The Olympics Strike Again! (Handball)

After a great afternoon at the Beach Volley-ball on Horeseguard’s Parade, we were lucky enough to also have tickets to go and see the Handball quarter-finals at the Basketball Arena… in the Olympic Park! Our session was at 6pm to see Denmark v. Sweden so we took the afternoon off and headed to Stratford at lunchtime, straight from work. I was honestly a bit disappointed that we wouldn’t get to see France but we arrived just minutes before the final whistle and you could totally hear the French supporters singing “Allez les Bleus” from the outside. There was an enormous roar when the game ended; it looked like the building was shaking from it! According to a friend, the game was very tight (France won in the last second) so my heart may not have survived the emotion had I watched it live! Anyway, we had a great evening at the park. The handball was very impressive – action-packed and fast-paced and there were loads of supporters of both teams, which made for great atmosphere. After the match we had a couple of drinks with some friends who also had tickets and then we decided to wander around for a while. Wearing heels that day may not have been my best idea of late as we walked for nearly 2 hours! But I got some lovely night shots of this really impressive place!

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We are now facing Croatia in the semis tonight, I hope “Les Experts” (that’s how the team is knicknamed) will live up to their reputation! Allez les Bleus!

We Were There! Beach Volleyball At The Olympics

So finally, our first event was here. It was a bit of an early start for us on a Saturday as we had to be at Horse Guard Parade for 10.30am – we’re normally just about opening our eyes at that time! Anyway, the lead up to Saturday was a bit unusual: while checking the schedule on the official website Darling-Chéri found out that things had been changed and we were actually going to see two mens’ games rather that one mens’ and one ladies’. As you’d expect, he was not impressed (yes, I pointed and laughed). Luckily for him (and probably for me, as a consequence), the schedule got changed again and on Friday a colleague who had the same issue told me that we were back to the original programme. Good news. My colleague did encourage me to wind Darling-Chéri up until the last minute but he’d had a pretty poor week so I told him as soon as I had him on the phone and I can tell it really cheered him up!

I also boasted in a recent post that I hadn’t bought any Olympics merchandise, well, that jinxed it all and by Friday we had a Team GB cap, a France cap, some Team GB sweatbands and a couple of hand flags each, just in case we got to see either team play. And I really restrained myself on the official website! Which made me think I shouldn’t take my payment card when we go, or I might just come back with the whole shop! I mean, I really like the little rowing rubber duck!

They advise you to be at Horse Guard Parade about 90 minutes before the event. We were there a bit earlier than that, so got right at the front of the queue and we were in the waiting area within minutes of the gates opening. It was aperitif time so we headed straight for the bar and chilled out with a couple of beers while the Queen’s Guards Marching Band was opening the day: YMCA, the A-Team, We Are The Champions and the inevitable Chariots Of Fire (somebody is making a mint on the rights of this theme tune right now!). I have to credit the staff for doing a great job here. For a temporary venue, I found all the facilities to be of rather high quality and the staff were great at moving people through the different parts of the park and into the stadium in a smooth and friendly manner. The gold medal totally goes to the girl on the life-guard chair right by the stadium who greeted us with a deadpan: “Ladies and gentlemen I would like to introduce you to the rain, our main sponsor today.” In the megaphone when the rain started. Actually I think it might have been this girl: YouTube video of the “happiest” London 2012 member of staff.

Finally, we got to our seats and watched the two games. For the ladies, it was Spain v. Italy, and for the guys it was the Netherlands v. Switzerland. Like most people in the crowd, we had no real interest in the teams playing, but the atmosphere was great nonetheless, with lots of cheering and clapping at each point, Mexican waves going around etc. This was probably helped by Peter Dickson (you will know him for being the OTT voice of the X-Factor, BGT, E4 etc) who was managing the commentary and clearly in good form. Getting the crowd enthused about fit athletes jumping up and down or semi-naked dancers doing an animation at the break is one thing, but getting 15,000 spectators to cheer the volunteers raking the pitch (“You know you love it, it’s rakey-rakey time!”) is talent!

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At the end of the day, we really enjoyed the whole experience and it’s really made us even more excited about going to the Olympic Park on Wednesday for the Handball!

