The Best Thing About 2012: A Day with a 12 Year Old

Crowds. Advertisements. Commercialization. Idiots. Cattle. Over protection. Paranoia. Bullshit. This is what I see when I walk through the crowds of people overtaking England’s beloved parks to feel a part of the Olympics by watching big TV screens with strangers.

But I am crabby. I am tainted. I am judgmental. I am an adult.

The best thing I’ve done during London 2012 was go to Hyde Park with a 12 year old. She lives several hours from London and doesn’t get to the city often. When we picked her up, she had one of those purses with long straps that you can wear under your clothes. You know, the kind white tourists take into cities to trick pickpockets. So cute.

Fighting the crowds outside the Tower Hill Tube station, she said (while holding my hand so she didn’t get lost, her directive, not mine) “Are we taking the Tube?”

“Yep.”

“Yes!” Fist pump.

Despite empty seats, she wanted to stand, lean against the pole, feel the movement of the train. On the Tube, you need your ticket to enter and exit. When she realized this, she frequently asked when to get her ticket ready. And as my partner and I discussed which lines to take, where we’d separate and where we’d meet again, she was utterly amazed. I remember that feeling. The how-do-they-know-all-that-stuff feeling that becomes the, one-more-fucking-thing-to-remember feeling.

Dumping $9 billion into an Olympics gets you several awesome open space setups one of which is in Hyde Park by the Marble Arch. Covered in woodchips to keep the grounds from turning into another Glastonbury, the free public venue within Hyde Park has at least four massive TV screens, dozens of food venues, bars, two concert stages and games for the kiddos. Each screen has different events and athletes and singers cameo between events. Very cool. If you’re into that sort of thing. Generally I am not.

When we got off the Tube, I thought, “Jesus Christ, look at all the people.” She said, “Oh my God! Look at all the people! This is so cool!”

On the way to the park, I beelined it through the crowd, ducking in and out of the dawdling families, focused on the goal until I looked at her doing what I used to do — what I do when I’m not so high strung — watching the fascinating ebb and flow of society. I slowed down.

When we got to the entrance, I almost turned around. More than 20 entry gates surrounded by security guards, metal detectors and signs warning us to leave guns, tasers and food at home. Airport security.

Preparing for our 45-minute wait, I thought, “What kind of idiots wait in line for something like this?”

Parents. People who want to give their kids an experience, something to remember. Selfless individuals who give up rare days off to battle crowds and stave off headaches. People who read their first-born child The Pokey Little F”(*ing Puppy” one million times hoping that if she wants to become a writer, she will become a writer.

This is a calm kid but when we walked in and she saw all the screens, the vendors, the games, the stages, she was ecstatic. I must admit. It was kind of cool. It was like being at a G-rated concert.

She sat in that venue for more than six hours watching diving, weight lifting, gymnastics, cycling, wrestling and track and field. Even if she didn’t understand the event, she watched it because sitting on woodchips watching meant being part of something. And when that Jamaican flew across the 100-meter finish line, she was on her toes with the rest of the crowd, cheering, screaming, smiling.

We left after the 100-meter race. It was about 10:30 p.m. When I stopped for coffee, I was thinking of the 30-minute Tube ride and more than two-hour drive home. She was thinking about hot chocolate, the only thing she asked for all day.

On the Tube (sitting this time), drinking our hot chocolate and coffee, I felt  jealous like a child at a birthday party. Jealous of the way she sees things, frustrated in the way I let moods or worries or anxiety shadow life.

With all the events, all the medals being won, all the activity, the absolute best thing I’ve done this Olympics was see it through a child’s eyes. When it’s all said and done, that’s what I’ll remember most.

4 Comments

Filed under American ex-pat, American in England, British Olympics, England, Europe, Free Olympic event, International Travel, London 2012, Travel Writing, Uncategorized, Watching the Olympics in Hyde Park

Inspiration from a Penis and Periscope



What are these things? I think a periscope or a penis depending on aquatic adventures and religious affiliation. The Olympic Committee tells us they’re Wenlock and Mandeville, the Olympic mascots of 2012.

According to the London 2012 website, these things were among three final ideas tested on the British public. Apparently, the public wanted a character and a story. The British people? Or the toy industry, which also had a say in the penis periscopes? Here at TakeaPiss, we think toy industry.

