had been growing increasingly weary of London (and life?). I craved open space and loathed claustrophobia. I had become embittered with this city.
On Monday my commute was interrupted by a wall of temporary fences and a sea of hi-vis vests. The Olympics had arrived and it was blocking my route to work. I dismounted, wheeled and cursed inside my head.
Wednesday came and I knew my new line of best fit from home to work. I enjoyed the change of scenery and realised that it took no longer to complete. I craned my neck with intrigue as I flew past the Olympic rig.
Come Friday, I noticed changes afoot in the Olympic camp. Stands, traffic cones, speakers. All the hallmarks of a big event waiting to happen and I looked forward to what developments I might find on my next journey.
And this week the sun finally shone. I smiled at the Olympic rings which had been added beneath the symbols for bus and bike in the lane I occupied. I stared at the London 2012 branded cars that I past, trying to get a glimpse of an athlete.
Stopped at traffic lights I noticed a bus whose flank declared: ‘Another red bus going green for London’ and it was the final straw to my camel of cynicism. It’s easy to complain about transport in London – as in any city – but we have a good network. More than that, someone somewhere has decided that the vehicles used for this network should be more environmentally friendly. And someone else somewhere else has decided that they should let us Londoners know that they’ve done it. A small thing perhaps but, for me, it was flicking back on the light for London.
These are the same buses that indicate before pulling in front of me in a bus lane and wait for me to pass. And they are driven by the same people who stick a hand out the window to wave me past before pulling away at a bus stop.
A lady steps into the road. She’s on red, I’m on green and I snatch my brakes. ‘Oops! Sorry!’ she says, hops back onto the pavement with a smile and I’m back on my way with my faith in London (and life) in tact.
It’s not all roses. I know that. Yesterday I apparently pulled in front of a fellow cyclist at traffic lights. I must have been day dreaming but it was a faux pas for which I was deemed a “c***” and treated to a torrent of abuse as I cycled onwards. But the sun continued to shine once I’d rounded the next bend.
Treated to a flat tyre one morning, I found myself on the Tube where I was again reminded of the impending sporting event as Boris Johnson voices came over the tannoy announcing that ‘This is the Big One, London’. I’d heard him on the radio that morning too:
“We’ve got an advanced case of Olympo-funk. We agonise about the traffic, when our transport systems are performing well and the world’s athletes are arriving on time. We worry about security when we always planned to have a strong military role. We gnaw our fingernails about the blinking weather, when it seems to be brightening up a bit – and anyway, it’s England in July for goodness sake and a spot of rain never hurt anyone. Put a sock in it”
Mr Johnson did not get my vote in May nor in 2008 but he did that day.
The Olympics have been a popular punch bag for several years now. Everyone reckoned they could draw the logo in five minutes using MS Paint. Would it have been somehow better if it was intricately detailed? There was ceaseless negative coverage about the ticketing system but perhaps the reason it was complicated was because they were trying to devise a system that rewarded the maximum number of people not just those who could pay the most or queue the longest.
And, of course, the big question: Will it make money? Probably not. Good, I say. I don’t want it to be a profitable business. I want the money to go towards the athletes taking part, towards ensuring the most people can get the most from it and towards making one hell of a show.
It’s not perfect. It’s sponsored by fast food, fizzy drinks and the nuclear arms industry (I made the last one up); they seem to be somewhat zealous with their approach to brand protection and for some reason they’ve concluded that bikes shouldn’t use the Olympics Lanes. But I have been a fan of London 2012 since the news of our successful bid first reached my tiny hotel room in southern China seven years ago.
So this is an invitation to dine with me and eat any cynicism you have left for the Games, as I gulp down that which remains for London.
The ceremony starts tonight and the competition soon thereafter. Forget the foibles and let go of the quibbles. Embrace Wiggins, Froome, Cavendish, Millar and Stannard as they fly past Hampton Court Palace on two wheels. Intake your breath as Daley leaves the platform. Cheer for Ennis whether she comes first, third or thirtieth.
Let the cynicism end. Let the Games begin.