Games Over


On the day that London was awarded the Olympic Games, back in July 2005, the whole city – the city I live in – rejoiced. It seemed right, for a place soon to overtake New York as the financial centre of the World, a metropolis that was changing and evolving for the better, it felt like it was indeed our time.

Added to which, we beat Paris to it, and us Brits love sticking two fingers up at the French.

That joy and optimism was then shattered the very next day when suicide bombers attacked. I was working outdoors in central, and remember the fire engines screaming down Park Lane, urging the traffic to move with a tone that suggested something very wrong. From that day onwards, one couldn’t help but feel that maybe these Games were cursed. Over the next few years, as the plans unfolded, and bills for security and infrastructure augmented, so did the bad sentiment. In an era when bankers’ bonuses could buy a small football club, why should we, the general public, your average worker, fork out yet more tax to fund such an ostentatious extravaganza?

And then came the recession. Recent Olympics had become modern equivalents of Roman gladiatorial tournaments, each new Emperor trying to out-do the last one with a glorious spectacle of blood and sweat, each new stadium a bigger and better Colosseum. Sydney set the bar; Athens followed suit; Beijing went one better. But such spectacle comes at a huge cost, a cost that is not guaranteed to be repaid, as Greece discovered.

Times had changed. Was the massive investment really worth it for a bit of fun ‘n’ games that only lasts a fortnight? The same amount spent on schools and hospitals would have a far deeper impact. Ministers spoke of legacy, and ‘inspiring a generation’, saying that a Great Games for Great Britain would get more of us off our daytime-television-watching arses and down to our local sports centres; but doubters were wary of the ‘Wimbledon Effect’ – the period after the tennis when sales of rackets soar, rapidly declining to previous levels when people realise it’s hard work. Or it’s expensive. Or it rains a lot.

Years of non-stop ‘improvements’ to the road and rail networks acted as a constant (and irritating) reminder to the populous that London was preparing for the Games, brushing itself up before the World’s spotlight bore down on us, a critical appraisal that we couldn’t afford to mess up. Success could mean increased tourist revenue, a rise in stockmarkets, and a slightly smug national glow. Failure could spell disaster.

Fast People

But with major constructions habitually taking longer and costing more than proposed, and the sweltering Tube network treating us to signal failures on a daily basis, a monumental cock-up seemed the more likely outcome. Combine that with the threat of terrorism, and you could excuse us for being pessimistic. Of course, most of us wanted the Games to go well, but in the back of our minds we were thinking that was about as plausible as two weeks of uninterrupted sunshine.

The big day approached. The anticipated cock-up seemed to be splendidly on track: the Tube still had regular delays, the security company couldn’t find enough employees, and trying to get tickets online was like arguing with a drunk. Furthermore, as if those in proximity to the stadium weren’t disgruntled enough, it was deemed necessary to place ground-to-air missiles on top of residents’ houses. Great for starting a conversation at a barbecue, I thought, but not everyone shared my view.

Then it arrived. For the first time in British history, more people stayed in on a Friday night than went out to get smashed, as the nation tuned in to the Opening Ceremony. We were never going to beat China at the whole coordinated kung fu drumming thing, so I think we did well to stay clear of that, and gave the World our greatest exports – quirky humour and timeless music (and, er, free healthcare).

What followed was fifteen days of flag-waving fervour like never before, as the gold medals we were promised by Barmy Boris (‘enough to bail out Greece and Spain’) rolled in with certainly more reliability than our trains, and the country’s productivity fell by 90% as we tuned in every half-hour for yet another moment of glory. Our final medals tally looked like a basketball score (ironically the one sport we’re still shit at), and Britain was once again Great.

But what now? Once the jingoistic cheers have died down and normal service is resumed, will it all have been worth it? Will there be a surge in people taking up dressage, canoeing and archery? Will Team GB (or Team UK, as it should really be) claim even more medals in Rio? Or will we have a brief badminton swat, fall off a bike, and decide staying in to watch X Factor is an all-round better option?

Financially, the figures probably don’t add up. But there are the things that money can’t buy, like the feeling that we – as a nation or as individuals – can achieve anything if we put our minds to it; the knowledge that normal blokes with sideburns can be World-beaters; and that swimmer Chad le Clos’s over-excited Dad perhaps did more for the UK’s reputation than anyone else.

Canoe Slalom – Like bathtime but with points

The notion was also proposed that money isn’t everything. In a country where the Youth are fed fanciful hopes of fame, where a good education is secondary to chasing dreams of being the Next Big Thing, there’s optimism that the younger generation will trade their false idols for genuine ones. Overpaid, under-performing footballers might be swapped for athletes who scrape a living but get it right on the night; surgically ‘enhanced’ celebrities with no discernible talent may give way to hard-grafters who nurture theirs. According to Nicola Adams’ trainer, she would’ve been a feral miscreant without her sport; now she’s the first female boxing champion. After watching the Beijing games, Jade Jones took up Taekwondo aged 15; four years later, she may not have a mansion in the countryside but she has something most 19-year-olds don’t – an Olympic Gold. At that age, I felt I deserved an award for walking the dog.

How many teenagers it has inspired, I’ve no idea, but it’s certainly got my blood pumping, like when my Gym Playlist blasts out ‘Eye of the Tiger’. I’m not getting any younger, and by the time the next Games comes around I’ll be bordering on ‘past it’. I always thought there must be one Olympic sport I could succeed at, the question is, which one? Canoe slalom, taekwondo, 50m rifle…? Hell, I’ll try them all. As soon as it stops raining…


Sydney, Baby!

