Posted in Writing

Putting the Great Back into Britain

my daughter and her friend at the village partyBack in the spring, with the calendar dominated by the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and the London 2012 Olympics, I expected our lives would feel a little empty, come September. What on earth could we look forward to after all that summer treasure: diamonds, gold, silver and bronze?

Yet with the Autumn Term upon us, I’m still remarkably buoyed up by all the excitement. The Olympics have left us a wealth of unexpected legacies, quite apart from the planned regeneration of East London. Here are some of the things that the Young household has gained. My nine-year-old daughter Laura’s points first:

  • A greater awareness of the world beyond the Cotwolds, its many countries, nationalities and ethnic diversity
  • An encyclopaedic knowledge of these country’s national flags
  • A keen interest in – and mostly, but not always, the ability to spell – numerous sports that she’d never heard of before this summer
  • An awareness of history being made all around her – she’ll have plenty of memories to share with her grandchildren, beginning every story with “I was there when…”

This is what I have gained from the London 2012 Olympics:

  •  The totally new experience of wanting to read a newspaper backwards rather than forwards. Previously the most use I’ve had for the sports section has been to line the cat litter tray.
  • A huge sense of relief that our beautiful national flag has been redeemed from dodgy punk rockers and right wing fanatics, to be flourished now with unremitting pride.
  • A renewed respect for the Royal Family. If that fabulous double act by the Queen and James Bond doesn’t soften the hearts of the hardest Republican, then nothing ever will.
  • A passionate longing to have one of those long-legged swimsuits that triathletes wear – and the figure to go with it. Watch my personal space – I’ll be taking up less of it from now on.
  • A genuine conviction that the main role of British athletes at international sporting events is not to provide comic relief, but to win medals and inspire generations to come with their talent, dedication and single-mindedness.
First page (of two) of the sheet music to &quo...
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Even my husband, a proud Scottish republican, gained from this summer’s outpouring of British pride: so that Laura and I could enjoy the festivities unrestrained, we gave him free rein to go off and climb Scottish mountains all summer, Munro-bagging, as it’s known north of the border.

I know I’ve always been a bit of a Pollyanna, ever able to irritate gloomy friends with my “when life gives you lemons, make lemonade” attitude. But now I’m sure there’s a much broader optimism afoot – a national conviction, in fact. We may no longer rule the waves, but boy, do we know how to make them. It’s been a truly Great British summer. I’ve forgotten and forgiven the rain.

This post was written for the Tetbury Advertiser (September 2012 edition).

If you liked this post and want to make the Olympics last a little longer, you might like to read some of my other posts about the Olympics:

Which New Olympic Sport Would You Choose?

The Olympic Spirit Meets Britannia

Sharing the Olympic Glory – or How I Learned to Love the London2012 Logo

Posted in Travel

Sharing the Olympic Glory – or How I Learned to Love the London 2012 Logo

Laura in front of the Olympic rings at Hampton Court, after the cycling events“Mummy, which sport would you have done if you were in the Olympics a few years ago?”

My nine-year-old daughter Laura has much more faith in my athletic history than it deserves. At secondary school, the kindest comment on the PE section of my school report came from Miss Yardley: “Deborah needs to have more confidence in her ability”. That was before I discovered that careful manipulation of my school timetable would allow me to skip PE lessons entirely.

But then I remember one brief moment of glory when a timely growth spurt ensured that my legs were the optimum length for the hurdles. My stride was the perfect length to enable me to soar over them without knocking any down. Miss Yardley was as amazed as I was.

“Hurdles,” I tell Laura confidently. “Hurdles were wonderful. They made me feel like I could fly.”

“And what else?”

Stumped, I quickly think back to this term’s homework, which has been dominated by the whole school’s study of the Olympics.

“Pole-vault,” I decide. “Or high jump. Because I’d be airborne then too.”

I’m beginning to enjoy this pleasant fantasy.

“But what about the triple-jump?” she suggests brightly.

Laura is the Olympic expert in our house, able to reel off with ease the full list of sporting events and to name many record-breaking athletes too.

“Yes, triple-jump would do it too.”

London 2012 Olympic mascots Wenlock and Mandeville on our coffee tableShe goes back to arranging her cuddly toys of London 2012 mascots, Mandeville and Wenlock, in her doll’s deckchair.

When these mascots first came out, I thought they were hideous. But on Friday I caved in and allowed her to buy them with her pocket money, the toyshop having just reduced them to half-price. She hugs them to her ecstatically on the way home in the car.

“I’m so glad I’ve got them!” she beams. “They’ll always be extra special now because I bought them on the day of the London 2012 Olympic Opening Ceremony!”

I feel like a heel and a killjoy for not endorsing them earlier.

It’s not that I don’t love the Olympic movement. I’ve already bought the London 2012 Olympic Top Trumps (UK and International editions) and an official Olympics t-shirt to Laura to wear in our village’s 5k Fun Run (wonderfully led, I hasten to add, by the former GB Olympic runner Nick Rose). I even acquired a badge of the dubious 2012 logo for my collection of enamel pins.

Sign we made for Laura's Olympic-themed 9th birthday partyI took Laura to see the Olympic torch relay the day before her birthday and organised her birthday party on an Olympic theme (Hawkesbury 2012 – please don’t sue me, LOCOG!) These Birthday Olympics, which thankfully coincided with a heatwave, included less than authentic sporting events such as the Carry A Cup Of Water On Your Head Race. The birthday tea consisted entirely of circular food to reflect the Olympic rings. Each child represented a country and was a flag carrier for that country in the opening ceremony (a route-march around the perimeter of our lawn).

To avoid squabbles over who would represent GB, I instructed Laura beforehand to choose the ten prettiest national flags, and these were the countries that we used. She’d only heard of two of those countries (and there was at least one that I hadn’t heard of, either), so it was a good geography lesson too.

Consequently, as we watch the London 2012 opening ceremony on television, Laura is looking out for her friends’ countries.

“Oh, there goes Molly…. that one was Lily’s country. Hello, Alexis!”

Wenlock and Mandeville are still lounging about our coffee table as we fill it with popcorn and cold drinks to fuel us through the whole ceremony. I wonder whether Laura will stay the course.

But to my surprise and satisfaction, we both enjoy it enormously, right to the bitter end (yes, I’m talking about you, Sir Paul). As the stadium finally begins to empty well after midnight, my face is still wet with the tears that flowed as the many touches of genius emerged:  the 7 billion strips of paper dropped to represent every occupant of this earth; the striking up of Bowie’s “Heroes” as the British squad entered the arena; the appearance of Mohammed Ali to help carry the Olympic flag; the unexpected and perfect selection of young hopefuls to light that beautiful cauldron – to name but a few of the many, many highlights.

By next morning, in my eyes at least, the London 2012 logo has morphed into a thing of great beauty and I don my enamel badge with pride.

Official enamel pin badge showing Tower Bridge, supporting the London 2012 Olympics

My other blog posts on the Olympic theme:

The Olympic Spirit Meets Britannia

In A Lather Over My Olympic Shampoo