Originally published 11 August 2012
You know the vibe of running and sliding under the garage door just before it closes? Well that’s kind of like the Mahala excursion to the London Olympics. Sneaking into the old capital for the last few lazy days of the world’s premium sporting showcase. A little smash ‘n grab mission to the Big Smoke. You forget how long that damn flight is. Crushed into a little cube, eating single serving meals and trying not to let your ass go numb as you shift back and forth in your alotted space in the pressurized metallic tube hurtling through the sky, 30 kilometers up at 800 kays an hour. Looking out the window, it’s pretty dark over Africa. I caught the lights of Brazzaville and Kinshasa in the middle of the night, separated by the inky blackness of the Congo River and then nothing but small red fires and darkness until we hit North Africa and Europe in the early pre-dawn. Little clusters, constellations connected by yellow lights. The high altitude sun peaks over the clouds and glitters off the English channel as we begin our descent into the green and pleasant land.
Arrival and the tasty optimism of a new place. As the plane touches down Luke says, “looks like Cape Town, bru.” The urban world is now ubiquitous. Globalism be praised. “We could be in Woodstock. Those farms look like Paarl.” Then it’s 7am and we’re humping bags of gear through the early morning Underground traffic, the arteries pumping the lifeblood of this unreal city. Thursday, work time. We dump our shit at the hotel, it’s too early for check-in so we walk towards the Tower Bridge and take a table at the first Starbucks we find and prepare to abuse their wi-fi. The Mahala field office.
Downtown London. The financial capital of the world, the seat of empire and global commerce, tendrils of economic connection, fingers in almost every pie, shades of the lizard queen, the masons, the knights templar and any number of shadowy conspiracy crap reflecting off these clean marble-lined streets. A thousand years of lopping off heads. Bankster types in power uniforms file past, fueling themselves on caffeine to keep them focussed on their xcel spreadsheets and figuring out how to squeeze every drop of profit from complex number games like derivatives and futures. The buzzing drones of capitalism. Every few blocks you find the same outlets. Shit I’ve never seen before like Costa, Pizza Express, Eat and of course the more generic KFC, Burger King, Nandos and, of course, Starbucks. It’s just getting trippier. Overlooking the old Tower of London, built in 1066 by Norman the conqueror and improved upon by subsequent Kings William, Richard, Henry and Edward, you can kind of connect the dots as the tourists and joggers and corporate types swarm past. Maybe it’s time for a nap?
By early evening, the Olympic fever is in full swing, groups of supporters in silly national Olympic supporter’s outfits, orange groups of blonde Dutch girls, some big calved, shave-legged Americans, chilled, hipster Spaniards, thickset Russians and a lot of GB lovers all swarming like fish down Brick Lane from Whitechapel towards Shoreditch. It’s hipsterville down here, vintage clothing stores popping up between all the old curry dens. Phuza Thursday and London is on fire, riding the vibe hard. Caning it like a moustachioed general major on a lazy donkey. It’s frenzied dopping and jolling on the streets. In London when the weather is nice, like when it’s not raining and it’s not cold, as it is, people just pile out of the pubs and stand around, pints in hand, in groups on the pavement. A riotous collection of sociable pisscats all looking for a good time.
And everyone down here seems to want to be Jamaican. And who can blame them with Usain Bolt’s imperious form in the 100 meter, followed closely by Yohan Blake and a whole team of good looking island folk who seem to be able to run very, very fast. Behind that, everyone remembers the legacy of Bob Marley, conjuring thoughts of a Caribbean tropical island paradise, friendly rastas, beaming smiles, easy vibes and that righteous music; the deep, rolling basslines of reggae and dub that have influenced almost every aspect of electronic music and a shit ton of what we call ‘contemporary culture’. The triangulation between Britain, Jamaica and the African continent is a potent thing… and everyone seems to want a piece of it. Even I am in full chameleon mode, dropping Jamaican inflections in my accent. I think it’s safe to say that without the UK’s Caribbean immigrants, these cats would still be wearing powdered wigs. And Puma, as the sponsor of the Jamaican team have created the Yard… a huge Jamaican themed fanpark where you can drink Red Stripe, eat jerk chicken, do rum shooters, grab a cup of Marley Coffee (I kid you not, stir it up!), play a few games of ping pong, have a little dance or just laze about on the astroturf watching the Olympics action on a series of massive screens. This is the feel good zeitgeist right now. And everyone loves a winner.
We’re fully tripping on the lack of sleep by now, but all assembled under the clear summer London sky to watch the 200 meter final and the tension is palpable. You got to love the speed races of the Olympics. The 100 meter was like a sub 10 second World Cup Final. The 200 meter, takes twice as long, but it’s all over before you can even get three sips down. People are jumping around, waving flags and pulling Bolt poses. He made it look easy, again. Jamaica have done it emphatically, taking all the medals. There’s a smell of icky chronic on the air and the city is heaving with potential.
*Read Part 2 of our London Olympics series here.
**All images and video © Luke Daniel.