IT was 5.10pm in Delhi. At this precise moment yesterday, according to the international clocks on the walls, it was 11.40pm in Christchurch, New Zealand, but the really important thing was that it was twenty to one on a Glasgow afternoon of brilliant sunshine and finally, at last, I was in. Accredited, laminated and lanyarded. My paperback-sized pass had been granted access-all-areas. I was a Games Person.
Truth be told, I’ve invested that process with too much drama. Despite warnings from fellow hacks of sign-in hell, it was all delightfully straightforward and stress-free. I caught a train and then a taxi, passing the Clyde and all the Clydes, the cartoon thistlemen mascots on the banks. I joined a queue of one, although that one was Sharron Davies, the still-glamorous swimming poster-girl from earlier Games, now part of the BBC’s big coverage team. There was a brief moment when I thought Shaz, who’d turned up without the relevant ID, was going to opt for the “Do you know who I am?” line but let me state categorically that she didn’t. The girl at the desk let us both through. Then Shaz and I took off our belts (for the metal detectors). Then our Glasgow, hers and mine, could properly begin.
The city will extend to Edinburgh and the Angus coast for these Games but the epicentre will be the area including the Armadillo, the Hydro and – next to these two now – the ever-more drab hangars of the SECC. I best know these spaces as the venues for Roxy Music’s 30th anniversary tour and – guess what? – Roxy Music’s 40th anniversary tour, but yesterday they thrummed with nothing so retro: young people, scores of them, all in themed sportswear, striding purposefully, smiling earnestly. And that was just the support staff.
As a Games Person, I could flash my pass and daunder into a hall and watch the St Lucia netball team complete their final training session. If I knew anything about netball I could relay info on their strategems to the Scotland team, competing at the Games for the first time. But there was to be a final-final session to come, in another hall where I’d be denied access, so doubtless that’s where the clever stuff would be practiced. Still, in the quiet and the dark, it was perfectly possible to imagine what the arena will be like when it’s full of spectators who know the difference between banding and bending (I’ve just Googled a netball glossary).
Across the busy corridor – more co-ordinated T-shirts and grins – the Papua New Guinea boxing team were gathered round an Irn-Bru dispenser. Their manager, John Avira, told me they’d settled in well since arriving in Glasgow last Tuesday, especially with the city now bathed in sunshine, although he was anxious about today’s weigh-in results. This is always a tricky moment for boxers who’ve ventured to strange lands. How much new food have they consumed? What’s in the grub, exactly? “We cannot afford to bring our own cook,” he said, “but generally the meals in the Games Village have been good – the salmon especially.” Please forgive the next question but I used to work for a tartan tabloid and old habits die hard: Had they tried haggis? Cue quizzical look from John. “Is that greens?”
Mind you, there was no need to apologise for mentioning haggis. Certainly not in the vicinity of the VisitScotland stand in the Media Centre with “stand” not really doing it justice. The tartan sofas made you think of an STV chat-show from 40 years ago or indeed, since we’re talking STV, right about now. The photos on the wall showed a digitally-enhanced Scotland with the Falls of Bruar almost too twinklingly beautiful. If I’m a Celebrity … Get Me Out of Here! was moved to Perthshire, this would be where they’d film the money-shot of the soap-opera strumpet taking a shower. “But the Falls are beautiful,” said Michael McCuish, manning this couthie-copia in a kilt. And of course he’s right.
McCuish isn’t selling holidays but bunches of readymade Scotland imagery which are called B-rolls and inserted into foreign TV coverage, giving a flavour of the country without the Botswanan version of Gary Lineker or the British Virgin Islands equivalent of Clare Balding actually having to horse up to the Highlands or wherever. “Mostly they want castles and bagpipes,” said McCuish. “Right now I’m trying to help a New Zealand TV station with some battle re-enactment. And yesterday I was interviewed on Malaysian telly about the Glasgow weather. I’m a star on their Channel 3, I think.”
On the last day before competition, everyone was a star and everyone was equal. The plastic covering for my pass was no less shiny than that of the Sky TV man with the deep tan you only get from covering one international sports event after another. There’s a view that, in the general scheme of such things, these Games will be quite small. There’s another that the smiles might disappear as they turn serious. I don’t subscribe to either scenario myself.
This city, more than many, is predisposed to big events and undaunted by the task of putting on a great show. As you read this I’ll be on a courtesy double-deck bus bound for the triathlon. The running, jumping, never-standing-still extravaganza will be properly under way.