Farewell London

Tonight the baton will be passed by London to Rio, and the British capital will no longer be the current Olympic city. It scarcely feels like it was 4 years ago that Mrs P and I took our seats in the Olympic stadium in the revitalised east London borough chosen for the site of the games. It was a fabulous day and, though I may be biased, a fabulous four weeks of sports and entertainment. Continue reading “Farewell London”

Mexican Olympics

The Olympics, Paralympics are over. Completely finished. No more turning on and off flames or waving Union Flags, or singing God Save the Queen, or pretending to sing the second verse of God Save the Queen, of which no one knows the words. It is over. But what a blast it was. Patriotism is something that has become controversial in some people’s eyes in recent years, with an accusing light shone (quite rightly) on the negative aspects of nationalism. But there’s nowt wrong with cheering on your band of brothers, and sisters, in a positive, competitive and sporting arena. And boy did we cheer.

Many great things have come out of the Olympics. Team GB won a bucket load of medals. The country had something to be happy about. The recession, austerity, murders and the impending implosion of the universe in general were all consigned to small columns buried deep in the back pages of newspapers. And Boris Johnson took a giant step towards becoming Prime Minister one day soon. You don’t know Boris? He’s the most brilliant, bumbling buffoon you could ever wish to see. A most loveable buffoon. Who tells it like he sees it. Sort of. His Team GB parade speech was great. His GQ speech better. And getting stuck on a zipline was no embarrassment. That’s the great thing about being a buffoon. There’s no such thing as a gaffe or awkward moment. Did you watch those videos? You might doubt my sincerity. But he’s definitely a PM in the making. Watch this space.

I cheered on the British team as loudly as anyone. In my rather reserved, not-very-loud manner. Except in the football. I cheered on Mexico. I would have cheered on Mexico even if they had come up against the British team. I cheered them on from the beginning. It turned out to be a great decision, given that they won gold.  I paid no attention to the British team whatsoever.  I’ve given up on England and Britain as far as national football is concerned. I still think it’s a disgrace that the English FA, and all other significant national FA’s didn’t simply resign from FIFA the moment that Qatar were awarded the right to host the 2022 World Cup. But then the FA are, and have for a long time been, an utter disgrace. A shambles. A national embarrassment.

I can’t quite believe they picked Roy Hodgson to be England manager. It’s as unbelievable as FIFA ranking England the 3rd best team in the world, when quite clearly they are not deserving of a place even in the top ten. For the Olympics they chose Stuart Pearce. Who is everything wrong about English managers. Some would describe him as a safe pair of hands. I’d describe him as the same old ‘one foot in the grave’ sort of chap. He didn’t pick Beckham for the Olympics. It was, Pearce claimed, a decision he made based on form. Beckham has been knocking in 30 yard screamers for LA Galaxy all season. Instead he picked Ryan Giggs. Who can barely get through a match.

Pearce is an idiot. You might think his prior record qualifies him. He managed Manchester City, a club he took from high up in the Premier League to near relegation, setting records for low scoring. He then lead England youth teams to various humiliating thrashings in world tournaments. So it made complete sense to install him as Great Britains first manager in decades…

I’m beginning to digress. Anyway, the upshot is this. I’m going to go and live in Mexico someday soon. I’ll never be Mexican, no matter what any document says. But I want to engage in being at least a little Mexican from time to time. I remember in the 1980’s, British Asians got a hard time for supporting the Indian, Pakistani and Sri Lankan cricket teams when they played England. Which was completely unfair. But still, it’s good to support your adopted country. And I have no problem in casting aside my home nation in favour of Mexico as far as international football is concerned. This is, it has to be said, my own way of protesting at the ineptitude of the English FA and the scam that is the England team. And I can be won back. But I don’t see that being likely in the foreseeable future. I make this pledge to Mexico – I will cheer on El Tri in Rio in two years time. Even if they play England.

As far as the Olympics are concerned though, I’ll stick with Team GB. One of the joys of having multiple allegiance is, of course, being able to pick and choose according to whim and current form! I’ll sign off my coverage of the London 2012 Olympics with one final video. One last blast of unashamedly brash patriotism. Courtesy of the Last Night of the Proms.

