My final weird sport of the Olympics – I'm in the Indoor National Stadium, now vacated by the gymnasts for... handball, a men's placement match between Poland and Korea (they don't specify which Korea... I'm assuming it's the South because the Northern players would have all defected by now). I think I'm supporting Poland because they're such good plumbers, don't eat dog and aren't that likely to destroy us in a surprise nuclear attack.
It's a curious game – a kind of hybrid of basketball and football but less interesting than either and I hate basketball. Despite this being the day of the Olympic semi-final, the place is only a quarter full and it has the feel of a game office workers play in their lunch break in the park with one of those little novelty footballs you buy and then wonder why you bothered.
I try to stay excited and interested but I'm starting to look at the flags again... Macedonia have a really cool flag – kind of like a big yellow and red sunburst – very Tintinesque, I love it... right that's it... I'm talking about flags... I'm off. I'm sorry but handball doesn't rock my boat.
I head off to the "Bird's Nest" Stadium. I get there two-and-a-half hours early for the evening session – I'm nearly always there really early as it's a nice place to work and I just love being inside it. I'm the first person in the stands but I really don't mind. I pop into the media centre and pick up two pieces of paper – one telling me the order of events and the other, a useful little cheat sheet that gives me the basic info on the big names in each event.
I take my usual place just above the finish line. I set out my equipment for the evening – laptop, camera, binoculars and a silk fan that I bought in a Beijing market which definitely makes me look a touch effeminate and raises a chortle or two from other journalists.
Once settled, I potter off to get a couple of beers and a curious self-heating meal. The meal consists of rice, noodles and meat that just might be donkey. You pour the donkey into the rice and noodles, close the lid and pull a string. This mixes a sachet of water with a curious bag of chemicals and the thing starts to heat up instantly. The first time I did it, I got in a great panic as my donkey risotto started moving and shaking about with smoke billowing out alarmingly. It really looked like I'd set off a small home-made explosive device and I desperately tried to cover it with a towel while looking nonchalant. Neighbouring reporters got very alarmed but the security people didn't seem worried – they looked used to it.
Below me things are starting to happen in the centre of the stadium as everyone gets ready for the evening session. Hundreds of photographers are busy setting up their banks of remotely operated cameras by the finish line. As usual, several of them take the opportunity to have their photograph taken as they pretend to dip through the finish line. It's as predictable as the Chinese day trippers all having their photograph taken outside the stadium with one hand in the air as though brandishing the Olympic Flame.
Suddenly there's a loud bang that makes all the posing photographers jump. After a moment's uncertainty they all relax and start laughing – it's only the man responsible for loading and unloading the starting pistol – he always tests a round at about this time. That would actually be quite a good job to have: playing with guns while in a prime position trackside for the whole Olympics – jammy bastard.
Some of the Chinese "volunteers" have a great job as well. You need to pick carefully, though, if you're thinking of doing it in London at 2012. You could end up being the guy who wipes the sweat off the weightlifting podium in between jerks – he didn't look that thrilled. Over by the discus cage, however, the volunteers with the best job in the Games have arrived. They are the two nerdy looking guys who control the jazzy little red cars that take the discuses and the javelins back to the throwing zone after the distance has been measured. These two volunteers just sit on little chairs with their remote controls in hand and guide the cars back and forth. How did they blag that one? I presume that their parents are probably party apparatchiks – book yourself in for that job now is my advice.
The stadium is starting to fill up: the Fuwa mascots are doing a lap of honour. Here come the first athletes, led out to battle behind a very upright young Chinese girl holding a banner announcing what their particular discipline is.
The VIP box is starting to fill as well. Oh look, there's Gordon Brown... and Pele and they're hugging – it's one big global love-in here but it's not going to win him the next election. I sneak up to the edge of the VIP box and snap away – the Prime Minister looks up and spots me – he seems more relaxed than George Bush Snr was: no security are unleashed on me. I amble back to my seat and take a sip of my beer, let the games commence... I'm really going to miss all this.Reuse content