Wenlock is the Olympics mascot, Mandeville the Paralympics mascot. Wenlock was inspired by a small town in Shropshire called Much Wenlock. (You can’t see it, but my fingers are down my throat). Much like the Paralympics, which are — if anything — more impressive than the Olympics, Mandeville gets thrown under the bus. Is there a “Meet Mandeville” subhead on the London 2012 site? Nope, only Wenlock. Where is Mandeville from? What is his history? What about Mandeville is inspiring?

Anyway, these stupid things are all over London. The parks, the shopping areas, museums, everywhere. I feel that by photographing them, I’m endorsing their stupidity however, they’re part of London 2012 and London 2012 is what I promised. Here’s a smattering of Wenlock and Mandeville’s life together.

The doctor.

Coolest ones are always near art schools/museums.

Walking the dog. Right.

I miss Bert the jaundiced football and Ernie the oblong uni-brow.

Leave a comment

Filed under American in England, British Olympics, England, Europe, London 2012, Much Wenlock, Olympics photos, Travel Writing, Uncategorized, Wenlock and Mandeville

Where Are All the Bums?

In pubs, restaurants, shopping malls, gyms; on the Tube, the Eye, the DLR; at a show; flying to Spain, Turkey, Africa, Australia. Anywhere but the cold, hard, exposed seats of outdoor Olympic venues.  Look at this sky. Would you want to be anywhere but indoors?

I took the above photo Sunday after being denied entry to the O2, the venue for Olympic gymnastics. A minute later, it chucked it down (see British phrases), thousands of uncovered families in hats and trainers (see British phrases) sans umbrellas crowding into nearby restaurants.

A few days ago, the Guardian posted an article about military filing empty seats at uncovered venues such as beach volleyball. I have to ask — why, oh wondrous Olympic Committee, would you build uncovered venues in London? Have you been to London? Obviously for some sports — canoeing, rowing, etc. —  a roof is impossible but we expect water sports to be well…wet.

Aside from the British weather, which is increasingly brutal, bums are not in seats for the following reasons:

  • Spectators are allowed to move around during events. If you’re feeling peckish (see British phrases) or you’ve got a whiny kid, you can get up, leave and come back. If certain competitions (USA vs. Senegal in basketball, for example) guarantee a blowout or a snooze, you might prefer a walk to death-by-boredom.
  • Some people, including many Brits, find the “Olympic energy” hell on earth. I for one cannot stand being in London right now. Brings out the crabby hermit in me.
  • Guess what? Some events just aren’t that interesting. Sorry about it, but some people don’t want to watch rich kids poke each other with swords or coax horses over poles. (Personally, I think fencing is immense.)

Despite these rather obvious reasons for a small audience, the great British tradition of forming a commission to get to the bottom of the issue at hand, prevails. Yes, a commission has been created to determine why people don’t want to sit in torrential rainstorms watching sports they don’t care about.

Do you know what’s frustrating? Despite denied entry to men’s gymnastics, there were open seats.  Sadly, many open seats are due to selfish sponsors who buy in bulk and show up when they feel like it, which is never.

Oh well. That’s life. As is the eminent failure of cloud seeding as shown by this photo taken beneath the city Gondola. Cheers.

Leave a comment

Filed under American ex-pat, American in England, British Olympics, British phrases, Cloud seeding the olympics, Empty Olympic seats, Empty Olympic venues, England, International Travel, London 2012, Military filling Olympic seats, Olympic screw ups, Travel Writing, Uncategorized

L2012 D1: Empty Seats, Cameroonians and the Chocolate Lesbian

Cardiff, Wales

The Olympics, a Hare Krishna celebration or a quick swim in the River Taff with some Russians? This was my Saturday morning dilemma. A lesser person would have chosen one event and called it good but this sleep-deprived lunatic did all three.

Crushing the Krishna

What better start to the day than watching Hare Krishna followers pull a massive wagon down the main streets of Cardiff using two tug-of-war ropes?

Hare Krishna Celebration, Cardiff Wales

It took a good hour to get the wagon into the park, tree branches threatening to rip the top off as they tugged down a path. Most of the men wore peach robes (some with matching peach Crocs) and sported some version of baldness (all clean or bald with a fist-sized circular patch/rattail in the back). One such man approached while I was watching, a pile of Hare Krishna material in hand. He was nice, not over the top.

