Mary Dejevsky: Joining the London 2012 volunteer army has restored my faith in humanity

 

Share

The trees are silhouetted against a mottled crimson sunset, you can detect more than the occasional mosquito, and still the people keep arriving.

A veritable river of humanity, some 10 or 20 across, streams in from the tributaries of Park Lane and Marble Arch. My job, as I see it – and why I joined up – is to help make sure London does not let them down.

Since last Wednesday, I've been one of 12 "London ambassadors" working the evening shift in Hyde Park. We are all around London, in small groups or pairs, answering questions, handing out maps and timetables and Time Outs, and trying to be friendly and helpful. You can't miss us in our pink and purple tops – which is the whole idea of the uniform. It is quite a salutary experience for someone not in the service business – as journalists can rarely claim to be – to stand around and be nice to people for five hours. It turns out, though, that the smiling and helpful bits are many times easier than the wear and tear on the feet. We're allowed one 20-minute break, reporting on and off to our manager in the little kiosk, or pod, which functions like a mothership. But it can be a mistake to sit down; it makes getting up that bit harder.

What makes the nice and helpful part even less of an imposition, however, is that those who break away from that human river, looking uncertain or lost, or with a specific question that they sometimes struggle to formulate, in any language, are almost universally so polite back. I was five minutes into my first shift when an enormous Irishman came up to me very deliberately, and looked me straight in the eye. Any apprehension on my part was misplaced, as he shook my hand firmly and said he wanted to thank me, and all of us, for volunteering, and how wonderful we had all been, and would I please pass that on. So I'm passing it on.

Nor was he the only one. Every evening, the questions have been sprinkled with generous appreciation. Believe me, it's not just the athletes dissolving into tears. What is this country coming to?

Even when the answers are not what the questioner wants to hear – that it is a brisk 10-minute walk to the nearest Tube station that is not exit-only; that viewing the big screens is free, but beyond a security cordon; that they won't be allowed to take the lavish picnic they have just bought at a nearby supermarket through security – the response is universally philosophical.

The worst was having to warn people, arriving breathless from their trek from who knows where, that Usain Bolt's race was 20 minutes away and the queue for security was now an estimated 30 minutes, and that, alas, they weren't going to make it through in time. We suggested streets where they might find a pub with a television, but many just settled down with their sandwiches and Prosecco on the grass, and clustered around their mobile phones when the historic moment came.

I was set on volunteering from the start, on the grounds that London would not host so many people from so many places again in my lifetime, and as someone who has lived and worked abroad I wanted to help show off the city that is so often, and so unjustly, maligned.

There were few tangible rewards – it was stressed at the outset that this was not a fast track to obtaining tickets. We all received our uniforms, a travel card to pay our fares and £5 a day on a special Visa card for sustenance. That's it. But with the experience, and the memories, it was more than enough.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Maths Teacher

£110 - £200 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Maths Teacher for spe...

Business Analyst - Surrey - Permanent - Up to £50k DOE

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***ASP.NET Developer - Cheshire - £35k - Permanent***

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***Solutions Architect*** - Brighton - £40k - Permanent

£35000 - £40000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Women are working in some of the lowest-paid sectors such as cleaning, catering and caring  

Women's wages have gone backwards. Labour would give women the pay they deserve

Gloria de Piero
 

Taking on Ukip requires a delicate balancing act for both main parties

Andrew Grice
Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker