Life in Olympic London
By Debbie Ransome
It is being billed as "A summer like no other" by VisitLondon.com.
And Britain’s capital city is certainly laying out the red carpet for the huge crowds that the travel authorities estimate will visit London.
The figures are staggering.
An Oxford Economics Report estimates that the Olympics will attract 450,000 staying visitors and 5.5 million day visitors during the Games period, while London & Partners economic firm estimates that £11bn of investment has been made in visitor-related projects and infrastructure.
From the locals’ point of view, the build-up to the Games has prompted mixed emotions.
London is congested on the best of days. So the prospect of even more people arriving for the spectacle that will be London Olympics 2012 has filled the heart of many a Londoner with both excitement and foreboding.
It’s become the topic of start-up discussions between complete strangers.
Here’s an example: in early Spring before the summer monsoon rains had arrived here, I was returning from an event at one of the Caribbean High Commissions.
A man in cycle shorts squeezed into the last remaining space on the Piccadilly Line carriage and, as the doors closed behind him, we tried to squeeze into the little space left in the carriage cluttered with similarly-dressed Germans, all with huge rucksacks.
In the midst of our joint suffering, some kind of UK camaraderie was born.
"You think this is bad, I hope you’ve got your Olympic travel contingency plans ready?" I joked.
He laughed immediately, glanced back and outlined his plan to use central London as little as possible even from July.
"By August?" He told me in not-so-conspiratorial tones, "I’m getting out of the country."
So now it’s nearly underway.
For the Caribbean athletes, it’s been a mix-and-match schedule of training camps all over the UK or trials in Europe.
Some teams have been feted early outside the London area, such as the Grenadian team in Sunderland, the Trinidad and Tobago team in Cardiff, Wales and the Jamaican team in Birmingham in the Midlands.
Others have been training in Surrey in the south-east of England. But all will be making their way to the Olympic Village – a huge complex in east London which will house 17,000 athletes and officials by the time of the opening.
The countdown is being highlighted on large digital timers in Trafalgar Square.
There have been emergency management rehearsals at major train stations and the closure of parts of the key M4 (motorway between Oxford and London) to deal with pre-Olympic maintenance.
Tube (Underground) stations in the centre of London are covered with advertising from the Games’ official sponsors.
If there’s a wall, the side of a bus or taxi, anything that catches the eye, it has an ad on it.
Everywhere, there are posters advising motorists to avoid central London and Tube posters advising you to give yourself extra time for journeys during the Olympics.
The business community has already started assessing the possible loss of productivity if many Londoners opt to work from home.
"Businesses are being encouraged to arrange for staff to work more flexibly during Games time and this may require them to work from different locations, such as from other offices or home, or at different times than usual," says the London 2012 advisory site for businesses.
It also warns of slower internet services and possible dropouts as increased numbers attempt to go online.
But not everybody can work from home. While London’s Evening Standard has written amusing stories for office workers about how to work from home, there’s that vast service industry to feed.
Anyone travelling in on an early train, bus or tube to central London to get ahead of the rush hour madness between 0700 and 0930 on weekdays, meets the other side of London’s workforce.
These are the people who keep London going, who feed Londoners, clean the city and its offices, man the 24/7 facilities and generally have the whole thing ready to roll before 8am each day.
So this is the face of Olympic London – more servicing needed, more resources to feed the beast, and, of course in our 9/11 world, more security.
The government has announced that the private firm contracted to do much of the Olympic security needs help and now the army is being drafted in.
A group of residents near the Olympic site took the Defence Ministry to court over plans to place a surface-to-air missile on the roof of their flats.
They lost the court challenge and the missile arrangements are being put in place as I write this piece.
London black taxi cabs staged a protest in central London on 17 July over being denied access to the specially-designated Olympic traffic lanes in place in key parts of the capital.
Londoners continue to be both amused and annoyed by the Olympic arrangements going on.
It’s funny if it’s on the London news when you get home. It’s annoying if it stalls your personal journey and your plans.
So we prepare.
We get emails from long-lost "friends" who haven’t been in touch for the longest while, seeking out their "friends" living in London.
"Hey partner," says Joe Bloggs from island X who you haven’t heard of since he checked to see you survived the 1990 attempted coup in Trinidad.
"I’m passing your way for the Olympics. How are things?"
In one touching moment earlier this year, I attended a Trinidad nationals meeting where the High Commissioner to London asked Trinis to open up their doors for performers invited to attend T&T’s 50th event Cultural Village.
The older people around me sighed with a hum of nostalgia as Garvin Nicholas asked them to remember ole time Trinidad and make their visiting countrymen and women feel welcome in their London homes.
However, this is also modern London with a modern and younger diaspora. I heard some quiet steupsing from younger nationals near to me.
Welcome to Olympic London
So, welcome to London.
There are old bits which will amaze you and seek to cash in your visit (yes, there is a Mary Poppins cafe near St Pauls....)
And, there are new parts which will really annoy you.
It will all be captured on fil, audio, pictures and text by the world's media, citizen reporters and anyone passing with a mobile.
So, starp in and let's hope we all make it to see if the Jamaicans wipe the floor with everyone else on the last few days of the Games.
(This column will be updated regularly during the Olympics.)