Tag Archives: Olympics

Almost over…

For 7 years since we in this city knew we’d got the Games, we’ve experienced a mix of moaning about it, dreading it, fearful of being bombed for it…and, yes, cautiously expectant and even excited for it.  I’m writing this post today because we are in the final furlong.  We’ve got to that part of a very delicious dish where we have just a few choice cuts left on the plate to savour before the waiting staff take the plate away to wash  clean and we will never know its savour again in our lifetimes. Tomorrow evening London 2012 ends. 

I am a lifelong Olympic watcher, as I have blogged before, remembering every Games since Montreal in Canada.  I never expected in my lifetime to live in a host city and experience what that is like. 7 years ago in Singapore City the President of the International Olympic Committee, Jacques Rogge, opened that white envelope in front of the world’s media to reveal that against all the odds, London had beaten our arch-rival Paris to win the Games.  The next day on 7/7 we were bombed and that swiftly turned joy and pride into fear and dread.  Yet in all that is a personification which not only embodies the spirit of this city, but of this country when a Martine Wright, who lost both her legs while travelling to work on 7/7, took her place with Paralympics GB as a sporting competitor on view to millions as she paraded into the Olympic Stadium barely 2 weeks ago.

Even as I type, something inherently British in me is asking me to tone it down and not be so, well, ‘boisterous’ about what I’m going to say. And what I’m going to say is this: living in an Olympic host city has been an amazing experience I will never forget. Not just any host city but this city of London that I love/hate in the same breath. And not just London but as these Games have revealed, what happened here was embraced by all the nation.  No, life didn’t really change that much for those of us who chose not to flee abroad on holiday. In fact it got better for me at least as I had far less of the usual miserable sods to look at on the daily commute. Yes, our retailers took a loss (apart from those in east London by the Olympic Park who raked it in). Good! Serves you right for regularly ripping us all off all the rest of the year.

I was in Victoria Train Station, one of London’s busiest, yesterday lunchtime. As the crowds bustled around me I stopped to take in a scene I won’t see again. The Union flags draped from the high ceiling everywhere…the ‘Games Makers’ in their vile pink and purple uniforms still smiling, still helping…the pink directional signs everywhere telling visitors how to get to the nearest Games venues…the tons of people wearing Team GB T-shirts…the general mood of happiness.   No, it’s not been all glitz and glamour and no we here have not been living in a carnival atmosphere for the last month…but I think all of us in this city and beyond in the UK will know we have lived through some extraordinary few weeks of pride and dare I say it…joy.  For anyone reading this outside the UK and who are not British, we might seem a bullish pompous nation but believe me we are not. We are actually very self-deprecating and very aware of our decline from former glory. But I stand with my fellow Brits in the belief that we gave the world a Games to remember, not least because we delivered on something not many nations can and which we ourselves were unsure would emerge: our passion.   From the time I took a day off to watch the Flame come through my part of this great city and saw my own community galvanised as I have never seen it before to when I watched with sheer astonishment as the Flame was run through central London and my co-workers leave their desks to head for the banks of the River Thames to watch it make its way to it’s final stop on the ‘Gloriana’ before the Opening…I knew then something extraordinary was happening here.

All that is about to end soon. The flags and pink signs will disappear.   The Games Makers in their pink/purple uniforms will melt back into whatever jobs and home duties they were doing before.  The TV breakfast news teams will no longer have that wonderful Olympic Park as their backdrop and the storms of the world will finally be allowed to rip  through our media as before thrusting us into gloom once more.   But wasn’t it good while it lasted huh?    I’m so glad and thankful to the friends who allowed me to say for the rest of my life that I set foot on Olympic soil and I will never forget that day in the Stadium watching the athletics and hearing the amazing acoustics inside there that magnified the roar of the crowds.

The Olympic Flag has already left these isles and is now residing in Rio.  Tomorrow night, the Paralympic Flag will follow.  Time to savour the last choice cuts before we have to pay the bill and dash out into the rain for our journey back to reality.

