August 10th 2012
It is official: over the last couple of weeks, I have got Olympic fever. Big time. I know that the London 2012 games were intended to 'inspire a generation' toward physical activity, but my recent weekends and evenings have mostly been spent sedentarily on my sofa, watching one of BBC's 24 (yes, twenty four) Olympic channels and cheering on Team GB in sports I didn't even know existed. You name it, I've watched it. I even tried to find dressage interesting (I failed). I have greatly enjoyed following everything from home, but nothing can beat actually being there, where the magic happens, and that's what I did on Monday - Wednesday this week. I will wait until the London Olympics are finished before writing my thoughts on the Games as a whole; today's entry is devoted to the three days I spent at The Greatest Show on Earth.
Dave had booked volleyball tickets for 9.30am on Monday, and I had taken to heart the official advice to turn up two hours before the start of any event (I had also got slightly confused over venues and distances from Paddington) so I arose from my slumbers at 3.20am. Having gone to bed at 8pm the night before, I was relatively well refreshed - even if it meant that I had missed the 100m final - and stayed awake throughout my journey to London on the surprisingly busy 4.47am train from Bristol Temple Meads. I suspected that the family sat near me were probably had tickets for the Olympics; partly because they were on a 4.47am train to London, partly because one of them was clutching Pride the Lion (the official mascot of Team GB, in case you weren't aware) and partly because they spent the journey discussing the fact that they had tickets for the Olympics.
So it was that I arrived in Earls Court - not Earl's Court; I don't know why not - with hours to spare, and wasted no time in supporting the official fast food supplier of London 2012 by having a McMuffin and a cup of tea. The tea was very good. Then I waited outside the tube station for Dave, and while there was surprised to see a guy I used to work with - it turned out that he was also watching the volleyball, meaning that four of the five events I saw were also coincidentally attended by people I know. Small world. Polish world, too, as Earls Court was besieged by Poland fans eager to see their team take on Australia, whose dearth of fans (despite Earls Court being reputedly an Australian hang-out) was perhaps explained by the fact that they're rubbish at volleyball. Or so the chap I sat next to told me; it turned out that he was something of a volleyball expert, having played in a league in his younger days and already watched six other matches at these Games. This was useful for me and Dave, since we neither of us knew our spike from our Libero, although there were times when I wondered if the chap was just making things up - such as when he said that volleyball was as big as football in Brazil; and when Australia won. Even newbies like me could see that it was a great match, and certainly more exciting then the second of the double-header, where Russia pretty much wiped the floor with Serbia (mainly by virtue of having a ridiculously tall player at the front). Some quick research has shown me that Russia are through to the semi-finals - played today - after beating Poland in the quarters, whereas Serbia and Australia didn't even get out of their groups.
Having enjoyed our first live event of the Games, Dave and I decided to soak up some more culture by heading towards the Tate Britain, where we met up with a mutual friend whose threshold for artistic pretension is about as low as mine. While there were some impressive exhibits - and, which I had specifically wanted to see, a range of posters for London 2012 designed by various artists and Tracey Emin - there was also rubbish like a big yellow canvas next to a big white one. Surely Tate Modern is the place for that (if not a skip)? Anyways, having seen our fill we went our separate ways, which meant that I met up with James Lee for some hardcore quizzing where our team included a member of Warwick's winning 2007 University Challenge team. With him on board we were always going to do quite well, and I was pleased to add a few answers - helped by my knowledge of James Galway and Bristol - to help us to a silver medal finish. Unlike my normal quiz at the Deco Lounge, this did not result in any prize whatsoever, other than pride. And not much of that.
My base for the duration was Tom's place, so I headed that way after the quiz and congratulated him on his recent engagement before going to bed (sadly my schedule and Tom's working life meant that we only saw each other for a combined 20 minutes or so over the three days). Long day.
Tuesday was table tennis & football day, with the first event being the women's team bronze in table tennis between Singapore and South Korea (er... I mean the Republic of Korea. Or possibly the Korean Republic), and I was supporting the latter on behalf of my South Korean friend Yongbom Lee. It turned out that I was massively outnumbered by Singapore supporters, who chanted "Let's go, Singapore, let's go" between most points and were duly rewarded by a three set victory; 3-1, 3-1, 3-1. For those of you who aren't devotees of team table tennis, each team has three members who play two singles matches, a doubles match and then, if required, two more singles matches. The first match was by far the best; an intriguing battle of styles as the Singaporean attacked the ball relentlessly and the Korean defended brilliantly, albeit not quite brilliantly enough. The other matches were more one-sided; so much so that Dave's mate Rob - who had joined us for this event - missed the entire second match after going to buy some chocolate, but the quick finish meant that we had plenty of time to get to Wembley (and Tom, who apparently had tickets to the same event, albeit on the other side of the arena, was able to get back to work more or less on time). I had taken seriously the many warnings that transport routes would be jam-packed throughout the duration of the Games, and had created a ridiculously detailed plan of how to get from one venue to the next. This effectively went out the window when I realised that: (i) the tube lines were, if anything, quieter than normal; (ii) the official London 2012 website had suggested a massive detour in an attempt to keep me off 'busy' routes; (iii) the table tennis had finished so early that we had time to visit Nando's before making our way to Wembley. So, having eaten our fill of chicken, we took the tube to Wembley Park and my first ever visit to England's national football stadium (there's not a lot of call for it when you're a Wolves fan), where I would be meeting up with John to give him his ticket. Unfortunately John's phone battery died at exactly the wrong time, so we couldn't make contact with each other and by the time he had inserted his sim card into the phone of a highly suspicious Olympic volunteer, we had missed the first 20 minutes of the match and Japan's goal. We did get to see three goals from Mexico - meaning I won 50p in a bet with Dave - and I thoroughly enjoyed being there, even if the match wasn't of the highest quality ever, as the stadium is very impressive and we were well positioned to see three of the goals close up. After the match, John and I met up with a veritable posse of Warwick Uni alumni, as it turned out that James, Jason, Steve & Jez all had tickets for the same match. It took an hour to walk the relatively short distance from the stadium to Wembley Park tube station, since the match had been attended by a frankly incredible 82,372 people. England matches don't get that many. In fact, despite the television pictures I've seen of empty seats, the table tennis match was the only one where there were any considerable gaps in the spectators, and these were clearly in the area set aside for officials and sponsors. I am not being original when I say that these tickets should have been made available to members of the public from the very start: the likes of Lloyds and McDonald's are not sponsoring the Olympics in order to get free tickets, and I hope that Rio doesn't make the same mistake that we did on that one.
We bought ourselves some burritos to celebrate the Mexican success, and went to the South African house on the South Bank to eat them. It's probably just as well that I didn't share my thoughts of Oscar Pistorius while we were there.
On my third and final day at London 2012, it was time for the big one: the Olympic Park. While the other events had all been great, I knew that I wasn't going to feel completely part of the action until I'd watched some sport in Stratford, and I was particularly pleased that we were going to see some athletics in the Olympic Stadium. Having turned up late (sorry Rob!), I met up with Rob and Robbie and we bought some horribly overpriced food (£3.50 for the worst bacon sandwich I've ever had) before making our way into the stadium that is the centrepiece of the games (at least until it becomes, probably, West Ham's home ground). What I hadn't noticed is that our tickets were for row 1, and we found ourselves ensconced between the Romanian and Polish hammer-throwing coaches, the former of whom repeatedly told us "coaches only" until an Olympic volunteer confirmed that we had the right seats (it later transpired that the Romanian coach was the man in the wrong seat; Rob's seat was the last one in the non-coaching section and the Romanian should really have been a few seats further over). We didn't have tickets for any medal events - the table tennis bronze was the only one that I'd see, and even there the ceremony wouldn't happen until after the final, despite the announcer accidentally proclaiming Singapore the gold medal winners at the end of the match we saw - but there were several Britons to cheer. The highlight was Mo Farah running the 5,000m only days after winning 10,000m gold, and he got the biggest cheer of the morning by coming through in third, comfortably getting out of his heat. We were also right behind Sophie Hitchon as she broke the British record in the hammer-throw, and got to see Lynsey Sharp & Steve Lewis get through their respective heats. The news was less happy for Nick McCormick, who missed out in the 5,000m, and Daniel Awde, who retired injured from the decathlon after just two events, but we still had plenty to cheer - and not just from these isles. As well as generously applauding those athletes at the back of the field - and it's very obvious you're at the back of the field when you have to do 12.5 laps round the stadium, and get lapped - the second biggest cheer of the morning was for Sarah Attar, a history-maker in being part of the first ever female contingent from Saudi Arabia. She was, by a very considerable distance, the worst runner in the 800m, but the entire crowd realised that she represented something bigger than sporting prowess.
The decathlon shot put took place on the other side of the stadium from us, and we'd just discovered that Awde was out, so we slipped away early to avoid getting tangled up in a crowd of thousands all leaving at the same time. After a quick stop at McDonald's - mainly because it was the only place in the park where food would be the same price as it was in the real world - we went on to our final event, which was a handball quarter-final in the basketball arena, relocated from the handball arena due, we think, to the larger capacity. This meant a walk across the Olympic Park, which is much bigger than I had realised, allowing us to see all the arenas en route where great sporting moments have happened during these last few days. Rob told us that he would be supporting Lithuania vs. Russia in the handball, so it was with some surprise that we saw a mass of French and Spanish flags inside the arena upon arrival, and it turned out that Rob had got his research slightly awry (in fact, neither Russia nor Lithuania had men's handball teams in the Olympics, and rumour has it that there is no Lithuanian word for 'handball'. OK, I made the second bit up). I opted, at random, to support Spain, and decided to put up my 50p winnings from the day before against Rob, who was already chanting 'Allez les bleus' with glee. The atmosphere was incredible, and it seems that the French love handball even more than the Polish love volleyball. Despite this support, Spain surged into a 12-9 lead at half-time with their keeper playing an absolute blinder, at one point having a save percentage in the high 80s (this is the kind of thing handball fans discuss, I'm told). We could just about follow the action, although I dug out some Google in order to work out why some brutal fouls resulted in penalties, whereas other brutal fouls only resulted in free throws (I just about figured that one out, but didn't manage to fathom the other brutal fouls where the free throw was given, seemingly, to the fouler). I thought my 50p was safe, but the French had a much better second half and briefly managed to overtake the Spanish, before being pegged back to a tie going into the final seconds. France had a shot well saved by the Spanish keeper, but as the clock ticked down a French player scooped up the rebound and threw it into the net, gaining a 23-22 win in literally the last second. There was gleeful pandemonium from the French fans, and desolation from the Spanish... we were just glad to have watched a fascinating and frenetic match in a wonderful sport. Which I almost certainly won't watch for another four years.
Since we'd already seen plenty of the Olympic Park we then left the venue to visit another legendary London location: Brick Lane. After a very nice curry - even if we didn't haggle as stridently as Rob thought we should - I headed back to Bristol, and to bed. The entire experience was excellent, and it has made me very proud that London - Britain - has put on such a wonderful Olympic Games. Maybe, as a Briton, I'm biased, but London 2012 has surpassed my expectations both as a television viewer and as a live spectator, and it would take a lot to persuade me that it is not one of the greatest Olympics ever put on.
On this day in 2004... Today's diary entry is brought to you by the letter 'A' and the number '3'. A is for apple. 3 is for 3.
August 17th 2012
Last time round I recounted my experiences of visiting the Olympics, and promised that I would tell you more of my thoughts on London 2012. Just as surely as day follows night and eggs is eggs, here are said thoughts, helpfully numbered in case you lose count. First of all, the good things:
1. The BBC coverage
A lot of people have commented during these games that the BBC has done a stellar job, especially when compared to the pig's ear they made of the Jubilee celebrations earlier in the year. There's a reason for the improvement: the Olympics is about people from all over the globe being the best in the world at what they do. The Jubilee is, by definition, about one woman still being alive. One is a celebration of greatness, the other is a birthday party. That being the case, the BBC rose to the occasion with consummate professionalism, informing its audience without patronising us.
2. The Times coverage
Britain's other great provider of news did just as well as the Beeb. As well as a souvenir wrap-around cover and the first few news pages dedicated to the Games, the Times had a lengthy insert on every day of the Olympics providing in-depth coverage and excellent writing from the likes of Simon Barnes, Matthew Syed, Owen Slot etc. Some would say it was overkill; I thought it was great.
The Olympics really is a lovely thing to watch, isn't it? I've rarely seen so many happy faces on TV, and several times while watching the coverage, I had a big smile on my face.
4. Lack of cynicism
The British have always been too keen to put a dampener on things, and while I'm not advocating mindless optimism I have really enjoyed the fact that we, as a nation, switched off our cynicism at the very moment the opening ceremony began, suspending it at least until Emeli Sande started singing for the second time in the closing ceremony. Whenever we saw something new, most of us decided we were probably going to like it.
Not just handball; every unusual sport at the Olympics. But mainly handball, because it's flipping awesome.