The Krish: “What do you do for a living?”

Me: “I’m a writer.”

“Oh, so you must be pretty smart.”

“Not really.”

Confused, not picking up on the sarcasm, he shuffled his materials moving the informative, philosophical texts to the back, handing me a vegetarian cookbook called “The Higher Taste.”

“Do you like to cook?”

“Sure.”

Deemed too stupid for regular texts, my £2 donation to the Krishna cause yielded a copy of “The Higher Taste: A Guide to Gourmet Vegetarian Cooking and a Karma-Free Diet.”

I asked a woman unaware of my low IQ about the Krishna following. Vegetarianism, karma, reincarnation. Makes sense but after reading the Bible and inflicting some serious bad karma, I’m nowhere near ready to go beyond the cookbook.

The Chocolate Lesbian and the Cameroonians

I’m not going to lie. I had NO interest in watching women’s football. None. But when they’re only charging £20 for a double header and you’re a 10-minute walk from the stadium, you walk your lazy ass to the ticket booth, ditch the first game for a religious festival and sit through the second.

Millennium Stadium has nearly 75,000 seats. The Olympic mouthpieces claim the game had about 40,000 attendees. This is part of the stadium. It looked like that on the other side and my side as well.

By my count, there were more people at the Krishna do. Although I suppose it’s cool to be in an Olympic stadium, nothing kills your spirit like empty seats. But I guess it didn’t really matter since I missed half the game. I walked in late. Tired from a week and a half of this, that and the other, stupid from the intellectual blow offered by the Krish, I mistook halftime for the END OF THE GAME. What a retard. It’s a shame too because I was actually watching it. Usually during live sporting events, I pay far more attention to the crowd than the athletes.

Feeling gypped, my spirits moderately lifted when, despite the vanilla family atmosphere, the woman behind offered me chocolate and then a drink. After this interruption, I doubt I could have focused on the rest of the game. She rejuvenated my senses. Instead of watching men dump dirt chunks into pitch holes, I contemplated the biological discord of the man in front of me. Aside from his ear hole, his ear lacked all caverns, which led me to wonder, why do our ears look like a vast labyrinth of handicapped ramps? Something to do with sound one presumes.

Wonderfully, right before I accidentally abandoned the ladies, a fan wrapped in a Cameroonian flag started brushing his teeth. Scrubbed those puppies like the metal depended on it. Never spit, one assumes a swallow.

The athletes were impressive but the most invigorating thing about the Olympics or any public, national event for that matter, is the rejuvenation of one’s faith that humanity is not, in fact, a homogenous flat screen.

The Russians

A woman and three Russian children on a raft in the River Taff. American stands in water to cool feet after accidentally ditching a football game. Children wave. Mother smiles. Splashing. Gesturing. Faces and motions.

A refreshingly simple tale after an over stimulating day.

Leave a comment

Filed under American ex-pat, American in England, British Olympics, Empty Olympic seats, England, Europe, International Travel, London 2012, Millennium Stadium, River Taff, Team GB, ThumpMe, Travel Writing, Uncategorized, Wales

America Didn’t Invent the Internet? What?

I’m still recovering from this earth shattering news, which came to me last night via the opening ceremonies. I thought America invented everything and then paid China and India to make it. I thought wrong.

It’s interesting how we perceive our own countries. Even those of us who travel and should know better perpetuate stereotypes. Americans are known for being arrogant about their country, of which I was reminded after my little Internet gaff. I don’t think it’s arrogance. I think it’s patriotism we suffer from.

In the past, my patriotism was fleeting. Before leaving the states, I had exactly one patriotic moment. It was the afternoon of 911 and I vowed to join the Army. While I’ll never go that far, the longer I’m away from my country, the more patriotic I become. Absence makes the heart grow fonder and all that sentimental hogwash.

Despite all efforts to remain insensitive, I felt a tremendous swell of pride when team USA and team GB were announced. I’m sure people from Timor, Tuvalu and Nauru felt the same even though most of us couldn’t find them on a map. While I’m definitely American, I’m becoming an international patriot.

While watching the opening ceremonies from a pub in Cardiff, Wales, I rolled my eyes at this annoying girl who hooted for the countries she’d seen as if visiting Australia made her 10 percent Australian. Then team Argentina was announced and I did a few fist pumps. By way of explanation, my partner turned to a friend and said, “She thinks she’s Argentine.”