 

 

London 2012 cauldron

Caliban’s Dream

One of the most talked about and admired parts of the Opening Ceremony of the London 2012 Olympics was the whole sequence leading up to the lighting of the giant Cauldron in the center of the Stadium.   Billions of viewers watched British record Olympian, Sir Steve Redgrave, bring what we thought was the lastTorch into the arena that would ignite the great cauldron.   But the ceremony had one final gasp-inducing twist no-one was expecting…the handing of the flame to a group of 7 unknown young athletes and potential future Olympians.

In the background, while the young 7 athletes  were running with the flame on a lap of the stadium toward its final destination, viewers heard a beautiful and haunting anthem sung by the electronic group ‘Underworld‘ accompanied by a choir of London’s children.    So haunting was the whole scene that it sparked thousands of global internet searches as people tried to find out where they could buy the song or read its lyrics.

Sir Steve Redgrave hands the last Torch to the athletes of the future

The complete musical score for the Opening Ceremony has now been released on CD and for download.   I bought it today just to hear this one track and I have played it over and over many times since.   The song is called ‘Caliban’s Dream’, written by Rick Smith from Underworld.  As the ‘Isles of Wonder’ pageant drew to its climax with this scene and its haunting melody, many may not have known that it was actually a throw back to the opening scenes nearly 3 hours previous.   British actor, Sir Kenneth Branagh, had taken to the ‘stage’ to read these lines from William Shakespeare’s great work ‘The Tempest’:

Be not afeard; the isle is full of noises,
Sounds, and sweet airs, that give delight and hurt not.
Sometimes a thousand twangling instruments
Will hum about mine ears; and sometime voices
That, if I then had waked after long sleep,
Will make me sleep again; and then in dreaming,
The clouds methought would open, and show riches
Ready to drop upon me, that when I waked
I cried to dream again. (Act 3, scene 2)

The words are attributed to the unsavoury and villainous character of ‘Caliban’ and speak of his dreams of glory and riches that remain ever out of reach and yet his fitful dreams persist to torment him.

 Caliban
The lyrics of the song we all heard as the young runners ran and the children’s choir sang take take the form of a prayer, though not in the Christian sense. They speak of hope and aspiration of rising to good from darkness, something that remains elusive to the mal-intent of the hapless Caliban:
 
And the rain toss about us;
In the garden of the world
But a flame arrives to guide us;
Past the gold between the anvils of the stars
Watching over all the children in the rain;
 And the streets where I remember
Where the fire that lights a candle soars again;
 A flaring flame
Hear it call;
Through the darkness, hear it call to us all
And start again; It’s beating heart comes again
And the light drive out our fears;
And the joy drive out our pain
And the nations come to greet us;
 waving open arms of waves of golden corn
Ever hear us; Oh the spirit of the world; May your light be ever near us
Always lead us from the dark
Though we may fall; We will fly
And with love; Hear the call
 
If you missed the Opening, here’s a link to the final sequences in the Olympic Stadium.  The flame follows the raising of the Olympic flag or if the video has been taken down by the time you read this, then Google around ‘London, 2012, Opening, cauldron’ and you should, find some reference.
 
The complete soundtrack of the music from the ceremony is available on an album called ‘Isles of Wonder’ and is available on Spotify, iTunes and Amazon (£10).
 

 

Rgent Street, London

London on the eve. There’s something in the air tonight…

As I write, the BBC News Channel is buzzing with live coverage of the Olympic Torch Relay as it has at last entered central London heading down Regent Street beneath the flags of all nations on its way to Buckingham Palace.  I was right there barely 2 hours ago as they were delivering the barricades under clear blue skies and scorching heat. The flame that was lit months ago in Olympia, southern Greece is at last nearing its final destination.

I was at a meeting with clients on Oxford Street and had I waited just an hour after my meeting I would have been part of the quite amazing scenes currently playing out on the TV.  It would have been my second encounter with the Torch in as many days. 

