Here we go again. The second largest sporting event in the world starts today, a few weeks after the first, just down the bottom of my road. Anyone can stage a World Cup, but the Paralympics are even bigger and only London can sell them out.
Having said that, there's not the same buzz, is there? Maybe that's because the Olympics are a tough act to follow. Maybe that's because these Games don't come with a familiar back story. Maybe that's because I'm not watching Channel 4 in the same way as I watch BBC1. Maybe that's because Sainsbury's can't bombard the media with adverts the same way that all those Olympic sponsors could. Maybe that's because there's no sense of danger that these Games might fail horribly, because the last lot so patently succeeded. Whatever the reason, the Paralympics are destined to be a glorious but subsidiary peak in Britain's golden sporting summer.
You'd barely spot the difference round my way unless you were looking carefully. Most of the banners that used to have five rings on them now have three agitos, be that on station platforms or hanging by the roadside. The extra staff who used to shepherd everyone onto public transport haven't yet materialised. The stream of double decker buses that clogged the streets have been replaced by single deckers, which makes perfect sense if you think about it, just rather fewer of them. The gated housing at Bow Quarter no longer has banks of missiles perched on the roof. And all the Samsung adverts draped from every lamppost along Bow Road have now been taken down. So it's not all bad.
And then there's the Torch Relay. This is currently slinking through Metroland under cover of darkness, before a brief under-publicised swirl through central and East London before nightfall [live video]. It'll be great out there today, and inspirational, but again not quite the same. 24 hour Torch Relay: 20:00 Stoke Mandeville, then Bucks, then Herts; 03.30 Harrow, 05.52 Brent/Barnet, 08.18 Westminster/Camden, 11.44 South Bank, 12.22 Westminster/City, 13.19 Southwark, 15.22 Lewisham/Greenwich, 16.15 Tower Hamlets, 18.09 Hackney/Waltham Forest, 20.18 B&D/Newham, 22.00ish That Cauldron Again
I had my own experience of Paralympic underwhelmingness at the weekend. I went to the Havering Show in Hornchurch, which is an annual two-day borough shindig over the August Bank Holiday. One highlight of Sunday's events on the main stage was supposed to be the appearance of the Paralympic Flame. It was written into the programme as "Havering's Flame Celebration", and an expectant crowd had gathered on the hay bales as three o'clock rolled round. Bouncy songstress Lydia White finished her laptop karaoke and left the stage, to be replaced by the day's MC who resembled Mike Read, Runaround era. He read out some Paralympic facts off a sheet before introducing the Revellers, a group of local children with learning difficulties and disabilities. They danced for us, in a charmingly semi-choreographed way, both collectively and individually. We applauded lots. And they were the only good bit.
The MC returned and introduced Michael White, the leader of Havering Council, who looked simultaneously relaxed and embarrassed to be here. The pair bantered, limply, before inviting onto the stage Peter Bruce, the President of Havering Sports Council. He was carrying a "splinter" of the Paralympic Flame, in a tiny lantern, which he waved briefly to muted applause. Some bland chat followed, and the trio exhorted the crowd to have their photo taken with the flame down at the tent by the classic cars. The MC then plugged the remainder of the afternoon's entertainment (woo, the Merseybeats!) before launching into a Beatles song and failing to get the leader of the council to join in, as the lantern vanished swiftly out the back of the stage. And that was it - less a Flame Celebration, more an underwhelming interlude between musical tribute acts. There was no sense of pride, no sense of occasion, nothing like the emotion that would have been felt for the 'proper' Olympic flame.
They're going to be great, the Paralympics. They may even be transformative of the way the UK views the abilities of those with disabilities. They'll have an impossible job following the euphoria of what came before, indeed there's a risk they'll look like some sort of anti-climax. But when the cauldron's lit at the Opening Ceremony tonight, and the spotlight shines on East London once more, prepare for something refreshingly wonderfully different.