Monday, 15 of September of 2014

The Olympics are coming to London: along with traffic, warzones and pandemics. No wonder I feel grumpy

My weekly newspaper column for The National published today.

The Olympics are almost upon us. The correct response should be “Hurrah!” but that’s not how I feel at all. I am unexcited, despondent and frankly just a teeny bit scared.

Last weekend, 40,000 people attended an opening ceremony at Olympic Stadium, where the Games will begin on July 27. The day before the weekend event, a newspaper smuggled a fake bomb into the Olympic site.

I was driving past the stadium going to a wedding, and through the gaps in the glorious infrastructure I glimpsed London’s beautiful people assembled to mark the formal opening.

While rubbernecking the crowd I had to screech to a halt because of traffic congestion. Not hurrah.

It’s not just Olympic traffic that bothers me. London is being turned into a war zone. This week, fighter jets flew low above my suburban home, so close that the floors started vibrating and my baby started crying. And missiles are being placed on the roofs of urban buildings.

Even with more than two months to go, London is morphing into a different kind of city, and I don’t like it one bit.

Worse, I don’t like not liking it. I believe I ought to feel ecstatic, as though Harry Potter, the Tooth Fairy and Elvis Presley were all gathering for a never-before-never-again magic joy-fest.

When London won the bid to host these Olympics, we were told we would have to pick up the cost, estimated at Dh33bn, or, as it was described to us, “the cost of a Walnut Whip a day”. This refers to a small, wrapped chocolate costing about Dh3. Now, seven years and 2,500 imaginary Walnut Whips later, I feel short-changed and miserable.

It’s probably the Brit in me that makes me pessimistic about potentially good things, makes me expect failure. For example, compared to the spectacular Beijing Olympics – in which all one billion Chinese seemed to take part in a perfectly choreographed ceremony – our failure can be nothing but utterly dismal.

And if fighter jets, missiles and fake bombs weren’t enough, the crowds might kill us.

With a joyful melange of the global population gathering in one small space from all the world’s infected backwaters, London is at risk of hosting a global pandemic: the black death meets Sars meets I Am Legend. And we won’t even be able to get away, because there will be just too much traffic.

So I will be languishing in my London living room this August; I won’t get the chance to be an actual part of the Olympics. Just as if the Olympics were in Beijing or Barcelona, I will be watching them on television.

But I will be all the more despondent, grumpy even, because I have paid for them, and because even though I applied for tickets, I didn’t get any.

For Muslims, about the only bright side of London as a commercial city shutting down is that the Olympics and Ramadan coincide. So many Muslims will be able to work from home during the long fasts, rather than commuting into muggy crowded London in the summer heat.

Actually, though, for the price of a Walnut Whip every day for seven years, I could have bought myself a month on a paradise island with no crowded trains, no fighter jets and little risk of deadly viruses.

And I still could have enjoyed watching the Olympics on television.


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