I finally made the pilgrimage to Le Mans in France for the 24 hours (motor car race) last month.
I dont know really know what to say about it. Beyond the facade of the history and and the obvious facts about the race I can only try and put it into words what the 24 hours IS, to me anyway.
It is the most pure human and machine pairing in motorsport that I have ever experienced. There is something magical about the progression of time into the night and back into the day. You feel the struggle of the 24 hours just like the drivers and mechanics do, it is a unique experience.
The cars for some reason can quickly become something more than the drivers inside of them, this is an extremely odd sensation, I have never really revered and willed on a racing car before.
Unfortunately during this 24 hours we experienced loss of a drivers life and that was tough to deal with but at the same time I become acutely aware of the reality of motorsport properly for the first time. It really is life in the fast lane, life at the limit, where success and failure stand side by side and control and calculation err more towards chance and luck.
I signed up to volunteer for the London 2012 Olympic games in 2010, I met the requirements and passed my interview in 2011/2012, I have started the training process early in 2012 and It’s June now and It’s getting serious, its time for my Venue tour. My “venue” is London Heathrow Airport…
So we left off with me arriving for training and later on a venue tour at LHR, It all went well, a lot of the process at the start of the day was security related… We don’t get it any more/less than any other staff member or visitor to the airport, and rightfully so. As we would be going “Air side” during the tour (as this is where my office and work is located) we bring our passports to hop over the border just like any normal passenger (although the need to carry a passport will be replaced with a special ID later on) We have already had various security tests, training and a mind bogglingly thorough background check outside of LHR just to make it to this point. My role was very unique for a games maker in this respect as we are operating in someone else’s private property unlike most other staff/volunteers and it just so happens to be likely the most heavily guarded and secure place in the country!
Quickly I realise more than ever that many aspects of security were going to be a big part of the work ahead. For this reason alone I didn’t take any photo’s inside the buildings other than a some snaps of the sky/airfield, the (incredibly fun)shuttle trains and a couple of portraits of me that you will see later on. It wouldn’t of been right for me to abuse the trust that I was granted to be in an incredible place surrounded by incredible athletes and to be taking photos of everything like a tourist, I was here to work and show the world what we have got! I felt extremely privileged to be part of the games and for my role.
I do admit it was painful at times to be in incredible places and situations that I wish I could capture in a photo, but I couldn’t, so I’m just left with the memories in my minds eye, and its actually made my experiences a bit more romantic and unique for me being that way actually.
Anyway.. let’s continue.
So, what actually is my role at LHR then? Well all is explained during my first day at airport I was going to be part of the technology team supporting the I.T/Technology paid staff and organisations based there (ATOS, Acer, BT and LOCOG) I would be supporting them on their duty’s and more specifically for me helping keep an extremely important couple aspect of the games operation at the airport up and running at all times: Accreditation and the systems running the Welcome Desks & offices for the transport team.
Transport and welcome desk staff relied on their systems to help them shuttle the endless V.I.P’s, athletes, teams, press, associated family’s, visitors and the occasional world leader out to their hotels and/or venues for the duration of the games.
For the accreditation side of things that was the system that produced the laminated document for everyone who had anything to do with the games would be issued with. You had to wear it as your identification and it showed your clearance to perform your duties at the games whoever you were, be it Usian bolt entering the track at the Olympic stadium, or a member of staff giving you directions in the park and even me working at Heathrow! we were all equal in this respect! You may recognise the actual accreditation documents as the white A5 documents everyone had around their necks on the colourful lanyards! For some athletes it also acted as their visa and thus allowed entry to the country so this was serious business on many levels.
All in all these systems needed to look after tens of thousands people who need to be processed and looked after in some way shape or form by technology managed by my team in the coming weeks. Gulp…
So we went for the tour of the venue, Terminal 4 to be exact, this is where my office was located. My actual duty would see me across all of the 4 terminals (Yes there are 5 terminals, but T2 was and still is being reconstructed!) With this in mind no one single tour would show me around this huge set of buildings, finding you way around was set to be a massive part of the fun! Luckily Heathrow has it’s iconic signage, so its not too bad once you know what to look for I found. As I mentioned before my work and office would see me travelling air side(past the border, where you go to board your plane!) and back to landside area’s over and over again so I got my first taste of security control and border control under my belt utilising the the staff channels which speeds things up.