[youtube http://youtu.be/mB2ExggPg2w&w=500&h=315]

It’s Coming Home

Don’t put your Olympic bunting away just yet. We’re only at the half way point. Tonight the Paralympics kick off. And whilst the IOC made much of the fact that 8 of the 10 biggest Olympic sports were either invented or codified in the UK, it’s the Paralympics that are truly coming home. These games are directly descended from the Stoke Mandeville Games, first held in 1948, at the same time as the London Games.

Great Britain has historically done pretty well at these games. I guess that’s not entirely surprising. We’re a country who goes to war on a pretty regular basis, producing potential competitors of a generally athletic nature. And we have a decent public health system too. Not that this is probably a particularly good thing. And not that all competitors are war veterans. Far from it. Although those first games in 1948 were created for veterans.

The opening ceremony tonight was very positive. And fun. The Queen arrived alone. Whether that’s because Philip is still ill, I don’t know. Other factors may have been involved. It may simply have been decided that, with his track record being what it is, it would be safer if he watched them back at home. A whole stadium full of potential victims for an inappropriate gag would just have been too much for him to resist. The old chap’s 90 now. The excitement would have finished him off. Anyway, here’s a look at the Channel 4 ident, for a quick taster.

Adios Londres

So. Did everybody enjoy the show? I hear the reaction in Tehran was lukewarm. Although they are still upset at the 2012 logo spelling out ZION. And the French were a little….what’s the word? Sour? They’re still upset it wasn’t Paris 2012. Everyone else seemed to enjoy it just fine. The closing ceremony had it’s ups and downs. It’s hard to put on a three hour concert that keeps everyone happy throughout. My biggest disappointment? Roger Waters and Dave Gilmour playing Wish You Were Here – the crowd would have taken the roof off. Ed Sheehan isn’t the same. As for the Spice Girls….well, they weren’t the worst act that night! They were actually quite fun! Pet Shop Boys and Madness…..naff. Which is a shame, because I like them. Here’s a farewell music video to  say goodbye to the London Olympic Games 2012…

PS. Rather bizarrely, and contrary to all aesthetic norms, the GB ladies were quite possibly the hottest bunch in the games!

My Olympic Experience

The games are almost wrapped up and it’s time to wrap up my Olympic themed posts, with this final piece. Mrs P and I visited the Olympic stadium to watching running, jumping and throwing type events last Wednesday, and here’s a few of my thoughts on the venues  and legacy of London 2012.

First of all though, the entry to the park was as slick, quick and painless – not what we’d been told to be prepared for. Two hour queues? Where? The whole organisation of the games was superb. No complaints from us whatsoever. Only praise. Of course, when the capitalist part of the deal (G4S security) fell over and failed to deliver, the ‘socialists’ (the Armed Forces) stepped up and saved the day. Again. Just sayin’.

The stadiums? The Olympic stadium isn’t the grandest stadium that’s ever been built. But it’s still pretty impressive. More importantly, it won’t be left empty to rot after the games. It’s so in demand, there are court battles going on to try and win the arena. The velodrome and aquatics centres are grand, however. Very grand.

Lasty, the Orbit. The big bit of twisted red ‘art’ architecture that looks a bit like the Eiffel Tower after a nuclear blast. I had my reservations about that from the beginning. I thought it might grow on me. I thought it would look better in the flesh. It doesn’t. It looks awful. Which is a shame, because that didn’t need to be the case. What really ruined it was the light brown mesh of the stairwell and platform at the top. It looked tacked on. An afterthought. And it totally detracted from the rest of the structure.

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Inside the stadium, everything looked just as an Olympics should look. Huge crowds, a buzzing atmosphere and fantastic support. Whenever a British runner was introduced, the roar was deafening. That was something that you can tell from the television coverage. What isn’t so obvious on the telly, is the Mexican wave of sound that follows British athletes as they run round the track. I can see now how ‘home advantage’ works. It must have been inspiring for the Brit runners, jumpers and throwers.

So how about the legacy of the games? It’s all cost a lot of money. Billions. Will it turn a profit? To be fair, it’ll be impossible to measure the exact economic impact of the games financially. However, a lot of that money went onto infrastructure and redeveloping a pretty grotty part of the city. It was money well spent. There’s another factor in the legacy games, which isn’t so material. The London 2012 games have helped define modern Britain, and to promote a positive image of the country across the planet.  This shouldn’t be underestimated.

