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On being a London Ambassador

on being a london ambassador
As a London Ambassador
It’s not often that London speaks up for itself, and I think that might be hard to understand from the rest of the world given this past summer. London Pride is a beer and several old oil tankers, and in order to not infringe those trademarks, London’s pride festival is technically called Pride London. London Pride is rarely a visible emotion. Of course, I get to be a bit of an oddball, coming from a land of outward displays of patriotism and being a genuinely gushy person. I will tell pretty anyone how much I love this city on any day of any year. You know that already. But just believe me: it is not really the done thing.

(I’m reminded of the great marketing ploy of Portland, Oregon: tell everyone Seattle is better. Thereby Portland stays small and keeps itself weird and a zillion people don’t flock there and ruin it all. Except I don’t think that quite works for a city as ridiculously big and old as London.)

London Ambassadors
But in theory, those chosen as London Ambassadors all shared some sense of London love that made them apply and want to give up their time for this project. When we applied, we answered on-screen questions about London landmarks and getting from one place to another and had to write a very short essay on our specialist subject – one topic in one neighbourhood. I wrote about coffee shops in the West End. Then a day of interviews to those successful in the first application. We had to match slightly cryptic symbols to the item they might represent on a map. The first thing I drew out of the hat was an army tank and it threw me for a minute until my head came round to the idea of the Imperial War Museum, of course. More from the hat, we drew a topic and had to speak for a timed minute, telling all we could about how that topic related to the city. I drew ‘fruit’ and managed to cover London’s legacy of fruit markets (from the Covent Garden Apple Market to the current network of farmers’ markets), the marketing origins of Innocent Smoothies when they took over London’s train stations with free samples (which we now see all the time with products but was shocking at the time), and what at the time was still the world’s largest Apple Store. In one minute. Then we were paired with other applicants to role play our part on the street – play a tourist who doesn’t speak much English who is looking for an affordable restaurant near Piccadilly Circus, play the Ambassador helping a panicking parent with a child who has lost her backpack. And so on… then a proper one-on-one interview about what you would bring to the team… and wait to find out if you were one of the 8,000 volunteers chosen to stand on the streets of London. It was one year ago today that I was offered my post as an ambassador!

Then, into training we went. After the first day of training, London pride wasn’t really obvious from person to person. Then in the second day of training, they showed this short film. Watch it full screen: it’s so very pretty. (Hello, crazily shallow depth of field!)

And lest Portland think it’s the only awesomely weird city on the planet, of course it closes with something a bit random from our eccentric mayor, who is a whole other discussion. But it was at this point in the training that the love of London started to become a bit more obvious, as people around the tables picked up different things from this film. We were all from different neighbourhoods and got a bit excited when we saw things from our own turf – either where we lived, worked or spent our downtime. We recognised different people in the narrative, and we had long discussions about how they were a mix of people pretty much everyone could love (Julie Walters is a national treasure of the highest order, right?) and those who not everyone adores (to discuss London investment in a time of financial imperfection was interesting, and people have pretty polar reactions to Tracey Emin). We giggled about the rain in Rome comment, as this was something the mayor’s office really pushed and we came across it in several forms before we were out there on the street in all our pink and purple glory. No matter what caught our eye in that film, there was something that every single person at the table identified with and wanted to expand on. It made us storytellers.

Once we were assigned to locations, we had further training in that area so we could know really specific things. If you ever need to find a loo on the south side of Tower Bridge, I can get you to about a dozen in moments. I can tell you about those giant black orbs by city hall that are actually an art installation by Andrea Schlieker called Full Stops. I can tell you all the places you can go on the Thames Clipper from London Bridge City Pier if you’re fed up of trains, tubes and buses. Where to get cash, which Thai restaurant does take-away, and your three best bets for a hotel room for tonight. In true preparation on our local training outing, it rained. Of course it did.

My time was a bit more flexible than some of the other ambassadors, so I managed to sneak in a few visits to some lesser-known museums in the area and may have overused the excuse to eat way too much at the glory that is Borough Market. I have a particular love of being able to point out London backdrops from memorable film scenes, so brushed up on things less obvious than the complete implausibility that Bridget Jones could ever have afforded to really live over The Globe pub in SE1. Then I prepared myself for that early morning train where everyone else would be sat there in their business clothes, barely awake, and I would be there in pink neon and a baseball cap.

Yeah, that train wasn’t pretty. The games hadn’t started yet. There was a fair amount of eye-rolling. And when the train became really crammed, I discovered the stain-guarding qualities of the hot pink top when half my coffee went right down my shirt… and continue to roll right on off of it like water from a duck. (Yes, I really, really am the kind of girl who shows up on the first day with half a cup of coffee down herself. Apparently they knew ahead of time and made precautions, for which I am grateful.)

I’ll admit that very first early morning was a bit of a false start. We were new at what we were doing, and as the very first shift to work that location, we weren’t sure what questions we could answer. Most people were really just on their way to work and had no interest in talking to us. We were paired up and plotted out across the space in view of the kiosk and the first person to ask us a question was clearly just testing us (unless the Australian Olympic reporters really didn’t know that the Olympic Park was not in the centre of town?) and we got a bit shaken but quickly found our feet and we were off! We could spot tourists to help and we found out what sort of stuff the locals wanted to know – including a lot about the torch relay as it zigged and zagged across the London boroughs each day. As the big day grew closer, we had more and more questions about getting tickets, watching the opening ceremony and where the big screens would be set up around town… but there was still a certain amount of hesitation. We could still feel the cynicism and the negativity that had come along with planning the games.

