An Opening Ceremony without Donald Hartford’s guiding hand feels wrong. My husband pushed me hard to become a volunteer so how can I board the train to London without him? Surely that would be traumatic with 80,000 people inside the Olympic Stadium looking at me? But Donald would tap his knuckles on the palm of his other hand and say ‘Frannie, this is chance of a lifetime, don’t waste it’. After all, he was there in 1948 and now kept the precious 2012 tickets in his favourite crimson dinner jacket to protect them for the big day. That big day was here now – and he wasn’t. Couldn’t you have waited, Donald? Just a bit longer so we could have shared this moment?
I rub a photo of Donald and my Olympic ticket together as if they will magically make my decision for me. The other ticket has no doubt ended up in the hands of someone ready to savour the event and smile all the time. I’ll have to sit to next to them. Do they have a husband or wife? Children? What if they want to talk to me? Oh, Donald you are a swine for doing this to me.
I roll up the photo – of a tired-looking Donald during his service in Borneo – and slide it into his favourite Union flag mug. The same image of Donald will be beamed to the world inside the Olympic Stadium within hours. My team leader Rob Miles, who came to Donald’s funeral three months ago, was adamant Donald should be remembered just like the 7/7 victims and Danny Boyle’s father who had also died recently. Really Rob? Was my Donald that important? He only spent a few years in the army but then became a librarian for the rest of his life. I can’t understand how he’d measure up against those people. He’d be so embarrassed about it.
I put the mug, ticket and photo on Donald’s pillow and get up off the bed. It’s not butterflies in my stomach but caterpillars, hundreds of them. I walk to the bathroom and imagine Donald’s voice, humming to Dean Martin, drawing me inside. I walk in and it feels colder than ever, even though we’re in the middle of summer. I stand in front of the mirror and imagine myself in dressed in my volunteer’s uniform; a purple and red pensioner nursing a bereavement and a trail of bad luck. It’s a personal best for shortest amount of time spent in the bathroom. I head downstairs and turn on the TV but the story is clear: the whole event is going to be a disaster anyway so why go? Ticketing problems, recruitment issues, bad weather; I mean, even the army had been brought in so it was all going to be a catastrophe. Good old Britain messing it up again. Why would I want to be a part of that?
I think about Donald’s favourite mug and connect it to the news. He never used the Union flag mug if guests came round to visit in case anyone was offended. I remember once an Indian man came round, selling complicated gas deals, but Donald hid his mug away to ensure there were no awkward moments. It was silly but Donald was like that; overcompensated, planned everything, saw the traps. Me? I took what came up: volunteered at the WI, filled envelopes at the charity shop, helped make breakfasts at the care home. Not much is it? Although Mr Nash might think otherwise after he nearly choked on his boiled egg at the care home one frosty morning. I’d like to think I helped save his life – at least that’s how I see it anyway.
I’m ready to make dinner and settle down to watch the ceremony on TV at about 9pm. It’s so much cosier at home anyway. Since my sister Abigail – and her family – showed up at Donald’s funeral, I’ve been feeling like more like that every day: keep my head down, don’t go out, stay within my boundaries. It was like the two-year training for London 2012 didn’t happen at all. It’d been obliterated by Donald’s stroke.
I start preparing the anchovies and olives to go into pasta for the evening meal. It annoys me that Abigail didn’t even come to the house after the funeral – but I hadn’t seen her for eight years so I was grateful she at least came to the service. She lives in France now, with her architect husband and such a big family that I’d lost count. People said I shouldn’t let her treat me like that but what can I do? She’s always took things when she wanted them. I could never ask – and by the time I did, it was too late.
The London 2012 training did change that, of course. I spoke to people, asked questions, put on a big act – but most of the time, my body vibrated when I spoke, there was a tingling sensation round my temple and I had to swallow before starting a new sentence. Oh, and we met Sally Gunnell so that didn’t help. I always liked her but meeting her rendered me completely speechless. If it wasn’t for Donald, accompanying to the training sessions – giving me encouragement and support – I’m not sure I would have made it through.