OK, I was entirely unsuccessful in my attempts to get that trending on Twitter, but the glorious Saturday on which Team GB picked up six gold medals (men's coxless four; women's double sculls; women's team pursuit; Jessica Ennis; Greg Rutherford; Mo Farah) will live very long in the memory. There has surely never been as glorious an hour for British athletics - for British sport? - as the one in which those last three medals were won. Pity those poor people who were at the football match instead, to see Team GB lose on penalties.
7. Jessica Ennis
I must admit that I hadn't followed Jess's career very carefully before these Olympics, but I have now - like the rest of the country - fallen a little bit in love with her. It's not just that she's gorgeous (though she is, of course), nor simply that she is an incredibly talented athlete. It is the delight and joy that she shows when competing; when winning; even when sitting in a TV studio and just talking. Every Team GB gold medal felt like a victory for the whole country, but Jess's most of all.
8. Team GB
Speaking of which, what an incredible performance from our athletes: a truly outstanding 65 medals including 29 golds, putting us above Russia - yes, miles above Australia - and into third place in the world. Do you remember those first few days when we were all worried that we wouldn't win anything at all?
9. 24 BBC channels
I know that I already mentioned the BBC, but I wanted to make specific reference to the multitude of channels available. Whenever sport was being played, it was on. I won't complain about paying my licence fee for at least another ten years.
10. London's transport system
Perhaps it was the opposite of a self-fulfilling prophecy (self-unfulfilling?), but all the panic about London coming to a standstill was completely unwarranted: I didn't have any problems at all with transport while I was there. If anything, the tube was quieter than normal. The most wonderful thing was the javelin train, which went from St. Pancras to the Olympic Park in six minutes flat.
11. Free transport
Not only was the transport system impeccable, it was also free to ticket-holders. Granted, I spent a small fortune on the tickets themselves, but it was a very nice surprise to receive a free railcard with each event.
12. Anish Kapoor's weird tower thing
I moaned more than most about the mangled red sculpture. But it looks all right up close. Perhaps I was being a bit too uncynical.
After John Terry's trail revealed how footballers talk to each other these days, it was a joy to discover that some sportsmen, at least, have not forgotten how to behave. From the German table tennis player who admitted to losing a point that the referee had awarded him to Rodger Federer's gracious congratulating of Andy Murray, the defining motif of these competitors was sportsmanship. Well, the less said of cyclists falling over and swimmers 'dolphin kicking', the better.
14. Spectators' generosity
Perhaps taking their lead from the athletes themselves, the crowds were just as sportsmanlike. I was part of the masses who cheered on a 5,000 metre runner who had been lapped, and was rewarded with a grateful wave. The Olympics might celebrate greatness, but it also celebrates - as Hamadou Djibo Issaka, the slowest rower in the world, discovered - the taking part.
15. Patriotism without nationalism
Did you know that supporting your country doesn't mean that you have hate all others? It was good to see the likes of Usain Bolt and Michael Phelps cheered to the rafters, not as 'honorary Brits' but as who they are. Jamaican; American; brilliant.
16. The opening ceremony
It was pretty good, wasn't it? Especially the bit with the queen.
17. Games Makers
Silly name, but wonderful people. These volunteers were the life and soul of the games, clearly enjoying themselves and unfailingly knowing their stuff. OK, it was slightly embarrassing to be directed by them when I was the only person approaching the ExCel and had done nothing but walk in a straight line since the last time I received directions, but their bonhomie was infectious.
18. The official Results app
I am but a recent convert to smartphones, but the London 2012 Results app is a fantastic thing. Sadly my job kept me away from the BBC screens for much of the day, but this app (and the BBC website live text) kept me up to date throughout.
Every nation in the Games had a woman amongst their number, even if Saudi Arabia seemed a little reluctant. I'm no feminist, but that's a triumph for us all.
20. Olympic Park
I may not have got to see the insides of most of them - unless you count seeing them on the telly - but the venues in the Olympic Park looked truly superb. Building them in time and (more or less) to budget was a masterful achievement, and being in the Olympic Stadium was a wonderful experience. Who knows what will happen to most of them now, but they'll at least have had their fortnight in the sun.
21. Even Simon liked it
My brother is one of sport's keenest foes, but even he admitted to caring about the travails of Team GB, and watched Mo Farah win the 5,000m without complaint. There's a poorly-written sentence if ever I read one. Sorry.
And now the bad things...
1. Wenlock & Mandeville
Try as I might, I couldn't bring myself to like the official mascots. Although those people who said they looked phallic should probably book an appointment with their GP...
