Learning as I Go – Glasgow 2014

2014-07-21 07.36.00-1If I ever needed confirmation that training is all very well, but that you only really learn how to do something when you have to do it yourself, I received it yesterday.  I’d seen the demonstration of the satellite navigation system on the Ford cars which form the Commonwealth Games fleet twice, which involved sitting in the car while a person who knew how it worked pressed the buttons very quickly and then said ‘Of course this one already has all the main Games venues programmed in’.  Even when I had my turn at sitting in the driving seat, and gingerly touched a few of the controls, it didn’t mean much as I didn’t need to go anywhere in particular.

It was only when I was sitting in the car park yesterday afternoon in a brand new car with only 8 miles on the clock, not much fuel and a completely virgin sat-nav trying to programme in the postcode of a place in central Glasgow that I realised that this system had its own idiosyncrasies that make it different to all the others I have used in the past, and it resisted all my efforts to input what should have been the most straight forward of destinations.  And I had one of the team in the car with me.

It was not my finest hour.

Later on in the day, in a quiet moment on my own, with no-one sitting beside me, it took me 5 minutes of fiddling with it to bend it to my will.  Now its method of operation is etched on my brain forever.

It’s fun driving around the city in one of the Games cars.  With the right pass on the windscreen you can drive on roads and into compounds which are otherwise barred.  For a short while I’m allowed into an inner sanctum of sorts.  It’s just like the rest of the world really, but a little bit quieter and with more security checks.

I’m due to take part in the rehearsal for the Opening Ceremony at Celtic Park tonight so that for the Real Thing  I can show my team where they have to go and when, for the Athletes Parade.  I’m looking forward to it, but won’t be able to tell you anything about it, because I don’t want to spoil the surprise for Wednesday(!).


Meeting the Chef – Glasgow 2014

2014-07-18 19.35.59-3I learnt something new yesterday.  Because, unlike the Olympics, there is no qualification required for athletes to compete in the Commonwealth Games, some countries arrive with more athletes than they said they would.  This, not surprisingly, creates pressure on the provision of accommodation at the Athletes Village.  Some of this has been built into the contingency planning, but until they know where the extra people will come from it’s hard to plan for their allocation.

So while I’d spent time on Thursday fixing the location of the rooms and the office space allocated to Mozambique in my memory so it would be easy to find when the Team Head arrived, by the time we met her, it had all changed.  Yesterday was not a good day to be walking round the Village with a paper map working out where the new allocations were.  We all ended up like drowned rats, to the extent, at least in my case, that drowned rats have heads of wild frizzy hair and wet feet.  There was one particular moment, when we were sitting in a near empty portacabin in a rutted car park, with the rain dripping out of our shoes, dealing with the paperwork for the cars to be used by the team, and O, the Team Manager, still had the hood up on the waterproof jacket I had lent her, that it seemed that all this Glasgow 2014 stuff wasn’t that glamorous after all.

We had met O, whom I’ve already grown accustomed to introducing as ‘Our Chef’ (as in Chef de Mission, the jargon for overall team manager) in the morning, and learnt something of the team who will be arriving later on Sunday.  The team is 29 in total including 16 athletes competing in four sports: athletics, swimming, judo and boxing.  Many of them are young, and coming for the international experience to prepare them for more competition in the future.

Yesterday there were two other volunteers like me with the team, and it was very satisfying to find out how easily we worked out sharing the tasks between us.  We expect two more to join, one on Monday and another on Wednesday to complete our complement of 5 volunteer assistants.

Today I expect to be driving O out and about around the city as she checks up on a few things prior to the rest of the team arriving.  I feel surprisingly apprehensive about it – mainly working out how to get out of the security cordon and onto the roads outside the Village bubble.  But I won’t know until I try!

Despite the rain yesterday, there were so many more people in the Village than there had been on Thursday.  Everything has the feel of ratcheting up towards the start on Wednesday.  The smiles might have been a little more strained in the face of the driving rain but they were still there most of the time.

One of the ‘core values’ of the Games is that they be sustainable.  One aspect of this is recycling all the waste.  There are 4 different coloured bins in the cafeteria.  On Thursday there were signs above them identifying what should go in each.  I’d like to think I’m not slow on the uptake, but I stood for way more time than should be devoted to deciding which bin rubbish should be put in, trying to work out how to sort the debris on my lunch tray.  There was a volunteer standing guard to help, but as there is no ‘paper’ bin, determining where to put the bunch of paper towel I had used to wipe up when I spilt half my cup of tea, foxed us both.  On Saturday as well as the descriptions, there are now photographs over the bins showing what can go in each; I could throw away without the preliminary dither.  And no volunteer on guard – I hope they’ve been redeployed to a more fun job!

