Thursday, September 13, 2012

All hail the Paralympics! And Wicked!

Hello again! I trust you've all finished reading my holiday blog posts and are ready for some new ones? I continue to be slack after holidays - must be something about trying to write every little detail of a week and still actually holiday-make at the same time. Now I will attempt to write the details of two weeks into this post. Wish me luck.

Rundown of the post: Paralympic Opening Ceremony, Paralympic Swimming, Wickedness, Paralympic Athletics.

There looks to be a theme going on here.

The Paralympics opened on a clear Wednesday night in London, under a buttery gibbous moon. I hadn't realised that it clashed with my writing meeting on Wednesdays, but that only meant I was still in town at 8.30 for the start of the ceremony. I went down to Trafalgar Square with another writer, to sit in the crowd and watch the big screens. The square was filled with people sitting on the concrete, on the steps, and standing to the sides (you got shouted at if you stood in the middle and blocked the view from the stairs).

They started the count-down. Everyone yelled and cheered along with the screen. And then the Paralympics had officially started!

There was Ian McKellen reading from The Tempest, and many people, abled and disabled, who descended from the sky on wires and flew around the stadium. There were eyelash things that were like bendy poles with people tied on top and bouncing around, and dancing with umbrellas, and drums. Lots and lots of drums.

After the first part of the show, the athletes began to come out. I wished for the second time that New Zealand had officially changed its name to Aotearoa. It was getting late. I decided to stay until New Zealand appeared and then go and watch the rest at home, much closer to bed than Trafalgar Square and much warmer too.

I joined the Kiwi cheering, then ran for the Trafalgar Square Underground entrance (it was open! This is the first time I have seen it open! It's always been under refurbishment). I got home just as the speeches were finishing, and was able to watch the rest on the sofa with a blanket with my flatmates. Good thing, too, because it didn't finished until half past midnight.

I had tickets on Sunday night to the swimming finals, right in the Olympic Park. This was the first time I'd been to the Park, and I coasted along with the crowd from the tube station, past the giant mall and around to one of the main entrances. One of the games-makers was sitting on a high chair with a megaphone at the corner of the roadway, and made the observation that, if it were dark, it would be like the zombie apocalypse, with so many people shuffling towards him. Through the security (I forgot about that, and had worn lots of jewellery I had to take off) and into the Park.

I'd planned to do a quick walk around before my session, but a look at the signs told me that wasn't going to be possible. It was half an hour's walk to the other end of the park. That's how big it is. Instead I did a quick running-tour of the area between the stadium and the aquatic centre and joined the queue to get in.

My seat was up in one of the wings of the pool, so that I couldn't actually see the seats on the other side because the roof of the pool was in the way. It's a pretty good design, really - the two wings are temporary and will come down when there isn't a demand for a swimming pool with thousands upon thousands of spectator seats. I had a good view of the pool and the entrance for the athletes, though, which was great. It's very strange to see something so many times on a television screen and then to actually be there in person.

The evening was entirely finals, which was very exciting. The first four races all broke world records. I think the total for the night was eight world records and ten Paralympic records. The crowd was amazing, cheering and cheering and going crazy whenever a GB athlete appeared. For future reference, I think the best crowds are to be found in events with a finish line, because you can see in real time exactly what's happening. By the end of the night I was hoarse, but had seen a gold medal from Cameron Leslie and a silver from Mary Fisher. Awesome.

On Monday the One Who Speaks Russian arrived, tired but cheerful after a forty hour journey from New Zealand. I stocked her with supplies of chips and we started the two hour journey across London to my house (London is big).

On Tuesday we went to Wicked, which was absolutely incredible. It is a thought-provoking musical, with themes of prejudice and preconceptions and talking animals. I love the way it interweaves the story of The Wizard of Oz, so that you make connections every so often about characters' fates. The sets included giant cogged screens and a huge time dragon looming over the stage, the costumes reminded us of The Hunger Games (though of course Wicked came first) and the music and lyrics were great - especially the song entitled ’Loathing, Unadulterated Loathing'. I liked the ending too, more than I had in the book.

Thursday was our Paralympics day. We took supplies of chocolate cake, raspberries, popcorn and dinosaur jellies and sat in the stadium, another case of I-am-sitting-in-the-television-ness. The sun was blazing hot (The One Who Speaks Russian got amazing weather while she was here) and the crowds were huge. The most impressive event of the day was the T11 triple jump final for blind athletes. Imagine running at full tilt, then hop-skip-jumping as far as you can without being able to see. The crowd of eighty thousand had to be silent while the athletes completed their jumps, because they ran towards the sound of their coach clapping at the jumping line or the sandpit. The eventual silver-medallist had a show with velcro track pants, whipping them away like a matador as the crowd shouted OLÄ–!

A few jumps went awry (an official by the track had to topple backwards twice to get out of the way) but mostly they were pretty spot on. There was also wheelchair racing, restricted sight racing, discus and shotput finals, and general running races. It was a great morning.

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