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Letters from London - Mitchell Garner’s Blog from London #2
“The people of England are the most enthusiastic in the world.” - Benjamin Disraeli
Benjamin Disraeli is a prominent figure in English history. He must have had a vision about the 2012 Olympics when he commented on the enthusiasm of the English.
I arrived at London Heathrow Airport at approximately 6:30 A.M. this morning. The Olympic buzz was everywhere. The London Olympic volunteers’ color is hot pink. Whenever you need help, you look for someone who is wearing a hot pink polo with the London 2012 logo.
Being a thrifty traveler, I immediately scoped out the most economical way to get from the airport to my lodging at the New Cavendish Inn in London’s Hyde Park area. My choices came down to two trains, the London Heathrow Express and the London Heathrow Connect. The latter was 10 pounds cheaper (about $16) and only 15 minutes slower than the former. It was a no-brainer. I chose the Connect, which made about five stops between the airport and Paddington Station and gave me my first glimpse of real Londoners on their daily commute. For the most part, they were young people not unlike their American counterparts, attached umbilically to their iphones.
At Paddington Station, I decided to splurge and take a taxi instead of transferring to the Underground. It was only a short ride and saved me the trouble of walking up and down the subway stairs with luggage. As everyone (well, almost everyone) knows, people in the United Kingdon drive on the left side of the road. Even though I had been to England before and was prepared for that, it was still a shock. As my cabbie began driving me to the New Cavendish Club, my home away from home in London for the next 17 days, I kept thinking that all the drivers must be drunk (or “rat-arsed” as they say in England!) because they are driving on the wrong side of the road.
The New Cavendish Club is a modest, four story building about two blocks north of the Marble Arch at the northeast corner of Hyde Park, London’s version of Central Park. The club has an interesting history. During the Great War, it served as a residence for nurses who were helping in England’s military effort against the Germans. Later it became a private club.
My room here at the New Cavendish Club is very modest. It consists of a single bed with a small desk and a tiny flat screen television My actual living space measures about 10 feet long by 8 feet wide, with a private bath en suite. Flies and mosquitoes are apparently not problematic in London, as none of the windows in London has a screen, and mine is no exception. The view is “nothing to write home about,” as they say. My room overlooks a terrace and toward the backs of some nondescript apartment buildings. Still, for my purposes, my accommodations are fine. I did not come to London to stay in a presidential suite.
After unpacking my suitcase, I took a short power nap. London is five hours ahead of the Eastern time zone. My biological clock was telling me that it was still very early in the morning and that I needed some rest.
Once rested, I left the New Cavendish Club to explore my surroundings. The club is very close to Oxford Street, one of London’s major thoroughfares. Oxford Street is London’s version of Fifth Avenue in New York or Michigan Avenue in Chicago. It is lined with a variety of stores and restaurants frequented by the general public. Many of the stores had special Olympic displays. Over the front of the adidas store hung a huge banner stretching at least four stories vertically.
In the early afternoon, I met up with my Olympic traveling companion, Gary Morgan, who arrived in London separately. Gary was a member of the 1988 United States Olympic track and field team and competed at the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul, Korea as a racewalker. He is known by the name “Mr. Ubiquitous” because of his world travels (more about that in a later blog). We took a walk to nearby Hyde Park, which is London’s answer to Central Park in New York or Grant Park in Chicago. Throngs of young people were there to see the Olympic torch, which was scheduled to pass through the park around 5:00 P.M. Oxford Street was mobbed by people yearning to get a glimpse of the torch, which is the universal symbol of the Olympics. We arrived just in time to see the torch being carried by a young woman who was surrounded by a bubble of police and security personnel that allowed here to walk through the throng.
After the torch passing, we attended a special event entitled “Together against Doping” hosted jointly by the United Nations Eductional, Scientific and Cultural Organization (“UNESCO”) and the World Anti-Doping Agency (“WADA”), at the University of London. The event featured the screening of a documentary film entitled War on Doping. The film chronicled the infiltration of performance-enhancing drugs into Olympic competition and sports in general. The pressures of competition have given rise to a problem in the least likely segment of our population, elite athletes whom one would presume to be dedicated to health in mind and body. UNESCO’s partnership in the anti-doping campaign is to educate have the countries around the world educate their young people about the dangers of using performance-enhancing drugs.
Following the film screening, we passed through a special exhibit entitled “Art and the Olympians.” The exhibit features the art of Olympic athletes around the world, including many Americans. American Olympic gold medalist Bob Beamon (of long jump renown at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics) was there to display some of his art. When I met him, I told him that I had purchased two of his individually designed ties on ebay and had brought them with me to London to wear for special events. He was very impressed that someone knew of his prowess as a tie designer!
Tomorrow London’s enthusiasm will reach its peak with the Opening Ceremony. I am enthusiastic about partaking in the Olympic experience.
Keep climbing that mountain and have faith.
Mitch “Iron Bulldog” Garner