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When we think of countries, we tend to think both of their history and their current image. When I think of Germany today I think of an  manufacturing  powerhouse, with a well managed economy. I think of their cars, which often define for many people what Germany represents today – quality, strength, reliability, advanced engineering. A premium, superior product. People shopping for new car deals are drawn to brands like Mercedes. Why? It’s because of the image, perception and appeal that accompanies German brands. German products have a reputation to be envied. There has to be substance to back up the image for there to be success of course. And German cars exported around the world are that substance.

The image of Britain around the world has sadly been sullied over the last decade by two foreign wars, one of which was entirely unjustified. This is our big opportunity to reinvent the country. To promote us as a country who can not only fund, organise and deliver the biggest show on earth. But also as a country who are a leading light in technology. In finance. In manufacturing. In science. That’s perhaps the most important legacy that the Olympics can deliver.

Anyway, on a final note – I really enjoyed the games. Really, really enjoyed them. Other than the Orbit, most of my negative impressions about the design of kits, mascots and logos have been swept away. When it was all put together, it worked brilliantly. Tonight is the closing ceremony, and I’m quite sure that this will be spectacular as well. My photos from the Olympic Park are on Flickr here.

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An Olympic Journey

We’ve had our own Olympic journey here. From Hampshire on the bus to London, and then a train ride to Stratford. It’s been an easier Olympic journey than that of the torch, but we had a few bumps along our way. I discovered that my Olympic tickets had disappeared just a few days before our big day up there. Probably thrown into the recycling bin by accident. Yes, the big purple folder emblazoned in large font with ‘Your Olympic Tickets’ or something similar. Yes, I know. Don’t ask…!

But all was not lost. A phone call to the ticket centre had my old ones cancelled and a new set ready for me to collect at the stadium, along with a pair of replacement travelcards. The whole process was painless and speedy. Like all our other experiences of the Olympics in London, the organization was top notch.

I’ll write more about our trip to the stadium another day. Tomorrow, perhaps. For today, I’ll just share my Instagram photos. And a really strong recommendation to pay a visit to the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden to go check out the Olympic Journey exhibition they have running. Be quick – it closes on the 12th August.

The exhibition is free of charge, which makes it a must-see for all showstring travellers straightaway. You probably will have to queue though. Depending on when you go, expect to wait from ten to thirty minutes. We waited twenty. It was worth every minute. You walk through several rooms telling the story through words, pictures and audio. The sets are excellent.

Finally, you are discharged into a room full of mementos and exhibits borrowed from the Olympic museum in Lausanne. From Jesse Owens’ running show to Kelly Holmes’ signed top. But most interesting was the display of all the torches that have featured in every Olympics since 1936. I hadn’t paid so much attention to the London 2012 torch till now, other than to note it looked ok.  Actually, when lined up against the ‘competition’, it’s a very elegant design.

There are also the medals,a gold, silver and bronze from every modern Olympics. I have to confess that I had been unaware that the design on the medals is largely unchanged. Except for the silver medal, where a little national creativity is allowed. Having inspected them all, I’ve come to the conclusion that creativity shouldn’t be allowed. I’d rather win bronze. My photos from the Opera House? Alas. No photography allowed. So I leave you with a taster. The exhibition trailer…

Brilliant Britain

That Britain is ‘Great’ is to do with regional differentiation, not down to how good we are. If that were the case, then we’d name the country Brilliant Britain. Well, for at least the duration of the Olympics anyway. Then perhaps we’d return to being Run-of-the-mill Britain. But let’s not focus on the ordinariness of the country outside of these games. We’re having a great brilliant time. And not just because our athletes are doing so well.

The excellent opening ceremony has been followed on by excellent organisation, superb arenas, world records galore and top notch television broadcasting by the BBC. Their live feeds on television and the internet means I can watch what I want to watch, when I want to watch it, on a device of my choice, wherever I may be. Providing I’m in the UK. Which, of course, I am. Are you not? Don’t despair. Rid yourself of NBC nonsense and watch the games live. Download and install Unblock-us and get the BBC on your PC. I’be used it for watching Hulu and other US only services. It works well.

