Posted in Uncategorized

The Last Post for the London 2012 Olympics

Last Post Bugle Call
Last Post Bugle Call (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Here are seven reasons why I should be glad that the London 2012 Olympic Games are over:

  1. I no longer have to worry about which events I’m missing if I go out for the evening
  2. On evenings in, I don’t burn holes in my ironing when, so gripped by the excitement of an event, I forget to keep moving the iron
  3. I can take the Union Jacks down from the front of the house, where they’re practically in shreds, having been there  since  the Diamond Jubilee kicked off this amazing English summer
  4. I’ll save  a lot of money on Kleenex, no longer being reduced to tears at least once a day by the athletes’ amazing victories
  5. Shops will return to their usual shorter Sunday opening hours (did you notice that the restricted Sunday opening times were removed for the duration of the Games, in hope of extracting extra cash from Olympic tourists? When were those poor shop assistants meant to watch the events?)
  6. We can reproduce the Olympic logo without fear of being sued
  7. I can once more plan trips to meet friends in London without worrying about being caught up in crowds of Olympic spectators

But – did you guess? – I’m bluffing. I STILL don’t want them to end, even though their closing days have produced so many wonderful memories to treasure. Not least was the Mayor of London’s priceless speech at the Athletes’ Parade through central London today. Only the gloriously brazen, blustering Boris Johnson could get away with some of the things he said – and whatever your politics, you have to love his spirit. (If you missed it, you MUST watch it here.)

The Olympic Rings, the symbol of the modern Ol...
Photo: Wikipedia

If Boris was right about the creation of a new generation on our nation’s living room sofas during the Games, I’m willing to bet that by time the  athletes are leaving the starting blocks of Rio 2016, Britain’s nursery schools and playparks will be full of little Jessicas, Ellies, Mos and Jonnies, named in honour of our London 2012 heroes.  I  hope there’ll be  a smattering of  small Borises too.

The Olympic Games are over, long live the Olympic Games!


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 Uncategorized

Which New Olympic Sport Would You Choose?

USA olympic team 1900 olympic games
The USA Team for the 1900 Olympics. The whole team. Ah, they were simpler days.

Is it an urban myth, or does the host nation really get to nominate a new sport to be added to the Olympic agenda?

If it’s true, it would explain how, over the years, the Modern Olympic Games have evolved from a handful of events (just nine in 1896)  into an extensive array requiring vast purpose-built facilities and a budget capable of crushing a national economy.

Arvid Spångberg winning the bronze medal.
Arvid Spångberg winning the bronze medal at the 1908 Olympics for levitation.

It must be tempting for the host country to designate a sport at which it, but preferably no other, excels. Next time the USA plays host, surely their choice must be baseball, whose so-called World Series extends no further afield than Canada. But they should take heed:  if the need arises, Team GB could send in a crack squad, trained on its school playing fields in the primary school summer favourite game of rounders. After all, what is rounders, except baseball without the fancy dress, annoying hats and hot dogs?

English: A fencer. Illustration from the repor...
“I say, which of those foreign blighters bent my sword?”

The unsuccessful Paris 2012 bid team must have mourned their missed opportunity to nominate boules. But if they had, we could have sent in, white-suited, the elderly of England, fresh from the bowling greens on which they while away a pleasurable retirement in between tea and cucumber sandwiches. A force to be reckoned with, indeed. Just remember Sir Francis Drake: called away from playing bowls at Plymouth Hoe, he dashed straight off to defeat the Spanish Armada.

Should the Olympics sojourn on Caribbean shores, we might all have to limber up for limbo. But what could be more British than bending over backwards, accommodating whatever life throws at us, without really wanting to make a fuss?

On tenterhooks, I’m waiting to see which sport Britain will add. I’m hoping for a tea-drinking marathon. With the amount of daily training that I put in, I think I could carry off the gold.

If, like me, you don’t want the London 2012 Olympics to end, you can relive some of the fun that they’ve brought us by reading my other Olympics-inspired blog posts:

In A Lather Over My Olympic Shampoo

The Olympic Spirit Meets Britannia

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

What Makes An Activity An Olympic Sport?

Posted in Uncategorized

What Makes An Activity An Olympic Sport?

The opening ceremony for the London 1908 Olympic Games
“Let’s get this party started” – stepping out for the opening ceremony for the London 1908 Olympic Games

Towards the end of last term, my nine-year-old daughter Laura’s class topic culminated in a five-week long homework  to write a comprehensive guide to the sport of each child’s choosing. This imaginative assignment encouraged every child to step outside of the normal school sports curriculum and take ownership of one discipline with which they felt a particular affinity. Their chosen sport didn’t even have to be an Olympic one.

“Seb thinks he might do car rallying,” Laura reports. “That’s no surprise.”

Pre-parenthood, Seb’s parents were seasoned and accomplished ralliers who have now segued, interestingly, into running a taxi firm. (I guess there’s no need to worry about missing your flight when they’re booked to take you to the airport.)

“Alexis thinks she might do air hockey.”

I try not to look askance, but Laura spots my raised eyebrows.

“Miss Hawker says it counts as a sport.”

What Miss Hawker says, goes. (Unlike Mummy.)

English: Commemorative stamp of Greece, The Fi...
Commemorating the original Olympic spirit with a Greek stamp for the Athens 1896 games

I reign in my cynicism when I remember my own predilection for a similar game at which I am pretty damn good: table football. Though more likely to be found in a bar-room than an Olympic stadium, this sport can work in perfect tandem with the Olympic spirit of uniting nations through athletic endeavour. I once enjoyed an excellent impromptu international tournament in an Amsterdam bar. My husband and I took on a crowd of youths of indeterminate nationality, who at first glance I had judged to be a bunch of louts. I can’t remember who won, but we ended the last match with smiles, handshakes and a new sense of international fellowship, despite not sharing a common language.

Laura sticks with a more traditional sport for her homework and in no time at all is an authority on the javelin. But my dubious attitude has rubbed off on her.

“Why is THAT a sport?” she queries scathingly as we catch a few minutes of an Olympic shooting competition on the television.

I try to subdue my abhorrence of guns to make a convincing case.

“Why is horseriding a sport?” she asks next. “Surely it’s the horse that’s doing all the work? The person just sits there. And what about sailing? Why do they let sailing into the Olympics?”

Baron Pierre de Coubertin, founder of the mode...
If in doubt, ask: “What would Baron Pierre de Coubertin do?”

Horses are beyond the realm of my experience, but with sailing I’m on safer ground, remembering the aching arm muscles, bruised thighs and blistered hands of our pre-baby sailing holidays.

Laura’s questioning prompts me to ponder what exactly turns an activity into a sport, as does the popular joke already wearing thin that the British are best at sports that involve sitting down. (Thanks, Jessica Ennis and Mo Farah, for putting the cynics in their place.) I come up with some defining British activities in which success could easily be interpreted as an athletic achievement:

  • Running for a bus – with handicap points given in inverse proportion to the number of shopping bags that you are carrying
  • Queuing – a subtle endurance sport, for example at the supermarket, strategically timed tannoy announcements can be enough to make the strongest competitor crumple
  • Irony – surely the mental strain of Ironyman and Ironywoman contests would earn Team GB accolades from around the world: we don’t need gold medals to prove the British are undisputed masters of irony

For the first time in my life, I think I could be an Olympic contender.

(Photo credits: Wikipedia)

Here are my other posts inspired by our fabulous London2012 Olympics:

In A Lather Over My Olympic Shampoo    

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