Usain Baltic and the London Jam Festival

I went to Gateshead yesterday for an interview about becoming an Olympics volunteer.  I love the Olympics, and would love to be involved with London 2012, but I came away from the process feeling rather disheartened.

This was hardly surprising, since the entire volunteer recruitment process is run by McDonald's, an organization for whom 'come away feeling disheartened' is a raison d'être.  Everyone was very nice, but it was niceness that had a hollow, corporate ring to it.

The interviews were held in the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art, formerly the Baltic Flour Mills of Joseph Rank Limited.  The building was chosen because of the secret message hidden in the sign displaying the name of the original company:

jOSePh ranK LIMited

Having never been to Gateshead before, I was eager to see the Centre.  Unfortunately, despite arriving a couple of hours early, I discovered there were almost no exhibitions on, so had to make do with wandering around the area outside instead.

It was whilst doing this that I had the idea that turned out to be the best thing I did all day.  When the Cultural Olympiad comes to the north-east, and they need a mascot to promote it, I have the solution.  Comprising the extraordinary athletic abilities of the current Olympic men's 100m champion with the industrial heritage and culture for which the region is famous, I propose... 

...Usain Baltic!

If that's not a great idea, then I really don't know what is.

Buoyed by my brainwave, I was ready to venture in for my interview, so I did.  There were a cluster of us waiting, and we were eventually ushered into a lift and taken to the first floor for registration and suchlike.  The lady who briefed us told us to enjoy ourselves, not least by making sure we tucked into the boxes filled with small chocolates.

These, according to the leaflet she gave me, were provided by Kraftbury, the "Official Treat Provider for the London 2012 Games Maker programme."  The sentence alone made me die a little inside, and I found myself wondering how intense the corporate bidding was for that role?  I was also disappointed to find that there were none of these on offer.

After being registered, and then milling around the small display area for a bit, it was time for a pre-interview video, in which Eddie Izzard ordered us all to make sure we mentioned everything that might be of relevance, such as the rocket ship we'd just built.

And with that, it was time to be grilled, bapped, and placed in a polystyrene box.  I was interviewed by Boris (no, not that one, sadly), and though he was a perfectly decent chap, all the questions he asked were from a form, and all were classic burger company management recruitment drivel.  Also, contrary to Mr Izzard's earlier instruction, I was instructed to keep my answers short.

Not only was this confusing, it was also ironic, as all the questions were full of waffle. (Which was also ironic, as waffles are one of the few things McDonald's don't sell in their emporia of grease.)

One query began something like, "The Olympic Games has an amazing history and we want our ambassadors to know this and convey it to everyone they meet...," and I thought "excellent, I know all about Baron de Coubertin, and William Penny Brookes, and Ancient Greece, and why the mascots are called Wenlock and Mandeville, and who won a gold medal for GBR in the men's 100m breaststroke in Seoul in 1988..."

And then I awoke from my daydream and realized the question was still going on, and it was ending with something like, " please give an example of where you have worked in a team to achieve a goal," and my heart just sank.

Every question was like this, and every response I gave felt like the wrong one.  What is your favourite Olympic event, and why?  Erm, all of it, because I love the Olympics, and have done since I was 7, and got up early to sit in front of the BBC coverage with my Ladybird book*, filling in all the results in all the sports.

It just sounded rubbish, as though I didn't really like the Games and hadn't really thought about it.

When have you done a thing with a team, and what were the outcomes?  Well, I, erm, I set up a, I once did a, I was once captain of, erm, I once saw a game of football on television and it was a draw?  Thank you, now give an example of a thing you've done with things to get a positive thing?  Sorry, my brain has melted.

Thank you, have a nice day.  We won't contact you in October to let you know how you've done.

I left, and got into a lift with another unimpressed candidate.  "Might get a position in a car park in Walsall if I'm lucky," he joked, and as we wandered off home, I couldn't help but agree (though he probably meant Coventry).

Still, I had a nice time strolling around the banks of the Tyne, enjoying all the architecture, modern and Victorian.  Even though all Millennium versions are essentially the same, I love the bridges, particularly the Tyne Bridge towers and their nesting kittiwakes, looking like gargoyles that have come to life.  The Sage Theatre seems to complement them all, too.

Sage Theatre, Gateshead Millennium Bridge and Tyne Bridge

And I still love the Olympics too, even if I am now going to have to watch most of it on the TV.

*photos by G. P. Herringshaw, naturally.