Volunteering in Glasgow


It’s all been a very slow build up.  It started somewhere in the mists of time when, entirely on a whim, I sent off an online 2014-07-18 19.35.59-3application to be a volunteer at the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games.  It might have been on the back of the general feel good atmosphere in London after the 2012 Olympics, or it might not have been, I can’t really remember.  But when it came to the interview last August, I’m fairly sure I relied quite significantly on that concept in my answers.  I was told I was being considered for the Transport team, and I smiled and nodded, not entirely sure that I had applied for that, but happy enough to go along with the process to see what happened next.  In that respect it was vaguely reminiscent of my going for interviews with accounting firms in my final year at university, ‘for the experience’ and being recruited into a job which turned into 25 years of a career, while I tried to decide what I really wanted to do; or of my going for a look-see visit to Moscow for a prospective job, as I thought I’d never get such a great opportunity for a trip there.  It was only for a weekend, after all……which led to the over two years in the city.  So, you see, there’s a bit of a pattern.

Transport, they explained was a very broad category, including people armed with clipboards and hi-vis jackets at bus stations and airports checking people got on the right buses, to those charged with driving cars for dignitaries and others (‘games family’ in the plethora of jargon).  There was another mysterious role, of which I wasn’t aware until I was told I was going to be doing it: CGA Assistant.  In English, this means Commonwealth Games Association Assistant, and is a person who is directly affiliated with one of the Country teams.  It was only when I attended the training days in May and June that I learned that this might or might not include driving, but would definitely involve random administrative and organisational tasks depending on the needs of the Country Team Management.  There’s also a uniform to wear: red, white and grey with branding and logos…..  I’ve not worn a uniform since I left school, and even then I personalised it beyond the point when it might properly have been described as ‘uniform’.

They kept us waiting to find out the country to which we had been allocated long enough to really ratchet up the sense of anticipation and impatience, so it was only a couple of weeks ago that I learnt that I would be supporting the Mozambique team.  At this point I should probably admit that until the moment I read the notification email I didn’t know that Mozambique was a member of the Commonwealth, but since then, I have better educated myself.

I sent an email to the High Commission in London to introduce myself, and was surprised, but very pleased, to be invited to meet one of the diplomats who will be actively involved with the team during the Games.  He told me that he understood that the Chef de Mission, (another new phrase that now skips smoothly off my tongue, and means the person in charge of the management of the Country Team) would be arriving in Glasgow this Friday.  I had been told to report for my first shift at the Athletes Village on Thursday.  It was no surprise then, that when I clocked in for the first time, there was no Mozambique team for me to join yet; and it is interesting how strongly I feel that they are my team already, even though I’ve not met them.

Walking into Helensburgh railway station to board the train into the city I felt unbelievably self-conscious in my bright red uniform, adorned with the glowing Glasgow 2014 logo.  I imagined small children staring at me, and adults shaking their heads in disbelief, but by the time I arrived at Dalmarnock station I was part of a crowd.  Suddenly, it was compulsory to greet complete strangers because they were wearing the same uniform; the Friendly Games indeed.

It was an incredible thrill to discover that my accreditation pass really did give me instant access to the heart of the Athletes Village.  I was one of those people walking about among the flags of the ‘71 nations and territories’ participating in the Games, crossing the freshly laid paths and grass, my ID swinging across my polo shirt, offering cheery ‘hellos’ to athletic young people in shorts.  Surreal?  This? Ever so slightly.

Everyone is in a uniform of one sort or another; sports gear of varying hues, even on the least athletic frames.  Only the police are exempt from the sportsy look, having the foresight to already have a well-recognised uniform of their own.  It was the visitors in suits and ties who looked the odd ones out in this little capsule of athletics and training shoes.

Because my team hadn’t arrived yet, B, my new colleague and I spent a little while walking around the Village to familiarise ourselves with the geography, to find the car parks, the portacabin for the Mozambique team office, and to test ourselves on whether we could find our way back to the central office.  Bumping into people I had met on the training days, the conversations all went the same way:

‘How are you?  Which Country are you?’

‘How big is the team?  Have you done any driving? How many CGAAs?’ (we’re all fluent in the acronyms)

And then we nod and wave, because everyone is heading somewhere in a hurry ‘See you again, I’m sure.’

B and I were loaned to Team England for the afternoon, and helped them put greeting cards in some of the rooms for the athletes.  Many of the rooms had been decorated with posters made by primary school children in Scotland, and it was a funny coincidence to see that several of them were from children at Hermitage Primary in Helensburgh, the school I went to.  I do hope the athletes send them a thank you.

I was very happy to help with the Team England tasks, and although they could not have been more welcoming, I had a curious feeling that they weren’t my team in the way that Mozambique is.

So this morning I am going back and really hope they are safely arrived. I’ve been told to check in at 11, as they may well be jet lagged, to give them time to get up and have their breakfast.  A reminder that although this is a huge machine working towards a massive spectacular, it’s all made up of people, many of whom have come a very long way.


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