I don’t think I’m Argentine. I wish I were Argentine. And British. And Italian. While I may be an arrogant American, I’m also a proud Argentine, Brit and Italian. I guess in some sappy way, the opening ceremonies made me realize the affinity I have for several cultures that have really positively impacted my life. I am a lucky girl.

And on that pathetically Pollyannaish note, let me say one last vomit-inducing thing. I’m catching the Olympics spirit. Sort of. Tonight I’m going to my first Olympic event. Team GB vs. Cameroon in football. I may even wear red, white and blue. Na.

2 Comments

Filed under American ex-pat, American in England, British Olympics, England, Europe, International Travel, London 2012, Olympic football, Olympic opening ceremonies, Travel Writing, Uncategorized

Lady of the Night: London 2012 in Pictures

I’ve become a lady of the night by necessity, not choice. Up at 9 or 10. Dinking around until about 12 p.m. to 1 p.m. Writing. Running around 9 p.m. Working until about 2 or 3 a.m. It’s all part of the non-job.

Before the British government sent up the cloud seeds, I spent a night on the Thames photographing iconic buildings. I was lured down a rickety ladder onto the bank, which was uncovered due to the tide. Slipping on rocks, feet covered in toxic green slime, I got some decent stuff (thank you Hipstamatic). The following day’s photographs show that cloud seeding is, in fact, in effect.

 

St. Paul’s from Millennium Bridge.

 

London Bridge from Thames muck.

 

Ditto.

 

St. Paul’s from some steps.

 

Westminster the afternoon after. Across the river are several sets of raised bunkers holding tons of video cameras aimed at the abby. First time I’ve noticed them.

 

Cloud seeding makes an impact.

 

View from the Eye.

 

View from the Eye.

 

Cloud seeding. Amazing isn’t it?

2 Comments

Filed under American ex-pat, American in England, British Olympics, Cloud seeding the olympics, England, Europe, International Travel, London 2012, Olympics photos, Travel Writing, Uncategorized

The Missing Slags, Poofs and Sods of London 2012

It’s funny how paranoid governments and corporations are about sharing something useful. Like the fact that cloud seeding is responsible for the now impeccable London weather or that Ronald McDonald will retire after the Olympics. Instead, they tell us everything we do not give a toss about.

The official reporter’s notebook for London 2012, which is sponsored by McDonald’s and filled with paper as thick as card stock (impractical, expensive and strange), is filled with 12 useless pages about McDonald’s, the Olympics and London.

We learn that Marina Malykh “joined McDonald’s in 2000 and in 2004, she helped open the first McDonald’s in Sochi” and that, on Aug. 7, 2012, the McDonald’s chef demonstration will “focus on quality ingredients that help fuel the athletes.”

The only moderately useful part of the 12-count insert is a half-page given to British phrases. But they even mucked that up. According to McDonald’s these are the terms tourists need to survive Britain:

I saw sarnie used for the first time on sign on the South Bank yesterday — I’ve been here for more than a year; no one under 70 says cheerio; I’ve never asked for a gherkin; I’ve never heard a Brit refer to a copper as a bobby; and no one’s ever told me to go to the zebra crossing. If you’re coming to London 2012 and you’re going to spend some time outside the McDonald’s headquarters, you’ll need to know these words and phrases:

Shag — knockin’ boots

Fuck off — leave me alone

Bullocks — bullshit

Slag — an indiscriminate shag

Wanker, knob, tosser — jerk, asshole, dickhead

Got the ump — in a mood so fuck off

Have a go, row — fight

Tart — precursor to slag

Nutter — lunatic

Sod — moron

Sod it — screw it

Squaddies — military

Poppy — bum air

Snogging — sucking face

Scouser — someone from Liverpool

Poof — inclined toward same-sex interludes

Although not as proper as the phrases approved by the corporate chain of command, these are much more practical. But, I suppose if you’re the type to strike up a chat with a bobby, it won’t matter anyway. Sod it. Good luck finding your way on the Tube.

2 Comments

Filed under American ex-pat, American in England, British Olympics, British traditions, Cloud seeding, Cloud seeding the olympics, Europe, International Travel, London 2012, McDonald's and the Olympics, Travel Writing, Uncategorized