I prepare a fresh salad for dinner and glance up at a small National Trust calendar pinned on the kitchen door. Donald liked to circle important events on it or things he had to do. There is a small note saying library books need to be given back – it goes back to early June. How did I not notice that before? Because I had enough on my plate contacting our bank, our insurers and God know’s who else after he died. This was so stressful I wanted to leave the country. In one call, I was kept waiting 40 minutes and couldn’t speak when I finally got through to a human voice. I sobbed and put the phone down. Did they do this to our country on purpose? Did the dead not matter anymore? I quickly head up to his study to check through some of Donald’s things. Everything had been left untouched; I couldn’t bear to move anything. I look under the spare bed and there they are – three books, neatly stacked and heavy (he always liked the big, historical ones with plenty of pictures). I pull them out and sit on the bed. The first is a colourful history of Egyptian art. The second is on Dutch colonies in the East Indies. The third is called The 1948 Olympics: How London Rescued The Games by Bob Phillips. I open it and read the foreword by Sir Roger Bannister. A yellow Post-it note pops out. I instantly recognise the writing.
Donald, I knew you were trying to hunt down this book (even though you read it years ago) so here it is! Our tiny library strikes again! Hope you have a great time at the Olympic Stadium.
Ginny worked with Donald at the community library. She was leading the campaign to keep the library open which was under the threat of closure (and still is). I knew her quite well – she came to the funeral and our home afterwards – but I haven’t seen her since. But it doesn’t matter now – she’s done her bit in persuading me that I must stop moping and seize the opportunity of a lifetime. I read her final sentence again: Hope you have a great time at the Olympic Stadium. I imagine Donald in there, proud as Punch, waving his Union flag and blurting out the national anthem even though his dry cough would spoil his naturally fine rhythm. I am next to him, trying to keep up, but getting the words of anthem wrong. We are together once again, hand in hand, ready to spark Britain into life again. I read more of the book and feel captivated by the heartwarming stories and the achievements. How could I not want to be part of this? I close the book and get up. I go to the bathroom and quickly get changed. I go downstairs, have a quick dinner (while standing in the kitchen) and then check my Olympic ticket one last time. I walk out of the front door and head for the station to board the train to London. If it is daunting and intimidating, I can take it. I am a volunteer. That’s my job.
I sit on the blue-covered seat of the Chiltern Railways’ train where it is standing room only. A kind, young gentlemen, with white earphones plugged to his lobes, offered me his seat and, then cheekily, offers me one of his earphones which blurts out an almighty racket. I smile and politely decline his second offer. Hasn’t he got any Petula Clark or Lulu? I sit down and cross my hands, acknowledging the man in a beanie hat sat next to me, who’s swiping a shiny device with his extremely long fingers. What did they call these things? Tablets? I had a mobile, of course (but only when Donald pushed me into getting one) and he was right: it was essential for my volunteering and Locog training – but these Apple things (or whatever they were called) scared me. People will stop shaking hands soon. I remember a young assistant at the charity shop doing just that when I offered my hand to her on her first day. She asked me to hold on a moment because she was in the middle of texting her boyfriend. She was very nice and apologetic after that but spent most of the rest of the day (it wasn’t very busy) doing the same thing. She only lasted three weeks. But Donald said at least these devices gave people something to do with their fingers rather than smoking. Perhaps, but head down or get smoke blown in your face? It wasn’t much of a choice.
I am thankful to reach Marylebone Station for the sole reason I can get off a packed train. The Tube isn’t much better but at least I get a seat immediately – for both journeys; first on the Bakerloo Line to Baker Street, then on the Jubilee Line all the way to Stratford. I’m annoyed that I didn’t bring anything to read. I look up and can only see the backside of man in a suit. This is why Donald never liked taking the Tube; never knew where to put your eyes. I divert mine to the map I can’t see over a tall lady’s head. As we get to Canary Wharf, my thoughts become scrambled and my hands begin to tremble. Did I leave my Olympic ticket at home? Inside the book given to Donald? How could I have done that after spending weeks thinking about the event? I check my purse and pockets and, after a minute of two of utter panic, I am so relieved to find the ticket in my coat pocket. My sigh is so loud is attracts the attention of the man next to me. I clutch the ticket and then, with a sense of slight embarrassment, put it back into my pocket.
‘For the Opening Ceremony, yes?’ says the man, moving his head closer to my ear. ‘Bet you can’t wait.’
‘Sorry, can you speak up a bit? This train’s so loud, I find it hard to think in here…’
‘The ticket?’ he says, moving even closer and raising his voice a little. ‘Is it for the Olympic Opening Ceremony? Are you going to be in the stadium?’
‘Yes, I’ll be in the stadium…’
‘Are you going with anyone?’
The man nods and leans back in his seat. He looks about 35, clean-shaven, swollen cheeks, hair camouflaging the top of his ears. He’s wearing a short-sleeved sky blue shirt and brown trousers. Every time he rocks back and forth, I get a strong whiff of deodorant going up my nostrils. There is a long pause and then he moves forward again.
