June 2012

Living a dream - but not a good one

I am sitting at a desk in a hall taking a three hour exam, with over an hour to go. I glance up at the clock and realise to my horror that I have misjudged the time and there are only 10 minutes left. Then I wake up in a cold sweat.

I always had intense anxiety dreams like that before exams, and I still have similar ones occasionally before important events in my life. Sometimes it involves being late, or saying the wrong thing, or wearing inappropriate (or no) clothes.

Last week I lived through a real-life version of one of those nightmares.

We flew out from Gatwick on Friday evening to stay with my son and his wife in Northern Ireland, to attend the funeral of her father. I was keen not to disrupt their time together nor to intrude on the arrangements that my son was making for the funeral, which was planned for 12noon on Saturday. We were due to arrive in Belfast International at 10.30pm - this is an hour's drive from their home.

The plane backed off the stand at Gatwick, then stopped. There was a technical fault, it seems. The onboard computer was showing that the plane was in the air while it was still on the ground. It needed to be reset. (It must have been running on Windows).

The plane was towed to a remote corner of the airport, the engineers arrived, kicked the system and tried to replicate the fault, but couldn't. Finally they just started up again and apparently everything was OK. (I had a computer like that once).

Eventually we took off two hours late and we arrived at 12.30am.

But our luggage didn't.

The phrase is 'dawning realisation' - that's what we experienced when we found we were the only people left in the baggage reclaim hall and the carousel had stopped.

As my husband wanted to take a suit we had decided to check in one case, and to put everything in it - clothes for the funeral and remaining days of our stay, shoes, toiletries and phone chargers. All was now missing.

It took nearly an hour for staff to arrive, then check that the case hadn't fallen off a trolley and to do the paperwork, so we finally got to bed at 2.30am. It would have been ironic if I had experienced another anxiety dream that night (no clothes at a funeral) but I didn't get much sleep at all.

So the next day we had a problem. We only had the clothes we had arrived in - trainers and combats - and we had just one hour to buy enough for at least two days, including shoes. No M&S, no Primark, so we headed for a major fashion outlet - Asda. I've not exactly got a standard figure so I wasn't holding out much hope of finding a suitable dress, but I did. Ian found a jacket, trousers, shirts and a tie. We both bought underwear and shoes, plus tops and trousers, and some basic toiletries.

Then back to change and on to a packed service of farewell to our friend Prof. Robert McBride, held in a beautiful location overlooking the sea. It did put our little problem into some sort of perspective.

Diary of a Games volunteer - a very early start

Would I like to enter the ballot for a free ticket for the final technical rehearsal for the Olympic Opening Ceremony? You bet - and last week I learnt that I had won! This is one of the perks of being a Games Maker (aka volunteer).

I nearly missed that opportunity because a few weeks ago I came quite close to dropping out.

I received a bit of a shock when I read my shift times at ExCel during the Paralympics. During training we had been warned that some shifts might begin very early, with examples given of 7am starts. So I was resigned to having to leave home at 5.30am and could see the advantage of travelling before the rush hour.

But I was not expecting to be given five shifts that actually start at 5.15am.

I dutifully checked on TfL which confirmed that I would not be able to get to ExCel from home at that hour of the day. Well, to be exact, the only way to travel would be to take three night buses leaving home at 2am, which I did not consider an option!

Now many of the 70,000 Games Makers live outside London and have had to arrange to stay with friends in order to take part. Others have booked into the temporary camp sites that have sprung up across London.  LOCOG do not pay for accommodation, and this has been well-known from the start.

In my case, since I live in Greater London with good transport links into the centre, I had assumed that I would be able to commute from home, so I was left with a dilemma. They clearly needed some of us to start that early (and it may be my fault for offering to be a team leader) so I knew it would be unlikely that my shifts could be changed. I do not have any friends who live near to Docklands where I could sofa-surf. There are hotels nearby but the rates had been racked up for the Games.

It seemed I either had to pay out for accommodation or withdraw. It only took a few minutes for me to decide to book into a hotel for five nights, reckoning that I could afford it and that might make it easier for the managers to alter the shifts for someone who could not afford to do so.

There are several hotels right by ExCel, but even the budget hotels were charging a non-returnable £99 per night. The reviews on the one that still had vacant rooms were, predictably, not brilliant, but that was outweighed by the thought that I could arrive fresh for my early starts.

It's still going to be pretty exhausting, with shifts lasting up to 11 hours. I have eight shifts in all, plus a venue training day. I can't complain that volunteers are being exploited, because we have been warned throughout about most aspects of our expected commitment (apart from the early start, of course).

A couple of days ago I decided to book an extra night at the same hotel, and discovered the rate had dropped to £65 for the last remaining room! I phoned them up and to my amazement they agreed that I could rebook all the nights at the reduced rate, without charging me for cancellation. So there is some good in the world - and I have the glimpse of the Opening Ceremony to look forward to. 

Published by Mary Reid, 126 Clayton Road, Hook Chessington KT9 1NJ
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