It was a very peculiar evening. I found myself on the roof terrace of a Chinese fish and chip shop in Old Beijing. I was there to do my regular bit for 5 Live, on the 'Drive' programme with Peter Allen. I'm there to supposedly add insightful and witty banter about the Olympic day – I do my best.... The place was in the most picturesque part of Beijing, among the old hutongs – narrow labyrinths of glorious hustle and bustle that are fast being swept away by the hungry architectural wave that is engulfing 'new' Beijing.
It was a balmy evening, and we were joined by Katharine Merry – the former British 400-metre Olympian. Things started quite smoothly, except that the floor was wet and the portable broadcast equipment was giving everybody round the table electric shocks. This tended to keep you on your toes, but we managed to broadcast through the period with only the odd, mild "ooh" and "ahh" audible. I cracked a bad couple of jokes about being on 'Fried Live', and guessing the headline might be "BBC radio team fried to death in Beijing chip shop".
Then we were joined by a couple of lads from, well, that was the problem. They were over here on some scheme to help them learn to play ping-pong. Peter Allen asked the first guy where he was from.
"London..." replied the clearly nervous youth. "What part?" Peter coaxed. "England..." he stammered. "No, I mean, where in London?" Peter continued, determinedly. "Europe," replied the oddly terrified boy.
He eventually confessed to being from Northolt, no crime in itself. He then disappeared downstairs, and we could hear his mates teasing him in the bar.
We moved on to the first day of track and field. Katharine Merry was asked for her opinions, and she chattered on very happily for a while. Suddenly, however, she stood up and stumbled over to the other side of our roof and threw up extraordinarily violently. The broadcast continued while we tried to help as best we could. A very pale Katharine blamed it all on a dodgy pizza she'd had back at the Olympic Green.
She claimed to have recovered, and sat down with us and insisted on answering more questions about the upcoming events. Suddenly she was off again – retching violently for a good minute or so while we filled, desperately. Enough was enough – she'd been a real trouper, but it was time for her to head back to her hotel and get some rest.
The broadcast continued, indifferent to our increasingly weird evening, and we listened to tales of lorries shedding their loads on the M40, and jams on the A61. It all seemed a very long way from our little rooftop.
As the night wore on we traded stories about badminton players and synchronised swimming with news from Georgia and Antigua. It began to rain, and we huddled under two small umbrellas that attempted to protect our equipment. All I could think about was the electric shocks. I checked my shoes and was fairly convinced that they were rubber, but I couldn't be certain. I started to lift my feet off the ground – all while nattering on air.
When it was all over we had a couple of beers and waited for the BBC car to come and pick us up. Outside, in the narrow hutongs, seven police cars rushed past, lights flashing. Our driver told us that there was a curious rumour going round that somebody had poured poison into the hutongs; it all sounded very sinister. I couldn't help wondering whether it might have been more of that deadly Olympic Green pizza? That stuff is a killer.Reuse content