diamond geezer

 Thursday, September 11, 2014

Two years (two years!) after the Paralympics closed, the spirit of the Games returned to the Olympic Park. At Prince Harry's request over 400 disabled servicemen and women have come to Stratford for the Invictus Games, four days of international competition in the face of adversity.

The Opening Ceremony took place last night. Yes, the whole thing was broadcast live on BBC1 but only on The One Show, rather than a mass global broadcast. Unlike 2012 there were no special traffic lanes down Stratford High Street, no police hovering round the Bow Roundabout and no razorwire CCTV-topped fencing around the perimeter, which meant it was simplicity itself to wander down to the Greenway and cast an eye over proceedings. A stream of commuters and cyclists passed the other way, oblivious to what was about to happen, unless perhaps they'd spotted the hint from the helicopters in the sky. One hi-vizzed guard blocked the footpath ramp down from the View Tube, where a makeshift barrier waited to admit last minute limousines via the Loop Road. And as seven o'clock came round, a tiny handful of spectators in-the-know stood on the sewertop and waited.

No eyes were on the Olympic Stadium. That's because it's still out of action post-Games, as cranes and workmen crawl all over it to transform it into West Ham's new home. And it's also because the Invictus Games couldn't possibly have filled it. Instead they sort-of filled the great grass lawn between the Orbit and the railway, where a crowd milled around the edges of the temporary arena and a single grandstand stood part-empty overlooking the field. One day all this will be flats, which'll make holding big outdoor events in the Olympic Park a little harder. But how exciting to have your living room on the site where Charles and Camilla sat and watched his son open an international event he'd organised, while his big brother, another future king, looked on.

From the Greenway every word the announcer made was audible, plus the grandstand was part visible through the trees at approximately sniping distance. The national anthem floated across the Lea, a highly abbreviated version, before an unfamiliar specially written fanfare followed. Local residents would have noticed little thus far, but then a low roar started and grew steadily louder. Whooosh!

I tip my hat to Ian who pointed out in advance that at two minutes past seven the Red Arrows would fly past. They appeared behind the stadium, billowing red white and blue smoke, as is their wont. The royal party, assembled crowds and TV audience saw them approach straight on, but from the Greenway their path was angled and passed directly behind the top of the Orbit. Blimey.

The Red Arrows go past ridiculously fast, of course, especially if you're fiddling with a camera rather than just staring in awe. In seconds they were heading south towards Stratford High Street and on towards Docklands, their tight lines of colour rapidly dissipating in the sky. And by the time they reached surprised residents in Greenwich and Hither Green, their presence in the Olympic Park was little more than a lingering tinge of red and blue in sunset-lit clouds.

To find out what was really happening in the Opening ceremony I had to head home to my television. Some military bits and an athletes' parade played out, along with Matt Baker being earnest and Claire Balding meeting a dog. And I watched as an Apache and a Merlin made their own Invictus fly-by, choppering over the South Lawn to the delight of the ceremonial audience. But I'd failed to put two and two together, so was somewhat surprised when the rotor noise grew louder and louder... and blimey there were the two helicopters outside my back window. I enjoyed my own private almost-flypast as the pilots pulled up, hovered briefly and headed back north.

I then wondered whether I could have stayed at home to watch the Red Arrows too, whether they had perhaps gifted me a personal flypast which I'd missed by going out. No matter, the view over Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park had been indubitably better, and more in the spirit of the Games too. I won't be attending any of the sporting events, I had my fill a couple of years back thanks, but I can recommend the wheelchair rugby if you want to watch something wild and brutally dexterous. And it's nice to have an echo of 2012 back again, if only for a brief weekend.

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