Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Day 18: London to E-ville, One Kingdom, One Dream

Quote of the day:

When my baby (when my baby)
When my baby smiles at me I go to Rio (Rio)
That's when I go to Rio (Rio)
Rio - Rio De Janeir-eiro
Rio, Rio, Rio.

This QOTD was the only one that did not fit the theme: every other set of lyrics (they were all lyrics, hopefully some of you figured that out) were not only from British bands (some of you got that, right?), they were all from bands based in London (anyone get that?)

Weather: Overcast and slightly humid in London

Pics: Which way should THB look? KHB and THB, and the best O’s shirt

A trip like this takes a lot of support, and THB needs it!! Thanks to JOB, DHB and especially my partner in O’s, KHB. We were well taken care of at the O’s by the O’s, with our promise to reciprocate if at all possible. As always, THB can make the small things seem big, and don’t be fooled: the O’s are all good, all the time…even THB isn’t perfect.

Final Observations

· Weather: had to be the coolest summer games on record, another feature of climate chaos? The Brits have had a very wet summer, and from these two weeks THB would say that they are actually having an unusually long spring. There was a touch of rain almost every day for the first 10 days, and we missed some downpours by being inside at the time. Only one day in the 80s; overall, as good as we could possibly hope for.

· Food: The most common phrase of the games was: “Sorry, we’re out of that.” Just about every stand here seemed to have not just inexperienced staff, they seem to always be on their first day of the job. True? On other hand, the food was so far superior to Beijing venues, it was hard to be too upset.

M&S right outside the OP and VP, so eat there or take-away (or, in this case, carry-in) was as good as it gets: great fruit, baked goods, roti chicken….and inexpensive. And, since we were being hosted by G&M, the home cooked meals and cereal and fruit every morning helped immensely. Our restaurant meals ranged from adequate to pretty good, and prices very reasonable, usually at around the same as US and downright low at M&S. And Orjowan Express for falafel, shawarma, and something extra each times was better than most lunch spots THB visits in the Bay Area. Somehow, THB lost weight on this trip, maybe all the walking to/from events worked?

· Prices of tix: Here’s how THB is thinking about the cost of the trip (like THB would give you someone else’s opinion). The tix in London were very, very expensive, ranging from $50 to $200 (evening sessions of T&F), averaging around $115/tix (sounds like a lot, and often this was for a category C tix, so someone was buying those B and A priced tix). Housing was free.

This was basically reversed in Beijing, an average of around $20-25/tix (e.g., T&F tix were $35 a tix and a few nights $70) and THB was buying the more expensive tix to most events. However, it was $7k for the housing (a 3 bedroom flat in a good neighborhood). Thus, a push.

· Transport: Exceptional to off the charts good. Easy 40 minute ride to VB, about an hour each way to OP (not counting the short walk to and from the local train station), and we almost always got seats. Cost: zero (the norm at O’s) and well-handled by distributing ahead of time an all-day pass for every ticket purchased. The Jubilee line was running trains every 1-2 minutes and we figured out to let one go if it was in the station when we arrived so that we could walk to a more advantageous spot on the platform. Brilliant! Plus, to expedite the crowds at turnstiles, they would just wave us through. This happened enough times that some days we never had to use the cards. The only negative: when they started announcing that people should use the West Ham station instead of Stratford without telling anyone (including the staff) that it takes 30-40 minutes to walk there from OP. Attendees figured it out and few people got off there.

· Security: In the post 9/11 world, security was also off the charts brilliant. Our longest delay was less than 5 minutes, mostly because they had a huge number of lanes set up and grossly overstaffed. Clearly someone in charge of the Games had been baked one too many times in Beijing and adjusted accordingly..

· Efficiency question: When moving from the train at Waterloo to the Jubilee line, you migrate through a group of people staring up at the board, waiting to find out which platform their train is leaving from. And, when THB and KHB were returning to Wimbledon via the Jubilee/Waterloo train, we were among those standing and squinting as the trains were posted. So, somehow, there is always congestion at this prime real estate spot in the station. Is there a way to create a viewing section off to the side? Will most people switch to using their electronic devices and the train management start doing real-time postings in a free app? Something tells me that most transfer stations have the same situation where one of the transports has a variable departure spot. Any thoughts?

· THB’s favorite “what did she say?” moment: it was starting to rain as THB was entering the OP, so he unpacked and put on a poncho supplied by KHB (she was resting up, so this must have been the day when James came to T&F with THB). As his ticket was being scanned on entry into the stadium, the ticket scanner person said something to THB he did not understand. About ten seconds later, as he was walking to his seat, he realized she was commenting on his attire: “bin liner, is it?” Oh, she thought THB had converted a trash bag into a poncho; was this a note of appreciation for THB’s ingenuity or just admiration for his stunning haute couture look? What else could she have meant!

