…you may or may not learn from a visit to London’s Olympic Park:
1. London 2012 may have been short of private security guards but it definitely isn’t short of volunteers. The “games makers” in their purple jackets practically formed a guard of honour along the route from Stratford station yesterday, pointing the way with big foam hands and shouting directions through loudspeakers from high chairs.
2. The Olympic Park can feel like the grounds of a giant trade fair or exhibition. But there’s an impressive, proper park in there, with wild flowers, grass, trees and other greenery. Some quiet corners of the park looked positively rural yesterday.
3. You can buy food and drink that’s not from McDonald’s and Coca Cola. It’s almost all fast food but Mexican, Asian, hog roast, pizzas, pretzels and more are all on offer. Even the smell of Cornish pasties was wafting around.
The thing about the sponsorship by Coke, McDonald’s and others is that no competing brands are allowed at Olympic venues. So you can have fried chicken in the Olympic Park but it’s generic “Southern Fried Chicken”. (The only colonel round here would be one of those soldiers drafted in to plug the security gaps.) There’s no Starbucks but there is “speciality coffee”, whatever that is. It is a little strange, like living in a parallel world in which most other commercial brands have been wiped out.
4. While you can choose not to eat at McDonald’s and not to drink Coke, you can’t choose to pay with any card other than Visa. Signs above the tills at the concession stalls declare that they are “proud” to accept only Visa. This is truly baffling. Would any normal shop put up a sign saying they were “proud” not to serve certain people?
5. A small bottle of Coke will set you back £2.30. Fancy an Olympic T-shirt? That’ll be £23.
6. There don’t seem to be many covered areas, which seems like a bit of an oversight in a city where the weather is notoriously changeable.
Almost all the sports venues have roofs but there aren’t many places to shelter if you’re wandering in the park. Only the giant McDonald’s, the London 2012 megastore and the sponsors’ pavilions seem to be an option and you have to queue to get into most of those. It rained yesterday so there were plenty of ponchos in evidence and more than a few spectator soakings. “Once in a lifetime experience,” smiled one cold and wet visitor.
7. Those sponsors’ pavilions are scattered around the park but their logos are not visible inside the sports arenas.
8. Loudspeakers around the park blare out up-tempo pop music from the likes of Take That, Wham!, Chaka Kahn. And…er… Radiohead.
9. People were definitely having a good time. But I’m not sure it’s quite got the full festival atmosphere yet. Maybe the organisers should scoop up some street entertainers (the good ones) from Covent Garden and send them east.
10. The velodrome, nicknamed “The Pringle” (which must be very annoying to the Olympic marketing people as it’s not the official provider to London 2012 of snacks composed of dehydrated potatoes, vegetable oil, vegetable fat, rice flour, wheat starch, emulsifier (E 471), maltodextrin, salt and modified rice starch) looks great.