Yesterday, I took a day off work…to watch a man carry a glorified golden candle through my home town of Harrow on the north-western edge of this great city.   Had I waited until the flame got to Regent Street to attempt to see it, I guess I would not have seen much being a mere 5ft 5inches tall.  Yesterday on my home soil, I got within striking distance of the flame with an unfettered view.  As I came away from the short experience my first reaction…and that of many people around me I could hear…was that I was involved now. I’m part of the greatest show on Earth.    I have lived in Harrow nearly all my life. I cannot remember ever seeing so many fellow inhabitants flock to the route of the Torch as it passed through from all races, creeds and colours – seriously I have not.  I was completely dumbfounded by how many people turned out on a Wednesday morning to take those photos that have all now winged their way to who knows how many destinations via email and social media.  I was so proud at the same time.  I’m not a fan of where I live precisely because the UK’s foolish embrace of multiculturalism is, for me, directly responsible for the breakdown of a cohesive society. Yet, yesterday I was very moved to see so many turn out from all across the borough to celebrate a common cause and wave our national flag.

I guess we in London have watched the Torch Relay at a bemused distance since it arrived in our south-westerly most county of Cornwall from Greece and started its mammoth journey nearly 70 days ago. During that time, 8,000 Torch Bearers will have carried the flame to within an hour’s reach of 95% of the people of these isles. It’s estimated at this point of writing that over 12 million have turned out to see it.  This from a haughty island people struggling through an ailing economy with in-built British reserve.

I was in the Northern Irish capital Belfast a couple of months back just a couple of days before the Torch Relay was to arrive there.  Belfast City hall was decked in giant Olympic rings and there was a giant TV in its grounds following live the progress of the relay.  There was no sense then that the locals were remotely bothered by an event focussed on London across the Irish Sea many miles away. Yet when the people of Wales handed the Torch over to this island of Ireland thousands turned out to greet the relay in both Belfast and the Irish capital Dublin days after I was there. I watched the arrival of the Torch in Belfast on the news in bemusement at why people who lived so far from where the action will be would bother to turn out in such great numbers to see the flame.

This has been a recurring theme in all the reports I have seen of the relay all the way  through. The people of Cornwall first set the pace. Small towns and communities at the periphery of the UK turned out in force to greet the relay, something that was to be repeated in towns, villages and cities across the length and breadth of Great Britain ever after. Now the embrace of the Cornish people has magnified like ripples on water to the crescendo that is playing out on my TV screen with unprecedented scenes in London right now.  The last time I saw our streets filled like this was for the funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales…only now for a much happier reason.

There is something in the air in London tonight. Something I can’t explain. It’s all the more baffling that London of all cities should feel this way. You see as far as we are concerned half the world already lives here. 300+ languages are spoken in London and just this month we were told that Europe’s largest city has now topped 8.1 million inhabitants. I travel the Tube (Subway) each day and listen to the recorded messages warning us locals that a million more people are expected to use our already crowded transport system every day.   If anyone is going to be nonplussed by the Olympics and the global eye on our city it will we who live in it.   Yet here we are with the flame heading into the heart of the metropolis and these unprecedented scenes on our streets no doubt attracting many tourists but also vastly more locals.

When I walked down Oxford Street to catch the Tube home before the melee currently being beamed around the world, I heard so many languages, saw people wearing t-shirts representing dozens of nations I realised that the world is here in greater numbers now and from tomorrow night it will be focussing its gaze on our nation and its capital city. 

I must admit that I have been in dread of what concoction we would spill out at the Opening Ceremony the greatest televised show on the planet by sheer audience numbers.  If you remember back to the stunning show Beijing put on in 2008, we always knew we had a mountain to climb whatever we did.  My fears are greatly relieved now that I have heard from 4 friends who have witnessed one of the two dress rehearsals of the gig who have all reported more than positively on what they saw yet are still sworn to secrecy and can’t say or share their photos. I came home tonight having experienced a very palpable buzz taking place in our city this evening.  In this most cosmopolitan of cities and a seat of global influence….even here there is a growing sense among the people who live here that something big and special is taking place we’ve not really allowed ourselves to engage with until now, at least the majority of us.

