The stands at Olympic events are dotted with small children. Their parents have usually kitted them out in expensive replica kits. It is clearly all meant to be a great family day out, a treasured memory and so on. But, usually, it does not work out like that.
The problem is that the average five year-old has limited patience with watching the heats for the women’s shot put – even if the tickets were fiendishly expensive and hard to get hold of. Young children are also bad at dissembling. I was in the Olympic Stadium on Saturday morning, as Jessica Ennis closed in on gold in the heptathalon. The adults in the crowd were going crazy, as she prepared for the long-jump. But the child behind me, made it clear that he was much more interested in eating a Kit-Kat. As the morning wore on, his hapless parents were ground down by their toddler’s repeated question – “Is that one Usain Bolt?” After a couple of hours, Bolt actually did appear to run his heat. But the kid had long since interest and was now campaigning to go for a wee.
It was the same sad story at Wembley Stadium, a couple of days earlier. An American dad had taken his little boy to the football. But the kid seemed strangely uninterested in watching Gabon and South Korea battle it out to a 0-0 draw. Instead he whined endlessly to be allowed to play a computer game, while his father tried to persuade him to take an interest in the game. Eventually, the parent handed over his iPhone, saying grumpily – “I want you to understand how annoying this is.” For the rest of the game, the child gurgled happily, as he killed computerized orks, while his dad sat staring moodily into space.
I have press-ganged my own children into accompanying me to the Olympics. Fortunately, they are old enough to be interested. The most objectionable thing my 16-year-old son has done is to express a desire for a Russian replica-shirt. The red-and-white swirly design is certainly striking. The shirts look like what would happen if somebody ate too much raspberry ripple ice-cream and then threw up. But they are, apparently, the must-have fashion item of the Olympics.
For any spectator, the great moment of tension is when you get to your seat. Have you got a good view? A great view? Or are you behind a pillar? I hate to sound like Goldilocks, but at Wembley my seats were too high and at the Olympic Stadium they were too low. But at Wimbledon, last Tuesday, they were just right. We were just behind the service line and could hear every anguished cry and see every grimace as Jo-Wilfried Tsonga of France and Milos Raonic of Canada battled it out, in what turned out to be the longest tennis match in Olympic history – with Tsonga winning 25-23 in the final set.
The best spectator experience however is, by common consent, the beach volleyball on Horseguards Parade. The venue is magnificently unlikely. You can look out over the stands at Whitehall and Downing Street on one side, and at Big Ben on the other. The organisers have also accepted that the sport itself is only part of the experience. So they have introduced all sorts of high-camp entertainments to keep the audience buzzing. In breaks in the game dancing girls (and even a couple of dancing boys) take to the sand. Rock music blares out between points, and even during the game itself. I so enjoyed the experience, that I broke the habit of a life-time and joined in a Mexican wave.
The single most astonishing thing about the Games so far, however, is how well organized they are. Travelling to the various venues has been quick and comfortable. The volunteers have been numerous, well-informed and friendly. This is not the London I know and have mixed feelings about. If feels like we have turned ourselves into a Potemkin village for a couple of weeks. But I fear that everything will collapse back into crowded chaos, once the Olympic visitors have left.