Bonkers!

This covers the period April 15th 2012 until July 28th 2012 How did this all happen? Ages ago I signed up to be an Olympic volunteer – a games maker. A general application to help with whatever needed to be done. Some time later, when I still hadn’t heard about my application, I received an email asking for volunteers to be performers at the opening/closing ceremonies. Sounds like fun I thought. So…I signed up. Months later it was confirmed that

This covers the period April 15th 2012 until July 28th 2012

How did this all happen?

Ages ago I signed up to be an Olympic volunteer – a games maker. A general application to help with whatever needed to be done. Some time later, when I still hadn’t heard about my application, I received an email asking for volunteers to be performers at the opening/closing ceremonies. Sounds like fun I thought. So…I signed up.

Months later it was confirmed that I had got through the first random selection and was invited to auditions. Me! A performer!

Bromley by Bow was the first venue. I’d never travelled to that part of London before and it was about a 3 hour trip. Out of the tube station it all looked a bit grotty and run down. Across the road, down the street, past Tesco and take a right. Wow. The scene changed. It was a film studio (3 Mills) and it was like stepping back in time – with the canal running alongside the oast houses gave the skyline a completely different look. There were people milling around everywhere and the numbers grew. I started to queue up. The girl next to me was Nikita – we swapped Facebook details, little knowing how our lives would intertwine in the future.

We queued and eventually got through to a row of desks. Gave our names, the code we had been previously emailed, had our photo taken and were measured up. The volunteers were of all ages, cultures, nationalities, shapes and sizes. A real mixed bag. We were put through our paces. Following instructions to walk to the beat, follow the lines mapped out on the floor, move between points on the floor and most importantly understanding how to return to home base. We also learned a dance routine. I was out of my comfort zone but it was great fun. Before I knew it, it was over and I was back on the tube on my way home. We were told we would hear pretty soon if we were through. They were right. It was only a couple of days. I was actually at the theatre with Dad and Frankie when the email pinged and I was through. The next audition was just before my holiday to Patagonia (phew) and was role specific – whatever that meant!

Same venue, so at least I knew where I was going this time, and I met up with Nikita. Yes, we had both got through and were in the same audition. This time the volunteers were much more similar. Mostly girls and much younger. From the looks of them all pretty fit. I wasn’t quite sure why I was in this group, especially as after speaking to some of them I realised many had dance experience. This audition was tougher. We were going to learn street dance. Gulp! The music had a fast beat and the the pace of the training was a tad speedy. Firstly, my body doesn’t move like that anymore and my brain doesn’t register quick fire instruction. My comfort zone had gone AWOL. I was lucky to be next to a girl who was a dancer and could give me some tips on how to get by. And get by I did. As Kenrick, the choreographers, said….they were not looking for perfection (thank god) but potential. I made it through the 2 routines but had the best time. I laugh a lot. What will be will be.

It would be weeks before we heard how we did. Whilst in Patagonia I checked my emails daily. I actually got an invitation to be a Games Maker volunteer before my audition results were know. Fantastic – if I didn’t make the audition to be a performer I could be a games maker. Anyway, the day arrived and the email hit my inbox. I was in. Woo hoo! I could NOT believe it. And the best part…..Nikita was through too and we would be in the same group. The rehearsal schedule gave through. 25 rehearsals at 3 locations in London. I was going to be busy. Although I had negotiated that my rehearsals would be accommodated at work if I stayed the extra months to cover the other project.

15th of April. Rehearsal 1. Bromley by Bow. 5 hours. I met Nikita and we queued up. There were cameras in the studio and we had to do a little intro. Danny Boyle was there and gave us a quick run down of his vision. I couldn’t quite see how this would all fit together but Danny was so enthused I knew it was going to be great. We were given passes and a bib. For the next 4 months I would be 1334. We were split into groups to learn the routine. My god it was full on. The first half of the rehearsal we were taught a routine, which made the audition feel easy. I was just starting to get it when we were told we were to learn another routine. I could have cried but I made it through. What was I thinking when I signed up for this ….I must be mad.

There were only a few more rehearsals at 3 Mills. But during that time I made some friends. We rehearsed in rows and I was with the ‘S’s. Well strictly speaking I’m Sarah so it made sense. It probably accounted for the reason that eventually I would meet Sally and a number of Sarah’s and Ruth’s. I also got to meet Gillian – a teacher from Leicestershire. Now that’s dedication. And one day I started talking to Katherine – someone who would be become my good friend and put me up in times of need. We also got measured up for our costumes here. Not quite what I was expecting but apparently we were going to be the ‘now’ section and this was now fashion!!

The next venue was at Dagenham East. Slightly closer to home – only 2 and a half hours. It was two huge outdoor replicas of the stadium layout with a large marqee in the middle. We had buses to shuttle us between the tube station and the venue. This was a shared site and we would get small glimpses of some of the other rehearsals, but if we lingered too long we’d be moved on. Yep, you heard me right. This was an outdoor venue. We rehearsed in ALL weathers. One day was so wet we cleared all the seating in the marquee and rehearsed inside. It was the first time we were given the in-ears (ear pieces) so that we could hear the music and instructions from Gina, our mass movement angel. We rehearsed the routines, which changed from time to time and we rehearsed our placings within the grid. It was also during this time that i was chosen to be one of the solo LEDs – who knew what that would turn out to mean. We were given regular breaks for food, and if we were so inclined some extra impromptu rehearsal. The 5 hours went quickly but by the time we’d finished we were tired but happy. For me every rehearsal was a challenge but I learned about my ability to stick with it and have some fun. As these rehearsals progressed we were joined by more and more other groups until our numbers grew to 3 and a half thousand.

