It’s Thursday, July 19th 2012.
That evening after sunset there will be a fire garden installation at the National Theatre, to celebrate the arrival of the Olympic Torch in London. My friends and I plan to check it out, cause pyrotechnics (do I need to say more?). Since it’s lovely weather, we agree to meetup earlier that evening at the Southbank and have dinner somewhere around there.
Now up until this day I think we all felt slightly cynical about the Olympics. In the past few months there have been constant subtle reminders that this is going to happen, but to us it’s mostly materialized as station closures, roadworks and other disruptions to our daily lives. There’s this wary acceptance that ‘yes, this is going to happen’, but it’s mainly going to throw the city into turmoil and be an annoying thing that we’ll need to deal with while we continue with our day-to-day. The Olympics are an event that we Londoners need to weather, not enjoy.
That evening those feelings disappear.
The moment I emerge from the underground tube station at Waterloo, I can sense that the city feels different. Just walking through the buzz and busyness of the Southbank you can tell that the cynicism has been replaced with this feeling of anticipation and hopefulness. Everywhere around me people are laughing, random strangers are enjoying conversations and there’s a general vibe that everyone is waiting with bated breath to see what happens next.
The air is full of not just excitement, but this collective feeling of pride of our city, of our London. The Olympics are coming and we’re going to show the world what it means to be a Londoner, to be a Brit. We’re going to welcome these athletes from all of the world and cheer them all on as they set their records and do amazing feats.
In the weeks that follow, my friends and I get thoroughly swept up in the Olympic spirit. We manage to get tickets to several of the actual events, watching various sports up close – and when we can’t get tickets, we attend the fringe events at the parks and Olympic Houses. Everywhere you go the city is cheering on the triumphs of the world.
This is our city and our city is celebrating.
It’s Friday, June 24th 2016.
That evening after work, friends of mine have pre-organized a meetup in the pub, jokingly mentioning the chances of needing a drink that evening. It’s been in my calendar for a few days, but I casually dismiss it as a fun moment to meetup with friends, not expecting that maybe I might actually need a drink that evening.
Now up until this point I think we all felt worried that Brexit could happen. It’s not until I wake up that morning and see that the result is LEAVE that it truly sinks in that today is a turning point.
Walking through London that morning – it feels like a city in mourning, with people expressing their grief in different ways. My trip on the tube, while never a very social experience, seems full of much more solemn quietness than usual. While catching up with friends and colleagues at the conference where I’m at that day, I can see the panic and defeat in their eyes. My entire Twitter and Facebook feeds are full of finger-pointing and blame and distrust, tons of voices lamenting the fact that we could ever get this far. And at the end of the day, there’s a flurry of people flocking to their closest pubs hoping to drink away the end of the world as they know it.
I’m not going to comment on the politics of this all – there’s still a lot that seems super vague to me. There are much more knowledgeable people than me out there who can explain what might happen and what we can do. I don’t know what’s going to happen, I don’t know what effects this will have on me, on my friends, on my colleagues.
But: I want my city back.
I want that London that we got during the Olympics. A London that is hopeful – a London that can stand strong and show the world that ‘yep, things suck, but we can get through this’. No matter what happens, this entire pointing fingers at each other, blaming this group or that, criticising the things we could have done differently, it’s not helping. If we keep looking back and bemoaning the things that could have been, we’ll wallow in the world of ‘What-If’ and never make a difference.
We’ve had our day of mourning.