I’m a great fan of Top Gear, but its India Special in 2011 was embarrassing to sit through. Happily, this year, it seems Andy Wilman and his team have redeemed themselves.
‘The centre of the world’ is a media hyperbole used too frequently to describe something that people from around the world are perceived to be focussed on. But last night’s breathtaking Olympic Opening Ceremony really was just that: a spectacle beheld by an estimated 4.8 billion people (meaning more individual eyes watched than the sum of all populations of all nations). And, taking place just over four miles virtually due north of the Royal Observatory, Greenwich (Greenwich Park the Equestrian and Pentathlon venue for the Games), there’s no denying that, last night, E20 2ST really was the centre of the world.
Making hay of the good weather, the four of us (my brother Matthew is currently away in France with the Taize community) thought we’d take an afternoon’s bike ride to Windsor. We decided to follow The Green Way, a waterside corridor that goes from Cookham, through central Maidenhead, and out to Bray. We joined on York Road (near the Maidenhead Library); followed it past Stafferton Way, the sewage works, and the Nature Centre to get to where it crosses at Hibbert Road; then continued on until where it finishes. We then found our way to Summerleaze Footbridge (the bridge, of course, was built to take away extracted gravel from Dorney Lake‘s construction on a conveyor belt), where we caught our first sight of the lake (known as Eton Dorney for the duration of Olympics) through a clearing in the trees.
But that glimpse of blue, sparkling water was to be one of actually very few views of the rowing centre. Such is the security operation of the Olympic venue that when Mum harmlessly took out her camera, she was challenged by a soldier patrolling the perimeter fencing. (Fellow Maidenhead blogger Paul Baker, however, took a number of interesting photographs from inside the venue just a week before it closed to the public.) Mum and I at least thought this was a little extreme, given the lack of visibility to the venue anyway.
Further along the edge of the venue, though, we met a G4S worker and we began talking through gaps in the fence out of sympathy for his inevitable loneliness and boredom. On breaching the subject of the personnel scandal, he replied: "It’s the military boys I feel sorriest for," he said, "they had their leave cancelled at the last minute; roped in to help out my boss’s bosses. You know, loads of them have just got back from Afghanistan – two weeks ago, some of them – and they’ve had to miss holidays with girlfriends to spend it here, in long, boring days. They get paid less than us too. It’s not fair on them." This put our complaints over the restrictions on photography into perspective.
One of the things that most interested me was the presence of two 93-metre high towers at either end of the course. The cables that linked them instantly gave away their purpose: they’ll provide a high vantage point for the television cameras, with the wires being used to suspend a Flycam from, thereby providing global audiences with aerial tracking shots of each race.
As we continued cycling, we spotted rather attractive multi-coloured bunting embellished with Olympic icons adorning the side of Court Lane. Then, as we pedalled down Boveney Road in Eton, flags of every nation participating in the Olympics could be seen in the distance.