Kingston just loves the Olympics

There had been an air of cynicism over the Olympics in Kingston. We were having to contribute substantially to the costs with no obvious benefits to us.

That all changed as we gradually realised that not only were we hosting four Olympic events but we were also getting the torch twice! And all could be watched for free.

250,000 people watched the torch relay in Kingston. That is not only far greater than the population of the borough but beat the turnout in all the other London Boroughs, even though we are the smallest one.

It started out from the Hook Centre - our great pride and joy down here in Hook - carried by James Cracknell, a former Kingston school pupil.

I didn't get in to Kingston to see the torch when it went down the river on Gloriana. The river side pubs and restaurants were the perfect place to watch it go by, although I caught the whole event online.

You can see the Guildhall top right as the flotilla approaches Kingston Bridge on its way to the Olympic Park.

The next day was the men's road cycle race. We found a spot on Kingston Hill as the cyclists flashed round the corner by the Albert pub.

A thunder storm broke out in Kingston just as the women's race set off on Sunday from the Mall. A tree in Bushey Park, on the route, was hit by lightning and burst into flame. I decided to watch this one out in the dry, and it was wonderful seeing so many places I recognised, across Surrey and through Kingston.

The crowds were amazing again, but they were nothing compared with what awaited us for the time trials on Wednesday. 

I watched the women's race from the pavement opposite the Rose, and managed to capture a Canadian rider with her supporters across the road.

We were all waiting for Chris Froome and Bradley Wiggins in the men's race. A huge roar preceded them as they rode up the High Street and turned into the Ancient Market.  I sneaked into the Upper Circle Bar in the Rose to get this shot of Wiggo storming past the Guildhall.

The roar of the crowd was unbelievable.

The two cyclists said this in an interview:

‎"It was really something special, just enormous, the support," Froome said. "It's something that I don't think I'll ever experience again". Wiggins said the same, "coming back round the roundabout in Kingston, I'm never going to experience anything like that in my entire career. It's topped off."

So which roundabout was he thinking of? It could be the mini-roundabout at the junction of Kingston Hall Road, but many people think he was referring to the wall of sound, bouncing around the narrow roads, that hit him as he turned into the market.

Once he had gone past, there was a rush to see the end of the race on the Big Screen in the Rose. I was ushering and I've never seen a crowd like it in the theatre before. Everyone was screaming at the screen as Team GB took the gold and bronze. We all cheered the medals ceremony and stood up for the National Anthem. What a day!

A friend of mine who lives on the Sussex coast remarked that he was glad he wasn't up this way because it must have been chaos on the roads. From this end it looked very different - it has been one big party for Kingston. The trial event last summer alerted everyone to the restrictions, and whereas there were some mutterings then, when the reality hit us the sense of pride in Kingston was palpable.

So we did get our money's worth in Kingston after all, and no doubt the pubs and restaurants will be very, very happy.



Diary of a Games volunteer - dress rehearsal for the Opening Ceremony

On Wednesday night I travelled back home from the dress rehearsal of the Opening Ceremony in a bit of a daze.

You all now know why! And that was without Bradley Wiggins, Mr Bean, Tim Berners Lee, the cauldron and the wonderful James Bond sequence which they kept secret from us.


The clouds appear


And the animals


Rural life


The industrial revolution


Hospital beds

Diary of a Games volunteer - preview of the Opening Ceremony

I went to see the final rehearsal of the Opening Ceremony last night, so I'm sure you want to know what happened. Well, I can tell you this ....


What I can say, is that it was the most amazing spectacle I have ever seen. If you were planning to do anything other than watch it on Friday evening, then think again.

Oh, and I do get fed up with all the carping about the organisers. The crowd management before and after was excellent, and carried out cheerfully by everyone. I didn't have to queue anywhere for more than a couple of minutes, including the loo, although the crowd did move fairly slowly towards the station afterwards. There were plenty of food outlets around the stadium, selling fairly basic stuff - fish and chips, noodles, curry, sausages, pizza, waffles, icecream, beer - and not a sign of McDonalds.

No sensitive little violets at the Social Liberal Forum conference

I don't think anyone would call me a 'sensitive little violet', especially as one of the aims of the Social Liberal Forum Conference last Saturday was to increase our visibility.

I'm not going to write about how any of the sessions at the conference went, because I didn't actually manage to sit all the way through any one of them. But others have started commenting already.

I spent most of the day trouble-shooting. Fortunately there wasn't too much going on that I would class as trouble. In fact, the main problem we encountered was some bugs with the AV which meant that the webcast was too quiet to hear properly. Luckily, Tracy Connell managed to record Nick Clegg giving the William Beveridge Memorial Lecture.

