In London for the final day of my week’s holiday – the day after the games had ended.
Much has been made of the warmness of the welcome afforded by visitors to the capital. The Olympic volunteers rightly received the most spontaneous and prolonged applause during Seb Coe’s closing speech.
The city has earned the right to bask in this glory but I was reminded that there is always another side to any metropolis by a small incident in one of the ubiquitous Cafe Nero coffee bars.
I was taking advantage of the free wi-fi after ordering a single espresso. I sat opposite a young couple with my ipad. They were engrossed in each other and had obviously just finished drinking lattes and eating cake – empty cups and plates with cake crumbs were on the tray in front of them.
After putting sugar in my coffee I placed the used sachet on this same tray. “Excuse me”, the woman said accusingly, “You’ve just put that on our tissue”. I should have asked what further use she was planning to make of this paper serviette but I was speechless. I reached behind me for the dispenser and placed another tissue on top of the one I had ‘soiled’ and returned to surfing. The man whispered something to her, advising her, I think, not to cause a scene. They left soon after.
It was a petty incident, I grant you, but I was left to reflect that this could only have been an example of a person who had gone to advanced assertiveness training classes where she had learnt that preserving one’s own space has a special symbolism. The tissue was not the issue – it was the principle what counted.
Has it come to this? Are our cities now so depersonalised that a casual discarding of a sugar sachet can be regarded as act of effrontery? If so, the legacy of the Olympic games will be extremely short-lived.