As I’m writing, the flame has just arrived at Buckingham Palace. Wills, Kate and Harry are out there to greet.  I was thinking about how to wrap up this post and I remembered a comment a friend posted on my Facebook wall recently perplexed at why so many people in our once sane country were flocking to see a flame on a piece of metal.   I thought about this but really I already knew the answer because I have heard it expressed from so many people all through the Torch Relay.  When just ordinary folk from across the country have been interviewed and asked ‘why did you’…volunteer…nominate…turn up to see the Torch the most common answer I’ve heard has been “I just wanted to be a part of history”.  That’s the reason I’m engaged too.  I’m a History Graduate. The history I studied was all from records and museums and dried up dead stuff.  But if I learnt anything from that experience it was to try to recognise history while it is present and before it becomes the past. You cannot become a part of something when it is past, only when it is present. London is the first city to host the Games 3 times and that amid fierce competition in the modern age where there are mega cities that dwarf our own 8.1 million. I can’t see another city matching this. London beat New York, Moscow, Madrid and arch-rival Paris to win these Games. No mean feat.

I am excited about the Opening of the Games tomorrow night, I freely admit.  I haven’t been until only just these last few days and thanks to our sour, depressive, navel-gazing and sensationalist media I might never have been.  I work in media, but I’m glad and a little proud to say that I don’t think we have joined the ‘dissing’ herd.

I think we all know that once the Olympic euphoria has melted away, we are all going to wake up with a big hang-over. The anticipation of the Opening is at present injecting an anaesthetic into our media coverage of global events. Syria is now in all-out civil war. The Eurozone crisis takes steeper spirals into chaos, our own economy is plunging, wars in South Sudan, sectarian violence threatening to rip Nigeria apart, strengthening Chinese global ambitions….on and on.

My prayer (first) and hope (second) is for peace and safety over our city, our guests and all who live in it. May these Games pass by leaving us some inspiration and not despair. In the great scheme of things are the Games important? No, not at all.  Do they mean something? By the reactions of the people of the UK so far…evidently yes.   Whatever we feel about them, they are here and we have no power to change that. 

In the olden days during the WW2 and after, Brits used to pep each other up to get on with things with the line ‘best foot forward’. I’ve never been quite sure what that meant but I get the gist.

Best foot forward, guys….

164

When are we going to party?

I had a meeting with an Australian client of mine the other week and something she said stuck with me.  She moved to London just a couple of years ago but lived just north of Sydney when Oz hosted the first Olympics of the new Millennium in 2000.  She was incredulous at how low-key we Brits are taking things. Back in Sydney and in fact all of Oz the countdown to the Olympics was a very major thing.  Well of course I guess it would have been.  I’d hate to be a news journo in Australia. What on earth do they fill their news bulletins with outside the Cricket and Rugby seasons? There’s got to be a limit on how many strange tales of Kangaroos and Dingos make it to the front page.  OK, so they have a Lesbian Prime Minister…but even that’s a ‘yeah whatever’ after the Icelanders had already beaten them to it on that front.

Are we really that low-key about the Olympics?  I can’t remember a day since we knew we got the Games that there’s been no mention of it in the media. Hmmm. Well OK, media reporting is one thing. We are under 140 days to go until London becomes the first – and probably the last – city to host the Olympics on three occasions. Surely there must be some evidence of festival spirit that I as a daily commuter into the heart of this great capital must just be oblivious to?

So I took off my weekday commuter spectacles and tried on a weekend tourist’s eye-view for a day yesterday to search for any evidence that might suggest the biggest show on Earth was coming to town.   I decided to travel on the London Underground or ‘Tube’ from the northwestern suburb where I live into the heart of the city.  The journey in would take 2 buses and 3 changes of train. A journey of nearly an hour.

I took in station after station, advertising hoarding after advertising hoarding both inside and outside bus and train.  Apart from the high-profile Virgin Media campaign using Olympic golden boy Usain Bolt….there were precious few ads about the Games. There has been many more up to now, but nothing current.

