It's nearly two months since they blew out the flame at the London 2012 Paralympic Games...and I'm still shattered!
Not content with being a Games Maker at the Para's, seeing a load of incredible, perception shattering world class sport and occasionally squeezing in some of the day job, I was honoured to have been one of a handful of pin collectors who volunteered to work in the Coca Cola Pin Trading Centre on the Olympic Park and in Hyde Park.
It is amazing where a hobby can take you. When I first started collecting pins, I never dreamed I would be trading the things at the London Games but I'm certainly glad I did.
I met people from all over the world, from all walks of life, of all ages and with varying degrees of knowledge about pins from the "what the hell is this pin trading thing all about?" brigade to the "I've been collecting for the last 30 years!" mob. Amazing. Inspirational. Humbling...I'm running out of words to describe what we went through.
There were a couple of weird moments though:
• The young American kid who was insistent he could trade food for pins....I'm not sure his request for a rarer-than-hens-teeth Opening Ceremony pin was worth trading for a tuna, cucumber and mayo baguette.....but after six hours of cattle trading pins for pins, it was rather tempting!
• The wheelchair bound Paralympic Team Coach from an Eastern European country who kept his stock of pin swaps in his hollowed out leg...I did do some of my best trades with him and he did some of the best "haven't got a leg to stand on" jokes I've heard in a long time.
But the most surreal moment was waking up on the Monday morning of September 10 and walking through Stratford at 8am on my way into work.
Compared with the weeks before where a semi-permanent heaving mass of global human ants clamoured around station entrances, in shops and in bars and cafes, walking through the shopping centre that morning felt almost post-apocalyptic. It was morgue-like. Deathly quiet apart from the occasional trundling of an athlete's baggage being wheeled across the mall en route to some exotic country far away. The occasional throb and buzz of the floor polishing buffers removing last night's chewing gum, trainer scuffs and pretzel squishings. We've all witnessed this. The morning after the night before. That Wedding. That Bar Mitzvah. That 18th Birthday. The incredible high followed by that flat, hangover kinda feel. Very weird. Very surreal.
Then something inside me snapped. I couldn't cope with this. I needed my Games-time high again. I needed just one more shot of something exciting. Where do you get this the morning after the night before? It wasn't something a double espresso would resolve, nor a Bloody Mary cocktail or even some illegal narcotic. I need to be part of the Games again. So I went home!
I took off my boring suit and tie, dumped the brief case in the lounge and ran upstairs to put on my purple and poppy coloured superhero suit. My Games Maker uniform. But even that felt incomplete. I needed to grab my pin trading lanyard and only then I could jump on the Tube to the West End to join the Athletes Parade. Only then would I be able to put closure on the whole thing. Having one last trade and wearing the outfit that quite frankly made me look like a pregnant purple Space Hopper would sort me out. Not quite.
It was an incredible event. Screaming, crowd jostling, smiles, laughter, policemen wearing the foam fingers. I couldn't see any athletes 'cos of the other million people in Trafalgar Square all with the same sense of the morning after the night before but it felt good to be part of something historical.
Hysterically I got the urge to trade and started accosting a variety of people who I thought might be in the mood for a trade. But it wasn't until I got back on the Tube that I did a good trade with a very sombre Aussie dude who loved my orange logo pin and was prepared to swap it for a Dow Pin I hadn't managed to secure. Result!
And this only went and fired up my pin trading urge once again. So I fired up Twitter, email, Facebook, LinkedIn on my smartphone and made sure I got myself along to the next pin trading meeting in Stratford two weeks later
Ahhhh! This was just what the doctor ordered. A wet Saturday in the Railway Tavern was where it all started for me and it was great to be back. I saw some cool collections, some new pins and merchandise that I'd never seen before and did some great trades on the day but better still got to catch-up with fellow traders to rekindle some Games-time stories.
Once again, it was brilliantly organised (thanks, Paul), best ever attendance and we people had travelled for miles specifically to get there. Sylvia the student who'd travelled down by train from Edinburgh, some guys from Leicester, another form Ipswich and two from another country I couldn't even pronounce, made it a great day. There were even some others who didn't come to trade. They just wanted the power of the Games to wash over them just one more time.
It was indeed a well-deserved shot-in-the-arm and has still left me still wanting more. I shan't complain though as I suppose that's my legacy from the Games...and not a bad one to have!
Mark Kass is an entrepreneur and a Director of an East London business support agency. He is a vocal ambassador for SMEs representing small businesses in consultations with LOCOG, the ODA (Olympic Delivery Authority), OPLC (Olympic Park Legacy Company) and the East London Boroughs. Now an avid fan of the Games, Mark showed no interest in sport until his East London "manor" pitched and won the rights to host the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. He's a passionate advocate of the global opportunities the Games brings for SME's of all sizes and wants to see more people become entrepreneurs in East London and beyond. To follow him on Twitter click here.