London is at its quietest: attendance at some of the city’s most-visited tourist attractions is down by up to fifty per cent according to some estimates; hotels are undersold, restaurants sleepy.
All this while the Olympic Park in Stratford heaves. A packed house of 80,000 watched Usain Bolt win the men’s 100-metre final on Sunday and events scattered around London have been similarly well attended, with the empty seat scandal of week one largely resolved. But, attending an event is a guilty pleasure.
The Olympic buzz hasn’t extended from the Park to the streets of central London. Perhaps the fear-mongering that preceded the Games was too effective, as policy-makers tried to prepare for the expected onslaught of visitors by getting the city’s residents to work from home or better still, get out of the UK. London is about as close to a ghost town as you can imagine the crowded capital could be. And with available and affordable seats at a premium, if you’re lucky enough to have a ticket or three, attending events it sandwiched by guilt.
After some frantic moments on the London 2012 website and a prodding of my entire friend group, I managed to organise seats for myself at women’s weightlifting, swimming and gymnastics. The experience of these events was sublime, a reaction echoed among my fellow Olympic initiates.
But, three tickets does feel a bit undeserved when so many friends and colleagues are so desperately trying to get into just one – especially considering my pre-Olympic humbugging, sheepishly reversed after Danny Boyle’s spectacular opening ceremony.
It’s hard to offer consolation to the ticketless. With no Olympic fever on the streets, you’d think maybe a stroll through the Olympic Park could satisfy your Games craving – but that too, is ticketed. And, sold out.
If you’re desperate for action you could drop in on one of the jumbo screens showing the Games that has been set up in public spaces around the city. But, good luck trying to convince your boss that it’s worth skipping work to watch what is, ostensibly, a big television.
For all intents and purposes, the London 2012 Olympics are an impressively organised Games that will undoubtedly leave a positive legacy in East London. But, in trying to make sure the crowds don’t cripple the city, we’ve overshot and caused London to lose its liveliness.
For those of us allowed passage into the privileged world of Olympic activity: after the battle to get a ticket, comes the battle not to talk about how exceptionally exciting it was.