Faster, Higher, Stronger… We’re Going To The Olympics!!

We said we wouldn’t go. That it was too expensive. That the lottery mechanics for tickets was absolute nonsense. That it was obvious we wouldn’t get anything. But things turned out differently as somehow we got caught in the excitement. So inevitably, on April 26th 2011 at 23h44, we lost it to the curiosity of knowing where our taxes go the marketing pressure (“the event of the century”, “a unique occasion”, “an unforgettable moment” etc) and we applied for tickets. Lots of talks, calendar pages being turned and finally we click on “Send”. Athletics (twice, as we really wanted to see the stadium), Beach Volleyball, Gymnastics, Handball and Swimming. £916 if we get it all… Shame on me as I work in Marketing and really should have seen the trick.

Eventually, after a long silence from the organisers, a fair amount of controversy (all these people who, a bit like us actually, got carried away and might not have enough funds to cover the cost of all the tickets they applied for; the lottery that takes your money and only tells you a month later what you actually got; the stories about cheap tickets being sold in Germany…) and last-minute savings, we got the confirmation: we have tickets for Handball and Beach Volleyball. No Athletics, which is a shame, but with two events out of the six we applied for, we really can’t complain! Especially as the probability of being disappointed was really high, with around 6.6 million tickets available and 20 million tickets applied for!

And finally a few weeks ago, we receive our tickets. Everything’s been such a whirlwind since last Summer that we had pretty much forgotten we were going, and it’s a miracle we haven’t accepted a wedding/dog birthday/bbq/fruit-picking/other invite on those dates! It’s now just a week before our first event, Beach Volleyball. Hmmmm, fit guys in shorts exerting themselves in the sand… Sounds good to me! Well, apart from the other game in that session, with fit ladies wearing the tiniest square-centimeterage of fabric, jumping up and down for Darling Chéri’s enjoyment… Oh, how I hate compromise! And then we’ll have the Men’s Handball quarter finals, I’m hoping to be lucky enough to see the French team (but then, they are the current champions so it’s likely they’ll fold under the pressure and go out at the group stages in the true French style).

Strangely I have to admit that despite all the themed adverts, media reports, torch relay broadcast, Boris messages on the Tube etc, my excitement for the event isn’t quite what I was hoping it’d be at this stage, although I’m pretty sure it will all get into gear tonight with the Opening Ceremony (and a few beers). And on the plus side it means I have resisted buying any of the countless Olympics-branded key rings, mascot plush toys, t-shirts, caps, towels, drawstring bags, wallets, Monopoly games, commemorative coins, jigsaw puzzles, toy London cabs and routemasters, cufflinks, snow globes and the inevitable rubber ducks that have invaded shops recently (actually, the list goes on but I think you get the gist – someone got a bit carried away with the branding plan!).

Oh! Who am I kidding? I am so getting that little rowing duck with its cool shades! And it will sit nicely next to my Wills & Kate biscuit tin and Silver Jubilee mug! (and yes, I still work in Marketing so I should know better.)

How about you? Are you excited / not bothered / annoyed about the Olympics?

An Eggstraordinary Week-End

Over two weeks have already passed since Easter. Time flies when you’re busy eating chocolate! After looking forward to a long Easter week-end (extra-long actually, as I had also booked Maundy Thursday off), I can’t believe how quickly it’s gone. I picked up my mother from the airport on Thursday, and from then it was rather full-on. The programme was flexible due to the weather but we still managed to fit in a fair amount, including going to the beach, watching the Boat Race, going to museums and visiting the London Wetland Centre.

One of the highlights was definitely going to Covent Garden to see the Grand Eggstravaganza, the last opportunity the 210 unique eggs created for the Big Egg Hunt before they got auctioned. I’ve mentioned the Big Egg Hunt before. Despite living only 30 minutes outside of London I’d managed to completely miss out on the month-long event. So I was glad when my mother agreed it could be a fun opportunity for photos.

