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Off the wall, Olympic style

I am trying to Get On. I thought I was getting on with finishing a project, but when I went back to it today, I realised it was almost entirely off-topic and not at all suitable for its intended purpose. Fifteen hundred words of meander. I think it defies an edit, so, it’s going on the compost heap – which is the blog.

Sometimes, I don’t know where my brain goes off to. I really don’t.

I write this final part, part five, as the London Olympics 2012, takes place. It seems apt somehow and compels me to get to the finish line of my own project; something which, I admit, I have begun dragging my heels on a little since June.

The dragging has been for many reasons and yet no particular one. Firstly, there is the business of putting one’s work ‘out there’ – alone and bare without the collaborative efforts of an editor, or a proof-reader, or a publisher who has believed in you in the first place. Independent publishing, although much vaunted as the way forward, is at its very essence an act of extreme hubris, perhaps. Writers, who have not been professionally validated, sticking it all out there anyway. This is not a criticism, I am one myself, but self-publishing, with few sales and even fewer reviews, let alone positive ones, is not for the faint-hearted, or the writer who is not prepared to accept that their craft is far from the finished article. I am quite sure that, if my wafflings were subject to a proper editing process, what I have just written and what I am about to say would be the first cold cut of the day.

Anyway, it’s just me, self-publishing away and The Olympics is proving the backdrop for my writing at the moment. Yesterday the cyclist, Bradley Wiggins, cemented his position as one Britain’s greatest Olympians when he won his 7th medal, making him our ‘most decorated Olympian’ ever. That’s the phrase the pundits favour, personally I think it makes him sound a bit like a chintzy lounge. (Chintz is a word that has haunted me since I wrote the episode about the terrapins. I proofed and proofed and then published and immediately noticed that the terrapins own pink chintz palace was missing a ‘z’. ( The Shame.) What ‘most decorated’ means is that our Bradley has won the most medals of all colours, of all our athletes ever. I don’t think Bradley would mind me pointing out that the British record for the most gold medals ever remains our rower the great Sir Steve Redgrave. And, as soon as I typed that, Sir Chris Hoy picked up his 5th gold medal to equal Steve and I think exceed Bradley in the decorated stakes; except that Hoy had the good grace to point out that Redgrave did it the hard way, in consecutive Olympics. Fair point.

The point that I am trying to get to about Bradley and the Olympics is something he said yesterday in his immediate post-race interview. The race was a road time trial around the south-west of London and into Surrey and he cracked through it in a sub 51 minutes time, taking nearly a minute out of his nearest rival. After the immense effort, instead of joining his fellow medallists on some over-decorated purple and gilt thrones to match the occasion, in front of Hampton Court Palace, Bradley hopped back on his bike, that instrument of both torture and glory, and spun off down the road from whence he had come only a short while before. You could sense, here was a man, trying to take it all in; a man trying to imprint the experience, like a mother tries to sear the first impression of her new baby into her mind forever. When he had finally cycled back to the fold, in the interview he said that he could not remember the Beijing Olympics, ‘perhaps I was too young…’

And that’s the thing, isn’t it? Those huge events in our lives, and alright, I know that for most of us it’s not going to consist of winning a medal of any kind, let alone our ninth Olympic one, they just don’t always go into our heads in the way we are so certain they will at the time. Or if they do go in, the retrieval doesn’t work neatly in the way we would like. How nice if memory was like a set of show reels, labelled alphabetically placed on a great big mental shelving unit. It’s not though. Even someone like Bradley, lucky enough to have his great moments filmed for posterity, may have trouble filling in the emotional memory gaps in future, even when the events are played before his very eyes.

And that is all a very long way of saying, that the one reason my writing has slowed down is that I realise I only have two, very hazy round the edges, memories to turn into a part five. The hope is, and this sometimes happens, that once the retrieval through writing gets going, the brain starts making links and associations and manages to pull memory rabbits out of hats. The problem with this particular period I am trying to recollect is that at the time everything felt hazy anyway. I am writing about my last month of pregnancy, a time when nature wraps you mentally in bubble wrap anyway. There was no film camera, no bicycle by this point, no post-walk interviews and certainly no medal, but there was a baby at the end of it all, and their was a dog called Benji, so I’ll make a start down the home strait and we’ll see what arises from the recesses of my mind.

And then, instead of writing about that, I wrote this:

A strange thing happened, as I walked the current dog home just now on a route I have taken hundreds of times. Firstly, I walked up the opposite side of the street to the usual side I take, and it struck me, from this side, everything looks so… different. Which made me think then, that even if we can never walk in another person’s shoes, we can at least cross over the road, and that that small act in itself can change our perspective completely.

