Previously: Part 3
“Get on with it!!!” I hear you say.
OK, sorry I will get to the excting part now. My “Games Maker” shifts starting at LHR for the London 2012 Olympic games.
I woke up on Saturday 14th July at 4:45 for my first shift at LHR. I was due to start at 8am. My journey takes me from the middle of Essex to LHR on the other side of London. I approximated the journey time at 2hr:30min by a mix of car / train and walking! My route consisted of driving to the end of my nearest tube line at Upminster, parking up and taking the district line all the way across London to Hammersmith or Earls court and hopping onto the Piccadilly line to Heathrow T4. Happily LOCOG provided free Oyster cards for use during “games time” that gave you free travel on TFL services during your planned shifts. Other costs were not covered so I still had to pay out for fuel and parking every day, It wasn’t cheap to say the least.
I would leave around 5:30 and made my way to Upminster to catch a 6am tube. This first set of shifts were comprised early shifts compared to some late shifts I would be doing later on so the trains were basically empty for my early shifts, a very cool experience on a nice day into London, a city that was was quiet and just waking up. There were some beautiful mornings on the way in to enjoy I will always remember that, it was a special feeling ramping up to the games. I loved it as the train would get more and more busy and by the time I was at LHR it was super busy and “rush hour” was in full flow.
Now… I cant keep going on documenting every single event and part of my experience so from this point on Its more a day in the life of… (one of my GM shifts!)
A day in the life…
Iarrive at Heathrow T4 where I had to “check in” for my shift at the makes maker general offices, this basically made my presence aware to the team and the managers and allowed me to pick up my meal voucher. Any general games maker relevant information for the day was also supplied but usually it just ended up being a quick chat on each others jobs, thing we have seen and what we have planned to do, this was a a common occurrence throughout all of the workforce actually, whoever you met, even BAA staff or the public, everyone was interested in everyone’s jobs, especially in such an exciting place such as LHR.
After checking in for the day I usually rushed to my office which was airside and deep inside T4, a quick trip though the security hall and a hop skip and a jump over the border and I was usually in the office in around 5 min’s, how I wish I could still navigate the airport at that speed as a member of the public (sigh!). I passed one of the accreditation desks I had to look after on the way in to the office and gave a thought to them as they usually started their shifts at 4am every day just in time for the first flight arrivals, ouch! That’s a lot of dedication from those staff I must say. Transport to LHR is surprisingly poor in the dead of night.. they all found ways to make it in from all over the place though, quite amazing. Just getting in at 8am for me was nearly mission impossible by train, especially at weekends.
Every day I would walk along a row of gates on the way to the office and as a fan of planes, trains & cars (whatever, you name it) I was always buzzing seeing flights from all over the world parked in front of me, I quickly noted the regular flights sitting at the same gates everyday. Soon I would start to recognise the individual planes and their travel patterns as they bounce back and forth from LHR to the world. My favourite plane was most likely the Etihad Airbus A340 in none other than the Formula 1 livery that you see in action on TV around the Bahrain GP I think. It happened to be based at the gate right outside the office so It was always a nice sight. A worthy mention goes to the numerous A380’s parked down the other end of the terminal, man do they turn those around fast and get them back on their way! All in all they are all such beautiful machines to be around daily. Is it sad to say they almost felt like friends, I swear I started giving a nod to the regulars!
At the office I would get up to speed on what’s been going on, any issues I need to be aware of and finally I would pick up a airport radio (walkie talkie) and was basically sent on my way.