I think it’s hard for people to remember sometimes that the bid and all the preplanning for London 2012 came before the recession hit, and then after the city knew it had the responsibility of putting on this big event as promised, markets fell apart. If you took that sort of situation down to a family level, you would make changes. If you bought a huge house and a fancy car then lost your job and couldn’t make the payments, the first plan of action would be to make changes that would make things more affordable – smaller house, more economical car, fewer luxuries – and I know that is a huge oversimplification of the economy, but hey: this is a craft blog. The point was that when the economy changed drastically, London couldn’t really say Sorry, World, we just can’t have the Olympics right now. And to anyone who lives here, it has been obvious for all that time that it costs a great deal of money to host the games. There were so many times when local areas had to stand up and say something about how the games were affecting their neighbourhood. There were debates about how much money really should be spent on making all this happen and whether it was possible to ever make it back. Meanwhile, these photos of the Athens Olympic Park from just eight years earlier appeared and made many a little nervous about what would happen in East London post September 2012. Let’s just say there was a fair amount of stress in this city leading up to this giant event.

And then, just like that, on the morning of the opening ceremony, everything started to change. I headed into London early for All the Bells, and stood on Westminster Bridge ringing and listening. Then off to my Ambassador spot at More London, with more people smiling at the high-vis pink outfit than on the previous days, and a free coffee from a kind person serving the morning crowd at Borough Market. “I think you’ll need it even more today,” she said. The torch would be making its way to Tower Bridge, rowing down the Thames from Hampton Court, and along with it a mighty crowd of people hoping to catch a glimpse and quite a bit of speculation about what might happen when it reached the bridge. (That turned out to be a slight disappointment, as it mostly just hung out for a little while then went into City Hall with a security team, where apparently David Beckham was already camped out for the day if the rumours were true.) That night, eighty thousand people would be heading into the stadium to watch the ceremony, while plenty more watched on big screens around town or on the BBC in their own homes. That day, we didn’t get the negativity as we stood there with our maps and copies of Time Out. We got pure excitement.


We also got quite a few film crews showing up to ask us questions. This one had the easiest request: could I shout ‘Welcome to London’ to the camera? Why yes, yes I can. Somewhere there are also interviews with our London welcomes and facts translated into several different languages, as we smiled and answered questions for television coverage in Macau, Taiwan and Belarus. CNN interviewed a man from Utah while I helped a tourist in the background. Before all the sporting excitement started, there was definitely an interest in the vox pop footage with the bridge in the background. Oh, how iconic… even if the games themselves weren’t near the bridge at all! (No problem: cross over to Tower Hill and take the District Line to West Ham and walk the greenway from there to the Olympic Park or head back to Tooley Street to London Bridge, and the Jubilee line will take you straight to Stratford!)

London 2012 volunteers
At some point during the games, I saw a tweet that said something along the lines of Why can’t we have London Ambassadors all the time? and I have to say our team felt the same way. We were all volunteers, we all applied with one thing in common: that we wanted to help people see the same fabulousness we see in this city. But it’s big. It’s busy. It can be really, really confusing. Sure, there are guide books and websites and reams of information written about the topic, but it’s a whole other thing when you’re standing there on the street feeling overwhelmed and lost and confused. It was a pleasure to do just a tiny bit to help make that feeling go away whenever possible. And one of the best things is that it is quite possible that you’ll see London Ambassadors return to the streets again for other big occasions, admittedly in smaller numbers than what we saw this summer. The few ambassadors I’ve been able to chat with since our shifts finished have all been quite excited about that… and we’ve all had moments of our off-duty experiences too. It’s so much easier now to see someone in a worried panic and have the guts to ask if they need help and be able to point them in the right direction.

Eddie Izzard, Gamesmaker
One final part of the process was an invitation to line the Mall for the Team GB victory parade. Everyone along that stretch was a volunteer: London Ambassadors, GamesMakers, Ceremonies performers and technicians. All in uniform (or costume!) and in ridiculously high spirits. And before the parade started, just chilling with Eddie Izzard, as you do. He was amazingly energetic, generous and friendly…


And rather full of London love himself.

Gold Medallist Chris Hoy
Truck after truck of Team GB athletes cruised down the road, and the cheering never stopped.

last day as a gamesmaker and london ambassador
I know I wasn’t the only volunteer a little bittersweet and emotional that day to know it was all coming to a real close. Happy to know there are more opportunities to come, but certainly not an experience to be replicated. So with today marking one full year of that adventure, I wanted to make sure I recorded a few words somewhere. A gold medal to you for reading them!

So now: to get on with something crafty, eh?

xlovesx

End of the Party :: My part in the London 2012 Olympic Closing Ceremony

End of the Party :: My part in the London 2012 Olympic Closing Ceremony
london 2012 olympic flame
More than seven years of planning for sixteen days of events and so far, it’s taken me at least six days to recover. It’s been one heck of a party indeed. I feel like I’m in Olympic withdrawal, hyperaware of everything real life that got moved to the side during the games, yet a bit listless that there’s not a crowd in front of a giant screen across the street, that the buses are back to their normal schedule, that there are far fewer security passes hanging on lanyards around necks. So many other volunteers I know say they are feeling exactly the same. I’ve even seen Gamesmakers spot each other on the train by way of still wearing the shoes Adidas sponsored for their uniform, and suddenly exchange their best stories from the experience.

backstage at the london 2012 closing ceremony
My biggest story is certainly that of the closing ceremony and the long journey that led me there. At so many steps along that path, I thought it wasn’t meant to be for me. Anyone could sign up on the London 2012 website to volunteer for the opening and closing ceremonies, but I only discovered that about two days after the closing deadline and thought surely that was the end. A few days later a recruiter with a clipboard stopped me after dance class and explained they were still looking for people, and asked if I would come give it a shot. From that recruiter, I went on to a first audition in early November, and it was definitely the most unique audition I’ve ever attended. The staff at these auditions were looking for performers from all walks of life to take part in all four ceremonies: open and closing, Olympic and Paralympic. I auditioned during the day, and in my group I met a university professor who travelled hours to London, a teenage student who had bunked off school for the day and was a bundle of nerves because he had never skipped so much as a single class before but really wanted to get a part, members of a deaf music group and their signing interpreters, and a gentleman who remembered the 1948 London Olympics in his youth. That was all just waiting around for everyone to arrive and sign in and we still had no idea what we would be asked to do for the next few hours.

