Sitting in his office overlooking the Thames and the Tower Bridge, Richard Barnes has more than just the city of London to think about.
There are ample others to take care of the snow on the streets this unusually chilly winter but the Deputy Mayor of London has a bigger problem on his hands. He is in charge of delivering the London Olympics in August 2012 and there are some serious matters that he must sort out, ‘asap’.
Actually everything is running on schedule and he is pretty confident that the Olympic Stadium will be done and ready by July next year — a year ahead of schedule (lessons there for the Indian authorities who are still not done with their Commonwealth Games preparations due in October this year).
The Summer Olympics will be held in August 2012 and London is full of hectic activity — more hotels are being built, roads are being widened.
But it is something more than just sports or a possible terrorist attack that is bothering Richard Barnes. London last held the Olympics in 1948 and there was a general consensus that they must go nostalgic and repeat as much of the post-World War II flavour as possible. Which, six decades later, is now mostly about food and drink.
This is where the office of the Mayor of London has got stuck in a deep impasse. The 1948 Olympics had contracted the catering out to McDonald’s and Coca-cola. “But,’’ says Barnes ruefully, “McDonald’s does not do vegetarian or vegan and Coke does not do water. ‘’’
So there is a furious search on to see who (including McDonald’s and Coca-cola) can provide all kinds of food and drink — and water — to all sorts of people in a city that speaks 360 languages and eats everything from couscous to continental and eschews cruelty to animals at the same time.
But Barnes is keeping his cool. “No, I am not nervous,’’ he tells the Hindustan Times. “We will solve the contractual problems by next year. I cannot tell you now who and what it will be but rest assured: it will not be just a hot dog.’’
Other issues like making London accessible to the mobility-impaired and keeping it safe from terrorist strikes are at the moment dwarfed by comparison. But even if they solve their culinary problems, there is one thing the Mayor’s office is sure they won’t: better China who put up an impressive show at the opening ceremony at the last Olympics. So, says Barnes, “We simply won’t.’’
“We are a democracy and we cannot bus in prisoners, workers and villagers from all over as China did for its opening ceremony. As for the show, we will offer what is just plain and wholesome London. No add-ons for television as China did. What you see is what everybody will get.’’
So simply London it will be.