Olympic report: day 7

Somebody once bought me a shoe-stretcher for Christmas.

A wooden foot, yesterday.

Obviously it was someone who absolutely hated me, because nobody in their right mind would want a shoe-stretcher for Christmas.

In case you’re unfamiliar with a shoe-stretcher, it’s an object that resembles a clockwork wooden foot – think of a slightly more useful and animated Sarah Jessica Parker.

The purpose of the shoe-stretcher is to make shoes more comfortable. You pop the wooden foot into your shoe, turn the handle, and the leather gives a little. Keep cranking, and it gives and gives and gives.

In many ways a shoe-stretcher is very much like the Olympics. When I made a vow to do a daily blog about something I have no interest in, no knowledge about, and have no plans to watch, I realised that I may have made a rod for my own back. But the truth is, this is a doddle. Every time I think I’ve come to the end of stupid things to laugh at, the Olympics provides.

Like a shoe-stretcher, it’s the gift that keeps on giving. And it’s only £8,999,999,985.99 more expensive.

If you’re looking for examples of stupid stuff to inspire a sarcastic blog, how about the fact that the Three Day Event is taking place over four days? It reminds me of the time I took my Renault Avantime to be cleaned at a hand car-wash. The Avantime was a big car, which is the only explanation I can come up with for what happened. I asked for the £5 wash, and the guy shouted to his boss:

Guy: How much for the £5 wash?

Boss: £6.50


Or how about the fencing, where somebody lost by a very small amount and decided the best way to solve that problem was to sit down for an hour and cry. Nice one, love. Bound to work, that is. The judges award points based on sympathy, as any fule no.

I think it would be easier to judge who won at fencing if they took the little nipple off the end of the foil, made them do it naked, and the winner was the one with a pulse at the end. Now that I’d watch.

There was also an event called the Synchronised Diving. To the untrained eye – i.e. mine – Synchronised Diving looks very much like a lot of arsing about. I’m sure it’s very clever and fiendishly hard to do, and all that. But what we have here, basically, is two grown men elaborately falling into a pond. That’s what they do for a living. They wake up, shave every inch of themselves, do 4000 press-ups, and then spend all day practicing falling off a plank.

Actually, one of the grown men is barely a grown man at all, he’s Tom Daley; and for some reason police arrested somebody who was a bit mean to him on Twitter. But Tom is still in school, where every single person is incredibly mean to everybody else all of the time. At my school we had The Goz Pit, which is just what it sounds like: there were stairs down to the subterranean boiler room, surrounded by high iron railings. It was very hard to climb out on your own, but very easy to be thrown in by half a dozen lads.

If you did something to offend other boys, like having a lazy eye or a pretentious name, you were thrown into this pit. And once in there, everybody in the school gathered at the top and gozzed on you, whether they knew you or not. After 5 minutes down The Goz Pit you looked like a plasterer’s radio.

Then there was bog-cramming, in which you hurled smaller, feebler boys over the top of the toilet cubicle until about 40 of them were in there, and small children at the bottom of the pile died in a shallow puddle of ancient urine.

It didn’t even have to be organised torture, you could do it all on your own. In the second year we were given Gideon Bibles, which were intended to improve us and keep our souls on the straight and narrow. We would jam a pencil down the spine of the book to make it nice and rigid and painful, and then smite first years on the head with them. It was called Fag-Bashing, and became a proper sport, with rules and scoring and medical teams on the sidelines. During one particularly busy morning break, I broke 4 skulls and 6 commandments. Thanks Gideon!

Why isn’t that an Olympic sport? The Brits would be good at that.

Compared with Fag Bashing and The Goz Pit, doing a mean tweet is the digital equivalent to chalking a cock on the back of Tom Daley’s blazer. I’m sure Tom is doing just fine, and just wishes we’d all shut the fuck up about it.

Anyway, we came fourth at falling into a swimming pool. Makes you proud to be British doesn’t it? All that money, all that effort, all the energy and planning and time that our wonderful government has put into the Olympics, and we’re not even best at falling over and getting wet. Definitely worth the effort, that was. Definitely.

Meantime, in Germany, they’ve got a functioning manufacturing base.

Germany is winning medals as well as conquering Europe in an orgy of what can only be described as “doing things properly”. But God knows how they’ve got the energy to compete. I’m fairly convinced we should do a doping test on the whole of Germany, because it shouldn’t be possible to make the Huf-Haus, the BMW 5 series and Heidi Klum, and still find time to beat Britain at equine events. Let’s face it, pretty much everyone in the world must assume that Britain is peerless at being posh on a horse. Germany beating us at that is like them thrashing Hugh Grant at “stammering with charm”.

You might not know people who have horses, because they live in that other Britain, the Britain that George Osborne thinks is normal. They mainly come from Chalfont St Giles and Chipping Sodbury and Sodding Typical, and when you cut them they bleed blue blood, mop it up with £50 notes, and hurl them into one of their many solid gold fireplaces. All those people are born with horses, and some of them appear to be born on horses.