Once on our feet, we went through a variety of exercises to see if we could take direction, if we were afraid of the camera, if we could keep a beat. We learned to navigate a large space by grid of coordinates and how to start in a big crowd of people and move out to form the Olympic rings. We marched around the room following a zig-zagged line on the floor whilst jamming along to a variety of tunes. We did a little improved dancing here and there with a partner, and I was partnered with a man called Geoffrey, who is largely paralysed and gets around with an amazing motorised wheelchair and communicates with some fancy gadgetry. Even with all that I could tell he was so excited and I so hope Geoffrey got a part in one of the ceremonies. He was great fun as a dance partner! As a big group, we mimed a morning routine with an attempt at coordinated yawning that caused a most hilarious run of actual yawns to pass through the room. Then to finish, we quickly tried a bit of a dance routine while cameras rolled and people compared notes behind clipboards. Danny Boyle came in to watch for a while. And right before we ran that simple little dance for the last time, we were told to ‘spice it up’ with whatever special flair we could, and suddenly each of us would catch a little improved spin or jump or clap out of the corner of our eye as everyone in the room tried to think on their feet. We were told to check our email closely for the next forty-eight hours.

Then it was done. Back on the 108 bus home. Crazily checking my email and seeing nothing. Searching Twitter to find people saying they received an email just a few hours after their audition. Feeling like it had to be over when I didn’t hear back in the forty-eighth hour, and being sad but okay with that.

Then getting an email the next evening, at more like the eightieth hour and finding out I needed to come back to a dance-specific audition ten days later. Somehow the fun and the ease of that first audition gave me some sort of false impression that the call-back would be easy as well. While we were queueing to go in, a discussion came up about what sorts of things people did for a living. The person behind me was a dance teacher. The person in front of me was in the cast of Chicago. THE CAST OF CHICAGO, PEOPLE. Every single person who joined in the discussion had dance as some sort of professional element in their life, and then there was me, ten years older than everyone else and someone who treated dance as a hobby or a bit of fun. Again I was thinking there was no way I could be successful in this audition, dancing next to people of that standard. It only got worse when I saw the routine, and we were told that first move should be ‘probably three pirouettes – four if you can, just two if that’s all you can do clean’. My ‘clean’ runs out at about one and a half. Then a sudden yet controlled fall to the floor. My version of ‘controlled’ meant getting to the floor without breaking any bones, and it didn’t look anything like the gravity-defying coordination of the lady from Chicago. We had to pick up an entire sequence in just a few minutes (it was about double the length of what I would normally learn in an hour-long class) and a huge part of me sighed in relief when the steps in the second half of the sequence came more naturally to me, but would anyone still be looking after I had struggled so much with the beginning? There wasn’t much time to think about it, as we were immediately broken into groups of four or five dancers in front of the judges (and hundreds of other dancers) in a giant room, and then it was all over. This time we were told we would hear in a few weeks. I only told my closest friends that I had auditioned at all, and with the caveat that I was sure I had blown the callback.

dancing on london tonight
Several weeks later a camera crew rolls into the class I go to every Friday lunchtime to take some footage for a news feature on London Tonight. It turned out that after all those auditions, they were still looking for more men, as the recruitment drives through dance schools and drama groups had turned up mostly women. They interviewed some guys from dance class about whether they had known about the auditions (they hadn’t) and then ran some text about how the public could get involved over shots of us running the routine. I still didn’t tell anyone in class I had auditioned, then that night my phone kept lighting up with people asking ‘is that you on the news? – something I scrapbooked here, which you might remember.

By the time that piece aired it was well past the ‘few weeks’ we were told so being part of that news piece was a bit bittersweet, as I was convinced I didn’t have a part. I later found out they had vastly underestimated the time it would take to cast everyone and contact them. That very weekend, I got an email saying I had been cast in the closing ceremony, in a part that required both ‘a character role and a spectacular dance sequence’. That was the point when I decided it was okay to tell people I had auditioned… but I was also sworn to secrecy and especially warned about saying anything on the internet, since the ceremonies would need to be kept secret from the press. But I shared the news with dance class friends and we compared notes as several others had auditioned by then. Some of us were in the closing and others in the opening. None of us were in the same groups, so our rehearsal schedules varied greatly. Some people had thirty rehearsals but they were all in the evenings for just a few hours. My group had far fewer rehearsals but they were almost all full days that left us quite drained. We all desperately wanted to talk about what we were doing but agreed we had to keep as much of the secret as possible.

backstage at the london 2012 closing ceremony
Rehearsals started in early spring, first indoors at Three Mills film studios, just a short distance from the Olympic park. Then we moved outdoors and further east, to a car park in Dagenham. Literally. There we had two spaces marked out at the same size and shape as the real stadium, but without the seating and such, of course. When we moved outdoors, we started rehearsing with a radio system, where we had headphones that would let us hear both the music and the directors speaking to us. In the event that one’s headphones fell off in the middle of a run, there was strange moment of realising you were at the world’s largest silent disco, while hundreds of people danced in time without a single sound to be heard aloud.

