I went to the Paralympics yesterday. I went to the ClosingCeremony and sat in the back row. And then it was all over.
To the Olympic Stadium, one last time, came the eighty thousand. To a ceremony more about celebration than expectation, a last triumphant hurrah for London 2012. The athletes were escorted to their seats on the pitch well before the Ceremony began, while their flags entered far more swiftly than had been the case at the Opening's parade, which was appreciated. I was disappointed to discover I was sitting in the very back row of the Stadium - that's row 75 - especially given that I hadn't paid the rock bottom price. But it turned out there was a plus to being at the back, almost directly opposite the central stage, because there was an excellentpanorama across the whole stadium below. Binoculars were essential if I wanted to see anything at a human level, so several portions of the ceremony only made sense when I watched a recording off the TV afterwards. But many of the photos you'll see in your newspapers today were taken from almost-adjacent seats, only by folk with far mightier lenses.
And one other bonus. Everyone in the grandstands had been asked to stay seated throughout the ceremony, so that the pixels located between each seat weren't obscured and the overall lighting effect diminished. In the back row we could stand whenever we liked without blocking anything, so we did, whenever an uplifting moment arrived. But not everybody did as they were told, and above you can see one persistently upstanding section of crowd wrecking the display behind the mechanical fish. After about forty minutes the ceremony turned into a Coldplay concert, which wasn't what I'd been anticipating when I bought my ticket a year ago. It worked best if you concentrated on the amazing fiery spectacles around the arena, and not so much on the album filler, but several crowd-pleasing classics had us rapt. Para-para-paradise, which was highly Para-appropriate. And Rihanna, obviously.
The Mayor got a spontaneous cheer when he passed on our flag, and a "yay Boris" from the first-time voter sat to my left. Then came the speeches, and the Rio bit, and the nagging feeling that something unique was about to end. As the arms of the cauldron lowered for the final time an alternative light source appeared, that of thousands of audience members raising their cameras and smartphones into the air to capture the flame's passing. And at the end of the evening came the fireworks, which sounded fantastic but of which I saw almost nothing, sat at the back shielded by the roof and a row of flags. It was a very long way down and out, as the athletes swiftly dispersed and the crowds shuffled off to join the queues at Stratford station. But I didn't mind being one of the last ones out, lingering amidst the empty aisles and having space to remember. From industrial estate to global focus, from skip-hire warehouse to field of dreams. I left the stadium to its unknown future, and headed back to reality.