They are also born with a God-given right to be an MP, a psychopathic urge to cut benefits to the poor, a petulant demand for massive farming subsidies, and a predestination to win an Olympic Gold Medal at horsey stuff.

A camel, yesterday.

Not that it makes them happy. The apogee of that set is, naturally, The Queen. But when did you last see her smiling? She didn’t even do it when Daniel Craig popped round in an evening suit, and I’m unaware of any other woman who wouldn’t grin and drool at that. Yes, drool. And yes, from there.

But no, Her Maj has the habitual expression of a camel chewing a wasp.

But this time, Horsey Britain didn’t win. So I think the best solution is for a radical departure from old habits. I’m not talking about a glorious revolution, brothers. No, I’m just suggesting that at all future Olympics, we don’t let the professionals do it. Don’t give the job to people who were born to do it, or who have trained. In fact, do no training at all, and choose competitors at random.

Wouldn’t that be more fun? Wouldn’t it be more enjoyable to watch Lionel Wintergreen, 56, from Dorset, having to do the diving. Or Elsie Posset, 71, from Kilmarnock, being our entry into the pole vaulting, dicky hip or not. It would certainly get Britain involved in the Olympics a lot more than just letting the people who can afford the equipment have a go.


Olympic report: day 6

Weightlifting might be the dirtiest sport in the world.

OK, that might be a bit speculative, and is based solely on one very brief clip on the BBC website which featured charming terminology about a weightlifter’s snatch, and the quality of his jerking.

Innuendo? In your endo!

I’m sure if I watched some actual coverage of the Olympics this would be a more informative blog, and I wouldn’t resort to wild assertions about the relative filth of the events. But I’m not paying any attention to actual sports. It’s not deliberate, and I’m not avoiding it to make a point – it just never occurs to me to watch a sporting event or read the back pages of a newspaper. It holds my attention like a collander holds water: very briefly, and with a lot of dribbling.

Yesterday, encouraged by my girlfriend, I broke away from eating a potato long enough to see my first footage of an Olympic sport: the last 1000 meters of the women’s “riding a bike down the street”, or whatever they call it to make it sound less like something every 4-year-old can do. And you know what my thoughts were?

  1. I wonder how many insects the cyclists have stuck in their teeth?
  2. Wouldn’t the whole thing be easier if they had Sturmey Archer gears on their bikes? I had those when I was a kid, and shifting into 7th made it so easy to bomb it round to Denton Woods.

(I should avoid using terms like “bomb it” when blogging about the Olympics. There’s probably a whole division of MI6 devoted to threatening bloggers. For the avoidance of doubt, when I say “bomb it” I simply mean “travel very quickly”. Please don’t send me to Guantanamo.)

Anyway, I’m sure there’s some reason why gears aren’t allowed in the Olympics, but I’m finding it more interesting to avoid actual knowledge and just guess what’s happening. I once watched some Australian Rules Football without knowing any of the rules (or any Australians) and it was temporarily brilliant. It looked like a riot, and I don’t mean that in the sense of “oh, last night was such fun, it was an absolute riot“. I mean it looked like an actual riot was taking place. I half-expected somebody to be bottled or set on fire.

But by the end of the match I’d inadvertently figured out what the hell was going on, the game looked less chaotic, and I lost interest. I just don’t think I like organised things, be they religions, sports, clubs, gangs, lynch mobs or orgies.

The same thing happened when I accidentally caught a bit of Ski Cross a few years ago (which I’m disappointed to find out is a Winter Olympic event, so I’ve got to wait 2 more years for it to be on TV again). I worked out the rules of Ski Cross eventually, although not before I’d seen about 70% of the competitors hospitalised, and some of them destroyed by a vet in an act of mercy. But for once, knowing what was going on didn’t stop me from enjoying it, because the rules of Ski Cross appear to be “travel at 120mph on a plank of wood, and attempt to break your opponent’s pelvis”. What’s not to love?

Sport should be dangerous. The Olympics were invented as a way to train young men for war, and I’d enjoy it more if there was a greater risk of disembowelment, or if they made the archers, the sprinters and the javelineers (is that a word?) compete in the same field at the same time. Maybe with blindfolds.

Actually, I’m thinking of It’s A Knockout, aren’t I?

A horsewoman with airbags under her clothes

But even the dangerous sports are addled with health and safety. In one of the million sports they’ve invented to show how good posh people are at being transported around by a horse, somebody fell off today and her airbag went off. She had an airbag under her clothes.

An airbag.

Why not make the horses compete on a giant bouncy-castle, and have done with it?

Have you noticed that about the Olympics, by the way: whenever it’s an event that demands expensive equipment, aristocratic bearing or membership of an exclusive club, there are 500 versions of it so that everybody with a double-barrel surname has a fair chance of getting a medal. There just is one type of 100 meter sprint, but a dozens of small variations on fucking about in a boat or wearing expensive clothes whilst sitting on a horse.

And what’s more, I’m reliably informed that they lube up the horse’s legs. What the hell are they planning to do with that horse? Is Catherine the Great competing?!

Actually, Catherine the Great didn’t fuck that horse, she just had a stroke.