· Event ownership: the most local-centric O’s THB has attended. Almost everything for sale had Team GB on it, only those of us with a personal shopper could find items with just London 2012 (and, she found two!). And there were almost no shirts with O rings on them without Team GB, as if GB now owned the rings. The one we saw thought might have been done separately from the official games (and it wasn’t for sale, someone was wearing it….maybe THB should’ve tried to buy it from him). After getting back to E-ville, DHB has heard a point of view that made sense: Team GB was all about the bringing together the different parts of the United Kingdom, so that the Irish, Scots, Welsh, Old Romans, Celts, and even leprechauns (well, kids under 5) would all feel part of the effort of hosting and participating in the O’s.

· Event atmosphere: Emcees worked the crowds at every venue except T&F into a frenzy and then the local announcer at T&F worked the crowd himself. Music way too loud and repetitive, including playing when the announcers were trying to talk. Announcers thus were also very hard to understand and for most part inane when heard, inane. The working assumption seemed to be that the people attending knew nothing about the sport they were about to see (probably true for the majority) AND needed to be distracted (not true for anyone) or made hard of hearing in under three hours.

Now, why was this? Did GB O officials have some purpose in mind, working up the locals a requirement for somehow embracing the games? See note above, maybe related to a united UK?

The scoreboards outside of T&F were uniformly poorly placed. And, in T&F, they had 4 giant scoreboards they didn’t use to show what was happening. Unless a Brit won gold, there were no updates on other events outside the one being watched. Given that the games are pretty much live-streamed now, seems like technology had not caught up.

At least VB and the OP did have spots where you could watch a TV screen of other on-going events.

· Ticket purchase at the games: Not on. Only way to buy a ticket was on-line, and you had to use a EU address to register. The one event we were looking for was to be released at 11am the day before, when we were in another event. No scalping with the exception of at Men’s VB finals, the last event of the games, where there clearly were Brazilians holding up signs wanting tickets Maybe for the Brazilians, getting into the match was worth the risk of arrest. Our friends did sell tickets via Craigslist, and we met people who bought off EBay. The time has come to change the approach, using something like StubHub to broker between buyers and sellers.

· Young kids: You could say this was the most child-friendly O’s in history. For sure the number of children under 5 broke all records, on day one, in the first event! The tickets were extremely cheap for kids (and the cost of babysitters must be quite high). And, THB had KHB along when she was 11, so he is not exactly kid-unfriendly at the O’s. The inability of the young kids to observe the action was pretty obvious, and thus the parents’ attention span was severely limited as well while they tried to keep these youngsters entertained. THB would be all for an age limit, say 7? 8? 19 if tickets are tight? And, the number of kids in snugglies (those things where the kids rides around on the front of an adult) was also huge, along with a big number of very pregnant women (breaking another O’s record for deliveries in the OP?).

· Tattoos: hardly saw any; this was not a USA audience. In fact, there were fewer Americans here than any O’s that THB has attended. Are these two facts related?

· Best fans: THB attends one event Brazil is very good at: Volleyball. Their fans come out in huge quantities, wear green and yellow shirts, capes, wigs, flags, etc They cheer loudly, dance constantly, and encourage their team on with knowledge. If they are playing your team and you are lucky enough to see their team lose, it is quite an experience to see their fans grow quieter and quieter as the match progresses.

· Worst fans: THB attends one event Brazil is very good at: Volleyball. Their fans come out in huge quantities, wear green and yellow shirts, capes, wigs, flags, etc They cheer loudly, dance constantly, and encourage their team on with knowledge. If they are playing your team and you are lucky enough to see their team lose, it is quite an experience to see their fans grow quieter and quieter as the match progresses. However, in the last four years, the fans have started booing the opponents, almost right from the beginning of a match. Needless to say, given how many of their fans are there, this can be highly disturbing and very poor sportsmanship (and sporstwomanship, they have a huge femail following). If this happens in Rio in 2016, it is gonna be ugly, very ugly.

· Phones: Our NZ phone turned out to be unlocked, and so it cost $32 to have a phone along that worked. Now, since we sent two text messages and made one call, that averaged out to $10/usage. THB thought it a good buy.

· Favorite moments: Seems to be the same every time, since THB sees the same events every time. The VB and T&F and Handball are for the most part great to thrilling. Seeing Mo Farah double in the 5000m while the entire stadium of Brits yelled at peak volume was special. Same for the Bolt runs (we missed the 200m final, otherwise saw a lot of Bolt). Eaton and Hardee going 1-2 in Decathlon from the first event through 8 (we missed the last night). The Russians getting off the floor and putting away Brazil in the finals, realizing the Russian coach made a dramatic change to turn the tide.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Day 17: London

Day 17: London

You can't always get what you want
But if you try sometimes well you might find
You get what you need
And I went down to the demonstration
To get my fair share of abuse
Singing, "We're gonna vent our frustration
If we don't we're gonna blow a 50-amp fuse"
You can't always get what you want

Pics: One of Italy vs Bulgaria, THB and M, several of Russia and Brazil, Southwest trains (with SWA color theme?), Mr Whippy,

Book Review: Watergate, a novel by Thomas Mallon. Well, it’s a novel, yet somehow because of the time lapse, it sure seems an exquisite retelling of the break-in with just enough accuracy to be a non-fiction portrayal and get your juices going again with the hope that Nixon will be impeached. Starts with the break-in, uses a few of the more obscure figures (Fred LaRue, the “bagman”), and some of the more well-known (Rose Mary Woods, Pat Nixon) to move the story along (almost no Woodward and Bernstein, they aren’t needed anymore). THB has checked (is using Wikipedia checking?) and the details used to flesh out the characters are correct (did Fred really shoot his father in a hunting accident? Yes! Did Dorothy Hunt, E Howard Hunt’s wife and a fellow CIA agent, really die in a plane crash? Yes!). Highly Recommended, and not just because Nixon resigns (phew, THB did not need to look that one up).

