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.

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Festival Time

Weather or not [and more often inclement]-it’s festival season. They’ve become bigger and more elaborate over the last fifty years. As a teenager I escaped the parental gaze and attended plenty of concerts, some of which were outside, notably Pink Floyd in Hyde Park on a blazing hot day, July 1970. I was seventeen. The concert, like other Hyde Park gigs, was free.

The mother of all music festivals, Woodstock had been in 1969. It held an alluring, magical quality for us then; we who would never have the option to attend packing instead into the cinema to worship our heroes-Hendrix, The Who, Janis Joplin, Ten Years After and the rest.

Festivals began to be a feature of the summer. The Isle of Wight, Glastonbury and Reading became fixtures and were supplemented by a rash of music events as time progressed.

Now it seems there is a festival on somewhere every week during the summer months but the free and easy ethos of the sixties is long past. Most of the larger, well known events carry an eye-watering ticket price, often with facilities to match, for those prepared to pay. Glastonbury offers luxury yurts with en-suites, although those with a thirty pound, pop-up tent are still welcome. There are multiple stages offering a range of entertainments, food from every culture, handy stalls flogging much needed wellies and waterproof capes.

Last weekend we were once again running our own, local, modest music festival on a green stretch by the River Stour. The festival has run for twenty five years, charging a small sum for entry and donating any profits to charity. The performers play free, the staff are unpaid volunteers; but the festival is under threat from council regulations and spiralling costs. Sadly, security has had to be put into place to keep real music lovers, festival goers and families just wanting a happy day out safe from gate-crashers, those wanting to bring their own alcohol rather than using the festival beer tent and other party poopers. They are few but still not welcome.

In addition to all of this, we volunteers are almost all getting on in years. Putting up fencing, constructing a stage, fetching and carrying, bin emptying and litter picking late into the night takes a toll-especially on Husband, who has the added anxiety of responsibility for administrative matters. As a lowly ticket seller and general helper my duties are less imperative, but the role can be varied. This year I undertook tasks ranging from repairing plastic swords [purchased from a toy stall] to retrieving a pair of stray dogs that threatened to run wild inside the compound. Then there are arrogant young men who strut past the ticket booth with a nonchalant swagger and have to be called back, large families who flock in, people for whom complaint is a lifetime goal-especially when it comes to forking out £5 for a day’s music!

But in a quiet moment, when the sun shines and we pause to survey the arena where groups of festival goers are lounging on picnic blankets, children playing, a swarm around the beer tent and a full marquee it feels like a great thing to do.

 

The Big Why

The World events of the last forty eight hours have been a grim catalogue of horrific, grisly and incomprehensible acts that leave those of us who’ve been informed by TV news, radio or newspapers reeling in disbelief and repulsion.

Worse, it is becoming clear that actions by some nations [my own included] to remove what were seen as despotic dictators have actually paved the way for zealots and terrorists to take over-the new version of al Qaeda, but in even more aggressive and unspeakably callous form.

Now, however that the genie is out of the bottle, what is to be done?

Would it help to know what it is IS really wants? In an effort to attempt to understand this I Googled the question. One disquieting discovery is that there is a commitment amongst the terrorists to ‘expand their territory’. They are also, apparently set on provoking a ‘war to end all wars’, to which end they do seem to be marching irrevocably on.

Reading an article recently by a woman posing as one with ambitions to join IS it transpires that young Moslem women and girls who are fleeing to join the ‘Caliphate’ are set on becoming part of what is seen as ‘Utopia’. Now I have my own ideas about what constitutes ‘Utopia’, but it isn’t recognisable in the twisted, repressive and brutal regime of the jihadists. Here is Wikipedia’s version:

“A utopia (/juːˈtoʊpiə/ yoo-toh-pee-ə) is a community or society possessing highly desirable or near perfect qualities.”

So an IS run state, to these girls is a community possessing highly desirable or near perfect qualities. What then, to the girls, are these qualities? Piety and following their faith seem to be at the heart of them. When asked about their attitudes towards the committing of atrocities their responses were shrugging acceptance or even condonation. A number of the women have small children. It is difficult to understand how they can accept and even believe in terrorist acts while caring for their own children. It is easier to view murderous bombers and beheaders as marauding male-dominated bands who’ve become de-humanised through a lack of family life and values.

More-life for a woman in IS territory is at best tyrannical and oppressive, at worst dangerous and brutal. Their children will grow up seeing atrocity piled upon atrocity until, inevitably, they follow the same track, even perhaps becoming suicide bombers. Utopia? Not as I think of it.

According to one analyst IS will continue spreading poisonous tentacles and gathering personnel and momentum until poverty and deprivation prompt disenchantment, but he also suggests this will take a very long time. In the meantime some way has to be found to deal with the relentless and horrific acts of violence that this scourge of our age is hell bent on pursuing.

America and Europe currently have no appetite for the all-out war IS allegedly wants. There are no answers, only questions…oh…and hope. In the midst of all the despair and hatred, what is left can only be hope.

Accept the Inevitable…

Chez nous is in a state of flux at the moment. A period in which both Husband and I were bogged down with health annoyances has prompted a rethink of our housing situation. Up until the present, when one of us has succumbed to a complaint the other, being the more fit, has taken on the nursing. Husband undertook a memorable mercy dash home from South West France when I was felled by a bout of septicaemia [although we were ignorant as to my condition at the time]. The return took nine hours of driving sans navigator or co-driver [me], as I slumped in a near comatose state in the passenger seat.

Another time, on a particular, milestone birthday, Husband became welded to the bed due to a debilitating burst of labyrinthitis- an unpleasant condition causing nausea, vomiting and drunken-like staggering and which takes weeks to overcome using religious observance of an exercise regime. This has recurred, at a time when I am crippled by my [previously explained] foot problem.

The result is that we have begun to consider our property, our house and garden somewhat larger than it was before. The garden [my responsibility] seems to be growing in size as it also burgeons forth with spring growth. The house stretches into seeming endless rooms filled with cobwebs, dust and worse-scuffed paint and dingy carpets.

This is an age old dilemma. No one wants to leave the home they have nurtured and loved for so many years. Once you have lavished care, thought, elbow grease and vast amounts of money on a house it becomes part of the fabric of your life, your history and your family. You think of all the life events it has supported, both the crises and the celebrations. You think of all the meals prepared and consumed, the comfortable nights of sleep, the books read curled up on a snug sofa, the work undertaken, the visitors entertained, the barbecues enjoyed, winter evenings by the wood burner. You wonder how on earth it will be possible to re-create such a congenial environment anywhere else at all.

But above all it makes you face the stark nature of ageing and allows you an unnerving view of the future. In his nineties my father fought with every frail bone in his body to maintain his independence and stay in his own home, despite his failing health, but nothing could prevent his having to go to a care home, the very place he feared and hated.

As yet we are far from this state. But the strange phenomenon of time accelerating as you grow older makes me realise it could be better to make changes sooner rather than later. What a dilemma!