That’s not a joke, even though it sounds like one. Catherine the Great had a stroke and died in bed, and not a single act of bestiality was involved in her demise. It’s one of the many bits of pointless trivia that occupy the place in my brain where football knowledge exists in a real man. You see, in the proper man 43% of the brain is occupied with sporting trivia; but my brain is 43% empty, so my head makes a really satisfying echoing noise when you hit it with a spoon. I’d know more about sport if I found any of it interesting, but I find the following things more fascinating:

  • Going through my toolbox and sorting all the loose screws into size order
  • Taking down all the venetian blinds in my flat and individually washing and drying each slat
  • Picking fluff out of my navel and keeping it in colour-coded jars
This is NOT my collection of bellybutton fluff. Mine is much more colourful.

Of course, there are alternative candidates for “most vulgar sport” (did you forget that I was talking about the positvely disgusting sport of weightlifting. I know, I tend to wander off-topic quite a lot).

Snooker might be dirtier, because it’s very common to hear about people being unable to get their leg over, so using their left hand instead. There are regular kisses on the pink, and sometimes on the brown. People play with a lot of screw in almost every frame, and are known to stroke their cue, which is surely an offence if you do it in public.

But snooker isn’t an Olympic sport, mainly because it’s not a sport. I don’t know much, but I do know you don’t wear a bow-tie and patent-leather shoes in a sport. Snooker might be a pastime, but I have my doubts. To me, it’s a zen activity which only exists so I have something marginally less dull than wallpaper to watch on hung-over Sunday afternoons. So we’re left with the proposition that weightlifting is the gold-medal-winning smuttiest sport.

Not that I’d tell any participants that, not even Yun Chol Om, and he’s only 4’11” and is therefore the type of person I regularly pushed over or chased around the schoolyard with some snot on my finger when I was younger. But in his case he’d be safe from bullies, because what we have here is someone the size of a hobbit lifting a something the weight of a brown bear over his head.

Part of me wonders if he was 6’3″ when he started weightlifting, and I can’t help but ponder whether he’s ever lifted something so heavy that he did a poo. But even so, I am impressed with his enormous strength, and it’s enough to make me respect his snatch and greatly admire his jerking.

Olympic report: day 5

As anyone who was forced to read Animal Farm at school will know, “Four legs good, two legs bad.

And we all know snakes did that thing to Eve with a banana, or some kidney-beans, or whatever organic produce it was (sorry, I wasn’t paying attention during fairytale classes). And snakes have no legs at all, and are mendacious and twisted and jolly bad eggs.

I can see a pattern forming: each time you add 2 legs to a creature, it gets better.

  • 0 = evil
  • 2 = bad
  • 4 = good

Spiders, presumably, are the best land animals. And if you pull the legs off a daddy-long-legs it becomes progressively more evil. Whereas a lobster, with 10 legs, is positively saintly, and probably runs an orphanage and recycles everything, even the really difficult stuff like yoghurt pots.

You understand I’m just following a train of logical thought until it drives over a cliff.

All of this is my attempt to explain the type of person who rides a horse. The rider is a two-legged creature (ergo bad) who, by allying himself with a four-legged creature (ergo good) hopes to become a truly wonderful six-legged creature. Like a wasp, presumably.

But people on horses are deluded. They think they’re better than us, but they’re not. Because – and this is something that gets stranger and stranger the more you think about it – because they sit on other animals.

I have not sat on this animal. Just saying.

This is a picture of a Pomeranian puppy. And now I’m going to sit on it. Or maybe I should use Bambi as a sofa. Or plonk myself on a koala, pop open a beer, and put my feet up on a badger.

Why is that any stranger than sitting on a horse?

Let’s face it, if Richard Gere (to choose a totally random person) decided to sit on a gerbil (to choose a totally random animal) you’d probably be outraged. And with good reason!

I wish to emphasise that I’m almost completely certain Richard Gere has never introduced a rodent into the vicinity of his anus. I’m almost completely sure.

On an unrelated note…

Winston Churchill was once asked who won the second world war, presumably by somebody who hadn’t been paying much attention. He replied that it was won by “tough lads from Manchester”. That’s where I’m from, and in spite of people like me – but not actually me, because I’m far too cowardly and 50 years too young –  winning the war and securing freedom for the whole of Europe, we will never, ever be allowed far enough up society’s ladder to sit on a horse.  Not people from Manchester. Oh no.

I’ve seen horses. If you give me a few minutes and I concentrate hard, I can often tell them apart from cows. I use this simple method: cows are round, but also square. I can’t think of any other animals that this description fits, so I’m on safe ground with cows. And if there’s a leg in each corner but it’s not a cow, it’s probably a horse.

But my girlfriend is from Cheshire, and not only knows what a horse is, but probably knows how to get her hands on tight boots, jodhpurs and a riding crop….


Sorry, I got distracted for a moment. Ahem.