Grape Nuts and apple, a ride to the Tube, and a VB doubleheader. M, our host along with G, accompanies us to the first match, the Men’s Bronze, Italy vs Bulgaria. Italy coasts to a 3-1 victory, losing only the second set, 23-25.

After the match, M heads back to Wimbledon and we decide on our more modest Indian spot for lunch. Signs sez it opens at 11:30, it is around 11:45 and the place is closed and yet we can see there is food laid out in the display case. Hmmmmm….we wait a bit, and then head to Orjowan for more falafel, shawarma, hummus (excellent) with pita and diet cokes, $20. And, a softie with chocolate flake from Mr Whippy, $3.

Up next, the Men’s Gold Medal match, Russia vs Brazil. The stands are loaded with Yellow and Green, chanting and dancing away; not too much red and white. Brazil is routing the Roooskies, winning the first two sets by good size margins: 25-18 and 25-20. Brazil has a match point in set three, saved by the Red Menace, and finally, by 29-27, the Federation wins a set.

In set four, the former Soviets lead early and then build up a huge lead which Brazil cuts into near the end, with the final being 25-22, Stalinists holding on.

Set 5 is a rout: the young Russian’s 7’2” center blocker is having the match of his career, finally getting his serve in (we watched one entire set where he failed to get in a single serve) , pounding the ball from the outside (both skills sorely lacking in the other two matches we saw Russia play), and to top it off he has the final spike, giving the Red Storm a 15-8 victory…..but, wait, apparently before the celebration starts, the ref had blow the whistle and given the point to Brazil (whose fans by this point have gone noticeably quiet). Not to worry: Russia puts away the next point, to win the Gold!

Size and strength (the hero of the match) vs the Brazilian libero (defensive specialist who makes every dig and set effortlessly and perfectly) turns out to favor size and power, at least in this match, as you can keep going to your offensive talent while also figuring out how to avoid the libero.

What a great culmination to a great O’s!

Dinner with our hosts and (grown) kids in Wimbledon at Cote, a French spot: appetizers of flat bread, starters of various kinds, a slew of main courses, and a sliced tomato salad (ordered and eaten almost entirely by THB), bottle of wine, cider, endless glasses of tap water, $220 for the six of us.

Everyone now in safely for a watching of the closing…

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Day 16: London

Day 16: London

Quote of the day:

I will show another me
Today I don't need a replacement
I'll tell them what the smile on my face meant
My heart going boom boom boom
"Hey" I said "You can keep my things,
they've come to take me home."

Weather: Sunny and breezy, dropping to low 60s in evening

Pics: Bronze Women’s match, free charging station (conveniently in hallway leading to loo), the best O’s t-shirt (only problem, it is for the wrong O’s), Jamaican seat mate, the train to Raynes Park

RP walk, Grape Nuts with apple, and off to the Women’s VB Bronze match. We pick up veg salads, great seeded rolls (better than Arizmendi!), draft cider and water, to eat during the match. Japan has their way with Korea, 3-0, even though Korea has the best hitter on the floor; Japan is better defensively and has a more diverse offense.

Once again, we are sitting next to the same guy at VB: he’s from Tasmania, coaches women’s VB there, found a hotel right near Earl’s Court for $130/night, and is here for most of the O’s watching mostly the women’s VB. There clearly were some decently priced accommodations if you searched for them.

Tube to OP for the last session of T&F, and we are so early THB heads in to his fave napping spot while KHB relaxes in the mall, finding a quiet spot (not easy), then brings in dinner of M&S chicken with potatoes, more of the great rolls, fruit, and popcorn, then we supplement with bottled cider and water, $25.

The last night is all finals and medal ceremonies, with Bolt pulling Jamaica to a new WR in the 4x100 relay (the US team ties the WR and loses by several large Bolt strides), US going silver in Women’s High Jump, some guy from Trinidad winning the Javelin (defeating 4 or 5 Scandinavian guys), Russian win in the Women’s 800 (way ahead of Semanya, who gets silver), and the big win of the night: Mo Farah of GB (originally Somalia) doubling up in a very slow 5k (he also won the 10K). The crowd, again the vast majority Brits, roared for the last 5 minutes at a decibel level that was astounding, somehow getting louder as Mo ran in front of their part of the stadium.

And, for the fourth time at T&F, our friend from Jamaica is in a seat near us, this time across the aisle from KHB. He’s one happy guy again, as his team produces a gold.

In bed by 11 to rest up for our last day of the O’s, a VB doubleheader.