Detail of "Around the World Before Bedtime" by Miss Dee

Despite the weather, we headed to Covent Garden. All the eggs were displayed around and in the market. There was a really great variety of designs and we both took dozens of pics! Our favourite egg was the very poetic “Around The World Before Bedtime” by Miss Dee although there were a handful of others that could have taken that top spot. “Where’s Wally/Waldo/Charlie” (depending on where you’re from) was extremely popular with children and one of the most photographed. At the auction which took place on Monday evening, Humpty Dumpty was sold for £51,000! Granted, it is signed by TRH The Prince of Wales and The Duchess of Cornwall!

The ever popular "Where's Wally?" by Martin Handford

Detail of "For the Widows in Paradise, for the Fatherless in Ypsilanti" by Emma E. Kemp

"Egg Letter Box" by Benjamin Shine

"Remarkable Connections" by The East India Company with Sam Joyce

The Return Of The Easter Bunny

I’ve always found Easter to be one of loveliest moments in the year – daffodils and cherry blossoms are in full bloom, the birds are singing, mostly we’re not wrapped in layers of thermals and earmuffs any longer… you get the picture, it’s Spring! As a child, I remember the egg hunts our mother used to organise in the garden for my brother and I. She also used to decorate the house with little chicks and painted eggs we would have made at school or with her. Fond memories… Of course, and as often with these celebrations, moving to England has been like entering a new dimension, as the Brits’ OTT attitude to festivals shines again:

First of all, it’s a 4-day week-end. In France, we work on Good Friday so the Easter week-end is not bigger than any other bank holiday week-end.

Secondly, a bit like Christmas starts in September here, Easter starts in January. If you think this is an exaggeration, this is a picture I took in our local Sainsbury’s on January 3rd! It definitely made me question whether I had fully recovered from our New Year’s Eve party!

Thirdly, because it’s a four-day week-end, it comes with a host of activities to cram into your free time, as well as a month-long build up for those of a rather impatient nature. Highlights for 2012 include:

The Big Egg Hunt: Over 200 unique two-and-a-half-foot decorated eggs created by leading artists are hidden in central London for the general public to find. It started mid-February and will be closing this week-end, with all the eggs first displayed in Covent Garden (The Grand Eggstravaganza), then auctioned off on Monday at 6pm. Aside from trying to raise about £2 million for charities Elephant Family and Action for Children, the hunt was also an attempt to break the Guinness World Record for the most participants in an Easter Egg Hunt. Having missed out on the actual hunt altogether, I am quite tempted to pop in Covent Garden!

The Boat Race: No need to specify which one, it seems there’s only one and this year it takes place on Easter Saturday at 2.15pm, starting at Putney Bridge as has been the case almost every year since 1845. Oxford lead in terms of win and Ladbrokes has them as favourites again this year. They also have “Either crew to sink” at 16/1 although I wouldn’t bank on that as the last boat to sink was Cambridge in 1978. Anyway, I’ve been before and it’s a fun day out. For one, seeing all these (mostly) guys, pint of beer in one hand, team scarf in the other, getting excited watching 18 guys from the two most prestigious British universities paddling away like there is no tomorrow is one of those quintessentially British spectacles you can’t miss (well, it only lasts about 20 minutes so you might miss it if you’re not on time). Might go again this year if the weather is nice as my mother is visiting us for the week-end.

– Your usual key London attractions will also focus on Easter, with the London Eye organising Easter-themed family-friendly craft workshops over the week-end, and Kew Gardens sending you off on a Maya Chocolate Adventure as well as their annual kids’ egg hunt.

– I’ve also found traces of other egg hunts (Sutton House, Ham House, Battersea Park Zoo…), a bizarre Hot Cross Bun Ceremony at the Widow’s Son pub in Bromley-by-Bow in east London, Church services (I wonder how many people know that these days) and the little-known London Harness Horse Parade near Crawley.

Right, now I’m off to buy Easter eggs for Darling-Chéri, my mother and myself. After 6 weeks without the stuff, I might just make myself sick on Saturday – hot chocolate and Nutella for breakfast, ham & chocolate sandwich at lunchtime, a chocolate brownie in the afternoon, steak-frites with chocolate sauce (who needs ketchup?) and a chocolate fondant for dinner. Hmmm, sounds good!