rehearsing in wellies for the london 2012 closing ceremony
Our group had a special talent in making it rain whenever we had rehearsal. Admittedly, it just rained a lot throughout most of this year in England! But we could have five days off and they would all be sunny and dry and as soon as we arrived at rehearsal? It would start bucketing down. Every. Single. Time. After many of us ruining multiple pairs of shoes, we smartened up to the weather and started dancing in our wellies. It might be dry when we started the run, but give it twenty minutes and we’d be wondering if Michael Fish was currently broadcasting there will be no hurricane’ to the rest of the British public. We started the show underneath the ramps that held all the set, so sometimes we thought we could escape it there, but it often rained so hard that the water would start to deluge through the gaps in the ramps and we ended up worse off than if we just stood in the stuff. Plastic ponchos and a million layers of clothing became quite normal, and I will just tell you now that dancing in wellies is really not the best thing for your feet. You really don’t need to learn that for yourself.

building the set for the london 2012 closing ceremony
One big difference between the opening and the closing ceremony rehearsals is that the opening performers rehearsed in the actual stadium for several weeks. They were the only ones allowed in at that point while all the final preparations were being made to the park, and they had time to learn so many specifics about the place. My friends in the opening knew the seat numbers that would be the best place to see them and had all sorts of specific information about how the show would work in that space. Seeing how they completely changed the set in the first five minutes of the show going live, there is no way it could have worked without that! Watching their show was amazing. But by the time they were done and out of the stadium, it needed to be used for something else of course, and we were still working in a car park with no idea how things would come together.

The day of the closing ceremony was the first time we walked on that ground. We never did a dress rehearsal in that space. Being in the first half of the show, we had very little idea of what was in the second half of the show, because we were always dismissed when our section was completed. During the games, lots of people asked me if the closing was going to be as much of a production as the opening, and all I could think was that it would have to be so very different. I didn’t realise it would be as different as replacing a choreographed timeline of civilisation with a giant inflatable octopus. But really, who could?

backstage at the london 2012 closing ceremony
If you haven’t followed along on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram to see all the random little updates, I danced in a section called Rush Hour, at the start of the closing ceremonies, and was on stage for about half an hour. From all that, I was on television for roughly a second and a half. But that’s okay: it’s a second and a half more than plenty of other people in the show and there was a rather large live audience of course so we were definitely performing to real people. I started under the stage, with a giant newsprint overcoat concealing a five-and-a-half foot flag. Which is interesting, because I am five feet two. I was pretty much the last person to come up the stairs and onto the stage – something that was purely coincidental of where we needed to go in the given time, but there was something very calming about that. A frenetic energy under the stage when we were all cramped in there and just moments later there’s not a bit of newsprint left under there. Winston Churchill stops us in our tracks. We manage to unfurl all those hidden flags. We sing the national anthem. The newsprint is furled off pretty much everything to reveal so much colour – including all of my group in shades of turquoise. And then there is much, much dancing.

backstage at the London2012 Closing Ceremony
We danced with chairs. With wine glasses. With party hats, polka-dot plates and cucumber sandwiches. We’d never actually practised with real sandwiches before, and one of the dancers in our group gave this amazing commentary to us as he ate the sandwich then pronounced it completely revolting and we could barely hold it together for wanting to laugh. We sang along with Madness. We shimmied behind the Pet Shop Boys and their fancy hats. And yes, we did a great deal of na-na-na-ing with One Direction. Who I kept calling One Division by mistake. Let’s be honest: I am old enough to be their mother. But I clapped and sang and danced my heart out as if you walked up to sixth grade Shimelle and told her she could dance at a New Kids on the Block concert.

We cleaned up to a rhythm with Stomp. Stomp always reminds me of this conversation I had with a professor right before I turned in my dissertation. It had taken me a while to find my feet in that course when I first moved to England and then once I did, I had actually come up with a dissertation topic that several of my professors wanted me to extend into doctoral study, but there was no way I could afford to stay a student at that point, so I was explaining that my advising professor. Like many serious academics, she was ridiculously talented and inspiring in her field of expertise, but perhaps a little unaware of some other parts of society from time to time. She told me it was silly that I couldn’t afford it – she had some students who managed to fund their studies by ‘going down to the seafront and banging around on some rubbish bins’. Well yes… those were the students who founded Stomp, and I wasn’t convinced I could make enough to pay my tuition in the same way. And then all those years later, here we both are, right there in the same place, doing a bit of a show with the rubbish bins.

backstage at the London 2012 Closing Ceremony
Then Waterloo Sunset. At this point, we had no set choreography – just enjoy it and imagine it’s the last song of the most perfect festival weekend. Which seemed quite realistic since we were always in festival wellies for all those weeks! I love that song. I loved that we got those few minutes to sway back and forth with all the friends we had made over this entire process. I loved the craziness of the first time they brought the kids in to form the Thames in their sparkly suits – their cues were always given as the ‘river children’, making me imagine something from a children’s adventure film set in the rainforest. (There was a beautiful moment when one of the children got a little confused when their choreography had been transferred to the round set: ‘We learnt forward and backward, but now there is no front of the room!’) As soon as the song finished, we exited through the audience, who gave us the most fabulous high fives.

