A crowd outside the Buckingham Palace to watch cycling action at the Olympics and (below) the London Games mascot, Wenlock, outside a pub. Pictures by Chandreyee Chatterjee
The scene I walked into at the Aces and Eights saloon bar in Tufnell Park, London, on Friday, July 27, was no different from pubs back home — the music was loud and the tables packed. I was resigned to the fact that I would be missing the opening ceremony of the Olympics as no one seemed interested in the build-up and the large flatscreen TV was on mute.
I couldn’t have been more wrong. At 9pm sharp, the TV volume was increased and everyone in the pub turned to the screen. Even the members of the band Pale Fires seemed reluctant to head to the basement to start their gig.
Soon the pub, drowning in ale, filled with delighted gasps and spontaneous applause as Danny Boyle served up iconic slices of British life. None was more appreciated than Rowan Atkinson’s Chariots of Fire act and, of course, the Queen’s appearance with 007 Daniel Craig.
“Bloody sporting of the Queen to have agreed to this. This is brilliant,” said one of the occupants of the booth next to me. I couldn’t agree more.
If I needed any proof of how cosmopolitan London is, I had it in that tiny bar where several countries were cheered when they were shown on the screen during the parade. The loudest cheers, however, were reserved for Ireland and Great Britain.
I did not make it to the Olympic Park in the four days that I spent in London, giving in to discouragement from my friends with whom I was staying and, of course, being overwhelmed by the crowds I saw at the Games venues, including the Buckingham Palace, which was chock-a-block with tourists trying to catch a glimpse of a cycling competition. I am too short to have seen anything but I could definitely feel the excitement.
You could not escape the Games no matter where you were. If it weren’t the placards along main thoroughfares, it were nuggets of information on Olympics painted on the pavements.
Every pub that I dropped into at whatever time during the day had the Games on TV. Everyone was talking about Olympics action or about not getting tickets.
And what floored me was that everyone, well almost everyone, seemed to know who was who in Team Great Britain. “So who are the people in Team India this time?” asked one of my friend’s roommates and I was stumped. I stuttered out the obvious names before giving up, embarrassed.
The traffic in London during the Games was horrible, I was told ,what with so many venues and thousands of tourists. I disagree. To me everything in the city seemed to work like a well-oiled machine. I, after all, belong to a city that comes to a standstill for a single match at the Eden Gardens.
After four days in a city consumed by the Olympics I have come away an Olympic convert. Now, I tune into the Games as often as I can. London or Londoners to be precise have given me a taste for it.