We were asked why we had invited Nick Clegg and other speakers who are not SLF members. But this was never intended to be an SLF lovefest. We wanted to provide a space where Lib Dems from across the party could explore and debate some of the core social issues, in a political context. The topics under discussion were all issues that are of central importance to social liberals, but we know that they also matter to everyone in the party, and indeed to many people outside.

So Nick Clegg addressed the title we had given him: 'How Liberal Democrats in Government are addressing Beveridge's "five giant evils" (Want, Disease, Ignorance, Squalor and Idleness)'.  

We had been planning this conference for eight months. By 'we' I mean the conference team of Geoff Payne (the Hackney one), Prateek Buch, Liz Maffei, Naomi Smith, Kirsten de Keyser and myself, as project manager. We are all volunteers, but we made a great team.  We divided up the tasks between us and met on a monthly basis in some rather pleasant pubs and restaurants.

Geoff is a genius at constructing a programme of topics and speakers. We decided to have a theme of intergenerational justice, which would allow us to explore the impact of coalition policy on the old and young and the interplay between them. So under his guidance we created sessions on economics, housing, education and social mobility, well-being, care, and inequality.

But we also took a look at how new political expressions have sprung up, including the Occupy movement. Sadly, both Naomi Colvin from Occupy and Shiv Malik from The Guardian were both taken ill, so we missed their perspectives. Another session asked whether the Government is tackling the causes of last summer's riots.

Altogether we had 39 speakers or chairs on the programme, eight of whom provided perspectives from outside the party. Seven parliamentarians spoke, including two Cabinet members (Nick Clegg and Ed Davey), two ministers (Lynne Featherstone and Paul Burstow), one peer (Claire Tyler) plus Simon Hughes and Tom Brake.

I was very keen that people would be able to network easily, so we gave a lot of thought to the location of refreshments and the dozen or so exhibition stalls. This seemed to work well at our venue at the Waterloo campus of Kings College London.

If you were there then I hope you enjoyed it, and we will be contacting you soon to ask for feedback. If you weren't then watch out for next year.

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. 

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.

From Lib Dem Voice: Mystery of fake leaflets in North Richmond


I posted this earlier today on Lib Dem Voice:

The leaflet below appears to be normal Lib Dem election literature. It was one of three distributed widely over night on May2nd/3rd for the council by-election in North Richmond, in the London borough of Richmond upon Thames. You may wonder why it is titled Comments instead of Focus, but that is what Lib Dems have always called their leaflets in Richmond.

Indeed, the layout and photos are exact copies of earlier Lib Dem election leaflets. The bar chart, grumble sheet and contact details all look authentic. The writing style is credible.

But a closer inspection reveals something very worrying. The main story is completely false. (Click the image to view a larger version)

North Richmond fake leaflet

It states:

Jane Dodds will be campaigning with local Lib Dems to increase social housing in North Richmond by bringing forward plans to develop the Sainsbury’s Supermarket site at Manor Road.

The Sainsbury’s site offers an ideal opportunity for a high rise development to significantly expand social housing, building a further 550 one and two bedroom apartments on top of the Manor Road Sainsbury’s.

This is quite outrageous. The local Lib Dems were certainly notcampaigning for 550 flats to be built above their local Sainsbury’s. The leaflet is a fake.

Two more similar fake leaflets were circulated before polls opened.  In one the Lib Dem candidate apparently supported the use of the local Premier Inn for emergency homeless accommodation for migrants, and in the other proposed converting a pub into hostel accommodation for drug or alcohol dependent young people and for recently released prisoners, neither of which was true. We can all see where the narrative is going: references to social housing, EU migrants, homelessness,  addiction and ex-cons are coupled with ‘bleeding heart’ Lib Dem concern for the vulnerable.

The leaflets do not, of course, carry an imprint, but that is a minor legal issue compared with the damage done to the democratic process. A number of local voters have admitted that they were taken in by the leaflets, decided not to vote Lib Dem as a result and voted Conservative in protest. This was a seat that we were hoping to take back from the Conservatives, but Jane Dodds lost by 146 votes.

Jane’s agent was Roger Hayes (one of Mark Pack’s local liberal heroes) and he spent much of polling day talking with the police from Special Operations and Anti-Terrorism, which we all still refer to as Special Branch. The police are taking the matter very seriously and are treating the leaflets as fraudulent.  The Representation of the People Act 1983 created an offence of “undue influence” which may be relevant to this case.

Anti-terrorist officers are examining CCTV footage to try to identify who delivered the leaflets. It is most unlikely, though not impossible, that one of the main political parties would carry off a stunt like this, but it is a challenge to work out who would go to the trouble of designing, printing and distributing such convincing and subtle fakes.

Syndicate content

Published by Mary Reid, 126 Clayton Road, Hook Chessington KT9 1NJ
Printed and hosted by Office Network Systems, 106a Tolworth Broadway, Surbiton, KT6 7JD