Now we’ve gone from seeing those same people nearly every day to a week of just chatting on Facebook while we get caught up on real life. This weekend, I have a Sunday that will not involve a single moment in a car park. During the weeks of rehearsals, I would bake cupcakes for the turquoise team and now I’m back to having no audience for baked goods. There were always a couple cakes left over at the end of the day and I would give them to other dancers on the bus home or strangers on the tube. I miss funny little things like that. I was so much older than many in our group that some of them were dance students at university and for me it felt a bit like coming out of retirement, since there was a time in my life when I did show after show (admittedly not with an audience that big!) but now it is a real rarity. We weren’t allowed cameras at rehearsals which broke my heart. Shattered it into pieces, really. I took the odd sneaky shot with my phone when I could, but most of it is stuff just in my mind, not in pictures. There are a few pictures of our group that have circulated through the press, but I don’t technically have the rights to blog them here, so I’ll have to link instead. This shot of us doing the Mobot probably got us the most attention at the time (we may have slightly broken the rules of the choreography at the last minute by deciding to strike some Olympic poses rather than the random cheesy options we had planned) but I am not convinced the Mobot is a good look for me, especially when looking down at the camera! This one I like far more – from the ‘You don’t know you’re beautiful’ chorus. For the record, I’ve been waking up every day this week with either that or Waterloo Sunset in my head, playing on repeat. Our moment with turquoise on telly came when the Pet Shop Boys cruised by, and that moment has also turned up in plenty of pictures, including this in the special souvenir edition of OK! magazine. The back of me is in OK! magazine. For real. (And there are butterflies, because of COURSE there should be.) I’m not sure if that’s better or worse than my hair appearing in the newspaper.) I’m quite fond of the sheer joy from everyone in this shot. If you’re interested in how such a big production comes together creatively, check out the Closing Ceremony Tumblr, which brings together all the notes for what they wanted to include with random facts, rehearsal photos and costume sketches.

So it’s been quite a party, and it’s not truly over yet, with the Paralympics on their way very soon, but my biggest project is done. Which leaves me one big question: just how can I scrapbook all this? (Don’t worry: I really, really have an idea.)

backstage at the London 2012 closing ceremony
Thanks so much for indulging me during all this Olympicness! It’s been fantastic and I’ll find a way to get myself back to normal blogging and all that other work! (After all, Learn Something New starts again quite soon, you know!)

xlovesx

London 2012 Opening Ceremony

london 2012 olympic opening ceremony
london 2012 olympic opening ceremony
After a very late Friday night I had to be up very early this Saturday morning, off to help tourists for the day in all my bright pink and purple glory. I couldn’t quite muster the idea of getting up and sat reading tweets in bed whilst the US west coast was watching the opening ceremony of London 2012, and this tweet was my very favourite: London, there appears to be a party in your house. Oh Chris, how right you are.

london 2012 olympic opening ceremony
I have no time for anyone who is not excited by the games at this point. I have set aside everything I felt didn’t go perfectly in the seven years leading up to this and now I am here to enjoy without a grudge. On Friday, I started the morning on Westminster Bridge for All the Bells: an art project with the idea of all the bells anyone can find to be ringing for three solid minutes. From the bridge I could hear forty rings of Big Ben from 8:12 in the morning, plus a handbell choir in the crowd, the chimes of Westminster Abbey and what we think must have been St Paul’s in the distance. And my favourite bells of all? A crowd of cyclists who pulled to the side at exactly 8:12 and rang their bicycle bells like crazy for three whole minutes. Bells rang all over the country and it was sweet and simple and lovely.

Then I spent the day helping out in front of City Hall, in the shadow of Tower Bridge, including the arrival of the torch in the middle of the Thames, arriving at a set of floating rings and eventually heading indoors until finishing the journey during the ceremony.

london 2012 olympic opening ceremony This was my favourite part – the most dramatic part of the Suffragettes choreography wasn’t shown on the BBC footage we were watching, but it was such a beautiful moment.

And then there ceremony! I actually watched on a big screen at the Royal Naval College (with The Boy, Kelly and Stephanie) but earlier in the week I had attended one of the final dress rehearsals for the show, and I was allowed to take my camera. So I have pictures! I couldn’t share them until the appropriate moment in the actual ceremony, so I did a bit of ‘live’ tweeting while watching until my phone ran out of battery.

I knew from the moment I sat down and saw the ceremony’s opening set that the hymn Jerusalem had to be involved. I know I am not really British, but Jerusalem always makes me cry. It turns out it makes me cry even more when I hear a voice singing it from the crowd and turn to realise he’s just there, a few rows to my right. And that was just the start of the show. I loved every minute.

I’ve uploaded my favourite snapshots from the ceremony here and they are licensed under Creative Commons so they can be used by anyone for free. If you want to scrapbook the ceremony and need some pictures – feel free. You don’t even have to ask. If you want to blog about the ceremony, you can use them! All I ask is that if you use them on the internet, you include a credit link. That’s all. I got to see the ceremony for free and I want to pass them on in the same spirit.

london 2012 olympic opening ceremony
And to those of you who have been guessing at what my second Olympic project might be, I’ll finally tell you. A bunch of you guessed that I was in the show last night – and I wasn’t. I had friends in the show and was so excited for that! But I was definitely sat on the ground aside the Thames watching from Greenwich. I do however jump straight back into rehearsals this weekend. Because that super secret second Olympic project for me is the closing ceremonies. I still can’t tell you anything, but I will be dancing in the show and I’m at the beginning so don’t be late. Schedule your TV viewing now, yes?

Yes, London, there is a party in this house. And there’s going to be a big finale too, we promise.

But first! Let’s play some sports! If you’re local and have no tickets but want to watch something today, you can catch the cycling road race for free. And the screens at Hyde Park, Victoria Park, Potter’s Fields, Greenwich (old Greenwich, not North Greenwich!) and Blackheath (um, right in front of my flat!) are all free to enter. Most are running a 7am to 11pm schedule. If the weather turns, your better option might be a Vue cinema. They are also devoting screens to free BBC coverage of the games.