The crowds have been excellent as well. But not without controversy. There have been empty seats visible in a number of arenas. Is this because us Brits are a bit apathetic towards the games? That there just wasn’t the demand for tickets? Absolutely not. Just as with football, huge chunks of tickets are set aside for sponsors and others  inside the ‘Olympic family’. At the 2005 Champions League final, Liverpool were allocated just 20,000 tickets out of 70,000. AC Milan got another 20,000. The rest? The the UEFA ‘football family’. Then, and now at London 2012, there are tens of thousands of people who want to get inside these arenas and can’t. Whilst gratis ticket holders can’t be bothered to turn up. It’s scandalous. Sickening. It’s everything the games shouldn’t be about. And it’s sanctioned by those at the top. They should be fired. The lot of them.

Still, I have my tickets. Sort of. They disappeared. Never to be seen again. Thankfully, I have managed to get them cancelled and will be collecting a replacement set on Tuesday. My next Olympics posting will be on my Tumblr blog on Tuesday and Wednesday when I’m in London. Wednesday morning I will get to watch some running and jumping and stuff. Including the mens Decathlon 100 metres. Should be fun.

Victorious

It seems the vast majority of people who watched the Olympic opening ceremony enjoyed the show. An inventive display of what made Britain great. Starting with the green and pleasant lands we live in. Going on to the Industrial Revolution that turned the country in the world’s manufacturing sweat shop. Stopping for a moment to remember the two World Wars. And then finishing with the story of the NHS – the flagship of the post war social revolution.

Did they miss anything out? Ahem….the Empire, perhaps? The legacy of the British Empire was the big elephant in the room. How on earth would they tackle that prickly subject? For a good couple of billion people on this planet, the Empire is the key defining factor of their relationship with the UK. And that empire and the institutions within it were also the driving force behind many of the Olympic sports that were invented or codified and spread across the world. Yep, I think they covered that the best way possible. By skipping over it.

But then we skip over our naval history, our exploits as explorers and map makers and our rich history of scientific discoveries. And we also bypass some of the most important figures in British, and global, history. Which brings me to the point of my post. The single most important Briton to have ever lived. The Brit who had the greatest impact on the destiny and shaping of the country. The man who changed the whole world perhaps more than any other man in the last thousand years.

That chap would be Horatio Nelson. As a warring sea captain and then admiral, he was a legend in his own lifetime. The British Empire can quite easily be divided into two eras. Pre 1783 and post 1783. The American War of Independence was a truly global conflict, with Britain fighting just about everyone else who could put a gun in a soldiers hands. The result? The French lost.

The British were kicked out of the newly formed United States of America. But we won most of the other campaigns around the globe, retaining control of the lucrative Caribbean Islands and important bases in Gibraltar and elsewhere. But the world teetered on a knife edge. Napoleon would rebuild the French into a formidable military force whilst the British needed a new imperial strategy to determine it’s place in the world. It was entirely possible that the death of the British empire was near.

Future confrontation was inevitable. The potential consequence was that that would lead to prolonged conflict, stunted economic growth and diminished discoveries and scientific advancement. On the table for a decisive victor was the key to the riches of trade, the potential to industrialise and the wealth of empires. It was far from certain that Britain would emerge as the decisive victor. For a good while, that looked an unlikely outcome.

Enter Nelson. His leadership was inspiring, his understanding of his men and waves unparalleled, his tactics revolutionary, his bravery unquestionable and his sixth sense uncanny. A string of stunning and comprehensive naval victories, culminating in the annihilation of the combined French and Spanish fleets at Trafalgar left Britain as undisputed masters of the worlds seas for nearly a hundred and fifty years. Our continental rivals never again made any serious effort to compete on the open seas, and Britain was left unhindered to develop a global empire the size of which hadn’t been seen before and hasn’t been seen since. That empire fuelled the industrial revolution and advancement of the sciences. And, of course, our wealth.

