Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Don't worry - that buzzing noise is London

For an institutional cynic like me, especially an expatriate institutional cynic like me, spending the last few days in London has been a genuinely uplifting experience.

The mood leading up to the opening of London 2012 was one of gloomy expectation, mild truculence led by a jaded British media - and one or two newspapers in particular almost reveling in predictions of Armageddon.

The reality, however, is somewhat different. London is, to use an overused piece of footballer vernacular, "buzzing".

Arriving at St. Pancras on the Eurostar, you are met with a thronging, groups of excited families cross-crossing the concourse on their way to one event or other.

The Tubes are packed, as normal, but looking around the carriages you start to see signs of something big taking place. Official London 2012 passes hang from lanyards strung around people's necks; there are national team members exploring the tourist haunts; uniformed soldiers, travelling to augment both the paucity of security guards as well as VIP spectators at some events; and parents, beaming as widely as their excitable charges, scurrying between rail termini to the Olympic Park, or Horse Guards Parade or any one of the 34 venues.

Rather than being a city which, as only a visitor these last 13 years, I've found to be indifferent, inhospitable and, at times, downright rude, I've found London going out of its way to be helpful, to facilitate and to accommodate.

There's even free WiFi on the Underground, and free WiFi on the streets of the West End. People queuing for the Javelin express trains running out to the Olympic Park are being given free ice cream. It's as if someone has dropped an awful lot of Prozac into the tap water.

And, contrary to today's Daily Mail, places like Covent Garden, Leicester Square, Piccadilly Circus and Oxford Street are full of tourists of all nationalities, smiling and excited to be in a city under the global spotlight as never before.

Everywhere you turn there's a royal, or a Beckham courtside, trackside, ringside, pitchside or poolside, cheering on the athletes.

Inevitably, one newspaper has coined the phrase Cool Brittania 2.0 but, for once, I don't care at such a groaningingly laborious label.

London is the real star of these Olympics in a way I can't think of a host city doing so since Barcelona. London is proudly celebrating being, well, London.

And I'm actually quite proud.

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