Right: I better go help some tourists find their way from Tower Bridge to the Globe or Earl’s Court! Have a fabulous weekend.

xlovesx

A funny week

a funny week
london ambassador pod
Hello hello! How can it be Wednesday already? Well… it’s because it is indeed a funny little week in my world. Throughout this week, I’m wearing a bright pink and purple uniform and standing next to a pink and purple kiosk to help the fine pedestrians of London with any questions or concerns they may have. (Sorry, I don’t have any tickets for sale. But I can provide a free map, if that’s any consolation.)

I have several hundred more CHA photos to share with you, but I just need a bit more time… and I know it won’t be today since I have my day of bright pink combined with the super excitement of heading over to watch the dress rehearsal of the opening ceremony tonight. It’s so exciting that I’m afraid you’ll just have to pardon me for collapsing into a heap by the time I get home tonight and not blogging. (But you better believe there will be new photos to scrapbook from tonight!) But I really will get them all shared here, and I thank you for your patience. (I know there are some other posts I need to get live here. Please know they will be available as soon as they are ready! That includes some videos and the new class I’m working on and all that sort of goodness. Thanks!)

As it’s Wednesday, Glitter Girl will have a new adventure today. When it goes live, you’ll be able to find episode thirty here.

Have a fabulous day!

xlovesx

10 Things :: July (10 Signs the Olympics are coming to London)

10 Things
Tower Bridge with Olympic Rings
It’s the tenth of the month, which means two things: the preparation notes are now ready for my monthly scrapbooking challenge at UKScrappers, and it’s time for 10 Things: a blogging project filled with lists of anything, as long as there are ten things i the list. And with that, I bring you Ten signs the Olympics are coming to Londontown.

1. There are giant Olympic rings hanging from Tower Bridge. Huge. Can’t miss ‘em. There is a set at St Pancras international too, if you’re doing any channel crossing by train. Perhaps more impressive, the biggest set of Olympic rings ever has been mown into the grass at Richmond Park so they are visible from the air. I have a flight from Heathrow this Saturday, so I’m hoping for a window seat and a peek for the full effect.

2. Boris Johnson’s voice can now be heard on the loudspeaker of many train and tube stations. The first time I heard this at my local station was ridiculously early last Saturday morning and it nearly made me jump out of my skin, as all the other announcements are done by a robot voice rather than a recording of an actual person. Now I get a little nervous with the reminder that my usually quiet little station is an official Olympic route stop, and will likely be absolutely packed to the brim. (Locals, if you’re coming to Blackheath, be advised there are no ticket barriers on our station, and if you don’t remember to touch in and out on Oyster, you’ll be fined. We have all learnt this the hard way.)

london letterpressed cards
3. We have Olympic-themed bunting in the village and some flags on the heath. In the bright colours of this year’s branding – pink, purple, orange and turquoise. It went up a week or so after the Jubilee and it clearly has the Olympic and Paralympic logos alongside the 2012 design (of which I am so not a fan, but no one really asked me). I was standing at the road crossing when a lady looked up and remarked, ‘Oh, it’s nice they finally put something up for the Jubilee.’ Proof that some of the London population are applying the denial rule to all things Olympic this summer.

4. Everything that normally happens in a London summer is still happening, just on a much bigger scale. This past weekend, I watched some performances as part of the Big Dance, which happens every summer. Except this year it was everywhere! Circus tents at the Royal Naval College! At St Pancras Station! City Hall! (Actually, this is on-going at the moment and it’s not just in London, so have a look here for their full programme.) Speaking to a friend with an interest in independent film-making, she reported there have been so many more opportunities to collaborate or take a class as people get excited about how the city will change for these few months. So I’m thinking the same is happening across so many topics.

trooping the colour
5. The tourist groups are already bigger than usual. I’m not sure any of us can imagine what this is going to be like during the games themselves. Our local park is a pretty big tourist attraction anyway (hey, who doesn’t want to stand in both the eastern and western hemispheres AT THE SAME TIME I ask you?) but in the days before the park closed, the tourist groups ballooned in size. The same is in full effect in the West End and on the South Bank. I’m used to seeing tour groups of twenty or so, with a leader holding a random flag or umbrella to guide them, but in the past week I’ve seen multiple groups that are in the fifty to a hundred size. They move more slowly and take up so much more room. Yesterday I ran into such a group in a stairwell and I was of course going the opposite direction. I can’t say it was the most pleasant situation of all time really.

greenwich park sunset
6. The park is closed. We have known this was coming for a very long time, but it doesn’t make it any less sad. Much of the park has been closed for some time now as the equestrian arena, stabling and security is constructed, but now it is completely closed, and that goes for the Royal Observatory and the Planetarium too, which I know sounds like a random thing to lose from your everyday life, but we are actually members there so it’s more everyday than you might think. (Everyday but clearly not every day, yes?) On the flip side, the National Maritime Museum is not closed and has been recently kitted out with a swish new wing. I highly recommend the current special exhibition on the Royal River: it includes actual musical notebooks from Purcell and Handel, scrapbooks of royals from the early days of civilian photography, and some amazing revelations in the long tradition of trinkets made to commemorate coronations and royal marriages. Plus a full history of the Thames and many amazing paintings of its various incarnations (including the frozen Thames turned into a street carnival).

7. There are now little pink signs on tube maps that indicate which lines you need to get to the different event sites. Actually quite handy for not going to an event too, as this is a time when I’m sure I will be taking the longer route if getting from A to B means I can avoid the traffic of those going to an event.

