'On the Tube, blank stares and grey suits were replaced by flags and excited chatter'


LONDON VIEW:The Olympics made London a friendlier, happier and prouder city than before

WHEN I arrived in London on July 2nd for a four-month work contract, the flags and bunting were still hanging from the jubilee. With less than a month to the Olympics, I was expecting excitement and anticipation. Instead national and local newspapers fixated on possible shortcomings of the Games.

People were heavy with cynicism. Transport, security and the weather were the chief concerns. One taxi driver told me how the dedicated Olympic vehicle traffic lanes would affect business: it would be “chaos”.

I bought a bike.

On the Underground, as passengers negotiated line closures every weekend before the Games, Boris Johnson appealed to Londoners for patience and asked them to find other ways to get to work. He was met with eye rolling and grumbles.The weather didn’t help the soggy atmosphere.

But then the torch arrived into the city. Crisp new bunting appeared overnight. People queued to see local heroes run with the flame, as news channels began slowly pushing the negative stories to the side.

As the first crowds descended on the Olympic Park and viewers came together to watch Danny Boyle’s opening ceremony, there was an air of nervous anticipation.

When the queen jumped out of a plane with James Bond, or rather Daniel Craig, and Rowan Atkinson did his finest Mr Bean, the laughter began and Brits let out a sigh of relief.

On the Tube, blank stares, grey suits and hanging silences were being replaced by colourful flags and excited chatter. Then Wiggomania took hold as the cyclist took gold.

However, the scores of empty seats stoked the frustrations of those who had tried to negotiate the Games’s online ticketing system to no avail. Yet at the venues, volunteers clad in purple and red smiled, danced, cheered and welcomed supporters with a pride that was infectious.

Troops, drafted in after the GS4 security debacle, engaged in friendly banter as they searched handbags.

At Eton Dorney, sitting beneath flags of the competing nations, I got swept up into the Olympic feeling as I hollered support for the rowers. As is so often the case when a team is doing well, Team GB supporters rallied behind other nations. Multicultural London proudly waved many flags and I was congratulated countless times for Katie Taylor’s epic performance.

But last night the torch was extinguished and this morning the hangover from a two-week party begins. Stations will be without the friendly faces of the volunteers and the flags and bunting will come down. The medal count will be relegated from front pages, to make room for more tales of economic woe and missed job opportunities the Games should have provided.

If there is to be a legacy of the Games it could be built on the optimistic and united feeling.

The Olympics made the city friendlier, happier and proud of its performance. The city atmosphere was transformed to that of a big village fair. Let’s hope some of the “feelgood” phase remains, along with the sun, for the build-up to the Paralympics. I have my flag ready to cheer on Team Ireland.