In the Neighbourhood – Glasgow 2014

2014-07-29 11.30.49I don’t think I had ever been to the East End of Glasgow until I attended the Volunteer Orientation event at the Emirates Arena earlier this year.  I still don’t know very much about it, other than the immediate environs of Dalmarnock station, my commuting hub for the last couple of weeks.

The Athletes’ Village is the centre of a massive regeneration area, including newly built houses, which will both social and private homes after the Games have finished.  There is a mixture of terraced houses and low rise flats as well as a building that will be a care home for elderly and disabled people.  The development, the size of some multiple of football pitches that I cannot recall (suffice to say it takes a good 20 minutes brisk walk from to get from one end to the other) will be finished off, with the installation of kitchens and the filling in of party walls which have been left open between pairs of terraced houses, once the athletes vacate the Village on August 6.

I have only seen pictures of what was here before – elderly factories and Victorian tenement blocks.  Some were very unhappy to see so much demolished and swept away, and there were protests and occupations in the run up to some phases of the demolition.  And now the Village and the necessary transport hub bringing thousands of people in and out of it every day, are surrounded by a high security fence.  But there are people living in houses just across the street.

This is the view from the houses across the road from one of the vehicle entrances on the south side of the Village: athletes walking to and fro, cars dropping off and picking up, roaming TV crews trying to catch vox pop interviews on the hoof; security staff and armed police standing by.

Most days when I have arrived for my shift, or on my multiple walks in and out, I have seen residents leaning on their garden gates, watching the world go by.  There is one elderly lady who takes her morning coffee, and chats with passers-by while still in her dressing gown.  The residents have endured all the noise and dirt of the demolition, of construction, and now are kept away from crossing their own road by security cordons and thousands of people in uniforms of various hues.

A couple of days ago I asked one of the garden gate ladies what she thought of it all, assuming that it must all feel like a bit of a nuisance to her.  ‘Aw no’ she said.  ‘Ut’s great.  Naebdy ivver kem doon here afore.  Noo there’s somethin tae watch all the time.’

Enough said.

The Mysteries of Pin Collecting – Glasgow 2014

2014-07-28 06.32.54Some months ago I saw a thread on social media about pins for the Commonwealth Games.  There were a great many participants in the discussion, about design and cost, for the production of one especially for the Clydesider Volunteers who would be working with the country teams in the Village.  I didn’t think much more about it, other than to wonder at the number of people who appeared to be interested, and to recall that my niece, a Gamesmaker at London 2012 had collected a couple of badges as thank you gifts.

It’s only over the last couple of days that I have understood the depth of my naivety.  Pin collecting is a Big Deal at the Games.  I might go as far as to suggest that some people have got a little carried away and ever do slightly obsessive about it.

Some of the teams have given their athletes and officials a few badges to swap with new friends that they make during the time they are in Glasgow.  It makes sense, the sharing of a little memento of meeting someone from a far away country, encouraging the competitors to chat about swapping, something to start a conversation, something to share.

It’s easy to see the genesis of the idea, a small inexpensive item and a lot of fun. What it seems to have turned into is astonishing. Adults are walking around the village clanking from all the enamelled metal they have hung around their necks; people are walking into the team office asking for pins, sometimes offering a swap, other times just asking for a gift. Some are honest, saying they are trying to get a complete collection for themselves, others throw in stories about children, their own, or some other particularly deserving case. The badges have become a sort of currency, offered and exchanged for favours, like tobacco in American movies about prisons.

My position is simple: our team doesn’t have any, no matter how many hard luck stories you have to tell or how many times you ask. I’ve witnessed this absence putting our athletes at a slight social disadvantage, when in the parade line up for the Opening Ceremony they didn’t have anything to swap with other teams, other than their lovely smiles and quick witted back chat. So any badges I might have, I’m sharing with them.

Some Early Reflections on Glasgow 2014

Just before entering Celtic Park for the Opening Ceremony.

Just before entering Celtic Park for the Opening Ceremony.

I’ve been working as a Volunteer Assistant affiliated with the Mozambique team at the Commonwealth Games for just over a week now, and I’ve learnt a few things both about the huge operation behind the Games, and about myself.

There are thousands of people involved in the Games, both in front of and behind the scenes.  And few, if any of them, have the whole picture of what’s going on.  I’ve had some real struggles, some self inflicted, others less so, in finding some of the places to which I’ve been trying to drive my team members.  I’ve spoken to scores of people manning barriers and road blocks along the way: policemen from other cities in Scotland who have less idea of the geography of Glasgow than I have, and security staff who have no clue which venue they are near.  When I’ve found myself at the right entrance they couldn’t be more helpful in pointing me in the direction of the final little bit of the route; but I’ve also had the experience of being just around the corner and uncertain, and been told that I’m in completely the wrong place.

But then, when I was on duty outside Celtic Park on the evening of the Opening Ceremony pointing the way back to  Village for the people who only wanted to parade and then go home to sleep, I didn’t know what to say to the young Team England athlete who said ‘I didn’t mean to come out.  How do I get back inside the stadium?’