8. Our Olympic tickets arrived! We have a set of cheap seats for round one of Men’s Basketball, and I also have a ticket to go be an audience stand-in for a day of testing things in the stadium before the games actually open, which sounds like it could be quite the mysterious adventure.

london ambassadors uniform
9. I have been to no fewer than three official interviews to verify my identity and good intentions so I can be trusted to guide tourists as a London Ambassador (that uniform is rather amazing, I tell you) and be part of another rather large event during games time (still can’t tell you about that part). Relieved to say I have passed all three security interviews and now been granted all sorts of large photo ID cards to hang around my neck, a pin that indicates I can speak a tiny bit of Spanish, and one particularly stylish trilby hat.

team GB
10. People are either EXCITED!!!! or grumpy. I wanted to say there is not much in between, but that would be wrong. Londoners do things in between. It is not a city of extreme emotion. We do not talk to strangers here and we do not make eye contact. It takes a while to understand that it’s not a rude thing – it’s a case of I don’t know you and I don’t want to intrude in your space/mind/life. In many cases, anyway. (There are rude people here of course. There are rude people everywhere, just like there are amazingly kind people everywhere. Thank goodness.) So I think it is merely more visible that people are EXCITED!!!!! or grumpy, because any sort of emotion on show is pretty radical here. But the EXCITED!!!!! people? They make me exceptionally giddy.

By the way, I do have some scrapbooking projects up my sleeve for games time. And I’m mostly concerned at how slow the internet will be with all the extra online streaming of live footage. I will keep reminding myself of dial-up in the countryside circa 1994 to get through it all, and that should keep me in good perspective!

Have ten things you want to share with the world? Blog it and then link it up here! Ten things, no matter what they are, just as long as they are ten!



Hello London Bloggers

hello london bloggers
london eye
Tonight I’m doing something a little different than the usual papercraftyness – I’m speaking at the London Bloggers Meet-Up as they present a panel on blog photography. A big hello to anyone who has popped over here as a result of that – thanks so much for visiting.

Before you leave, there are a few things that might be of photography interest amongst all the scrapbooks and cupcakes here on my blog. Camera School is a series of posts on becoming one with your camera, in a non-technical-manual sort of way. Travel Photography for Scrapbookers is actually a bit useful for non-scrapbookers too, if you fancy some fancier holiday snaps this summer. This post walks you through my favourite post-processing system, RadLab. Or some other specific posts, like my crazy love for shallow depth of field, my thoughts on Instagram, TTV photography for trying something that combines a digital camera and a vintage camera, a q&a on my photo style or some notes on Hipstamatic (which admittedly has scrapbooking in the post but non-scrapbookers have my permission to skim past the crafty stuff if you must).

If there’s anything else I can help with, you can find me on Twitter or you can email me. Huzzah for all things London and bloggish, so do get in touch!

xlovesx

10 Things :: August 2011

10 Things on the tenth :: August 2011
10 things I love about London
I had planned to save this particular topic for another month, since I just wrote ten things about a place last month, but this week just seems to be the best time to embrace this topic. So this month my ten things are all things I love about this place where I live: London.

london double-decker bus
Public transportation. We sold our car a year ago and haven’t looked back at all – that’s how much public transportation can make a difference. Between the train, the tube, the bus and the DLR, you can get anywhere you want to go in a number of ways. Last week Sally came down to London for the day and she asked me if I had the tube map memorised, because I had been able to tell her which line to catch off the top of my head. I don’t have it entirely memorised, because oh goodness is that a big map, but I think everyone here gets used to the lines they use most frequently and then it becomes just as easy to know as learning the streets of your neighbourhood. (Admittedly, our official cab drivers in London learn way more in terms of maps and I have the utmost respect.) There are so many reasons I prefer public transport to driving, from not worrying about traffic jams to being able to use my travel time to work, read or catch up with someone. Also, I think the tube map is the very definition of beautiful design.

10 things I love about London
History. This city is so old and has been so many things over time. You can just walk up to Roman walls or stand in the Tower of London. If you visit here from far away, please learn the difference between London Bridge and Tower Bridge and their unique histories. (They are constantly confused in popular culture. It fills me with dismay.) In fact, of all the history things I could mention here, go to St Magnus the Martyr church, a quiet little place that contains more information on the history of London Bridge than pretty much anywhere, between the amazing models and the knowledge of the people there. You’ll be an expert in ten minutes, so just go.

The food scene. I know, England has this reputation for bland food. It is wholly unwarranted. When I hear tourists say they never had a nice meal in London, I immediately think they didn’t bother to try anything that wasn’t a chain restaurant with mass-produced food. Of course we have plenty of places that serve up quick, cheap and/or bland. But once you get past that and find somewhere worthwhile, there’s a whole new world. The Gate is such an amazing vegetarian restaurant that The Boy (who is very much a meat-eater) won’t just eat there – he will suggest it. Wahaca is the British-grown twist on Mexican street food that kicked off London’s new craze for Mexican cuisine. (Be warned: as Mexican food is the latest trend here, we also have a lot of bandwagon restaurants that haven’t even figured out how to make an enchilada.) Byron is quickly becoming less a set of indie burger joints and more a chain (is Byron the new Nandos?) but so far they haven’t gotten so big to lose the quality. None of those suggestions are high-end fine dining and only one of the three takes reservations. I’m going to stop now because I could write a book about my favourite places to eat in London (oh heck, I haven’t even mentioned curry. My neighbourhood has six assorted curry restaurants and they are all pretty much awesome), but today, these three get my suggestion as easy-to-eat places that prove London’s food isn’t bland and boring.