She spent this morning watching an Olympic whatnot called “dressage”. To me that sounds like a snooty item of furniture that’s only found in houses with a scullery and a ha-ha. You know the type of thing: an armoire or a chifforobe. If you’re anything like me you’ve heard those word, but you couldn’t identify one if you were locked in Blenheim Palace with a guide, a torch, and Olsen’s Almanac of Unnecessary Objects.

But it turns out dressage isn’t an aristocrat’s wardrobe, it’s one of those alleged sports in which winning is just a matter of opinion. For me, that’s not a sport:

  • In a sport somebody wins by dint of going fastest, throwing further or scoring more goals. Not by doing the same thing everybody else is doing, but in a way which is, in some hard-to-define way, more “stylish”. That’s not a sport; that’s shopping.
  • Even if you don’t accept my first point, you still have the issue that the activity being judged is being done by the animal that the “sportsman” is sitting on.
  • And finally, in a sport, nobody wears a fucking top-hat.

I’m not denigrating the skill involved, but that’s not a sport. It’s a pastime. In fact, it’s specifically a pastime for wankers, because the purpose seems to be to make a horse do things a horse isn’t designed to do. Walking diagonally. High kicks. Moonwalking.

Why not make a goat do handgliding, or persuade a llama to knit you a nice scarf? Again, I have to ask why that’s any madder than making a fucking horse do a fucking dance?

I accept that I may have missed the point, but the problem with writing a blog about the Olympics is that I’ve seen a total of 12 minutes of sport in my entire life. So I need a lot of this stuff explaining to me before I can comment on it here.

I must have looked quite confused when my girlfriend was telling me about dressage this morning. She described the challenges involved in something called a “flying change”, which I’d assumed was what Superman did in a phone booth, but is actually a procedure in which you make a nervous, stupid, biting, kicking, 900lb farm animal do a little skip while you hold onto it with your legs, and your friends from the country club give marks for how nice you looked.

At least I think that’s what “flying change” is. I can’t be sure I understood. But, as my girlfriend said to me, “it’s hard enough explaining it to you. Imagine how hard it is to explain it to a horse. With your ankle”.

Fair point. But it’s still not a sport. It’s animal husbandry in fetish gear.

Olympic report: day 4

I just took my wobbly old spaz of a mum to the supermarket.

I’m allowed to call her a wobbly old spaz, because that’s how she refers to herself. The “wobbly” part is because she’s had Parkinson’s Disease for almost 30 years, and apart from constant tremors she’s ground to an almost complete standstill now. I half expect to pop round to see her one day and find she’s turned into a statue of herself – which will be handy, because she can be her own headstone. Quids in!

And I call her a spaz because she uses that term, even though it hasn’t been the 1970s since the 1970s. I don’t think she’s trying to make a political point, and reclaim the word “spastic” in the same way black people often reclaim the “N” word. She’s just awesomely politically incorrect. She has a disabled parking badge, which she refers to as her “spaz badge”. And she calls her wheelchair her “spaz chariot”.

You’ve got to admire that sort of thing. There’s a grisly heriosm to simply not giving a fuck any more. But it can be embarrassing when we get to the supermarket and she loudly asks me to exchange her own hand-pushed “spaz chariot” for one of Tesco’s electric “spaz chariots”. She gets looks.

So there we are, wandering around the supermarket with her in her (deep breath) electric spaz chariot (sorry), and I spotted something in the clothing section that surely shouldn’t be possible: a yellow jersey. Not that there’s anything wrong with yellow jerseys, but Bradley Wiggins has just damn near killed himself racing around France to get one. What next: gold medals for shooting on sale in Walmart (or do they just stick to selling the guns and ammo?).

While we’re on the subject of Bradley Wiggins, can we just pause for a moment to admire that name. Before I saw a photo of him I had in mind a browbeaten office dogsbody from a Dickensian novel, all “westkits” and “beggin-yer-pardons” and “if-it-pleases-yer-honours”. Or perhaps a downtrodden under-manager at the Grimsdike Mill in industrial Badchester, endlessly servile to his dastardly boss, Mr Aloysius Hardacre, except for the afternoon off he’s allowed every 8th Sunday, when he joins the Coughing Choir and phlegms his way into the finals of the national Tuberculosis Cup.

But no, nothing so rococco for Bradley. He’s just a bony mod with that type of facial hair that once got me into terrible trouble at work.

My job – if you want to call it a job – is something in new media. People in new media are always making up arrestingly strange titles for themselves, and at various times I’ve been an Interactive Content Designer, an Executive Producer and a Grande Fromage. I don’t really know what any of those terms mean. A lot of the time I do nothing specific, just a general background hum of activity that makes it appear that I’m invaluable, whereas the truth is I’m the opposite of invaluable.

(Erm… valuable? Surely not. Surely there’s an opposite of invaluable that doesn’t make me sound like a rare vase.)

Anyway, I was once pretending to do my job, and had to spend a day meeting a new client: a women’s rights charity based in London. We met in the morning and then the clients, who were all rather joyless feminists, took me for lunch.

(Not that all feminists lack humour. But you know how some people seem to get massive pleasure from their religion, and others seem to simply suffer from it and hate every second of the light of Jesus? Well it was the same with these feminists. They believed in women’s rights so much that they were determined to be angry and depressed until every single X chromasome had been turned into a Y, at which point they’d hold a joyless celebration and die.)