Because of the security in place all around the city, and especially around the venues lots of roads are blocked.  Some are completely blocked to all traffic, and some are blocked to all but authorised vehicles.  I’ve been driving on such vehicle, but I have found it quite tricky sometimes to tell the difference between the two types of barriers!

I’ve discovered that I’ve had to bear a tremendous amount of embarrassment, and feelings of incompetence and stupidity, and still keep my cool and sense of direction.

I have seen no sport at all.  I don’t even have any sense that there are crowds of spectators in the venues.  I’ve been driving to the Games Family VIP entrances and waiting in the specially reserved car parks.  The biggest crowds are of the other Volunteer Drivers having a chat while they too are waiting.  From inside this bubble, it feels for all the world as if Glasgow has thrown this big party, but apart from the people inside the village, and the ever circulating fleet of Commonwealth Games cars, no-one has come.

I have seen snippets of the extensive TV coverage of the event, and realise that I have no sense of engagement with any of the teams, other than Mozambique.  Should I be supporting England or Scotland?  I don’t feel anything like the affiliation I did for Team GB at the Olympics.  The separation into all the various Territories of the British Isles seems like so much unnecessary Balkanisation and a little bit of a turn-off.

A couple of my friends have tried the so-called 5:2 diet, which involves fasting for 2 days in 7.  It’s not something that has ever appealed to me, and now, after a couple of days of missing meals because of driving commitments, I know it wouldn’t suit me.  Going without lunch and dinner makes me feel bad tempered and not very well.  It’s a relief to know I can cross that off this list of eating plan options.

In the meantime, I have to thank the staff in the Café Nero in Union Street who let me run in and use their toilet, even though the shop was closed, when I got caught out waiting for some of my team in the City Centre.


Meeting People – Glasgow 2014

HMQ at the Athletes' Village

HMQ at the Athletes’ Village

The self consciousness I felt on the first day I wore my Clydesider uniform has long since gone; there are so many other people wandering around the city in exactly the same get up, it’s barely worth noticing any more.  In fact it’s the people without a lanyard and accreditation around their necks who look strange to my eye at the moment.

Having said that, in the uniform I’ve had more conversations with strangers, mainly on the train, than I’ve ever had before.  People do seem genuinely interested in what is happening, and in seeing so many visitors from around the world all over the city.  And I’ve quite a good story to tell – some people might have received more information than they had bargained for when they ask me what I’ve been doing all day, or where I’m going.

I met one lady on the train on Wednesday afternoon who was so buzzing with excitement that she’d just had a chat with member of the Sierra Leone team on the platform at Central Station that she was telling everyone in the carriage, even getting the lady who had been sitting opposite me, her faced closed in that ‘don’t talk to me, I’m on public transport’ way, to engage in conversation and share in her enthusiasm.’

On Thursday the man in front of me in the queue to buy a ticket at Helensburgh station asked me a question about the revised Games timetable, and that turned into a long conversation about our respective roles (he was off to be in the radio control centre at the Velodrome), and thence to a realisation that he had known my father when they were both involved with Dumbarton District Council over 12 years ago.

It’s already become one of the clichés of the Games that Glasgow is the friendly city; but the Chef de Mission of my team has echoed the comment.  ‘Much friendlier than London’ she said, after the driver of the car stopped beside us as traffic lights tooted.  I opened my window, and he and his children shouted out ‘Good Luck’ to her.

I was on my way into the Village on Thursday to sign in for my shift, when my way was barred by a crowd, susserating with the prospect of The Queen emerging from the Athletes’ dining hall.  I waited a few minutes, and there she was, looking bright and cool and smiley, even though the day was roasting.  She had apparently been there for some time, meeting lots of people, and shaking hundreds of hands.

Today will bring more surprises and lots of the unexpected, I’m sure.

On the Outside of the Opening Ceremony – Glasgow 2014

Mauritius in front

Mauritius in front

Did you see it?  I was there.  I was there, but outside Celtic Park; close enough to hear the roars of the crowd, but too close to be able to see any of the big screens.  But I felt part of it, a small part of the massive logistical operation that got more than 4000 people to walk out of the confines of the Athletes Village up to Celtic Park, in the right order, on time and without any major dramas.  There were volunteers acting as traffic wardens, stopping some teams, waving others on faster, and making sure we all slotted into place in the right order.

I was in charge of the lollipop flag again, leading my team up the road; a Pied Piper for a group

of wandering athletes, who resisted all of the marshal’s requests to walk faster!  When we arrived at our allotted waiting point a little before the alloted time of 21:09, we were all alone, a small team, but gradually over the next 30 minutes the hundreds in the New Zealand squad, passed by, then the Kenyans, singing

Namibia behind

Namibia behind

and trotting in step, and the Cook Islanders, flowers in their hair, serenaded us in close harmony.  Mauritius slotted in, in front, and Namibia behind and it was as cosy as the biggest busiest queue you have ever been in, but significantly more cheerful.