10 things I love about London
Walking paths & parks. If you like to walk at all, come to London and pick up a guidebook to London walks or go on a walking tour (those are themed – Jack the Ripper, British architecture, Harry Potter references, The Beatles, literary greats and so on and so forth). See this place above ground at your own pace. Walk along the river or through more complicated paths. I never tire of the walks you can follow here and still have a list of many more miles to walk. And the parks are perfection. People often ask if I miss having a garden since we live in a flat, but as we live near an amazing park, I don’t miss it for one second. There are even deer there. I’m headed to a different park today actually – more swans, fewer deer.

Coffee. I know you would expect tea. It’s England. There should be tea. And there is, but in the past five years or so, London has become an amazing place for coffee. There are two World Barista Champions making espresso here (admittedly, Denmark has three) but also a host of places that are roasting and serving coffee that just ranks there with the best in the world whether you go in for championship tournaments or not. That has fuelled a small but strong coffee culture in London that is rare in the rest of the country. Yes, London has at least one Starbucks and Costa on every street, but there’s also Flat White, Kaffeine, Monmouth, Dose and so on. Random trivia: when I volunteered to help London tourists, I had to pick a London specialist subject and talk about it at length as part of the interview process. I talked about coffee.

10 things I love about london
The Weather. Ha. No, really. It’s rarely ridiculously hot. It’s rarely ridiculously cold. And I don’t mind the rain. I love it.

Theatre and performances. Obviously. You can see a show whenever you want. And whatever you want, whether it’s experimental fringe in a tiny space or a glossy musical production like Wicked or Phantom of the Opera. Heck, you can go to the actual opera. Phantoms not included. Or the ballet. Or a concert of any kind. Or to see Shakespeare expressed in hip-hop choreography performed by teenagers. On a Tuesday, I walk down a road that has several theatres and my timing is usually just before the doors close for the show to start. On a clear evening, the street will be filled with people meeting their dates and friends to see a show. Even last night. (I am in love with how the theatres stayed open this week. The show must go on, indeed.)

10 things I love about London
Museums and galleries. If I get to be excited about people on stage, I also get to be excited about things on walls and in displays. Some tourists get confused about what to do in London when it rains. Which is relatively often. If it rains when you’re walking about, duck into a museum or an art gallery until the weather changes. Many of them are free (although donations are appreciated) and they are all over town. Some are big famous places, like the V&A, Tate Modern and the National Gallery. But there are also these amazing smaller and more specific places. In our neighbourhood there is a museum dedicated entirely to hats and fans throughout history. There’s a place all about Benjamin Franklin. One about sewing machines. If you want to learn random trivia like no other, come to London in the off season and tour every museum you can find.

Acceptance. Right now it may not seem like it, but in all the places I’ve been in the world, London has this casual sense of accepting everyone as they are. Just do your thing. No worries. We don’t really talk to strangers here and we generally don’t make eye contact when we walk down the street. Maybe London seems a little aloof, but really, London gives everyone personal space to do their own thing. You’ve never heard so many people say ‘sorry’ until you’ve found yourself on an over-packed tube train. I know this point seems completely out of place this week but it has always been my gut-feeling of what I love about this city, so I’m just going to stick with it.

trafalgar square, london
Sudden community spirit. This is what makes me smile even at the most stressful of times. Ninety-nine percent of the time, we don’t talk to people we don’t know. But in that one percent when something is out of the ordinary? Suddenly we have some sort of community bond and everyone starts talking. It happens after horrible events, like the 7/7 attacks, but it also happens after things like snowstorms. I live on an entirely residential street that isn’t a high-priority for clearing, and every time it snows, I meet neighbours I’ve never seen. No one really owns a snow shovel here and very few have snow boots, so we bond over sliding down the road in our wellies with a half-dozen pairs of socks warming our feet. What else can you do? Last night our local pub was filled and inviting rather than the usual ‘actually, there aren’t many tables left’. Yesterday more people showed up to clean the streets in the morning than they could actually put to work. That’s pretty much fabulous, even though by saying it I have just proven to not be a real Londoner. Really should stay more quiet about my London love if I want to blend in… but trust me, it’s there.

love london
Just wanted to add that although not completely settled, things are notably better here at the moment. Monday night was rough on our side of town, but Tuesday night was quiet and there is normal traffic on the road this morning while yesterday there were few cars. It’s a step in the right direction, anyway.

Now… what ten things are you going to share today? It can be absolutely anything as long as it’s ten!! When you’ve posted, leave a link below and have a very fabulous tenth of August!

xlovesx

Finding scrapbooking inspiration in London

Seven Dials London

I may have grown up in the countryside, as we say it now – or hicksville as we said it then – but I am truly a city girl. Whenever I find myself somewhere that runs at a slower pace I have trouble adjusting. The overwhelming nature of so many things going on and so many people milling about…that is exactly what I love about cities!

This week I took my camera along to a place I find myself often: Seven Dials. It’s much quieter here than Oxford Street but has the most amazing selection of shoe stores and vintage boutiques and a good helping of Japanese fashion too.
Seven Dials London
Seven Dials London
Seven Dials London

Plus the best place to get freshly roasted coffee beans in the West End – Monmouth.
Seven Dials London

This little neighbourhood is the same place where I have ordered coffee next to Dave Grohl, bumped into Nigel Slater and had a minor freakout when passing Evanna Lynch (better known as Luna Lovegood from the Harry Potter films). And the people watching is only part of the fun!

Plus, it’s amazing how many people come to Covent Garden and don’t realise that Seven Dials is mere steps away.

Covent Garden London

Though I could see why Covent Garden might be enough to hold your attention. Especially if you want to, you know, eat cupcakes, listen to opera and photograph bunting all at the same time.

What do you find inspiring in your neighbourhood?

xlovesx

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