The rights and wrongs (mostly wrongs) of the Empire can be debated. But the fact is, we shaped the world in that era of British domination. It’s effects are still felt across Africa, Asia the Americas and Europe to this day. For good and bad. There are countless people who played important roles in the creation, development and maintenance of the British Empire. But none of whom could claim ‘it wouldn’t have happened’ without them. Except, perhaps, for Nelson.

Should you visit London, you can’t miss his presence. His statue towers over Trafalgar Square. His tomb is the grandest in the crypt of St Pauls Cathedral. But there is a better place to go and get a feel for Nelson and his achievements. I visited the Historic Dockyards in Portsmouth last weekend, where the flagship of Nelson, HMS Victory, sits in a dry dock. More than two and a half centuries old, the ship is still a treasured ship of the line. Unlike the more modern Ark Royal that was recently decommissioned and currently sits across from Victory, Nelson’s ship is still officially a commissioned warship.

The Battle of Trafalgar is a pivotal moment in British history, and a legend that is taught early in school. I’ve long looked forward to visiting the old boat and seeing the plaque marking the sport where Nelson fell when shot by a French sniper. And seeing the little spot in the depths of the boat where he died. Just so I could touch and feel the history.

It is a touchy history. Too touchy for the Olympic opening ceremony though. Would it have been insensitive to have included a spot on British maritime history? It would have been controversial, that’s for certain. My photos of HMS Victory are on Flickr. As are my photos of HMS Warrior 1860, the first iron clad battleship to take to the waters.

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Happy and Glorious

I can’t deny, I had my doubts. What had been revealed about the opening ceremony had looked a bit iffy. Beijing had set the bar pretty damn high, and a setting of meadows with country bumpkins tossing cowpats about the place didn’t seem too promising. I hoped we would be surprised though. I have long admired Danny Boyle. It would have been sad if he’d let us down on the big night.

But he didn’t. I thought the ceremony was brilliant. It  was original, epic, inventive, funny – even hilarious – brilliantly eccentric and utterly captivating. Sure, some bits were better than others. I’d rather not have had the Artic Monkeys inflicted on my eardrums. I’d have preferred to see Macca with Ringo doing All Together Now, instead of Hey Jude. And if only they could have gotten Roger Waters and Dave Gilmour on a stage together – Welcome to the Machine would have worked a treat during the industrial revolution.

But these are minor quibbles. Mr Bean and Her Maj the Queen were both brilliant. The flame’s journey up the Thames and into the stadium were well done. And at least I got a quick dose of Pink Floyd with the firework display.  I can’t wait till August the 8th when I get to visit. Did the ceremony go down well in your part of the world?

One More Olympian Sleep

It’s almost upon us. Like it or not, the Olympic Games begins tomorrow night. Well, actually it began yesterday, but heh ho. The Opening Ceremony is tomorrow, anyway. What sort of a show will us Brits put on? Like everything Britain has done over the last thousand years, it’s been kind of whipped up on a shoestring by a bunch of eccentric  and slightly odd fellows helped along by a mob of enthusiastic followers. Hopefully, we’ll pull it off.

There’ll be a few hiccups along the way, I’m sure. Although whether yesterdays flag cock-up was an accident or a dig at the Commies is for you to decide. I guess we’ll soon know. If the Argentine team get branded with the Falkland Islands flag and Russia march into the stadium with the Hammer and Sickle…

But here’s hoping it’s all a great success. How can it not be, with Boris Johnson overseeing the event? I leave you with the loveable buffon describing how the games will work in his own words…

London’s Anthem

I’ve not been a big fan of some of the design elements of the London 2012 games, particularly the mascots and the plans for the opening ceremony. Although, as I have mentioned before, the latter might yet surprise us. We can but live in hope. Bits and pieces of the Olympic jigsaw continue to be revealed though, and the latest couple of releases are good. Firstly, there is the BBC Olympic trailer. It’s slick, if a little gimmicky and over reliant on CGIs. It captures the spirit of both the Olympics and London very nicely.

Secondly, and a much bigger release, is the official London 2012 Olympic Anthem. This is the tune that will accompany the triumphant sportsmen and women to the podiums to collect their medals. I liked the song the first time I listened to it, although I must confess to not being much of a fan of Muse. Each time I hear it, the better it sounds. I love it. And again, it captures the essence of the Olympics whilst clearly being a very British sounding piece of music.

