I’ve had four showers since I finished my last stint as a Commonwealth Collective volunteer at Birmingham 2022, but I just can’t seem to shift the England flag paint stamp etched onto my left hand.
It seemed a good idea at the time to show my support for Team England while helping out at the 2022 Commonwealth Games.
But the unremitting red-and-white squiggles seem to, at least for now, be a solid reminder of my time at the Games.
And every time I look at this smudged, yet stoic, St George’s Cross it brings back memories.
Memories of high-fives, smiling faces and sporting excellence of when the Commonwealth Games came to Birmingham.
Having always been into sport, it was always going to be exciting to have such a huge spectacle come to England. But to have it in our glorious second city made it extra special.
Being just over the border in Derbyshire, for me it really was a "Home Games", so I just had to get involved in some way and I was lucky enough to secure a place among the Commonwealth Collective volunteers.
Dressed in the iconic orange and grey uniform issued to every volunteer, I joined their legions and was keen to stamp my own mark on the Games.
Based at the NEC
I was assigned to the Event Services Team at the NEC. Basically, the boots on the ground.
My first job was on the "precinct", meaning I could be outside guiding spectators through security and into the venue, or in the corridors at the site showing people to their respective competition hall.
With weightlifting, boxing, table tennis and badminton all being played at the NEC - along with netball at the NEC Arena, a huge excitable buzz emanated across the site throughout the games.
The walls were bedecked in pink, yellow, green and orange Commonwealth Games boards and Perry the Bull statues were dotted around the site for selfies.
Spectators from all corners of the world were clad in kaleidoscopes of coloured jackets, T-shirts, scarves, flags and hats, excited to see their heroes in action.
Athletes also joined their ranks, proudly wearing their training tracksuits as they marched their way around arenas to compete or cheer on their teammates.
Look one way and England’s Emily Campbell, weightlifting gold medallist at the Games, was posing for selfies.
Look the other and the Singapore table tennis team quietly made their way to and from the athletes village based at the NEC.
I was having the most fun though. Armed with my “Perry hand” foam finger it was high-fives galore.
Youngsters, mum, dads, grandads and athletes all wanted one as they made their way past me and everyone was so grateful when I helped them - even if I did send some people the wrong way from time-to-time!
“You guys really do make the Games…they would be nothing without all of you…thank you for volunteering,” all from people at the Games.
As well as the precinct, I was also based in Hall Three at the table tennis - and I also got to see around the other sporting halls.
I was mainly based outside the match and show courts, guiding people around it. So near to the sporting action and yet so far.
The distant echo of table tennis balls on paddles clattered across the arena like horse shoes cascading along stone cobbles as matches played out.
The clacking was only interrupted by the cheers as points were scored and medals were won.
For me though, my mission was all about getting people to their seats or showing them to the "have a go areas" within each hall.
This was a great way to get everyone involved with the Games, as people could give the sports a go before, during and after the sessions they had come to see.
Each hall had it’s own have-a-go area and some also had spots where you could watch the athletes practising.
Zoo-like windows into the weightlifting warm-up area allowed fans to peek through.
There they could get a glimpse of a rare-breed champion in their natural habitat as they prepared for their competitions.
In the badminton, a short slit in the black curtain had been made, allowing people to get a peep at the players as they warmed up - all adding to the excitement of the Games.
The shifts were long but they flew by.
There was always someone new to talk to, someone new to help, someone new to make a great impression on to make sure they had the best games they could have.
One of the other main benefits of being a volunteer was the sport you could watch in-between shifts. I was lucky enough to be able to see all the sports at the NEC.
To get that close to see the shuttlecock land for gold, silver or bronze. To see that clean punch to make someone a champion. Or see that serve to win match point - it just meant so much more.
When you watch the games on telly, it’s hard to appreciate just how fast-moving these sports are and how things can change in an instant.
You could see the joy or despair in athlete’s faces as they succeeded and failed in their matches.
None were as dramatic as the weightlifting though.
Crowds would hold their breath as each competitor would push beyond what was possible to secure their perfect snatch or clean and jerk lifts.
An applause would follow for a second before descending into silence, as everyone waited for the judges’ decision.
Only when the “goooooooood liiiiiiift” boomed from the commentators microphone that the ecstasy of cheering would erupt again.
To add to the drama, each athlete would push for more, increasing the weights they would try to lift - all reaching for the biggest prize of all, the gold medal.
With the Games being in England, I expected loud cheers for the English contingent, but it was also great to see huge cheers for Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish competitors - after all at the Olympics they would all be Team GB.
England has only had the Commonwealth Games in England three times and who knows when they could return to our green and pleasant land - let alone so close.
But even if they do, they will have a tough act to follow with the success of Birmingham 2022.
Just like the paint that remains etched into my hand, the words “making history together” are stamped on the Commonwealth Baton presented to me as a gift for my time as a volunteer.
It is something I will treasure and will always remember.
Eventually the England flag will fade from my hand, but the memories of my time at the games will always remain with me.
And with the huge legacy that Birmingham 2022 leaves behind, it’s true that sport really is just the beginning.