It was all over very quickly, I recognised some of the area’s I had been to before as a passenger before but to be honest I hadn’t scratched the surface. We visited the office, some of the accreditation desks and other airport facilities and generally learnt how to navigate the airport as staff which is… inexplicable to say the least. I came to think of navigating the terminals as jumping between slices of a sandwich, you go up, down, left, right, back on yourself and take some short cuts all along the way. Bare in mind you will often be going against the most rigidly controlled and flowing system of walkways designed to ferry people in ONE direction at all times, so it gets odd going backwards and between different area’s to say the least! My brain was always aching with disorientation at the end of the day that’s for sure!
I got home, exhausted after a long day, but very excited for my shifts to start, which wasn’t too far away, I would be working the 2 weeks before opening ceremony as this is when the majority of the Olympic bandwagon would be arriving in the country and so this was the “critical” period for my team.
Olympic activities were ramping up all around the country at this point and my home town of Basildon was lucky enough to get a Olympic torch visit.. how I wish I could hold one of those… hmm.
So, shortly after leaving my not to be dream teaching job I ended up back at my retail job that I originally took up during university, which is not a bad thing. It pays bills, I like the work and the people are good, that will do me for now. Don’t get me wrong, I want the “perfect” job and job fulfilment and satisfaction just like everyone else and retail doesn’t do it for me entirely but I have other things up my sleeve so I’m not too worried about that dreaded “dead end job” that everyone speaks about, maybe I can talk about that later.
To go off on a small tangent, my point here is that from speaking to people about my job history to date people get too caught up in what they think I should be doing. I don’t really care about that, if it was true I would be there now wouldn’t I? As I said before, I think you should follow your instinct and don’t get too caught up on what everyone else (or even you, yourself sometimes) think you “should” be doing.
Anyway… this leads on well to start of my next notable part of 2012.. My role in the London 2012 Olympics, and boy what a time it was.
I’m going to go back to the start of the process so bare with me..
The journey started on the 15th September 2010. I still cant remember what inspired me to apply to volunteer at the games (I have never volunteered before), I didn’t know much about (the games) at the time and it seemed forever away. I just remember hearing the news reports about the registration website opening for what they called “Games Makers” (the volunteer’s of the games) and that sparked my interest in taking a look at the website. At that time… the general feeling with the games as a whole was that it was going to be “a bit crap”. After Beijing it seemed that we were destined to put on a poor show. Looking back now after the games that seems ridiculous but that was the truth back then. Its the British way I guess! How wrong we were… Anyway, I thought “hey maybe we can make it special”, so I applied.
Not much really happened after then, I forgot about it, university life reigned supreme in my life as usual at the time. London 2012 was a distant event, If I even made it through the application/interview process that is.
Fast forward to April 2011, I was invited to the ExCel centre in London for my interview. I was picked for an interview with the technology team for the games, I’m guessing my application credentials best matched me for this type of role, which would be true. My interest was heightened. I arrived early, thousands of people were packed around the centre entrance, “wow” I thought, “this is crazy!” Then I noticed it was the entrance for a wedding convention or something.. ah. The entrance for my interview was actually through a small nondescript side door a few hundred meters away, hey ho.
I was early so I killed some time on the PSP outside, it was a nice day to be sitting around the docklands. My interview time came and I went in to register. The typical details were taken or confirmed and my photo was taken. Now, I went through to a small dark room to watch a humorous orientation video presented by Eddie Izzard that aimed to get us all buzzing with excitement, it somewhat worked, most likely due to the copious amounts of free Cadbury’s chocolate that was on offer from the sponsor though!