‘I hope this summer’s better than last,’ he says. ‘The riots were dreadful, absolutely dreadful. We shamed this city. I hope the Olympics banishes all those memories. It’s a got a lot to live up to.’
‘I never thought of it like that,’ I reply, finding it excruciatingly hard to make eye contact. ‘Never really crossed my mind really: the riots. Saw them on TV – but don’t think we should be dwelling on them now.’
‘Dwelling!’ says the man, with a laugh and a snigger. ‘That’s a fine word you’ve come up there: a fine, fine word.’
I finally turn and look the man in the eye. I wonder if he’s okay. He seems to be speaking to himself rather than addressing me.
‘My name’s Richard,’ he says, with an abruptness that made me shudder. ‘I was on duty with the Met last year when the riots started. I was caught right in the centre of the carnage. A few thugs got stuck into me. They got their time and a half. We were outnumbered. I went to hospital and was signed off indefinitely until I got better.’ He smiles and looks up at me. ‘I’ve recovered now so I start work next week. I want these Olympics to succeed so we can show a better face to the world. I know I get a bit worked up about it but it really matters. Do you see where I’m coming from?’
I sigh and shift in my seat to face the man. ‘Of course, I do. I’m sorry you suffered so much but this is going to be different. We’re going to showing a different face to world; a bolder and brighter one.’
‘You say ‘we’, are you taking part or something?’
I hesitate and consider whether I want to take this conversation further. I don’t even know the man. Donald would always ask me to be wary of men asking too many questions – and wearing too much deodorant.
‘It’s okay if you don’t want to talk,’ he says, folding his arms. ‘I need to save my energy for the woman I’m trying to court. I’m meeting her this evening in Canning Town. She’s got a couple of kids, but that’s no problem because I’ve got a son of my own. Don’t see him a lot though…’
‘Divorced, are you?’
He nods and smiles.
‘See, that made you feel better didn’t it?’ he says.
I almost break out into the smile but look away just in time. There is another long pause and I consider whether to tell Richard about Donald. Is it too early? Would he be interested? I judge it’s too early. Strangers need to keep their distance.
‘My guess would be that you’re a volunteer,’ he says. ‘I mean, no offence, you’re unlikely to competing because of your golden years so I reckon that’s what you’ll be doing? Am I right?’
This time I do break out into a smile. I nod and cross my hands.
‘That’s great to hear,’ he says. ‘So many people could learn from you. A little bit of TLC to the community never did anyone harm. Good luck to you.’ He pauses and looks up. ‘Oh, here’s my stop, I’m getting off here.’ He gets up and nearly falls over as we approach Canning Town station. ‘Thanks for the little chat; made me feel better.’
I nod but don’t say anything. Then Richard does something unexpected. He reaches into his trouser pocket and hands me a card. It has his details and number on it.
‘I’ve learnt to be a little more thoughtful about other people since the riots last year,’ he says. ‘If you need any help from me, give me a call. Even if you don’t I’d love to know how you went on at the Olympics.’ He walks away towards the exit doors. ‘Oh and tell Usain Bolt to come down for a drink after his 100 metres win.’ He smiles and waves. He leaves the Tube train and we move off again.
I look around the rest of the carriage: this time making eye contact with many more people. I pull out my Olympic Opening Ceremony ticket again – and stroke it between my palms. I may have been uncertain about coming down here before. Not now. I’m ready for a night to remember.
As soon as Bradley Wiggins enters the stage, the stadium erupts. The noise crackles through my senses, creating an out-of-body experience as though I’m about to float away from my seat. It’s like Wiggins’ yellow jersey has turned gold and is sprinkling dust all over the spectators. Eighty thousand people cheer and clap, waving their flags and taking pictures. The roar is so deafening I have to close my eyes for a moment because it scares me. It’s as if a secret power is propelling me forward; shimmering and intoxicating, pushing me into the centre of the stadium. How will I deal with this every day? My left ear popped regularly as it was. The man next to me, who has Donald’s ticket, stands up and pumps his fist. ‘Go Wiggo’,’ he says. I imagine Donald being a little less animated. As Bradley Wiggins leaves the stage after taking the plaudits, the man next to me sits down – and then pulls his socks up.
‘This’ll be bigger than Beijing, don’t you think?’ he says, glancing at me. ‘I can’t believe I’m here. Did you come on your own too?’
