Tuesday, 10 May 2011

I talked about rowing

What's that? Oh, you're just admiring the sleek, minimalist accessory I am wearing about my tiny, elegant wrist.

It is the wristband from my Olympic volunteering interview/experience/workshop/other, which I attended on Sunday morning.

I've decided I'm never going to take it off, or at least not until it is harbouring a whole legion of bacteria and embryonic illness, and smells really, really bad. I want to be like one of those people you see in February who's desperate to show you, by means of the stinking, frayed rag around their wrist, that they attended the Glastonbury Festival back in the heady days of June. Big wow, hippy. Also, have a wash.

Actually, I've taken my wristband off already. When I said I wouldn't, it was a lie, a conceit, an embroidery (an embroidering?). Another meticulously crafted stitch in the veil that hides the real me from the character you know as 'Miss Jones'. I'm actually a 67-year-old retired school caretaker called Graham whose other online identities include a 17-year-old fashion blogger from Osaka and a country-and-western-singing cyber-evangelist from Georgia, USA. The latter has an even poorer rate of posting than I do, but this is because the staff at the library Graham visits in order to type up the blog entries he's written on the back of torn-up cereal boxes aren't keen on him taking his guitar into the study area and getting all holy via webcam.

So anyway. Sunday morning. There I was. The volunteering. For a role in the press operations team. My interview. At London's Excel building, a massive shed by the Thames, easily distinguishable from other massive sheds by the Thames on account of… nothing actually.

I had expected there to be something of a crowd there – not unlike an X Factor audition perhaps – but I was surprised by the huge number of people leaving the DLR and pouring down the ramp towards the building. I resisted the temptation to start a Mexican wave, or initiate some form of morale-boosting call-and-response chant about how London 2012 was going to be TOTALLY AMAZING. This was probably just as well as quite soon I realised that most of these people were actually going to 'Grand Designs Live' in a different part of the building, while I followed the 'Games Maker' signs around the corner to a separate entrance, pretty much alone.

Inside, it was just like the open day I went to at Cambridge University when I was 17 or so, except with less carved wood panelling and more big screens with Alesha Dixon's face on ill-conjugating her way through some volunteering mission statement. I felt the same inability to speak to any of my fellow candidates at the wandering-around-and-mingling-and looking-generally-interested-in-things stage. I'd like to say this was a case of me keeping my head in the game and focussing on the job in the hand. In fact it was, in both cases, some acute flare-up of adolescent shyness.

On this occasion, though, I was especially intimidated by a girl with a blow-dry and an extensive CV of employment in press offices. Circa 1991, it was an extremely confident girl from Sevenoaks who was doing her A-level English open study on the use of voices in the poetry of Yeats and Eliot.

But what does one wear to one's Olympic volunteering interview? A suit? A leotard? If you are me, you wear a comfortable flat sandal, and bring some heels in your bag and then forget to change into them. If you are me, you do this A LOT.

Judging by my fellow candidates you wear: chinos, shorts, one of those football-manager padded coats, fake tan, real tan, glasses on a chain, glasses not on a chain, slacks, jeans, a skirt, a sari, a leather jacket. No one wore a leotard. That I could see.

You carry: some heels in a bag, a large golfing umbrella, a bottle of water, a battered newspaper, an air of pensioned-but-still-productive ('No, no, I won't sit. I'd rather stand).

After an introductory chat by a women from the press team about the volunteers' roles, which was so unbelievably exciting that I had to work really hard not to start crying like the colossal Olympic sap that I am, and a short film, it was interview time.

I fear that I was undone by the very first question.

It seemed innocuous enough. Easy, even. It was about our favourite Olympic moments.

I started off talking about my love of athletics, naturally – intimating that this ran through me like the words Weston-Super-Mare through a really big stick of rock. My love of athletics, I attempted to express, was such that it almost went without saying. I moved on to talk about the many exciting tussles in rowing at recent Olympic Games. I then found that I literally could not stop talking about rowing. I never realised I knew so much about rowing. I extolled the virtues of the various team sizes. I threw in some chat about Jurgen Grobler.

My internal thought process went along these lines:

Rowing. Rowing. Rowing. Rowing. Rowing. Help. Rowing. Rowing. Rowing. Rowing. Rowing. Rowing. Rowing. Rowing. Help me. Rowing. Rowing. Rowing. Rowing. Shit. Rowing. Rowing. Rowing. Rowing. Rowing. Rowing. I can't stop. Rowing. Rowing. I can't stop talking about rowing. Rowing. Rowing. Rowing.

My interviewer assiduously made notes during my rowing monologue.

When I eventually took a breath, he moved the interview along. The rest really wasn't so bad. I managed to control myself enough not to segue into reciting the full lyrics from Whitney Houston's
One Moment In Time, even though I do feel very strongly that all of my dreams are a heartbeat away, and the answers are all up to me. But I did find it quite difficult to concentrate during the remainder of our chat because all I could see in front of me was the word 'Rowing' roaring at me from the top of the notes on the interviewer's clipboard.

I started to worry that my answer to this question might dictate where I would be placed as a volunteer during the Games.

Don't me wrong. I like rowing. I've never done it, but that's not a barrier to liking something. I've never been to a Chinese restaurant with an Elvis impersonator, but I'm all for that.

But rowing is not athletics. When it comes to the Olympics, and spectator sport in general, athletics is my first and true love. Athletics is the Justin Timberlake to my Britney Spears. The Captain Wentworth to my Anne Elliot. I'm not averse to working near a lake in Windsor, not at all, but I'd rather be working in the stadium.

I tried to think of a way to express this, calmly and articulately, to my interviewer. That I wouldn't want my enthusiasm for the oars-and-water action to overshadow my real passion, but all that came into my head was the inclination to shout out 'NOT ROWING. I DIDN'T MEAN ROWING!'

Instead the interview ended, and I walked away meekly. On my way out I was invited to browse the 2012 merchandise in the shop (I didn't) and to help myself to a bowl of Cadbury's Official-Treat-Provider-Of-The-Games-Please-Snack-Responsibly Celebrations. (I did, I took two – a Twirl and a Caramel.)

I've decided not to dwell on the rowing debacle, and instead to concentrate on the positives. Two free Cadbury's Celebrations and a trip on the DLR – that's a good day out for me.


InvisibleWoman said...

SCREEEAM...I've been to the Excel building too! Wow. (I don't get out much).

Betty M said...

How exciting! All I have to show for my volunteering application so far is a bunch of emails saying they haven't forgotten me. I am very jealous.

Nick said...

That is a fabulous piece of writing, and as always Miss Jones you made me laugh out loud (please note how I spurned the fashionable abbreviation there). I'm looking forward to more.

Jenica Fiorentino said...

Volunteering is fun! Where's your wristband now? Yeah, some people wear 'em and never take 'em off to express some ideas or feelings. Hehe! Well, it's a good way to show everybody that you're spending your time doing some good deeds. Thanks for sharing your day, Miss Jones.

Martha said...

That's so funny!

If on the off-chance you get posted to Dorney lake and don't fancy it, I will happily stand in for you! I am a keen rower and have failed to get any tickets, so am resorting to all other means to get near the water...