Afterwards the group of us waiting for our slot for an interview had time to mingle and talk about what we do, what we think about the games etc. I quickly noticed a terrifying problem though, everyone I spoke to was much older than me, much more experienced than me and all had fascinating technoloy jobs that eclipsed me as a undergrad working a DIY hardware shop with a small college certificate in I.T. For example I spoke to: A Formula 1 timing system operator, a few I.T system admins for big city banks and an inventor who designed parts of the track and field laser based timing systems just to name a few. I Instantly felt like I was the odd one out, I must of slipped through the net of the selection process to get to this stage. I am a nobody! Gulp.
I went on for my interview feeling extremely awkward and out of place, for each question I was asked I was imagining the infinitely more interesting answers the people in the booths around me were giving for their greatest achievement, high point of their life type questions before I could even come up with my own measly answer, I stumbled though it. It wasn’t the greatest interview I have ever had that’s for sure.
I left, went home and forgot about it all again. Nothing happened for 6 months, absolute radio silence. I fluffed it. Until.. In October 2011 an email popped up in my inbox.
Shocked for bit, I went on to see what role they had actually picked for me.. technology is a very broad line of work after all.
Now.. I have to preface my following reaction this with the fact that, I love airports, air travel, planes, trains and cars etc. I don’t know what it is is. I’m not the only one, I know that. Its just a buzz when you travel, I love it. The people, the excitement everyone is going somewhere and doing something, you really get to see a cross section of the world I think and this is especially true for being at the airport, and no other airport excites me more than London Heathrow. As a kid I remember travelling though it many times and It was magical.. It really is a a kid when you think about it, its a place you go to that leads you to somewhere else by the magic of flight. The buildings alone are maze, a masterpiece of networked corridors and escalators.
So… I couldn’t believe it! I didn’t even know at first what Heathrow has to do with the games (its no where near the action, its the other side of London!) Certainly nothing exciting will be happening there to do with the games.. how wrong I was. Heathrow was chosen to be the host airport for the London games. The athletes, teams, equipment, everything would be coming through the UK’s and one of the worlds busiest airports. My excitement was at an all time high. I used to wonder what it would be like working at an airport, it’s something I had in my mind from an early age as one of those really “cool”/dream jobs. Well, I was going to be working there soon, amazing.
Once again, not much happened for a few months but then the new year came, 2012 was here. In 6 months the games will be upon us.
I had my first training if you can call it that on a ridiculously cold and snow jammed Feburary day. It wasn’t a great situation, the weather prevented a lot of people making it (I ended up destroying parts of my little car’s bodywork trying to plough though 4/5ft of snow at one point on the motorway.. not good at all) maybe only 75% made it.. still an achievement that that that many made it. A sign of things to come.. little did I know.
It was a strangely secretive meeting of five or so thousand people at Wembley arena and one of many over the coming days to accommodate the tens of thousands of Londoners and local Games Makers. It really aimed at getting you buzzing for the games, what to expect, the hard, hard work you will be doing (for free!) and how we can all support each other to get though it. It was sobering but exciting at the same time.
Things really start to ramp up now. Role specific training needed to take place and more excitingly venue specific training! In April I got my shifts, ten days in total split into two 5 day chunks comprising of early starts and some late shifts too (8am – 3pm / 3pm-10pm generally)
Training starts at none other than the 37th floor of a canary wharf skyscraper. Having never been up a a building like this it was in itself was exciting experience.
The place was too quiet though, why were so many floors empty? It then hits me, these floors used to be where the bankers sat only a few months ago (Their huge logo still adorns the side of the building). A man with me in the lift told me the story of how it happened, one by one your phone rang, you packed you possessions into a box and left the room, and your job, and then the next phone would ring, slowly the rooms emptied in silence.. Sobering.
I came back to canary wharf on two more occasions and had the majority of the technology training. I’m feeling super excited now and equipped to go.
Next up, my venue specific training at LHR. I was really excited for this. It was June now and the start of my activity in the games was right around the corner. I travelled to Heathrow on the tube and made my way to the training centre just outside of the airport, the smell of jet fuel in the air always hits me and I feel like I should be going on holiday! My passport is in hand though for the tour of my my MIGHTY workplace that will commence later on.
Right, I think I’m going to split this post up up, its getting huge. I didn’t intend to document the whole experience but I’m kind of enjoying reliving it a bit. Next time I will move onto actually working at LHR during “games time”.