Don’t ask me why, but at lunch I was being asked about my beard, and what I look like without it. In case you’re curious, the answer is that I look like a parsnip. As an attempt to lighten the mood, some of the women were suggesting that I should try some alternative facial hair. Somebody thought I should grow moustache instead, but I’m not German enough for that. A Van Dyke was mentioned, but quickly withdrawn because nobody would ever dare to say “dyke” in front of these deeply severe women. And only evil geniuses and Iron Man can carry off a Van Dyke.

And then, in one of those strange coincidences that sometimes happen, we all suddenly struggled to remember a perfectly normal word. Somebody mimed those things down the side of the face, those things that Bradley Wiggins has. People mouthed silently like goldfish, stared into the middle-distance and clicked their fingers. But nobody could remember the word “sideburns”.

Somebody said “sideboards”, which was close but we all knew it wasn’t quite right. Somebody else said “beard burns”, but those are the things my girlfriend gets when I’ve been snogging her for too long.

And then it occurred to me that there’s a slang term that would do until I could remember the real word. I wasn’t 100% sure I had the slang term correct, but I was confident enough to say it. For a moment I wrestled internally with “lamb chops”, but I knew that wasn’t it. Perhaps it was “mutton chops”, but that wasn’t right either.

And then I had it. A spark went off inside my head, and without a moment’s hesitation I said the following words to a table full of grisly, joyless, staunchly feminist women’s rights activists.

“Beef curtains”.

And then I beamed with pride.

It’s a pride that is somewhat deflated today, because sideburned Mr Wiggins and his team of cyclists managed to return Britain to its normal state by failing to live up to every promise. What a bunch of beef curtains.

Actually I don’t blame them – it occurs to me that winning at the Olympics is probably quite tricky, and if I’m being blisteringly honest with myself I could probably only win a medal on 3 out of every 4 attempts. At most

But he just won a yellow jersey for being the best cyclist in the world, so why isn’t he the best cyclist in the world a fortnight later, when there’s a medal in the offing? We can all get a yellow jersey, Bradley. They sell them in Tesco.

The Olympics: day 3 report… and also day 1?

Privatisation is brilliant: it frees business from the yoke of an oppressive state, and brings nothing but benefits.

That’s why I’ve waited 7 long, isolated weeks for a phone line to be installed. Well, I say installed; I really mean activated

You see, I just moved into a nice new apartment, with Bosch appliances and marble bathrooms and every mod con – I didn’t know dolphins were so clever: all of this was porpoise-built (I’m so sorry). My apartment even came with working phone lines that just needed a man to flick the “on” switch, but that, apparently, takes 2 months.

Is this a modern nation or not? Can we make our minds up, please? Because a lot of the time it feels like a shonky banana-republic, governed by a clique of nepotistic fuckwits, going steadily broke while the elite creams off billions, and incapable of providing any kind of infrastructure or security for the suffering proles. If I woke up tomorrow and found the country had been part-exchanged for Turkmenistan, it wouldn’t surprise me.

But at least I’ve got a phone line now, something Germany provides as a same-day service. The switch-flicking bloke was here at 7:30am, and once I was awake I decided to turn on the news. It’s a busy time in international affairs:

  • Election-fever is building in the USA, where Mitt Romney is going with gusto for the Bush’s record of “most gaffe-prone Republican
  • Almost 20,000 people have been killed in Syria
  • And here at home some people are going to run around in a field. A few of them will throw things too. If we’re lucky, someone might jump over an obstacle.

Guess which one had the most news coverage.

Meanwhile in the real world, economic ineptitude, fraud and corruption – well, what would you call it? – is costing every man, woman and child in Britain over £26,000 and removing our democratic rights. Do you care? No you don’t, you just like to look at the shiny-shiny baubles and hope reality goes away.

Tonight is the shiniest of the baubles the Olympics have to offer: the opening ceremony. After 3 full days of Olympic sport we’re finally, by twisting logic into the shape of a pretzel, at Olympic Day One.

Lots of people will be watching The Games, but the thing they’ll remember is the opening ceremony. Let’s face it, the 4×400 metres relay semi-final in London will be indistinguishable from the one that happened in Toronto, unless there’s a kerfuffle involving doping, or a scheduling mix-up brings the runners into the path of the javelin final (it’s all very funny until someone loses an eye… then it’s hilarious). The thing that will make London 2012 memorable, if it is at all, will be the spectacle, idiocy, cock-ups or unmitigated disaster of the opening party.

The Official London Olympic Dogging Site.

The warm-up was confusing, to say the least: a minor-but-inoffensive musical act I instantly forgot, performing outside what appeared to be Bag End, or perhaps the Official Olympic Dogging Site.

It was all looking a bit pathetic and twee, and I was looking forward to having hours of material to take the piss out of in a typically cynical blog.