I headed to the one place I knew the Olympics was being marked – St. Pancras Railway Station, the UK terminus of ‘Eurostar’ trains in from the Continent where all international rail travellers to the UK disembark. There I did see my first real evidence that London was taking itself seriously as the Olympic City. Giant Olympic rings representing the 5 continents were hauled up high above beneath one of the largest glass roofs in Europe.   In the very impressive and elegant shopping mall at ground level, you will find the first official Olympic merchandising store to open.  There are a number now and I have so far bought 2 shirts from there.  Despite a packed station at peak time on Saturday, I must say that the shop staff were distinctly underwhelmed with custom.  I don’t think I’ve seen many people at all wearing Olympic merchandise.

At  Trafalgar Square, I saw the only other major landmark heralding the coming of the Games: the ‘countdown’ clock that famously broke down some time back.  True, it was a major attraction in the square being photographed without rest by passing tourists. But they were tourists, not Brits. I even noticed on street vendor stalls selling the usual flags and “all I got from my girlfriend was this sodding T-shirt” merchandise right alongside one of the busiest tourist hotspots – not a single mention of the Games.  Now that may well be down to the fearsome brand protection the International Olympic Committee have imposed but still…

All in all I think my Aussie client has a point.  With so little time left before the Games, I would say that London is at the very best nonplussed.  We’ve no real reason to be.  All the venues were finished well ahead of time unlike in Athens when they were literally banging nails into things as the athletes were marching into the arena.   Is it the doom and gloom of the economy that is muting our mood?  London’s economy is very buoyant and larger than several small to mid sized European nations put together. Londoners are wealthier on average than any other part of the British population. It has to be said though that recent surveys show that we are more stressed and depressed at the same time.   This should be a year of celebration like no other in this city.  Before the Games come to town, we have the Golden Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth to commemorate.  Her national tour has already started yet more with a whimper than a bang.   So what is it about us that is just not making it happen?  Are the Games still too far away?  Are we fed up? Bored? Uninterested as a nation?  No. Not if the stunning demands on event ticket sales is to be believed.     I just think we are being… well…..very British about things.   We’ll turn up for the event just politely early – never too early but certainly not late. We’ll have a swig or two of our cocktail, wine or beer, check out the scene and then maybe loosen up with a wiggle of the hips.  Before long we’ll be yelling ‘Agadoo’ and vomiting on the pavement.  Thing is….I think that we Brits will get there when we get there but we will at least get there.

We better bloody had, mind, because 14 days after they raise the Olympic flag over east London, the Brazilians will come Sambaring and Zumbaring their way in such a spectacular display that I doubt even our Opening And Closing ceremonies will be able to match to snatch that flag down to Rio.  And boy do those kids know how to party…

 

 

 

 

 

Usain-Bolt-006

Meeting Usain Bolt ?

“Do you fancy standing in for me at a Press Launch today?”. Not something I usually expect to hear from my Boss first thing.  “It’s a sports thing to do with the Olympics”. She had got called away on some urgent deadline stuff so it somehow came my way.

“Ummm…but I’m in my jeans – my good ones, though. I might be a bit scruffy?” (well it was ‘dress down Friday’ after all and I had no idea this turn of events would be coming my way).  She rolled her eyes and said nothing but in my head I heard the words “no more than usual”.  “Look, you’ll be fine. Take notes, there’s a free lunch and they said there’ll be sports stars there” she incentivised.  “Serious?”.  I don’t really do sports apart from major tournaments but hey…what a great chance to be in the same room with men and women who could be standing on the podiums in July with gold, silver or bronze hanging around their necks.

“I wonder which sports superstars will be there?” I mused as I made my way to the Tube. The conference was for niche and ethnic media among whom my media organisation is counted. It’s a Press Conference and Sport England want to get us and our audiences fired up for the Olympics.  Reading the list of delegates my Boss sent me before I left the office, there were some very many media outlets going to be there including some major ones plus governing bodies of at least 8 major sports.  This is going to be huge.  O.M.G.   They are bringing in Usain Bolt aren’t they?   They are going to bring in the fastest bloody athlete on the freakin planet! Who else could it be?