People from the houses in the adjacent street were out to watch and the cheer the arrival if each team, and hundreds and hundreds of photos were taken by everyone there – of each other, of the other teams, of the people watching.  Encumbered by my lollipop flag, it was a bit tricky for me to take photos, but that didn’t stop me trying.

We were starting to get a little fretful with all the waiting, when suddenly, from nowhere the REd Arrows roared overhead leaving a trail of red white and blue in their wake.  Somehting was definitely about to happen.  Slowly, we started to move forward, before turning behind the Emirates Arena and across the road up the ramp to Celtic Park.

I handed in the lollipop, and Kurt, the Mozambique flag bearer was given the flag to carry.  And more photographs, despite the fading light.  If I had felt proud to carry their flag at the rehearsal, I can only imagine how he was feeling.  He said he wanted to try to emulate Chris Hoy carrying the GB flag at the Olympics with one hand, but after trying it for a few minutes, decided that it was indeed an ‘epic’ feat, and not one that he could copy.

And if they were excited by receiving the flag, that was nothing compared to the moment they met the Scottie Dog.  When I met the owner at the rehearsal on Monday, she told me that the dog was loving the experience – they were doing both Mozambique and Cyprus – and he did appear very happy to be petted and photographed by all the team, even standing sideways for them to get the full coat with the country name in the shots.

I walked with them to the door of the stadium, and then told them to enjoy it, and they disappeared into the bright lights and roaring crowd beyond.

I then walked to the exit door, where we had been asked to stand to point the way back to the Village for those athletes who wanted to participate in the parade but who did not want to stay out late for the show.  I stayed to hear the greeting the Scotland team received, and then walked back down to office in the Village, carrying a few of the lollipop flags over my shoulder, silently singing ‘Hi ho, hi ho’ all the way back.

A friend has recorded the television coverage of the Ceremony, so I shall be reliving it in a couple of weeks, but it was a rare experience to have been mingling with such a crowd of people, if only for one evening.


A Proper Welcome – Glasgow 2014

2014-07-22 11.32.22

Three quarters of the swimming team

Every country team participates in a Welcome Ceremony in the Athletes Village, and Mozambique had theirs yesterday. They shared it with Cyprus, Malaysia and Niue, so neatly representing four of the regions of the Commonwealth.

Gathering the team was easier than I thought – I am now the expert in standing with the Mozambique flag ‘lollipop’, and everyone came to me.  Inevitably, in the time spent waiting, there were myriad photo opportunities, both official and more casual, and of course the lollipop was a popular addition to many group shots.

The teams were welcomed by a cast from the National Youth Theatre performing a short musical about the fun and anticipation of going to a festival; such energy and talent.  And they appeared to be able to erect a tent with only one hand and a flick of the wrist!

There was then a speech from the Village Chieftain and a representative of each team was invited up to exchange a gift with a person from the region in Scotland with which it had been twinned.  The flag of the country was raised and the national anthem played.  There was extra poignancy and emotion for the Malaysian part of the ceremony which included a moments silence, and their flag was raised to only half mast to acknowledge the terrible tragedy which befell one of the their airliners.

Then there was more singing and dancing from the Youth Theatre before they led us all back into the residential area of the Village for more photographs and smiling.

It was my first opportunity to meet any of the Mozambique athletes, which was a treat.  They are all so young and thrilled to be  at an international competition, and focussed on achieving a personal best while they are here.  They all wanted to know what the Opening Ceremony will be like, but I was true to my promise and didn’t spoil any of the surprises; even if the swimmers won’t actually be able to participate as they have competitions from early Thursday morning, and so have to go to bed early.

I hope you’re able to watch the Ceremony tonight – spare a moment’s thought for me standing outside Celtic Park, tantalisingly close, able to hear the noise, but not close enough to see the show, and give a little cheer for my team when they parade.

Rehearsing – Glasgow 2014

2014-07-21 21.31.05I took part in the second of the rehearsals for the Opening Ceremony for the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games last night.  I won’t spill any of the surprises, but I can say that it was an astonishing experience, and one I am unlikely to have again.

My role was to stand in for my team, Mozambique, as I will be showing them where to go on their way to the Real Thing on Wednesday.  I had to follow a specified route around and out of the village, walking ‘like an athlete’, which is something of a slow roll, and then wait in the right place in the procession for entry into the stadium.

And then, flag in hand, I did the walk around ‘the field of play’ inside Celtic Park.  They announced the country, the crowd cheered and my face appeared on the big screen.  Bathed in the stadium lights I managed to keep the flag flying properly, no wrapping itself around the pole.  And just as I felt that I was really getting into the swing of it, a guy came and took the flag away and it was time for me to sit down.  Even though Mozambique is only my country for the duration of the Games, and it was only a rehearsal, it made me curiously proud to carry the flag for them.

It’s a cliché to say it, but that’s because it’s true, but there were a massive number of people all giving it a great deal of enthusiasm and energy, contributing to the event.  I may not see much of the Ceremony of Wednesday as it happens, as I will be waiting outside Celtic Park, but now, after that experience, I have some understanding of how much fun it will be for the athletes and all the other people who were dancing their arms off last night.

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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