Today is my last day at Paddington Station. Being a direct hub for traffic from London's Heathrow airport, I have been at the heart of welcoming guests to our country as an Olympic Ambassador for the past three weeks. For some reason I was given the two shifts I requested, many others didn't get their extra week requested, and I didn't realise that until I spoke to my colleagues. In our busiest weeks, there were six of us plus a location manager. For the past week, being in transition to the Paralympic Games, there have been four Ambassadors, but still no less busy with visitors who are still coming each day for the summer.
Paddington Station has a lovely genteel air about it, rich with history dating from 1838, but a thoroughly modern station which serves the needs of approximately 60,000 passengers per day passing through its portals. Moreover, Paddington has gained its own unique reputation through the children's character, Paddington Bear, that is based there and for which many children make a bee line to take photographs with him. I chose Paddington for my duties simply because I am not a Londoner and it was the end stop to my journey from my home town, without having the hassle of having to travel further to other locations.
Based near to the Heathrow Express platform, the Olympic Ambassadors are the first real friendly faces visitors from abroad encounter on British soil, and perhaps the last before they return to the airport. So we weren't just pretty faces. We had a serious job to do making sure visitors got to the right venues for the Olympics, in the easiest and quickest possible way, and giving them any information relevant to that specific day - like the days when all Games tickets were gone, or they were not allowed into the Olympic Park for any reason. Those who approached us were at least saved wasted journeys. This transition week we have been dealing with the more mundane stuff of helping visitors reach their various locations.
Many Olympic Ambassadors had sandwiched their duties in between their jobs, but I wasn't so fortunate. I was not working full time when I applied, and will not be working after this, though I am now considering some ad hoc work after the experience. This is because when I applied to be an Ambassador I did it purely to motivate myself as I was rather ill. I didn't know I would be selected and didn't care at the time. It was something to focus on instead of my constant medication trials, debilitating feeling, weakness and lethargy. As the time approached this year, I wondered how I would cope with the responsibility, but was determined to make the most of it.
Medals and Accolades
Apart from feeling absolutely shattered in the evenings, after the long walks to and from my station, and the long hours spent on my feet, I have had the most amazing time, being treated almost like a celebrity. I have had knowing smiles from those who wanted to share in the moment, tons of congratulations daily from people along my route, friendly, proud passengers giving up their seats for me on trains; my picture taken countless times, five people who wanted my trilby hat (one man from Bristol asked if I would accept £200 for it!) - not for sale, I told them proudly; I even managed a photo with an athlete's Silver medal, three guys who were brave enough to try and chat me up (pity I wasn't attracted to any!) and people who wasted no opportunity whenever they see us to say what a fantastic job we are doing. There is even talk among politicians of all kinds of service medals and other accolades for us. But what has mattered to me and all the others is just the wonderful opportunity to sell Britain proudly and to participate in the Olympic Games which might not return in my lifetime.
For me personally, Paddington Station IS a really big deal. My time based there has shown me that I can work again, no matter how small the effort. My heart has soared to new heights of hope and expectation, and though I am still on medication trials to find a drug that works for my body, I have proved to myself that, despite the problems I might have, the world is still my oyster, if I wish it to be. I feel extremely tired after the hectic days, and my readings are too high for comfort, but I feel the best I have felt for five years inside my head and that cannot be a bad thing for me physically or emotionally. I feel that i have carried out a job well done and that can't be a bad thing for my own progress.
The Olympic Games came to Britain, but for one person making her own olympian effort to be involved, the memory will live forever for very special reasons. On this last day, it's back to meeting and greeting and flashing that wonderful smile!! I feel privileged to have been given the opportunity to do so. :o)