So it’s Haere Re, Aotearoa, and G’day Australia, as my brother trades me in for his girlfriend and I scoot off across the Tasman Sea, thankfully a few days before the Qantas staff decide they don’t fancy working any more. From a country where the only harmful creatures are a pre-menstrual goat or an over-excited All Blacks fan, to a land where even the rain is venomous and has been known to kill a malnourished child.

It’s a strange feeling landing in Sydney, where I lived for nearly 12 months about, ooh, 8 years back. Dragging my bags through Central Station is like alighting at Charing Cross – I know the procedure, know where to go, which exit to take, and soon I’m at my hostel, my pale skin and glistening brow the only signs that I’m a tourist.

That evening I go for a stroll (once it’s cooled down a bit: my mind might have adjusted to Oz but my body’s still accustomed to NZ), and it’s like Dorothy going back to, er, Oz. I remember all the street names, where the shops are; I approach a corner and think ‘Oh yeah there was a nice coffee shop just round there’ and sure enough it’s still there; I saunter through Hyde Park and memories, people, conversations come back to me in whispers that make me smile.

It feels like a second home. I suppose it should be a third home, since I spent my Uni years (‘The Unfinished Years’) in Nottingham, but whereas that city has changed greatly since I was there – trams, solar-powered parking meters and other new-fangled technology! – Sydney hasn’t changed much, as far as I can tell.

There’s something about this city. I’m a different person here. I’m not sure if it’s the place itself, or that transformation people undergo when on holiday, where they lose their inhibitions. Chances are if I spent a few months in Vancouver or Salzburg it’d have the same liberating effect. It’s definitely not the weather since it’s chilly and drizzly at the moment – standard British fare which could make the staunchest of ex-pats homesick.

Nope. There’s something about being away, about the mind being in another place, separated from the Norm, that changes its state. I find I do a lot of my writing, or at least come up with ideas and solutions, when i’m away. Even if it’s on the train between cities, or at my Dad’s staring out at the English Channel, my brain thinks ‘You’re not in Kansas any more’ and flicks the inhibitor switch, releasing creativity and extroversion.

In the 2 weeks I’ve been in Sydney, I’ve been for 3 jogs, written 2 short films, and chatted up 1 woman in the supermarket. To put those into context, I’ve not been for a jog outside of a gym for at least 3 years, written less than that in as many months, and never done the latter!

Let’s see if this behaviour continues as I cruise up the coast. Let’s hope so.

Reading in the Botanical Gardens

Name Our Van!

Mark and the Van

IN ABOUT A WEEK, I will be joining my brother in lovely New Zealand. Completing The Almighty Trinity will be our trusty (hopefully!) campervan, who will be escorting us all around the country as we follow the World Cup.

It needs a name. 

What shall we call it? Or what shall we call us?

Something very English, something classic, something proud. What do you think??

Property Ladder

I used to like this show.

Partly because I had an interest in property development, partly because it was amusing watching amateurs who thought they knew better than the pro, Sarah Beeny, and mostly because it was fun ogling Sarah’s ever-changing bust.

In fact I have a theory that the reason most of the Donald Trump wannabes didn’t absorb a single word that Beeny said is that they were hypnotised by her ample chest. (Ample’s such a great word.) Thus she would give them sound advice, leave them to it, come back 4 weeks later and discover they’d done things totally different. The resulting conversation might go like this:

Do you think a two-bedroom flat in
Wandsworth really needs a heli-pad?

Yeah I really think it’ll add value to
the place.

You’re a fucking moron.

But of course they’ll ignore her, the heli-pad will stay, and the various estate agents will look as bemused as Sarah and value the place much lower than the auteur developer expected.

And I’ll laugh, heartily and haughtily.

But now it’s all getting a bit formulaic. The investor will either listen carefully to Ms Beeny, having figured out that this is the wise thing to do (and free expert advice), or they’ll ignore her as usual, but the resulting mess is no longer a surprise and not as much fun. Just like ‘Come Dine With Me’ must have contestants that conflict with eachother (the vegetarian bra-burner and the meat-eating chauvinist), just like ‘Grand Designs’ must involve people who can’t really afford to rebuild a barn in Suffolk but mortgage their souls and somehow manage. It all gets a bit tedious.

But I did notice an unusual parallel: The wannabe developer is a lot like the wannabe screenwriter. 

In both industries, there are standards. Expected guidelines that newbies should adhere to. When you’re Donald Trump, then you can put heli-pads on two-bed flats; likewise when you’re Aaron Sorkin, then you can do your own thing, because you’ve already made it.

I was recently reading a screenplay which someone called ‘Gary’ had submitted to The Nicholl Fellowship screenwriting contest. He was furious that he hadn’t made the cut for the second round, and threw his toys from his pram in all directions, crying that his ‘brilliant’ script with ‘amazing amazing characters’ was the ‘best that Nicholl had ever received’.

So, naturally, I had to read it. And, long story short, it wasn’t brilliant. I didn’t even realise it was meant to be a comedy until page 8. (Oops.) It did all the things that you shouldn’t do that would put a professional reader off. All the basics that you should stick to because that’s what the industry expects of you, because you’re a nobody, and if you don’t know the basics then you red-flag yourself as unprofessional. And your script – no matter how many months you spent on honing the dialogue – will end up in the recycling bin.

Likewise property developing. If the market wants open-plan living areas, give it that. Don’t try and be a smart-arse, you’ll ultimately only fall on that arse. That arse that is not so smart.

So, to sum up: Peel your eyes away from Sarah Beeny’s tits and look at the bigger picture.