Whereabouts on the Podium do you Stand?

It is Olympics time. I was watching the women’s cycling road event, sucked in by the thrilling build-up as the competitors battled over the last few kilometres. There was a tortuous climb up a long, winding hill followed by a hurtling, nail-biting descent on a slippery road with more perilous bends, the roadside precipices looming at every turn. The leader, a Dutch woman had pulled ahead of the pack, shrugged off her nearest rival and was rocketing down in an exhilarating abandonment of caution. Then catastrophe struck as she hit the side, catapulting herself over the handlebars and on to her head to lie inert as the riders cannoned downwards past her and towards the finish.

My heart leapt into my throat. I remembered what a coward I was, whimpering my way down the mountain in Thailand and having to be nursed down over the ruts and chasms by a kindly Thai guide as the rest of the group swooshed down in a cloud of confidence. The camera continued to follow the Olympic cyclists, one of the commentators insisting we should follow the race, the other less sure, feeling much like I did that the catastrophic crash eclipsed any result that would ensue.

An American had taken the lead now, hotly pursued by a small group who closed the gap then at the very last they overtook her and the gold medal was won by another Dutch woman in an ironic turn of events. How must the American have felt to have the medal torn from her grasp in the last few metres? These are the stories you see less of during the coverage of the games. We see the triumphs, the excitement, the interviews and the joy. We don’t see the heartbreak and the disappointment.

Until I grew old-ish the only interest I took in anything Olympic Games related was to rail at the lack of proper telly. During the weeks that the games is on everything else-dramas, murder mysteries, historical documentaries, talk shows, music programmes, political debate or David Attenborough cavorting with primates-they all must make way for the ceaseless round of prattle that is the Games.

Nowadays I have an ambivalent attitude to watching sport. Sometimes it can suck me in [as in the cycle race]. Other times I’ll sit down to watch an event only to have my mind wander off on an event of its own-to the supermarket perhaps to ponder groceries or to the fridge to peruse the contents. My fingers may stray to the keyboard to play a round of Scrabble [I am engaged in a gladiatorial battle of almost Olympic proportions with a friend]. I might feel inclined to check emails or read a news website.

And where is the coverage of The Edinburgh Fringe event? At the very least it could be shown on a different channel!

The Dutch cyclist survived, albeit with spinal fractures and some other injuries-not least the disappointment of having crashed out at a pivotal moment. Since then there has been diving, gymnastics, tennis, swimming, shooting; some GB successes. The results, yes they are of some interest. The events themselves must take their chances and compete with emails and Scrabble.


A Tumult of Testosterone

We are undertaking our second Rugby World Cup tour. This is not quite as momentous as you might think, given that a] the Rugby World Cup is being held in the UK this year and b] we do not have tickets for all the matches.

Our first RWC tour, in 2011 was in New Zealand. In contrast to this year’s campaign it was an extraordinary expedition for a variety of reasons, the greatest of which is that it was in New Zealand! New Zealand remains the single most wonderful country I have ever visited. Enough said.

Nevertheless, the UK’s contribution to international rugby competition is not to be snorted at and is providing logistical nightmares that were not present last time on the opposite side of the planet. As before we are using a campervan to get to some of the venues [our own rather than rented]. We eschewed the first game at Twickenham, due to the prohibitive ticket price. We began with Georgia versus Tonga at Kingsholm, Gloucester. Easy! Husband hails from there, hence handy relatives with guest room and car to provide lifts.

Next game: Cardiff [Australia versus Fiji]. Cardiff boasts a splendid city centre camp site. Hooray! Cardiff was crammed with rugby fans in a way that Gloucester was not. This is both a joy [the meeting up, the chats, the sights, the atmosphere] and a chore [the jobsworths, the queues, the bag searches, the squashing, the getting trodden on, the corporate pushing of brands, the pushing and the endless standing about].

Notice-I have not ventured into the tangled scrummage of rugby analysis, the dodgy ruck of commentary. Why not? Because, reader I am a complete and total ignoramus on the subject. I do not know my ruck from my maul, my penalty from my knock-on and remain stubbornly resistant to understanding off-side. ‘What was wrong with that?’ I quiz Husband as the penalties pile up. But in spite of detailed explanation I continue to watch in a mystified fog of ignorance.

Despite all of this and the fact that for many years, in the previous life I rejected any kind of sport outright as a source of entertainment, I have come to enjoy watching rugby matches. I like the thrill of the build-up, the party atmosphere, the banter of the pub-goers, the outrageous costumery of the fans, the ridiculous items for sale, the gladiatorial nature of the conflict as fifteen enormous honed sportsmen pitch up against fifteen of the same, the shattering collisions, the heaving, grunting drive of the scrum and the soaring voices of the crowd as they chant, sing or stomp. And who could fail to be excited when a player breaks away to weave and dodge to the line and score a try?