Now… the way it works was, unless I had a urgent or specific task to get to and work on straight away the rule was simple as my manager put it. “Go out, have fun and get lost!” I did all 3, a lot! All that was asked of me is that I keep my ears out for the radio and be ready to attend any issues, wherever I may be! In reality we we always set out to do a total sweep of every bit of equipment every day at the airport and speak to every team out there to find out how the technology is performing and if there were any issues to report back to the I.T team. This is basically an entire days work. To put it in perspective remember what I said about how a terminal works.. you have “land side” pre border and security and “air side” across the border. LOCOG and the other I.T vendors have equipment to be checked on both sides at every terminal. Constantly crossing security is a less than enjoyable experience after doing it a few times and usually bouncing in and out security could add a lot of time to your travel time during peak hours. It was much easier to stay either airside or landside and use the relevant transport routes that each side provide to navigate the all the terminals in one circuit in that side and then jump across to the other and go around again. Yes, mad but true and boy is it a LOT of walking and sitting on various bus’s and trains. Still.. its fun at a venue like LHR.
So, what did I use to move around this giant place? Airside transport consisted of regular shuttle bus’s which were actually the terminal / flight connections bus’s that as a passenger you would use yourself when airside catching a connection on another flight. This is pretty much it, everything else was walking from point A to B when airside.
Landside was much more exotic when it comes to transport. TFL and every other transport operator operate a free travel zone in and around Heathrow so you can pick and choose whatever service you want and whatever would be fastest. I had the choice between the Heathrow Express (HEX for short), TFL London Tube and Bus’s and more curiously the Heathrow Pod’s that don’t actually go anywhere useful (for me anyway) but man were they cool, I will get back to those later. My preference was to use the HEX if a train was due soon or to just walk terminal to terminal!
“How are things going?”
Once on my way and usually as part of a team of 2-3 we would travel to each location where our equipment was situated and have a chat to the team’s there about how its all going and if everything is OK, we would note everything down and plan to rectify the problems either same day or to pass onto the next shift to deal with on their circuit of checks. Rarely did we have to attend direct call outs as this pre emptive approach worked at solving nearly all basic issues. For example if we could see something was going to go out of action soon we could radio it in to the office in T4 or get on the phone to LOCOG HQ at canary wharf to give them a heads up and get it sorted before it goes wrong. Being I.T 90% of the problems were basic hardware mishaps and user account problems with sprinkling of empty toner to top it off. In hindsight the entire technology operation was so flawless at the airport its almost crazy to believe it. Considering the core I.T team based on site only number 5-6 people for the entire airport its quite something, some were based at the airport for over year, some two before the games action even began so really its a credit to the I.T staff on how well they orchestrated such a monumental operation, also credit to BAA because without them none of the operation could even have been possible. They put an incredible amount of time and money into preparing for the Olympics overall and the I.T infrastructure at a place like Heathrow is something you just don’t touch usually! It’s the amazing inter-business collaboration and hard work by many many people and businesses working towards a common goal made it happen. I don’t think your average event or job would ever inspire such teamwork between people of different employers to work literally next to each other hand in hand on the same job! It was a common bond and shared excitement that made it all gel together I think teamwork wise. A unique experience for me.
Around mid shift we would stop for lunch and that means finding somewhere to eat wherever you happen to be at the time. Being at the airport there was always an interesting assortment of places to eat and shop. Having to go through duty free every day was very nice! I usually settled for something simple airside and went and found a quiet and empty gate overlooking the runway to sit and eat. Its this kind of access that I truly loved. The airport was not just a transport mechanism any more for me, it was something else, an adventure. some days I would make my way down the A380 gates in T3, other days just the long haul at T4 and some other’s in the BAA staff canteen.
After lunch It was either a matter of finishing the checks and having a bit of a wonder or getting back to base to pick up supplies or to report in to other people. When it came to having free time… I really exploited that part.
Where to start… Well.
Having access to four terminals of duty free every day is an experience. If only I had the money I would of only spent it all! I ate at some cool places I would never have normally and got to see a bit of high end shopping and learnt how much those big diamond rings are in the window.. (gulp).