The ceremony-proper was starting to cement this view to begin with. A bunch of cod-Victorians in stovepipe hats pranced around to the sound of drums that could have been a carbon copy of Beijing 2008. And then in traipsed national charisma-vaccuum Kenneth Branagh to bark some Shakespeare at us in his curiously woody voice. For a moment it was like slipping into a heroin coma in the bosom of Nick Griffin.

But then it all kicked off, and as Danny Boyle took us through the history of Britain from bucolic paradise to dark, Satanic mills, the level of spectacle and inventiveness reached truly epic levels.

This wasn’t what Britain does best: what Britain does best is low ambitions, dismally realised. This was what China does best, and it seemed utterly perplexing to see a ceremony that was original, enthusiastic, exciting, honest, patriotic and thrilling. Literally no part of it disappointed me, except in that I was looking forward to hating it.

Around the time the smoking chimneys resolved gloriously into fiery Olympic rings, I wished Branagh’s Isambard Kingdom Brunel had been replaced by another “Great Briton” – I wanted to see Samuel Johnson, so I could shove his famous aphorism “patriotism is the last resort of the scoundrel right into his fat face. I was starting to feel like wrapping myself in a Union Jack, albeit one with muted colours and a threadbare cloth.

All cynicism aside, Danny Boyle’s opening ceremony was an undisputed triumph and managed, against the odds, to make me proud to be British.

Perhaps this was because it only focussed on the things of which Britain can be justifiably proud: our music, our inventiveness, our self-deprecation – and our habit of occasionally fighing just wars to break up the dull predictability of colonial slaughters and illegal oil invasions.

There were truly touching moments: the beautiful performance of Abide With Me by Emeli Sande made my eyes go a bit runny; and the national anthem by the mixed choir of hearing impaired and non-impaired children was wonderful, even though the pyjamas made me think they were all up past their bedtime.

Not being in the stadium, I couldn’t tell if the filmed clips were just to give the poor stage-hands time to set up the next wonder. But they didn’t feel like filler: they felt like part of a whole, part of a genuinely heartfelt celebration of what Britain thinks it is.

We saw Bond meeting the Queen, at which point I was hedging my bets whether he’d kill her or fuck her – those are his traditional choices when confronted with a woman, so it was a fair assumption she’d end up dead or pregnant.

Following this was montage which managed to include sly clips of the first televised lesbian kiss and Desmond’s, which delighted all decent people who abhor racism and homophobia (unlike idiotic part-time Nazi Aiden Burley MP, who felt moved to call the ceremony a “celebration of socialism”, thus proving that there is always room on the right for the Tories to move even further out of touch).

And then came the piece-de-resistance: the celebration of the NHS. I hope Cameron and his butchers were following Twitter, because it would have been a truly sobering moment for them to see how much love there is for the greatest achievement of post-war Britain. When we switched to an aerial view of the NHS logo formed by torch-carrying nurses, my heart swelled so much it nearly burst – which is a good reason to be grateful for free universal health care.

Of course it wasn’t perfect. There was a gaping hole in the shape of the TARDIS, and during the celebration of Britain’s stupendous musical heritage it all started to sound like a Jive Bunny track at a mobile disco.

And it all got unavoidably dull when the actual athletes paraded in – but then it led to one of the perfect moments that Sir Danny Boyle (as he will undoubtedly be in double-quick time) had planned throughout the evening – David Bowie’s Heroes blasting out as Team GB entered the stadium, and the whole place erupted.

Seconds later the drab parade ended, and The Arctic Monkeys started their brief, punchy gig, pounding out a song that celebrates “dreams of naughtiness”. A brave choice for such a traditionally staid event, and I was once again delighted that the British are so damned contrary. I had dreaded an opening ceremony of polite Elgar and pitiful backwards glances at a perfect 50s world that never existed except in the pages of the Daily Mail (which will, of course, hate the whole thing, adding an extra frisson of glee to the event).

But no: we got a proper British ceremony that said “fuck you world”: we like dreams of naughtiness, we like a drink, we like chaos, we like grimecore and Mr Bean taking the piss… and we like to play Beatles covers while radioactive flying monkeys roller-skate around the place. Yes, Macca buggered up Hey Jude, but we got some Pink Floyd, so who cares?

It made me forget fraud and corruption, just for a few hours. It made me forgive BT for their heroic ineptness. It made me forget that I wanted to hate the Olympics. For a moment, I got it. For a moment I understood why sport matters. Will it last? Of course not, but tonight I’m with you all in loving this shit.

I declare these Games open… God bless all who jump in them.

The Olympics: day 2 report

I used to get my hair cut by a woman who believed in ghosts.

Like many chats with lunatics, it began on the margins of rationality and then started sprinting towards the horizon of common-sense like a demented cheetah. After a gentle beginning with palm readers she moved on to soothsayers, leprechauns and levitation.

You need to stamp on this kind of bullshit early on. I know that now. But at the time I didn’t, so I left it until she went so far as to claim – insanely – that a ghost had placed a jar of Marmite inside her hot water bottle.

She actually said that to me. I didn’t nod off and have a dream about a Python sketch, or take LSD with Vic Reeves. I was wide awake, as sober as a judge, and swear on the Beano that I heard her say spirits were jamming condiments in her hot water bottle.

