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.
I read this interview with Wilf Self on www.thebrowser.com and I have pulled out this extract where Self labels the Olympics as horseshit. Some of his points? Well it’s hard to not agree in parts, particularly about the role of corporate sponsorship, but what intrigued me most was his assertion, that I have put in bold type, where he states that winning and losing are essentially functionless human endeavours.
Philosophically, I might end up agreeing, but I would need a long time to think about it. However, biologically and evolutionally speaking (is that a word, or did it just evolve?), winning and trying not to lose have been physically and mentally hard-wired for our survival.
In the world of Will Self, would we then become, ideally, brains in boxes, or, is there still something to be said for celebrating the possibilities of whole humans: body, mind and soul?
Not sure, just asking.
From street games to the Games, will you give us a cynic’s word on the Olympics?
I’ve been a constistently outspoken critic of the whole thing. I object to my tax money being wasted on it, and I object to performance sport in general. I think it’s horseshit. Why don’t you just go run in a field, with sheep? It’s meaningless that some guy on a bicycle gets given 20 million quid. And the way the Olympics exist in a grotesque linkage or synergy with the international finance capital is so obvious. Both are arenas that exalt an essentially functionless and useless human performance of winning and losing, and use that as the tail that wags the dog. That’s why the Olympics feed so enormously into the collective psyche.
When it comes to London’s financial sporting performance, at least, we’ve seen recently that we all cheat and dope.
Exactly. The anology continues. HSBC has its doping scandal, as athletics has its own. The two of them are mirror images. No one should be shocked that there is corruption in the Olympics – that tickets are sold through foreign agents, that athletes are taking drugs and have huge financial contracts, that sponsors refuse to let people wear T-shirts with other corporate logos on them, that Macdonald’s makes you fat, that the infrastructure built in Stratford is useless to anybody, and that the Olympic legacy will not be fulfilled.
Schadenfreude is an unpleasant attribute, but if I were prone to it I could tell you that in a month or two’s time, the cost will come home big time, and people will start getting pissed off. The government couldn’t raise the money for the Olympics through the private sector, so the taxpayer had to put the money up for it – was forced to do so, undemocratically. And we will have nothing to show for it.
And then I must just give a quick shout out to the grammarians who are raging about like rampant bulls, thoroughly hufflepuffed by approved Olympic nouns transmogrifying into new, and non-groovy Olympic verbs like medalling, to podium and skyrocketing. They aren’t the most elegant sounding, I’ll admit, but, ’twas ever thus linguistically I’m afraid, ’twas ever thus. Google it if you don’t believe me…