2. Sports that aren't really sports
You can argue that football has no place in the Olympics, but at least it's a sport. The same cannot be said, in my opinion, of dressage or - gulp - artistic gymnastics. I mean, horses dancing? Girls throwing hoops and ribbons to each other? It's just silly.
I've complained about this previously, but only allowing Visa payment (or cash) within the Olympic Park was an astonishingly petty move that lowered Visa greatly in my estimation.
4. Stuart Pearce
He should have picked David Beckham.
5. Empty seats
At almost every venue I went to, this wasn't a problem, but in the early days at least there were far too many unoccupied seats that eager punters would have bitten your hand off for.
6. People who tried to make us dance the Charleston
There was a lot of good humour at the Games, but it was badly misjudged by the dancers whose job it was to entertain people waiting in the queue for the javelin train. Having a good time is fun; being told to have a good time and chastised when you don't join in is not fun. Children's party organisers everywhere should take note.
The army did themselves proud (and I'm no fan of the army) but G4S will probably never recover from the embarrassment of how badly they messed this one up.
8. The worst bacon sandwich ever
Stale bread, undercooked bacon, £3.50. Say no more.
On this day in 2007... Ladies and gentlemen, rest assured that Colin's Online Diary will not cease pouring out pointless nonsense, whatever the month.
August 25th 2012
This week the Sun newspaper broke whole new ground in the arena of print nudity - an arena where it has long led the way, of course, through its unstinting portrayal of British femininity in all its toplessness - by showing pictures of Prince Harry, naked. For those of you who haven't been paying careful attention to the news, the young prince decided that the best use of his time while on holiday was to drink a lot and play strip billiards. Judging from the front page of the Sun, Harry's none too good at billiards; at least, not when he's had a few.
Fear not, this is going to be one of my anti-royal polemics. I'm not even going to dwell on the widespread theory that Prince Harry's real father is James Hewitt - even though it's what immediately comes to mind when I think of him - because it's not strictly speaking relevant. Instead, this is an expression of my genuine confusion.
Of the many column inches devoted to this incident (I think the press are glad to have stumbled upon a post-Olympic story that, if not good news, at least doesn't hurt anyone too much), many have contained the suggestion that Harry is just being a normal person; that his behaviour this week is that of a typical young single man. Well, this is where I switch my face to confused. Because I'm a bit younger, equally as male and eminently more single than Prince Harry, and I have never been tempted to go to Vegas and remove all my clothes. I mean, it's never even crossed my mind. If someone offered me the choice, though, between going to Vegas and removing all my clothes or, say, drinking a cup of tea and blinking, I would opt for the latter ten times out of ten.
I'm not saying this as a means of judging the heir to the throne, I should add (although I won't pretend that I'm not tempted). I am simply baffled, and I return to a theme I've mused on before; that one person's normal is another person's crazy. One act - the naked Vegas thing, for example - can simultaneously be so normal to one person that they can't understand why anyone would be confused by it; and so crazy to another that they can't get their head round why anyone would do it. Which is a long-winded way of saying what Jane Austen's Emma said (in what is, I believe, one of my brother's favourite quotations): "One half of the world cannot understand the pleasures of the other." Except that she could have added: "And the other half cannot understand why not."
So that's Harry. But he's not the only one who's confusing me at the moment: he's joined by the many millions of people who have bought copies of Fifty Shades of Grey, the Twilight fan fiction / S&M mash-up that has taken the book world by storm.
I haven't read the book, or its sequels, you will be unsurprised to learn. M&S tends to be more my style than S&M. What confuses me is not only that so many people are eager to read about something that, in my naivety, I had assumed was a niche interest (I've scanned that sentence for euphemisms and I think it's clean - but, as I say, I'm a naive kind of chap), but also that they weren't too embarrassed to buy the thing. Discounting the e-book readers, there are still millions of people who looked a bookshop assistant in the eye as they handed them a copy of Fifty Shades of Grey and enough money to buy it (this last being the key distinguisher between a would-be reader of Twilight-inspired S&M and someone who's noticed that a book has accidentally fallen on the floor and is trying to be helpful). How did that happen?
I don't get it. It's a mad, mad, mad, mad world.
On this day in 2010... In short, this is a book which may be appreciated by students of literature looking for textbook examples of literary affectation, but it is unlikely to be enjoyed by anyone who actually wants a book to read.
|what was I listening to?
The Promise - Bruce Springsteen
|what was I reading?
Stories I Only Tell My Friends - Rob Lowe
|what was I watching?