Seemingly the dead have little better to do than play confusing practical jokes on the terminally befuddled.

She found the whole experience of being haunted, well, haunting, and it unsettled her to the extent that, as far as I could see, most of her brain had fallen out. But it wasn’t easy for me either, because I had to remain quiet, and that’s goes against the grain when people bullshit me. I’ve been known to follow such idiots down the street, pointing right at their gormless little faces and repeating “you’re a buffoon” over and over, while they shove copies of The Watchtower through doors and walk away from me at speed.

(OK, yeah, I know that makes me the crazy person. And I’m aware that it’s a waste of my time: nudging somebody in the general direction of reality is pointless when all they want to do is leap back into the pool of ignorance and swim for the safety of their own island of imbecility).

But in this case it wasn’t easy for me to tell her that she was – at best – several hours brisk walk away from sanity. She had scissors, you see, and they were less than an inch from my head. So I let the whole “haunting” thing pass, and made up my mind to find a new barber.

I also don’t believe in the Flying Spaghetti Monster, or that there’s a type of bird made from porcelain, or that there’s a garden chair orbiting Mars. Any of those things might be true, I guess, but it’s impossible to prove something doesn’t exist; only that something does. In the absence of any form of proof, a sane person would be on safe ground to assume things that sound nuts are actually nuts.

So I’ve never believed in ghosts…

… until today.

Because today I experienced something that defies rational explanation. I found myself witnessing a series of whispy apparitions whose white forms drifted aimlessly amongst the living. Eerie, slow-moving and oddly familiar, they passed by leaving a trail of traumatised witnesses, and it was all shown on live television. There they stalked, hollow-eyed and clammy, lurching from place to place lit only by a single guttering flame…

Joanna Lumley and Bruce Forsyth were transporting the Olympic Torch.

Jesus, Mary and the Little Brown Donkey.

Think about that for a moment. Think about what it says about this country. It’s only a couple of days before the opening ceremony, and we’re parading the best of British to a rapt television audience of literally billions. It’s a chance to boast all that our proud nation can offer.

There are nearly 60 million Britons, a conglomeration of a hundred races and cultures, the seat of Shakespeare and Keats and Lennon. We’re an educated, healthy, sophisticated, mature and stable democracy. We’re the 7th… 8th… 9th (and falling) biggest economy on earth. We should be able to do great things.

Lumley and Forsyth. God’s holy trousers. Why not Chegwin? Why not Mallet? That’s the Four Horsemen the Shite-ocalypse right there.

We boast our prowess to the world by trundling out a 109 year old song-and-dance man who can barely put together a full sentence. There he is, like a pickled gonad, slid into a gaudy white tracksuit and made to gurn at the camera until his carer comes to spoon warm pap into him. I’m surprised he didn’t claim the nurses had stolen his teeth.

And look everyone! Here come the stars of a sitcom that was briefly funny a generation ago, cancelled a long time after it ceased to be, yet keeps being puked back onto our screens in ever-more depressing regurgitations, like an aging heron vomming up a half-digested turbot in front of its startled and disappointed young.

Are we really admitting that for 20 years, not a single British person has done anything of cultural worth? Is that it? Forsyth and Lumley are the proud signifiers of our nation’s creative outpourings?

Of course not, it’s just that everything about this country runs screaming away from risk. And that’s why we’d rather flog off our national assets than take the chance on thinking up some proper business plans. These ancient, creakingly safe quasi-celebs are the cautious route, and a marker of the utter, crumbling collapse of our national spine.

The Olympic opening ceremony is still 48 hours away, and it’s already looking like a deeply depressing fortnight.

Draw parallels with America. Their equivalent would be pushing the corpse of Bob Hope up Pennsylvania Avenue; and making the few surviving, decrepit stars of Taxi hobble down the street on Zimmer frames. But I don’t imagine they’d do it. Being a proper nation with a modicum of pride, the Yanks would actually try to look to the future.

Or at least look to the present.

Or at least to the moderately recent past.

But we’re looking back entire lifetimes. My lady-friend was literally not born when Edina first stumbled into her kitchen, and probably thinks Bruce Forsyth is some kind of art-installation or maybe a medical experiment gone terribly, terribly wrong.

Forsyth was old when we last hosted the games in 1948. To my certain knowledge he hasn’t uttered a single intelligible noise since his jaw muscles ossified in the bitter winter of 1874. He’s what the Picture of Dorian Grey would look like if Dorian Grey was actually a scrotum.

And the last time Absolutely Fabulous was actually absolutely fabulous was when Jennifer Saunders fell over for the first time, in the opening episode, which was 21 pissing years ago. Every episode since then has been somewhere on a continuum between Absolutely Average and Absolutely Contemptible. It was cancelled in 1996, which in case you can’t do the maths is… hold on… no, I can’t do the maths either, but I’m sure it’s a very long time ago.

But like the ghost who hid the Marmite, it simply won’t die, remains utterly unbelievable, and is only slightly more fun than being stabbed in the head with scissors.