I don’t answer immediately, as another bout of cheering gives me the opportunity to divert attention away from the man’s question.
‘Wiggo’s a bit of a hero of mine. Sorry, I got a bit carried away.’
I smile at him but find it difficult to say anything. The bright, glitzy lights of the unfolding ceremony – and Wiggins’ entrance – have scrambled my emotions so much I’m not sure how to behave. How can I cheer now when I’ve been crying at dawn for the last few months? But then I realise I may have to spend the next few hours with this man who’s taken Donald’s place. Like it or not, we’re stuck with each other. Perhaps, I should be nicer to him? The problem is, I’m not seeing him as a person at all right now. Fate, death and fortune may have brought us together but all I see is a cheering ghost, a physical specimen, a man who should have been my husband but isn’t. When he opens his mouth, I imagine Donald’s words coming out.
A children’s choir begins to sing Jerusalem and people dance around the maypoles in their costumes. Green fields, maids and village cricket being played. The boy’s voice so sharp and golden, I have to turn away in case he plucks a tear from my soul. It’s as though he’s addressing me directly rather than thousands of other inside the stadium. I recover in time to see Isambard Kingdom Brunel walk out as he recites Shakespeare’s The Tempest with Elgar playing the background.
‘Kenneth Branagh that is…’ says the man next to me.
‘Yes I know, someone told me he was appearing…’
I regret it the moment it slips out of my month – but that’s what Jerusalem and little boys do to me. The man turns and looks at me. He folds his arms and gives me a knowing smile.
‘I thought this ceremony was supposed to be a secret,’ he says. ‘Are you one of those volunteers’ relatives then? Those performers down there?’ He points just in case I don’t understand the question. ‘They probably tweeted everyone during rehearsals.’
‘No, I’m not a relative or a performer…’
I hope it’s the end of the conversation – but he presses on.
‘You’re not his mother are you?’
‘No, I’m not Kenneth Branagh’s mother.’ I sigh and realise there’s no way out of this unless I come clean. ‘I’m a volunteer – and I start work tomorrow. My team leader, who’s got his ear to the ground, told me that one of the actors had dropped out a few weeks ago – and Kenneth Branagh was taking over. He knew my husband was a big admirer of Branagh so that’s why he probably told me.’ I glance across at the man. ‘Now, can we watch the ceremony please?’
‘Yes, but why isn’t your husband here if he’s such a big admirer?’
The man stares at me as Brunel’s recital ends. I glance at the couple in the seats to my right. I’d hardly noticed them because they were almost facing each other, knees touching, holding hands and, generally looking like they were completely besotted with each other. If only nosey parker to my left would be like them.
‘Because you are…’ I say.
He nods and seems taken aback my answer. I feel much better as it’s the first time I’ve asserted myself since Donald and I had dinner in a Thai restaurant – and the main course didn’t turn up. It doesn’t affect him for long though.
‘Oh here are the drums,’ he says, standing up and doing a little jig to the pounding drumbeat. ‘Industrial Revolution time; I’m loving this.’
He sits down after a few minutes – a bit out of breath – and gets his phone out. He raises it in the air and starts recording as soon as the chimneys start rising from the ground. Many other people do the same. It’s an awesome sight. Music and image are in such harmony that I feel the whole stadium is vibrating. Then the Suffragettes come out. Would I be here without them? No, but the old struggle feels like the same one for me. Who’ll fight for me now?
‘Danny Boyle’s racing through this part, isn’t he?’ says the man, trying to cock his neck round while still trying to his mobile steady. ‘The Beatles, Windrush, the Chelsea Pensioners, I hope to see Zeppelin soon…’
I don’t answer as I’m transfixed by the momentum of the Industrial Revolution sequence. It all comes to a spectacular climax as five Olympics rings are formed in the sky – and then shower their golden light onto everyone below. I didn’t expect to be so moved by it. The conversion of the harsh, heavy chimneys to the bright glow of the Olympic symbol rings is breathtaking. Oh Donald, why couldn’t you be here to see this? It’s euphoric and epic. You can forget your Greeks and your Egyptians.
The man shakes his head in disbelief and then switches off his phone and sits down. ‘Man, that was something else; electric. Phew, Danny boy, you’ve given the pretenders a hell of a beating.’ He looks at me and raises his palm above his head, probably thinking I didn’t have a clue what he’s up to. I smack his palm hard with my own.
‘Whoa, you know what a high five is,’ he says. ‘Absolute mint.’