We finished with Dagenham East and moved onto our third and final venue. And what a venue. We got to rehearse in the Olympic Stadium. Things would never be the same again. As well as our volunteer pass we also had to collect out accreditation pass – a massive lamented pass! Both were required for entry into the stadium. The weather was improving and so was our ability to dance, and in formation. Security matched airport levels, despite the news about London’s ability to protect the stadium – we were in good hands, and the army guys were true gents. As we were not allowed to take in food and drink meals were provided. They followed a strict menu format. Sandwich (usually with doorstep style bread), an apple, Pringles and of course the harvest cereal bar to which I became addicted.

The stadium was amazing and laid out like some futuristic park. The greens were green and the flowers were varied and well kept. Take a breath and stop a minute……you are in the Olympic stadium and soon to be participating in the opening ceremony. This will come but once.

The rains came again but we pushed on. There was so much positive energy in the place nothing could stop us. More and more practice. The routines came together and we were now used to things changing – the moves and the music. My role as a solo LED took shape and I made more friends. I would get to stand on my own spot on the stage as well as join the dance. I was blessed. In the last few weeks we were based away from the stadium in Eton Manor. This housed our costumes and makeup but was also home to many of the other volunteers. We mingled with the nurses and the workin men and women. Snippets of the ceremony were being revealed. It was going to be fabulous. There was a lot of waiting around as we took our place in the whole tapestry of the event. It started to come together and the excitement grew. In the last week we had 2 dress rehearsals; one on Monday which was in front of a large crowd of Games Maker volunteers, and one on Wednesday which was in front of guests of volunteers. This included my parents. A bit of a thank you to us volunteers. The solo LEDs entered the stage from a trap door so we got the opportunity to see under the stage. We queued there with other dance eras and the star men. So cool. It’s not easy to put into words the buzz that ran through you as you waited for your turn – the music in our in-ears was so familiar that we could count down our timing. Michael Fish’s historic hurricane comment, and then the Sugarbabes ‘Push the Buttom’. Gina reassured us and we were on. Twirl those LEDs! Before we knew it we were done. A sprint to the Manor, very quick change, then the long run to Leyton tube station. I made it but was pretty sweaty. I embarked on the train and had just enough time to remove my makeup and IDs and compose myself before arriving at Stratford station where the audience got on. The train was packed and everyone was full of the excitement of the evening. I made it to Marylebone station and boarded the train only to find Mum and Dad sitting there. We travelled home together.

The final day came and the buzz around the place was amazing. We had all been here so many times before but this would be our last. Such mixed feelings. It was like the last day of school. Photos, signing our books from Danny Boyle, hugs and smiles.

Solo LEDs got there call. This was the beginning of the end. The walk up to the stadium took the usual 40 minutes. The solo LEDs stuck together but we were surrounded by the other dancers – punks, Bowies, Freddie’s and the fluorescent 90’s.

The soundtrack started up through our in-ears and we were off. As we got closer we could hear the bosh of the drums – first the stage management instructions in our ears and then the boom of the actual drums. Hearts pounding we approached the stadium.

We queued as the working men and women, suffragettes and drummers streamed out of the stadium. We applauded our fellow volunteers who had had their time on stage. Now for us. We got the ok and we took the short walk to the tor and the steps beneath. There we followed the usual route and picked up our yellow LEDs. We could hear the performers stomping above and the dust falling through the gaps in the stage. Gina leading everyone through their paces – come on NHS beds get those letters formed. In the blink of an eye it was us. The trap door opened and we could see the packed seating and the cameras flashing. Trying to keep calm to remember out queue and absorb the moment. Solo LEDs lights on……and we were on. The stadium was surreal. I could see the audience all around but the sound filling my ears was from Gina and our piped music. The LEDs were heavy but we swung them around to the music giving everything we could until the final sprint across the stage and down the steps to join the central line tube. I found Louise, my LED pairing partner, and started the tube shuffle around the stadium track.. Going underground! We stopped at the 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s clubs then finished the circuit to our VOM. After dumping the LEDs it was back to find our place in the dance pack. The atmosphere was fit to burst as wee watched the performers do their stuff on the big screens and heard the music move through its schedule nearer to our slot. Wham, the flames of fire started roared up then onto Born Slippy.. Boom boom, boom boom. All of us racing up the ramp to find our place and prepare form I’m forever blowing bubbles. Whoo hoo…..and we were off. The weeks of practice paid off. I made a few mistakes but overall the routine was so ingrained it all flowed naturally and I even remembered the 8 move salute to my dear brother (watching from above I’m sure!). Wee shifted to the new formation seamlessly and went into Valerie and muse. Down the ramp and back up to the house, just in time to see Sir Tim Berners-Lee revealed. Heaven and then the final farewell to the crowd. It was over.

We’d arranged to eat at the nearby Mexican restaurant – Wahaca. Bizarre – a restaurant full of nurse and dance costumes. Great food, great company. Sofia and I went to the casino after and spent the evening on the dance floor until the early hours. Home by 4ish to find Katherine and friends still up and tracking twitter. None of us were caught close up on camera but if you know where to look on the stage you can see me.

Home the next day to watch it all on DVD. The day was flat but the memories would last a lifetime.

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