Thirty mins later and I’m hovering around in Holborn, London not far from my most favourite place in the whole city – the British Museum.   I don’t want to get there right on time but fashionably late (says the guy in jeans).  15 mins to the start I arrive. I check in. Bugger. It had not occurred to me that I was standing in for my Boss and so there was no name badge in my name. I accepted the name badge with ‘Beverley’ on it before heading for a room that would be heaving with Testosterone and sheepishly tucked it under my jacket.

The Press Conference room in the HQ of ‘Sport England’ was packed. A great turn out and I should have known better than to worry about looking scruffy: it was a media gathering after all. I hate talking to strangers which unfortunately makes up a large percentage of what I have to do for a living.   I slope in, scan the room, head for the end of a row of chairs so I can’t get sandwiched between two others and then start to look around and see if I can spot Mr Bolt.     Nope….can’t see him.   He’s a tall guy…they must be keeping him back for later.  Delegates keep coming through the door.  I chuckle at one very old chappie…an ancient looking Sikh guy with a turban and a very long grey beard.  As he came in he seemed to wave at the people in the room.  Awww….good on you gramps, I thought. Must be some sport stars’ grandpa.   Indian Cricketer maybe?

And so the Press Conference got under way. Sport England, currently lead by a former Scottish female Rugby Captain, was telling us how wonderful the games are going to be and how much they love us in the niche media even though they will never pay us anything to help us keep going and how much they would like us to tell our audiences about loving the games too and all for free. How lovely to feel so wanted.  Stuff that. Where was lunch and where was Usain Bolt?

I really should learn to read the welcome packs when I go to events like this. They state the running order and who will be there. I look through the alphabetical list. ‘Bolt’. Nope.  Maybe under ‘U’? Nope.  Maybe they misspelt it as ‘Hussein’?  Nu-uh.  So I actually read the guest list and discover that among the sporting ‘legends’ in attendance is a former Kettering Town Football Club player, a former Welsh Table Tennis player, the current British Muay Thai Champion and a British-Pakistani former Kabaddi player.  Fingers hovering over the ‘you stitched me up’ button to my Boss on iPhone.

Wait a moment…   During the 20 minute Q&A after the morning session, a sports star in our midst is revealed.   Oh dear mercy…get the camera ready.  This old Sikh guy stands up to ask a question.   He looks about 70.   He introduces himself as the Coach of Fauja Singh – the 100-year-old Marathon runner.  Yes indeeed….the old codger that waved to us all as he walked in the room( I expect in the false knowledge that the whole event had been put on in his honour).  This guy had made global news a couple of weeks back in Toronto, Canada claiming to be the oldest Marathon runner on the planet.  So that was it.  Fauja Singh was it…my first encounter with a global sports star and as for Usain?  Not a bloomin’ sighting.

Mr Singh runs up ‘Arthur’s Seat’ in Edinburgh, Scotland

 

As the lunch break arrived, I quickly swiped a chicken leg from the buffet and pegged it back to the office to grab what little time I had left of the day to do some meaningful stuff.   Still, I got to see a globally recognised sports star (oh, and sit behind a former captain of English Premiership megastars Chelsea Football Club – Paul Elliott).   Chelsea aren’t doing too well at the moment so ‘whatever’.

On getting back to the office, I later discover that my little old Sikh chum might not be as Kosher as he makes out.   It turns out that the Guinness World Record organisation will not ratify his claims to be the oldest Marathon runner still going because he has failed to produce a birth certificate proving he was born in 1911.   Personally, I have some sympathy with the old geyser. Being just a 40-something myself nowadays I can seldom find my keys the minute I put them down…let alone my birth certificate.

There’s a whole ‘Team Singh’. Here…..the Relay Team.

 Related: Surviving the Olympics – a Londoner’s guide