‘There were a lot of young people at our Games training,’ I say, wiping my palm after its heavy duty. ‘I pick up things quickly.’
He looks at me again – and nods as though he’s acknowledged a deep character trait about me.
‘I’m sorry that I asked about your husband,’ he says. ‘That’s private. I’m Marcus. I’ve come all the way down from Manchester for this. I think that sequence has just made it all worthwhile.’
I hesitate but realise social norms are being loosened by the second due to the spectacle unfolding in front of us.
‘Francesca – and I definitely haven’t come that far…’
‘A village in Buckinghamshire…’
‘Bet it’s posh isn’t it? Buckinghamshire Palace and all that. Have you got maids and servants?’
I laugh for the first time in the evening. Can I do that yet? Is the mourning period over so soon? I feel guilty about not keeping myself under control.
‘Speaking of which, is that James Bond going into the Palace?’ he says, looking up at the big screen. ‘Looks like he’s got a date with the Queen.’
‘I bet she prefers Sean Connery…’
Marcus laughs this time – and I’m surprised by my quick-witted response. We watch the big screen as 007 and Her Royal Highness get into a helicopter. The sequence then develops to make it look as though the Queen has parachuted down into the Olympic Stadium. There are mass cheers around the stadium – but it also feels like a personal moment of reassurance. If the Queen can take part in the ceremony – be a good sport and let her hair down – then surely I can too.
The National Anthem is sung by a group of children – and then Mike Oldfield performs Tubular Bells.
‘God, it’s The Exorcist,’ says Marcus, putting his hands over his eyes.
‘No, it’s Mike Oldfield…’
‘Bit before my time, Francesca. I’ve seen that film six times. He needs to get out more. People might recognise him one day.’
I offer a mild smile but avert my gaze to the curious, but uplifting, spectacle of NHS nurses and doctors dancing in the centre of the arena. Patients too, spring out of the bed and join the staff to create a heartwarming scene, as though a magic, happy virus has spread through the ward to create eternal good health. Then the announcer introduces JK Rowling. Marcus gets his phone out again and records the Harry Potter author’s performance, a reading of Peter Pan. It’s hard to keep up with the children’s characters popping up everywhere: Voldemort, Mary Poppins, the Child Catcher. I remember hearing about Chitty Chitty Bang Bang being filmed in Hambleden in the late 60s (just a few miles from our village) and its still one of my favourite films. Donald and I even visited the exact location where the car took its first drive! This pleasant memory doesn’t last long, however, as the sequence ends with a giant baby in a bed which I find quite scary. Marcus laughs and ensures he’s got it all on his phone. He sits down again and offers me the phone.
‘Want to see that again?’
I shake my head. He puts his phone away and starts fiddling with the cables on his pixel screen. Every spectator has one of these tablet-like screens in front of them, which has nine lights and is designed to illuminate the whole stadium. I’m sceptical about them but have to admit that, in the dark, they look spectacular and very colourful. Marcus is not convinced that his is working. He misses Simon Rattle being introduced – but as soon as Chariots of Fire begins he looks up. The stirring melody is so beautiful that I feel I can’t move. But it doesn’t last long – as Mr Bean pops up, playing the synthesiser.
‘We just know how to do it, don’t we?’ says Marcus, shaking his head as if he’d just seen Jesus himself walking into the stadium.
‘What do you mean?’
‘NHS, Mr Bean, chimneys; we just don’t care. We just put it out there and try to get a smile on people’s faces. Wit and flippancy, we’re the best in the world at it.’ He glances at the big screen. ‘I mean, look at him!’
Mr Bean is cut into the famous scene in Chariots of Fire where the men are running barefoot on the beach. I find it amusing but do feel a little disappointed that we’re being diverted from such glorious music. Perhaps the laughter is too soon for me after all.
‘He’s one of our biggest exports,’ says Marcus. ‘I work for an event management company in Cheshire – and get to travel abroad sometimes. You wouldn’t believe how many people have heard of Mr Bean. He doesn’t even need to say anything. People around the world know what he’s about. It’s the same thing as all of us: we love to laugh and we love to be silly. I mean, what about Monty Python? I rest my case.’
‘Donald didn’t like them…’
I couldn’t believe how stupid I’d been. Every time I tried to put Donald at the back of my mind – and enjoy the ceremony – he re-emerged to join the conversation. It was if he was saying: ‘What are doing here, talking to this strange man? You have nothing in common’.
‘Sorry Francesca, I won’t pry again.’
