As part of the London 2012 Festival Martin Creed led a three minute bell ringing event across the UK on the opening day of the Olympics and Woking joined in…as I have since discovered did many people at home who rang their doorbells. So, 7.45 on a grey July morning I am waiting by the gate for my lift into Woking. I blame my wide yawns at this early rise squarely on Martin Creed and the local Morris men, who invited me to join them in the newly refurbished town square. I am pondering that entirely fitting that the car that I am waiting for is a Morris Minor but it has slipped my mind what role my driver – another Sally, plays in the group. “Just hold this,” she asks as she is locking up the car…this being a bundle of brown fabric topped with an amazing, 100 year old horse’s head. Sally is the Hobby Horse! The square, when we arrive is pretty empty but looks glorious after its make-over, having spent the last 9 months swathed in scaffolding. Eagle Radio have set up in one corner and there are a few young people meeting and greeting who immediately catch sight of the horse and there follows a round of ‘photo opportunities’. I am scouring the area for the promised free coffee. By the time I have run one to ground, courtesy of the newly opened Pret a Manger, the rest of the Morris dancers have arrived and the place is beginning to be populated by guides and brownies, Scouts, nurse, teachers, business men and women, shoppers, cyclists…so many different people, some invited by ‘Celebrate Woking’ who were the ones to sign up to Creed’s bell ringing event, others who have stumbled into the melee and decided to stay. By now I have my Olympic Storyteller hat firmly on and am looking for people who may have a story to tell. I spy a young man in a wheelchair hugging a suspiciously familiar shaped package in his arms. Without a second thought ( if nothing else this storytelling has overcome my shyness) I ask him if his white tracksuit and package are what I think they are. He grins wide and proceeds to tell me all about his Torchbearing experience… His name is Simon Hawkings and he was nominated by a co-worker at the Woking Theatre, where he works. he says with much pride that he carried the torch up the steepest hill in Bletchingly – an appropriate challenge , he laughs. he recalls being overcome at the crowds and the honour, saying it was a humbling experience. he says he is so lucky to be able to bring his torch back and show it and talk about it in the heart of the community, where it belongs. “I am proud to be able to do what I can to ensure the Games leaves a lasting legacy.” What a man… I move on, with half an ear to Eagle Radio’s Stuart proven who is currently interviewing an Olympian cyclist, Tony Boyle who was explain that he often trained with Bradley Wiggins’ (pause for thunderous applause as the crowd pays tribute to his win in the Tour de France), when I spot…a gold medallist…Helen Hilderley is a gold medal winner in archery from the 1984 Olympics. She is bubbling with excitement that the 2012 games has not only raise the level of awareness of the Paralympic Games with the building of dedicated arenas for their sports, but also has so enthused her that after many years raising her family with her husband, also a paralympian, she is returning to the sport. Proudly she handed me her medal, pointing out the Braille inscription on the back so that blind people too can fully experience the feel and heft of such an honour. I spoke briefly to Riette Thomas, the project manager for Celebrate Woking. She spoke of the logistical challenge of the Surrey roads being made ready for the Cycle Road Race and touched on the way this has inspired her young son, who intends, he says, to emulate Bradley Wiggins and wear the TdF yellow Jersey one day. We are interrupted by the level of noise in the square… the countdown has begun to 08.12 the time dedicated to the three minute bell ring.
The Morris Men and Women are in place, jangling their legs just to make sure all their bells are in working order, and bells of every description appear in people’s hands – bicycle bells, crystal bells, hand-bells, a Swiss cow-bell, a range of bells such as I have never seen before played enthusiastically by a young boy intent on making himself heard., those with no bells jangle their car keys…anything to join in this national 3 minute tribute to the Olympic Games.
Amid the cacophony, I noticed two policemen, lurking on the sidelines. I asked them why they were looking grim, “Exhaustion,” they replied in unison, explaining that they had pulled a sixteen hour shift the day before on the Box Hill circuit which was being cycled by the athletes in preparation for the event, as well as cycling enthusiasts who were joining in on roads that were still carrying the usual amount of traffic. “And the mood…?” I asked, expecting a tale of short tempers and fisticuffs. “Amazing. No-one grumbled. It was just awe inspiring.”
They went on to say how they were filling in the gaps left by the G4S shortfall in security staff. How even if they had tickets for events, they could not attend if they were on shift to work. They were not grumbling…but happy to do their bit to make these Games the best ever. Now that is dedication. By nine the square was emptying. Sally and I gathered up the hobby horse, ready to make our way home. Everyone we passed was smiling. This seemingly simple event had, yet again, shown that the nation is ready to make this the best Games ever.