Outside of shopping there is other unique things at Heathrow that I experienced During some free time I made my way over to the Heathrow “Pod’s” that shuttle execs to and from the business car park at T5. If you don’t know about these they are the super futuristic computer controlled capsules that shuttle you around like The Jetsons! Now.. once I got on them all those feelings of “man I shouldn’t be messing around playing with big toys” quickly evaporated It was like a geeky transport mania day out. Pod’s, planes, trains, cars. Ahh!
A lot of time was also spent just exploring every nook and cranny the airport has to offer. I would walk to places and parts of the airport I have never been to and might never return to. My security access granted me travel to all public places both air side and landslide so I made a trip to many distant gates and points of interest and to a lot of the quiet area’s of the airport to have seen it all in years gone by. These are places that have maybe seen better days or are now either history or were literally about to become it. (The famous spinning radar tower being one of them, one day it stopped while I was there, It has never turned back on! 🙁 ) A lot of Heathrow is now either super modern or ageing and old or just in a state of transition and both at the same time. Some places are simply stuck decades in the past and have such a historic feel to them and others are cutting edge (e.g the Pod’s) Its really quite something seeing Heathrow as an ageing but constantly evolving structure. New T2 was rising out of the ground every day and the plans for the rest of the airport to be pulled down and rebuilt are all in place. It made me think It’s likely the last time I would ever be in some of the old buildings that have seen so much over the years… Now don’t get me wrong I respected how privileged I was to have this truly amazing once in a lifetime access to the airport and I always had the security aspect at the back of my mind (I wonder what the hell It looks like I am doing poking around here!? This is Heathrow remember…) I was in such a privileged position having such great access to the airport and I almost always felt sorry for being a burden just wondering around and also being a security nightmare I assume.. I wouldn’t hang around a busy gate for example of get in the way of people who have “real” business be it passengers or other staff. I would just politely explore all that the airport has to offer. I never got into any trouble and generally everyone was really happy to see you enjoying the airport, its a unique place to be. It was an experience that will never happen again so I grabbed it to the best of my ability and exploited it as much as possible. It was too much fun. Now you might be thinking at this point I just spent my time wasting time wondering about but it was far from it. I spent literally days walking to and from my points of work and I don’t really want to bore you with how many toners or wires I looked at so this all happened along the way this was all slotted in in my spare time much to my enjoyment.
Coming to an end…
Now to wrap this up… My work at LHR was coming to an end and my last shift for the Olympic games was the day of the opening ceremony (something I was invited and got the opportunity to watch to during a secret rehearsal a few days prior!) Knowing what was about to happen had me excited to a whole new level but at the same time sad to see my part come to an end, proper mixed emotions. I was due to finish at 10pm but we were allowed to get away at 6pm to rush back to catch the opening ceremony on TV with our family’s. And that was that (sort of, see below)
Now, I need to wrap this up… There was literally so much going on over my near month of time at LHR (I was invited to return to work the Paralympics too! so I jumped at the opportunity) …So I cant possibly write everything down here. It’s just memory’s now. I hope I just gave a snap shot of my tiny part of the London 2012 operation. I was one of 70,000 odd volunteers and countless other paid staff and external companies. The whole operation was so huge it still stuns me. I loved working at Heathrow and I will never forget it. I loved the company of all the people around me and had some great time’s that I would never normally have in day to day life. Being a games maker changed me.. it sounds cheesy, maybe a lot of this does but it really did. I would never have thought about volunteering my time to anything or anyone before the games, but now I would jump at it again and I want to do more for other people now that I know how rewarding it can be. I didn’t get paid a penny and I was near enough was flat broke at the end of my time but I have never felt so satisfied after a days work than I did while I was a Games Maker. That is a poignant feeling that I hope wont ever escape me.
I am immensely proud of my part in the games and for the games themselves. It will never leave me. We did it and we did it good.
BAA “Fun Day”
As a Thank you from BAA they ran a “Fun day” for all volunteers at the airport both LOCOG and BAA in house volunteers. It was great fun and just across the road from LHR!