‘It’s okay, it’s just…’
‘If you want to talk, I’ll listen – but you’re not half as interesting as Mr Bean over there…’
‘You’ve made that clear already!’ I pause and continue to watch the big screen as Mr Bean gets to the finishing line. ‘No, let’s just watch the ceremony. That’s what we’re here for…’
Marcus nods and starts clapping vigorously even before the sequence has come to an end. I sense I’m doing the right thing: I cannot share Donald’s intimate details with a man I’ve known for barely an hour. I realise people share things very fast these days – in the news or on social media or whatever it’s called – but there’s still a time for patience and restraint; and this is one of those occasions.
The whole stadium gives Mr Bean and Simon Rattle a rapturous send-off and a few minutes later, we’re into a music and cultural montage which gets Marcus excited again. Whenever a band or film are mentioned, Marcus shouts the title and then sings along to the words or quotes from the film. It becomes a bit trying after a while.
‘It’s The Jam!’
I hadn’t heard of most of the bands mentioned. Then a performer came onto the stage who had the strangest name I’d ever heard. Couldn’t he think of something more pleasant on a night like this?
‘It’s Dizzee Rascal!’
I am thankful when the sequence ends. Only good old Charlie – and perhaps Ray Davies of The Kinks – give me a lift. Marcus sits down again.
‘Phew, I’m tired after that,’ says Marcus. ‘Cracking that was. Who’s this fella now?’
‘Invented the internet, I think.’
‘Oh yeah, Tim Berners-Lee. Thought you’d have known who he was with his double-barrelled surname? Probably lives round the corner from you.’
‘Not by inventing that kind of thing he doesn’t. We like a bit of peace where we come from.’
Marcus smiles but doesn’t respond. After Berners-Lee, there is a sequence about the 1948 Olympics as black and white images of King George, the flame being lit and an achingly young Elizabeth are shown on the big screen. I slide my hands over my face and rest them on my lips. It’s like I’m frozen in time. Donald was in that stadium – and I’m in this one. If only we could be reunited again. Luckily, the montage is very short – not enough time for me to get worked up again.
But that comes a few minutes later – after a musical sequence about the 70-day torch relay and David Beckham bringing the flame to the stadium in a speedboat. The big screen beams a short pictorial tribute to friends and relatives who couldn’t attend the ceremony. Donald is there, in amongst 7/7 victims, Danny Boyle’s father and many others. His shy smile flashes up for a second – and then is gone forever. This time there is no restraint. My eyes fill up as the big screen becomes so dark I think I’m going blind. I feel unsteady but proud. The images are gone as quick as they came. I clear the tears with my thumb. I hope there is no more of this – or the night will become impossible.
Luckily, Marcus doesn’t notice my sobbing – and thank God for that. He might try another joke. Britain likes its humour but there’s a limit.
The stadium goes quiet as Emeli Sande begins to sing Abide With Me. It’s like they’re trying to do this to me personally: batter me into submission with emotion and nostalgia. I manage to keep myself under control but then I see a dancer performing such a moving sequence that my head and eyes begin to fill up again.
‘Who’s that dancer,’ I ask, trying to keep my voice under control.
Marcus doesn’t have to say anymore – we are both captivated. The song continues and I’m not sure I can make it to the end. I’m sobbing now and I need to do something; stand up, escape, go to the toilet, anything, because this is going to finish me off. It’s coming to the end now and I think I’m going to make it one piece. I take a tissue out of my purse and wipe my nose, cheeks and eyes. But that little boy with Akram Khan is prolonging the anguish. He’s an angel, a beautiful soul, fluttering over the surface with innocence and grace. The love I feel for him right now is too much to bear. Oh Donald, if you could have seen this you would have gone to your grave a happier man. The boy hugs Akram Khan who carries him away towards the sun. In Life in Death, O Lord, Abide With Me… The boy reaches up and puts his arm up in the air. This time it is too much for me. The song ends and I get up from my seat, trying to keep the tears at bay. I walk past Marcus who is still clapping and whistling at the compelling performance he’s just seen.
‘Where are you going?’ he asks.
I raise my arm to acknowledge him but say nothing. I walk away from our seat and head for the exit. I fleetingly think about Team GB coming into the stadium or the Olympic flame being lit. Am I going to miss that? Regretfully, yes. Some things are more important, like my memories of Donald, which have been illuminated beautifully tonight. I will not make a sobbing spectacle of myself and spoil the night for everyone. I will go home with that little boy – and Donald by my side; forever.