And after I had thought this and was waiting for the lights to change so I could cross a busy road, a man with crutches also stood waiting. I crossed quicker than him, and carried on up the street, but a few moments of stopping to look in a shop window allowed him to gain on me, and I began to hear the rhythm of the crutches clattering the pavement and the sharp intake of his pained breath as he drew closer, until I walked on again. I had, that day, been vaguely thinking about what the writer, Will Self, had said about the Olympics, that he viewed it as ‘horseshit’ and that he felt likewise about performance sport, describing that through the prism of winning and losing as ‘functionless’. I didn’t disagree with everything he said, but this idea that winning and losing was functionless jarred me up a bit. As I heard the man pounding along on his crutches, I thought:

That surely winning and losing is what makes this man get up and go down the road on his crutches, when it is hot and obviously painful for him, when it would be easier to just sit in a chair, somewhere. It is true that Olympic athletes are sponsored large sums but their endeavours are surely the distillation of that human spirit, to simply, live. The product is the race, there has to be a winner, that’s the narrative, the winning then is the result for one, but the will to live is exemplified in all the competitors. I wonder how that can be horseshit. I wonder how, if a child is inspired to tell themselves a story of achievement and endeavour and to perhaps, one day, succeed, how can that be horseshit?

And as I was mulling all this over, the strangest thing of all happened. I felt, as I had always, normal, usual and commonplace. And I realised all the changes that had happened to me over all the years that I had walked with dogs, from childhood with the dog Toby, to the one today, had left something in me still untouched. I looked and felt different, a lot; I was a mosaic of all the changes, but there was a quiddity I could not remember, but I recognised in that moment, that remained.

And I looked at all the other people, on bikes, in cars, walking home and I thought of them, just like me holding their own changes but also staying the same somewhere underneath it all, both ordinary and extraordinary in their own ways. And I thought to myself, they for this period of the Olympic Games in London, are Olympians themselves. And in that way that we always second guess ourselves, I thought, well now you are quite mad, calling them Olympians and so on when they are simply going home from work. But I looked at them again and I knew that every so often, from time to time, each of these people, including me, would excel themselves. There would be no medal, or one of those plaudits Will Self says he wouldn’t turn down, for most of us, but every so often, on a regular day, every one of us will get up and do something just a little bit better than we needed to, for the benefit of no-one and nothing or everyone and everything. We can’t know when, we can’t always plan it four years in advance, but like the man walking down the street on the crutches, or Katherine Grainger winning the Olympic medal she called the ‘People’s Medal’, it happens.

And I thought to myself, in the end, that is what it is all about.

The Peter Principle, or: c’mon lads, the game’s up

This blog has been a longtime critic of the government, mainly because they don’t seem to have a clue what they are doing. And when they do have a reasonable idea, they put in ridiculously short time limits to see results, so that they can claim the credit in time for the next election (I am thinking of the Work Programme and the pilot programmes for reducing re-offending here, where funding is dependent on outcomes, but also set within unrealistic time frames, equivalent to the lifespan of a flea).

Their one idea for the economy, the notorious Plan A, is dead in the water. It’s greatest proponent George Osborne is on the missing list, and he seems to have taken even deeper cover since the IMF wagged their finger at him yesterday. On all previous known form, he’ll take about five days to think about what he’s going to say next and since he’s not due an annual Mansion House speech for another year, it might be even longer. Then there’s Michael Gove’s new phonics based ‘reading’ test (actually an exercise in decoding sounds) which is failing competent children who read for understanding and meaning. Incidentally, Mr Gove, trying to teach the latter to adults is a tough gig, whereas the sounds – well those are child’s play… As for Theresa and Jeremy and Dave et al – well would you? Knowing what you know now? Dave’s autumn cabinet reshuffle is going to have to introduce Willy Wonka himself to to turn this thing around.

I suppose they were banking on the Jubilee and the Olympic summer saving their collective bacon and bringing back the feelgood factor to the populace (also on the missing list, probably in George Osborne’s back pocket), but the Gulf jetstream, the bus drivers, train drivers and Border Agency staff, not forgetting G4S, had their own ideas about that. Don’t get me wrong, I hope the Olympics goes off well, for the sake of the athletes and for the rest of us that have had to pay for the effing thing (just don’t think about Greece ok?). On the other hand, I can’t help but have a few reservations (still don’t think about Greece). Arguing about surface to air missiles on the roof, when god knows how many G4S uniforms have gone AWOL? It’s really not cool. I have a fantastic colleague at work, she’s from Hull and she’s a no-nonsense Northern lass who produces spot-on stuff, including colour-coded spreadsheets for everything. She’d have organised the Olympics, on budget, on time, with security, no problem. I think if she’d been in charge you might have even been able to get in wearing a Pepsi t-shirt…

And that’s my problem with the government, right there, in a nutshell. My colleague is operating well within her comfort zone, she has a lot more to offer, in fact. The government are collectively suffering from the Peter Principle – where employees rise to their level of incompetence. And the problem for us is that it’s not just one of them, it’s bloody well all of them. They are too young, too arrogant, insufficiently wise and lacking in substance to do the job properly. The facts are that they can barely run this country. Sadly, the default setting of desperate clinging on to power will probably see the coalition stagger on to the next election; the Lib Dems will be finished after that and the Tories will hopefully be chased back into their historical blue lands. I for one, cannot wait. And I’m hoping that Miliband et al have the sense to learn from the mistakes of others before they inevitably start making their own, as we all do.

In the meantime, whilst we suffer the horrors of the British summer, the mish mash of the coalition’s blue and yellow colour combo and also those pretty disgusting Olympic mascots Wenlock and Mandeville , I would really like to have Spitting Image back on Sunday night.
That would really cheer me up.

What the?

Where’s Mr Picasso when you need him?