Monday, July 30, 2012

Eighty Six Year Old Great Grandmother is the New Bond Girl

For those of you that missed the most talked about segment of the Olympic opening it is again.

After you've hit play, double click to go to full screen or the right side is truncated.

To watch more, visit

I'm not sure it was my favourite part of the ceremony - but it's difficult to decide what part was my favourite. I liked the humour, the ideas, the imagination and the spectacle but I was also stunned by the logisitcs. The transition from the countryside scene to the industrial segment was remarkable. The light show which was controlled through LEDs mounted on every seat in the arena was remarkable and I don't think this was fully captured by TV. You really had to be there for that.

A lot of people seemed to think it was important our ceremony was better than Beijing 2008. I don't think it should be a matter of being better - it should be a matter of being different. We would not attempt a display like the Chinese and similarly they would not attempt something like ours. It's important just to be distinctive and unique and I think that was achieved. Comparison and oneupmanship are not the point of these things. In the unlikely event the Olympics ever went to Pyongyang I'm sure the North Koreans would produce something remarkable that nobody else would attempt.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Let the Games Begin

Last night was one of the unexpected bonuses of being an Olympic Gamesmaker - an invitation (along with 70,000 others) to the final rehearsal of the opening ceremony in the Olympic stadium.

Like most aspects of the Olympics, the opening ceremony has been the subject of much speculation. The naysayers have said it will either be an extravagant waste of money or, in complete contradiction, that it will look cheap because we won't spend enough.

I'm not going to give away any secrets about the content of the opening ceremony. The organisers
asked that we resist the temptation to Tweet and Facebook about it. That is a lot to ask of I guess about 150,000+ people who have attended the two rehearsals but it appears that request has been mostly well-respected.  

What I can say is it's big, it's spectacular, it's quirky, it's surreal, it's a little bit mad and has a fine dose of British eccentricity thrown in as well. Danny Boyle - I salute you.  

On the night before, the country is like a nervous bride, anxious that something will go wrong on the big day and the subsequent 16 days of competion.  Certain aspects of the media appear to be salivating at the prospect of failure. I think it's about time they stopped and just got with the program. I think the Olympics are going to be spectacular.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Olympic Update

I had another Olympic volunteer training day today.  The venue I'm working at, ExCeL London, is starting to really look the part. Along with the usual Powerpoint presentations, we also had a fairly informal guided tour of the hall where we'll be working which is currently in a fairly advanced stage of construction. It's very impressive.

It was also interesting to see the large number of military personnel handling security matters. Overseas readers may not be aware of a recent development where the major contractor who was arranged to provide thousands of security staff for the Olympics just announced last week that they would be unable to supply a significant number of the people they had promised.

After the usual flurry of recriminations and politicians frantically trying to work out who to blame, it was decided the military would have to step in and make up the numbers.

I have to say they were doing a great job. Even though we're part of the workforce, we still have to go through security checks to get to work. This means that x-ray machines, bag checks, security checks etc. were mostly carried out by impeccably turned out chaps in camouflage kit.

 Having spent half my life going through security checks at airports and various other places, I've never felt more reassured than by these guys who've been dropped into doing an unfamiliar role at the last minute.  They were thorough but brisk, courteous, friendly and efficient. None of these things I would associate with normal security staff who are usually surly, bored and you always suspect, not very good at their job.

Critics say having the army doing this sort of work is demeaning to them. That may be true - I don't really know.  But there was not a hint from these guys that they felt remotely demeaned by what they were doing. They were throwing themselves wholeheartedly into the job and I hope, showing their private sector counterparts, how well this sort of thing could be done. It was good to have them there and I think they improved the whole "security" experience significantly.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Road Rage

After finishing work (working from home) this afternoon I took the 10 minute walk down to my local shops to pick up some milk. I was just walking along the main street when I became aware of a disturbance across the road. Voices were being raised.

A white van was parked and just a little way ahead and stopped in the road was a small silver car (a little Fiat or something). The two drivers were shouting threats at each other.  It was difficult to tell what they were saying but I suspect it was a disagreement over a parking place. You see these now and again. I stood and watched from the safety of the other side of the road - as one does.

As the two drivers shouted and threatened each other, two female passengers got out of the silver car and shouted to their protagonist. He looked around and started heading back to his car. At this point one of the women pulled a sledgehammer, yes a SLEDGEHAMMER out of the car and passed it over the roof of the car to the driver. He then returned to the fight flailing the sledgehammer wildly at the other driver.

The other driver was a much younger man but I still think he did a pretty good job of avoiding serious injury. Sledgehammer man was swinging his weapon wildly and white van man was dancing backwards to avoid the blows. After no more than 5-10 seconds of this I think sledgehammer man realised he was unlikely to catch the other guy - if he could have, I think he would have carried on.

Sledgehammer man headed back to his car and he and his passengers got in. The younger guy was not going to leave it there. He reached into his van and pullled out what we generally just describe as "2 by 4" - a piece of timber, about a metre long and typically 2 inches by 4 inches - hence the name. He then ran up to the other car almost reaching sledgehammer man before he'd closed his door. He then made a few threats to hit the car with his piece of 2 by 4. The silver car then left very quickly with a lot of squealing tyres.

