Thursday 30 August
Thanks to my helpful colleagues, I manage to abandon life in the seventeenth century early so we can head back to the big smoke for our Paralympic experience. A relatively straightforward journey and we arrive at a farm near Ilford. Quite a surprise to find a farm within a mile or so of the tube network and it all looks very pleasant with peacocks strutting round the pond and fancy bantams in an aviary. The site is distinctly lacking in facilities but that’s ok, we have our own. We park up as darkness descends. Our first attempt means that the caravan roof is being hit by an overhanging branch every time the wind blows, which is frequently. The novelty of this is going to wear off very quickly so we shove the van over a bit to be out of reach of any foliage. This works well and we are now only troubled by the occasional sycamore bract landing on the roof. Is it autumn already? I seem to have missed summer somewhere along the line. I am reminded that summer was last Thursday – silly me. I am just a bit worried by the part of the site information leaflet that says they will not pull the caravan out if we get stuck – mmm – given the amount of rain we’ve had lately that could be an issue.
I touch base with Martha to warn her what to expect, or rather not to expect, when she joins us on Saturday. Apart from no extra-van washing or toilet facilities there is also no television signal. This is partly our fault for not being prepared to exceed our weight allowance by dragging around an aerial that fills the whole van.
Friday 31 August
We discover the disadvantage of our rural idyll. The fancy bantams start crowing a good two hours before the first glimmer of daylight. There could well be a discreet pile of feathers under our van by tomorrow morning.
We set off for Greenwich in plenty of time, of course. The journey is quite straightforward so we are, inevitably, too early. We pass the Cutty Sark on the way to the venue and join a queue. Arriving early is a little more important for the equestrian events as the seats are not allocated so it is first come first served. We clatter across the specially erected footbridge to reach the security stations. The bridge does shake somewhat and I wonder how many people stood on it when it was tested. We needn’t have worried about getting good seats as we are in the front row. Today seems to be the day when everyone has brought along their under 5s in the hope that they will enjoy watching the horses. They do but the novelty wears off after about ten milliseconds and they begin kicking the backs of the seats in front of them and getting on and off the tip up seats so that the whole row judders frequently.
The introduction to Greenwich by the passing the time commentator claims that Charles I was married to Anne of Denmark. My knowledge of the seventeenth century tells me that this would be illegal – Anne of Denmark is Charles I’s mother. The women behind us is talking incessantly and very loudly. As the first competitor’s routine draws to a close she asks if it has started yet. She can’t understand why the horses aren’t dancing ‘like on the tele’. Fortunately she is so disappointed in this that she takes herself and her unruly brood off after only a quarter of the proceedings are completed.
Continuing the ‘find a desirable job’ game from our Olympic trip we identify moving the fence surrounding dressage ring so that the horses can go in and out as a possibility. Chris is disappointed that tractors don’t feature quite so much in Paralympic equestrian events as they did in the Olympics. The people next door’s snack of choice is chocolate covered dohnuts; this may not be wise as it turns out that summer is today. The temperature reaches 75 degrees. It is just a bit of a pity that I have chosen to wear a t-shirt, a roll necked jumper, a fleecy jumper and a water proof coat. I send Chris off to purchase an attractive Olympic themed base ball cap so I don’t die of heat exhaustion. I can’t see me wearing it beyond this weekend. I then worry that he won’t be able to get back in again as I have his ticket safely secreted in my bag. This appears to be no problem. He also returns with new bottles of water; given out for free as the water fountains have broken.
I am fascinated by the use of ‘friendly horses’, who are brought into the ring to pacify the competition horses. In order not to scare the horses we are instructed to wave rather than clap certain competitors. The stadium, despite allegedly being sold out, is half empty. Apparently this is because the organisers felt that it the logistics of getting 20,000 people out after the morning session and back in for the afternoon session were too problematical so sales were limited. My only disappointment is that Lee Pearson, the only Paralympian equestrian competitor of whom I have heard, is not in the classifications that we will be seeing today or tomorrow. This is made up for when our girl in classification 3, Deborah Criddle, comes second and Sophie Christiansen in grade 1a gets nearly 10% more than the next best competitor. She goes on to win three gold medals.
On the way home a wasp decides that it will consume a chunk of my hand. I try not to draw attention to myself. The DLR halts outside Stratford, just by the warm up track so we can see athletes for tonight’s session getting ready. The train announcement tape seems to have got stuck and we get an echo effect with each half announcement being repeated several times. Good job we can recognise Newbury Park when we see it.