The Olympics: day 1 report

The Olympics is the biggest sporting event in the world, and Britain is honoured to be hosting them.

I couldn’t let such a monumental event go without comment. I couldn’t overlook a time of such national pride. To do so would be tantamount to cultural treason, and as bad as totally ignoring the Queen’s Jubilee or cheering for Portugal when they played England in the World Cup.

Not that I did that.


So here we are: the London 2012 Olympics, which as you may know are due to start in London on 28 July 2012, but actually began three days early, and not only in a different city but in a different country: Wales.

Not that I think Wales is really a country, and I’m Welsh, or at least my Dad was. If the Welsh Nats can’t talk me into independence for the land of my fathers, they’ve got no chance of persuading Express-readers in Tunbridge Wells. Which I find odd, considering how many Express-readers hate the idea of European integration. You’d think they’d like marriages between neighbouring countries, being part of a United Kingdom that’s been hitched together successfully for 500 years. But no, Wales is English, and must remain so, and Johnny Foreigner can just jolly well bugger off.

Not that I mind about Wales being English. Couldn’t give a rubbery yellow fuck. And as I mentioned, I’m as Welsh as you can be whilst still being English: I’ve got a Welsh surname, a fondness for wet hills, and a niggling and slightly paranoid suspicion that everyone in The South is out to get me and somehow robbing me of my inheritance; that sounds like the Welsh to me. But even I’m not persuaded that Wales is a separate nation. It is, at best, a soggy and bizarre headland where 2 million people share the same speech impediment.

Back to the Olympics. Yesterday was “Day 1”, but strangely it was also “Day minus 3”, which is a bit of a freaky thing to get your head around, like the IOC have got their hands on a Tardis and are determined to fuck about with us. Perhaps the reason they had to start early is because – and this is just a wild stab in the dark – because the Olympics is actually a vast, bloated wank-fest which has tried to accommodate too many sports and have too much cultural significance. Maybe it’s really just a bunch of people running about, and only an insane person would think it was worth spending £9 billion (plus) on a puffed-up school sports day. Maybe.

It began, like all conversations with a bloke in a pub, with football. As far as I can remember I’ve never played or watched football in my life, because I went to a rugby-playing school which bred actual men who don’t fall over and weep when the wind gets in their eye, and who are educated enough to discuss the large hadron collider or Mark Rylance’s return to The Globe, rather than the off-side rule or being as sick as a parrot. But I do know what football is: it’s that game that children played in the park before they grew up.

As a thorough non-expert I had a struggle to work out exactly what was going on during last night’s coverage, but I think I’ve got a handle on it now: there are 22 players on the field, who play for 90 minutes. The aim is to kick the ball between two posts. So that’s 33 man-hours of football played, and they managed to score one goal.

These, apparently, are professionals. If they were men, they’d all be paid millions to do this, and legions of flat-headed throwbacks would worship at their feet. Literally their feet. But instead these were women, and therefore the coverage focussed on the prettiest ones and overlooked the fact that they all have to hold down a second job as a barmaid, and clean the kitchen when they get in.

At this point I should make a confession: I didn’t watch it. Of course I didn’t. I think the whole thing is a farce, and the only reason I haven’t referred to the Fucking Olympics as the “Fucking Olympics” before now is that I’m trying to reduce the amount of swearing in this blog to the level I employ in real life, which is barely at all.

In fact what I did last night was spend some quality time with a young lady of my acquaintance, and made a lovely risotto. Here’s the recipe – serves 2, and leaves plenty to be heated in the microwave the next day for a lovely, healthy, cheap lunch:

  • Chop an onion and fry it in a little oil at the bottom of a large pan for around 4-5 minutes, until it softens and starts to go clear.
  • While this is happening, peel and cut a butternut in half. Scoop the seeds out and throw them away, and chop the flesh into small cubes, around 2cm square. Roast them at around 180° in a shallow baking tray and a little oil for 20-25 minutes (or until they start to brown).
  • Now heat around 1 litre of vegetable stock (2 stock cubes in a litre of water).
  • Throw 2 good handfuls of risotto rice (about half a typical box of rice) into the pan with the onions, and heat it a little – for about 2 minutes, stirring it into the onion. This makes the rice crack, and allows the flavours to soak into the rice.
  • Now pour around 1.5 glasses of white wine onto the rice and onions, and crush in some garlic to taste. Stir the risotto until the wine soaks in.
  • Tear up some fresh sage and throw it into the risotto.
  • Get a ladle full of the stock and pour it into the risotto. Stir it gently over the heat until it soaks into the rice, then repeat until all the stock is mixed into the risotto.
  • Season the risotto with black pepper to taste
  • Stir the butternut into the risotto
  • Chop up a soft goats cheese – about a handful – and throw it into the risotto, and stir it until the cheese turns sticky and delicious
  • Serve with a nice, dry white wine and shaved parmesan (or veggie alternative from Waitrose).

You may have guessed that I’ve totally run out of things to say about the Olympics, and have a further 17 days to go. What were we thinking of?