Road rage - that's what we call it here. Motorists getting into silly fights over parking places or because somebody pulls in ahead of them at a junction.  You see it periodically and just  gawp at the childishness of supposedly grown men.

What I was shocked at by this incident was the apparent ease with which both drivers were able to produce weapons. The silver car was a little hatchback, not the kind of car that usually contains a sledgehammer as part of its toolkit. This guy obviously drove around ready for incidents like this.

The van driver I guess might have a reason for having timber in his van but the speed at which he seemed to produce this suggested he kept it in a convenient location for circumstances just like this.

Finding one person who can produce a weapon for an incident like this is pretty nasty. Finding two people who are "tooled up" suggests to me that quite a lot of people drive around ready for something like this. Many more than I thought. How depressing.

Monday, July 02, 2012

All That Scratching is Making Me Itch

I play golf. There, I’ve admitted it. On hearing you’re a golfer it occasionally provokes strong reactions in some people. I don’t really know why. It’s an inoffensive enough pastime. It does not dominate my time and I don’t bore people about it unless somebody REALLY wants to know and then I’m rather reluctant to explain it as they invariably say it’s silly and pointless. I don’t knock your hobbies, unless perhaps you were to tell me you’re into astrology in which case I might suggest what you’re doing is equally silly and pointless. Please don’t knock my hobbies, especially if you’ve never tried them and most critics of golf haven’t. To be fair, I haven't studied astrology that closely either.

It’s a bit like when I tell people I ride a motorcycle. They tell me they could never do it because they would be scared of falling off. I’ll let you into a secret. Most successful motorcyclists are also scared of falling off. They avoid doing it at all costs. In fact, rule one of the motorcyclists unwritten code is DON’T FALL OFF. It will probably hurt and you will also damage some terribly expensive machinery. Trust me, I’ve done it.

For me, golf is a good long walk with some additional swinging of arms and flexing of a few muscles. Good exercise for a chap with a sedentary occupation such as mine. If you’re lucky, you will do it in agreeable countryside with agreeable companions and the weather might be nice as well. As well as the much needed exercise I also do it for the challenge. Despite what some people think, it’s an extremely difficult game to be good at. And I’m not very good at it. That’s because I don’t play enough.

Anyway, last week was the annual golf holiday. I and a group of friends have been going for over 20 years. Always to Scotland which is the spiritual home of golf and it also has a lot of good golf courses to choose from as well as beautiful countryside and hospitable people.

Scotland has sometimes rather capricious weather but we like that. Usually you're ok. The following picture is the main road bridge from England into Scotland. The picture was taken from the sunny English side. You get the idea?

This year we were based in the Scottish Borders which is just across the border from England – hence the name. We were based in a small town called Melrose and each day we travelled to a different course in the area and played golf all day. Yes, ALL day. 

It’s a very regimented holiday. Every day follows the same path. Get up early. Leave house. Get into car. Drive to golf course. Play golf all morning. Have some lunch. Play golf all afternoon. Return to house. Shower. Go to pub. Drink a modest amount of beer. Eat dinner. Feel very tired. Return to house. Go to sleep. Repeat six times.

Hmmm I hear you say. That all sounds rather silly and pointless. Yes, I suppose it does, but we like it. 

This year for the first time we encountered a phenomena we had not experienced before. The midge. 

Scotland is famous for its midges but these are generally found on the West coast or Highlands and we were definitely in the southern lowlands. 

Midges are tiny insects about 1mm long. They tend to thrive in damp conditions – lakes, marshes etc. -  and are at their most dangerous – yes, dangerous – when the air is still and free of wind. Being only 1mm long they tend to be susceptible to the slightest of breezes and are unable to attack walkers, golfers and other innocents who are only there to enjoy the outdoors. 

If the air is still then they can attack with the precision of laser guided missiles and they do . If you happen to be in area in which they are congregating and you stand still for more than five seconds you start to feel them on every area of exposed skin. They are on your arms, your face, your neck. You can feel them on your eyelids and in the corners of your eyes. You feel them crawling into your ears. It’s a horrible sensation. And then they start to bite. 

By the end of Monday (the second day of our holiday) we were all covered in dozens of tiny but excruciatingly itchy bitemarks. Yes, there are creams and lotions and repellents (if you are expecting them and we were not) which offer some relief but basically you are now in a world of intense irritation. The itching wakes you at night. You flail around in bed trying to find a cool area of bedding on which to put your burning arms. It’s a little like being sunburnt but itchy as well.

One week later and the itching has almost subsided. I have scratched the bites – you end up doing it almost subconsciously and you therefore just aggravate them.

I expect the rest of the world has midges as well as many other dangerous and bloodthirsty creatures that I can barely imagine. But the native Scottish midge is pretty scary if you ask me. 

So that was my holiday. We’ll be back again same time next year. Where will you be going for your  holidays.