The song has a very Freddie Mercury/Queen ring to it. Which is no band thing. And, of course, Freddie did have his Olympic musical moment once upon a time. If the IOC force YouTube to take down the video I’ve embedded below, you can go here to see it on their official channel.

The Princess Anne Olympic Myth

A few months ago I ran a post titled Olympic Trivia, in which I claimed Princess Anne had found fame as being the only lady never to have to undergo a gender test at an Olympic game. It seemed a fair claim to make – the story is all over the internet. However, all might not be as it seems. I did get a comment at the bottom of that post to suggest that this Royal exemption story is not all it’s cracked up to be.  I took the email address left by the commenter, typed it into Google and hunted around the internet for him/her. It was an address in use by an equestrian competitor at the same Olympic Games. And it was a ‘her’ to boot. One of the famed ‘non-exempted’.

I wrote to her on Facebook and got a more detailed response. Apparently, all the female competitors “argued that we competed on an equal basis, and therefore it was not necessary to do the gender test.” That sounds both reasonable and plausible. I have hunted high and low for evidence to support the story of Anne being the only person to have escaped gender testing, and found nothing. Not a thing. Nada. It’s like the story sprang from thin air.

I suspect that, if the female competitors had to argue their case against gender testing as suggested by the aforementioned commenter, then the original IOC plan must have been to permit Anne an exemption – and that is probably where the myth began. It’s a successful myth, and you’ll find it all over the web. I didn’t find a single website stating that this story is just an old legend though, so let me set the record straight here – Princess Anne was not the only female Olympian to be exmpted from a gender test in 1976. Perhaps I finally have a world exclusive scoop?! But probably not…

I thought about posting a video of Princess Anne doing her things at the Olympics, but decided against it. To be completely honest, I can’t think of anything more tedious than horses jumping over stuff. That’s something you either love or hate, and it’s not my cup of tea. So instead, here’s the video which, I believe, will kick off the Olympic experience on your TV on opening night. Edit: no, the video was actually played in Beijing 2008 as part of the handover. Oops. Still…it’s a slick video.

The Olympic Opening Ceremony

The details about the opening ceremony have been released. Oh. My. Goodness. A Meadow. With Animals. Real animals. This could be a whole load of crap – and you can take that one of two ways. Or both. One can but hope that it has a few twists and the odd special effect here and there. One thing is for sure, this will not be ‘a Beijing’. I know times are tough and things have to be to a budget, but surely we could have thought up something a bit more imaginitive than this. Then again, by setting our hopes and expectations so low, it does make it easier to spring a pleasant surprise.

The Olympic Torch Relay

I’ve been mightily surprised at the enthusiasm the people of Britain have managed to muster when the Olympic torch has passed through their town. But having said that, I do plan to wander outside my office when the torch passes through on the 13th and 14th July. Some people have run with a little too much enthusiasm, but that’s to be expected in the Land of the Hooligan.

You can check out where the torch will be passing near you if you’re in the UK, and have a look at the official site with lots of videos and photos. For a bit of fun, the Guardian have a short animated video about the Olympic torch. And here’s a trailer from the Beeb, just to give you foreigners a feel for all the fun we’re having…

Meet The Venues

I posted my (brief) thoughts on the current state of the Olympic Park recently. But I saw only from afar. Here’s a short video courtesy of the Guardian, as a group of architects get to tour the interiors of the venues and offer their opinions. They don’t cast the stadium in a good light. Without the fabric wrap, the stadium is a shocking eyesore from the outside. I was utterly staggered when, due to budgetary restraints, they decided to do away with the wrap. Thankfully, a private sponsor has controversially stepped up to the plate, and the wrap will be there in time for the big opening ceremony.

I like the Guardian, by the by. At a time when every other traditional print media company is mired in scandal, putting up paywalls or otherwise scratching their heads and wondering what to do with the new darn fangled interweb, the Guardian has grasped the 21st century with both hands. Their online newspaper is the best interpretation of a broadsheet on the net I’ve seen. Their range of podcasts is comprehensive and the production and content highly polished. Their mobile apps are brilliant. And their use of social media unrivalled. They deserve to succeed. Although, they are a bit mean for disabling embedding for the video below. Tut.