So with two RWCs under my belt I begin to feel like a seasoned supporter. All the more so, perhaps when you consider that the next Rugby World Cup is to be held in Japan. Now THAT is what I call food for thought…

Writing Superstardom

Congratulations to Richard Flanagan, the winner of the Booker Prize 2014 for his novel, ‘The Narrow Road to the Deep South’. I have yet to read it, but fully intend to, not just because the judges were unanimous in their praise for the book but because I like to think the act of reading such an acclaimed and feted novel is a piece of research. Maybe there is a remote chance I will be able to uncover the secret of writing superb and successful prose by reading it.
When casting around for something new to load on to my Kindle I often turn to the long or shortlisted books that are in the race for a prize. I learned some time ago that Amazon reviews are not to be trusted [with the exception, of course of my own reviews]. I have posted before about the ghastly mistakes I’ve made-most notably in the case of the tedious ‘One Day’, a predictable rom-com set in the eighties [not a thrilling decade]. The book prize method of selecting reading matter is not always reliable and needs backing up with additional reviews, generally from a respected newspaper.
The only 2014 Booker contender I have read so far is American writer Karen Joy Fowler’s ‘We are all Completely Beside Ourselves’, a story which captivated me for a number of reasons. It is both laugh-out-loud funny and tear provokingly tragic. The subject matter-the tale of a child growing up with a chimpanzee as not only a sibling but a ‘twin’ is unusual and compelling. The book raised many issues including parental, children’s and animal rights. It is certainly a book I would have been proud to have written.
There was something of a shumuncous regarding the opening of the Booker prize to anyone who writes in English. I can see that widening the field does increase the competition, but perhaps it also leads to more diversity. As time goes on it becomes harder to find new subject matter. It is accepted that there are only seven basic story lines and that each and every tale is based on one of them.
The two world wars have spawned an explosion of literature both fiction and fact, much of which is very good-[Helen Dunmore, Sebastian Faulkes] and so any further foray into war territory must necessarily attack from a new angle. I gather Richard Flanagan’s novel is inspired by his father’s experiences as a Japanese prisoner of war. It is the author’s sixth novel and one that took him twelve years to write, a fact I find most heartening given that my novel 2 is stubbornly resistant to progress!
I wonder how winner Richard is feeling-beyond the euphoria of victory of course. There could be an element of pressure, I imagine, as once the excitement recedes the pressure must surely mount to produce another blockbuster, Hilary Mantel style!

World Cup Football-the Agony, the Ecstasy and the Indifference

                There are people who are obsessed by sport. Some spend every moment either playing it or watching it. Then there are those who only want to watch, and many of these are in the champions’ league for slobbing on the couch with takeaway pizza, tubes of Pringles and cans of beer. Myself, I fall into a sort of twilight category, a section of society that flirts with both participating [in a very minor, non-competitive way] and keeping half an eye on international games whilst peeling the potatoes.

                At school I loathed team sports.  I was always frozen on the hockey pitch in winter [I was tiny] or frozen out on the netball court in summer [again, I was tiny]. I liked gymnastics, inside in the warmth of the cavernous gym, and was happy shinning up the ropes or somersaulting around a bar, although never brilliantly enough to catch anyone’s eye or warrant coaching.

                As a teenager I pretended a mild interest in supporting the local football team as a ruse to bump into a boy I’d earmarked for attention. Against all odds this strategy actually worked, which was exhilarating until I found I had to attend the local games on a regular, weekly basis in all kinds of weather clement or not.

                Later there came a period in my life when I and my children’s lives were dominated by football and cricket schedules to the point where outings, celebrations and holidays had to be planned around the fixtures-football in winter and cricket in summer.

                Nowadays I can get behind our national team to some extent, although not to knowing all the players’ names or who they are to play next. At the time of writing this has all become academic as England have just descended down the plughole with a resounding gurgle and the team members might well be packing their suitcases as I type were it not for one last, sad, compensatory game. Then the contest will rumble on without them.

                I suppose winning an international sporting contest does inject a ‘feelgood’ quality into the victorious nation, yet I am one of those who do not experience any strong emotions over my mother country or its sporting triumphs and cannot identify with those who weep openly when their team fails. Whether this is down to my lack of competitive spirit or nationalistic verve I don’t know.

                In my previous life as a proper working person [teacher], my team partner and I once organised a sports day based entirely on non-competitive activities and were roundly criticised for it; the doting parents preferring their little ones to be kicking one another’s shins than achieving their personal bests. The day was memorable in that one of the mums saw fit to grab me round the throat in frustration when I requested that her offspring wait her turn. It all goes to prove that you can’t win ‘em all…and England seem to win less than most…