Run through our logistics for Beijing. It’s the most complex operation I think we’ve undertaken – because of the time difference, because of the 24/7 needs of the website and because all writers will be working for the website, The Guardian and The Observer, no matter which title they are affiliated to at the moment.
It’s very much a taste of the future and the scale of it means we are sending two editors to the media centre to desk the Games. It’s the first time we’ve done this (though Brian Oliver, the sports editor at The Observer, tells me that he did the same when working for The Daily Telegraph at the 1996 Atlanta Games and that he hasn’t been back to the States since).
We’ve been through what each ‘platform’requires, and worked out a schedule of priorities for writers reporting from events, depending on what time the story happens. It all sounds good in theory, and it’s a great opportunity to learn.
One of my big concerns is fatigue. The Olympics are so intense and so beautifully choreographed that every day brings a welter of irresistible stories. Those reporters with less experience throw themselves into everything and burn out with an adrenaline crash after about 10 days. They are under strict instructions to take time off when told to.
The managing editor’s office calls to say the contract for a new member of staff is ready. I ring him and find out he is just heading into London. Our temporary administrator, who is working here on her summer break from an illustration degree, agrees to cycle to the central London rail terminal to meet him. He calls later, enthusiastically, saying: ‘You know you’re joining The Guardian when your contract is delivered by someone called Rainbow.”
Our production editor comes to discuss rotas. There have been a surprising number of people excited about working through the night on the desk. Not quite enough however, and the meeting ends with my agreeing to a 1.30am start on the first Saturday of the Games.
Go for a drink with our columnist, Marina Hyde, and my deputy, Ian Prior, who will both be going to Beijing. Marina has bought a series of flip cards with pictograms of key Beijing destinations captioned in English and Mandarin so foreign visitors can communicate with local taxi drivers. The card they think will come in most useful is captioned ‘receipt please”. Thankfully they missed out the card that says ‘six blank receipts please”.
It wouldn’t be so bad if we were only having to cope with organising Beijing, but it’s also the start of the new football season, with all the preposterous foreign tours and interminable transfer stories that entails.
It also means that we are simultaneously producing two supplements – one for Beijing and one for the big kick-off. Some of the staff seem to have taken to sleeping in the office to make sure that they hit deadlines, but both of them (the supplements, not the staff) look fantastic. I suggest a last-minute rejig of the Olympics booklet, which prompts dark looks from the art director, but no great vocal objections. There’s good news on another front, however. Our fantasy football game, brilliantly driven by website sports editor Sean Ingle, has exceeded its targets.
I’d had this idea of doing a humorous guide to Olympic disciplines by someone who is hopelessly unathletic. Kind of a guide to low-performance sport. Someone suggested we ask comedian David Mitchell on the basis of a column he had written for us revealing he was always one of the last picked for school football teams. No one else want to make this call, and my deputy and assistant sports editors demand to be in the room to listen as I embarrass myself. It goes as predicted, although he is the model of politeness in declining our invitation to ridicule himself every day for a fortnight. Surely we’re not down to Johnny Vegas already?
In the evening I manage to get away early to go to the Albert Hall for Glyndebourne’s Coronation of Poppea, with music from the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment.
By the end of the last duet I have entirely forgotten that Beijing exists, let alone that there will be an Olympics there in a week.