With their distinctive sponge fingers, their uniforms and their loud hailers, it's hard to ignore the Olympic Park volunteer vets who hang around the streets of Britain. But everyone tries to. It's hard to remember now, but not to long ago they were hailed as heroes. The Mayor of London paid tribute to them, people stopped them in the street and thanked them and, for a few weeks, they were constantly on TV or in the papers.
But suddenly it all came to an end. Now legions of Volunteers – Boris's Finest – find themselves struggling to come to terms with civilian life. Post Olympic Park syndrome is not a condition recognised by the British Medical Association, but there are hundreds of examples for the BMA to study.
“The first few weeks I was back in civvy street were great. Then suddenly, bang, we were yesterday's news,” said Julie, who was a school teacher before she volunteered to serve in the Olympics. “It was a cause I believed in, and for a time I was a hero. Now I'm just another Volunteer Vet,” she says.
Another Vol-Vet described had local people had become hostile. “I went into a public 'ouse, to get a pint of beer,” says Tommy. “The barman he up and says we serve no redcoats here. The girls behind the bar laughed and giggled fit to die,” Tommy says.
That day, Tommy went into the streets and composed a letter to his local paper, the Croydon Advertiser. “Oh its Tommy this and Tommy that and Tommy go away, but it's thank you Mr Atkins when the band begins to play,” wrote Tommy. Unfortunately, for reasons of space, Tommy's letter was edited, and after a chat with the letters page sub, he agreed to change his words to, “It's political correctness gone mad.”
Though nobody disputes that the volunteers would have trouble adjusting to the mundanities of civvy street, critics say they have done themselves few favours. Locals say the Vol-vets tend to stick together. The volunteer veterans say they have to, as nobody else understands the highs and lows they have experienced. What is beyond doubt is that with their distinctive sponge fingers, their loud hailers and their habit of hi-fiving complete strangers and issuing directions to the nearest tube, the volunteer gangs stick out.
They are beginning to attract the attention of other volunteer gangs, and there have already been clashes with other high viz mobs, such as the Lolly Pop Ladies (who carry giant metal poles) and the Happy Shopper Coppers, who are rumoured to have limited powers of arrest (although no-one has ever seen them use them).
“The truth is, we never really knew what was going on,” said one vet.