Friday, 22 August 2008

Olympics: Thrills and spills

Well, it's all go isn't it? I'm going to miss these Olympics things.

Over the last few days we've had misplaced pole vaults (how, I ask you?), horses on drugs, comedy baton changes and people pulling on each other's ankles in the long-distance swimming. Gymnasts are underage and random horses are refusing to jump fences in the modern pentathlon - they're probably the ones who aren't on drugs.

People in Pac-a-macs are out on the track playing a bizarre version of curling, while others are staging protests about goals that shouldn't have been allowed. There's vomit and diarrhoea aplenty and dehydration, which seems a little incongruous with all that rain.

Call me an old purist but I'm finding it hard to get excited by the BMX - surely that belongs in the X-games? Whatever next - bungee jumping? Anyway, I have seen the fastest people on two legs, two wheels and in the water, with some amazing records being set and some phenomenal races being contested, so I'm happy with that.

Just one thing though: 'medal' is a noun, not a verb. Will people please stop saying they are expecting an athlete 'to medal' in the next event? Or is Usain Bolt going to get his chemistry kit out and start tinkering with it on the start line? Honestly!

Wednesday, 20 August 2008

Olympics: It's a very very Madison world

Another day; another medal haul, and this time New Zealand have been invited to the party. Bevan Docherty and Nick Willis claiming bronze in the triathlon and 1,500m respectively were fantastic . It was great to see Docherty bounding onto the podium to celebrate - it's not all about gold, although that would be nice, obviously.

Team GB's dominance at the velodrome continues to such an extent that I read a blog questioning whether we are too good at cycling. What? Do the Aussies ever worry that they are too good at cricket? Do the Scandinavians fret about their dominance of Nordic skiing? Do the Americans get perturbed about their invasion of countries who have democratically elected Communist leaders? There's only one thing to be said - 'On yer bike'!

The problem with success is that you come to expect it. So, it was slightly disappointing that neither the mighty Bradley Wiggins and Mark Cavendish, nor the sensational Hayden Roulston and Greg Henderson managed to sparkle in the Madison. But what an incredible event this is! The BBC live updates on-line covered it in their usual inimitable style. Their descriptions of it included the following:
  • The duck billed platypus of the sporting world
  • Looks like something out of Ben Hur
  • An athletic contest in which participants 'go queer' in their heads, and strain their powers until their faces become hideous with the tortures that rack them, is not sport. It is brutality.
  • Who invented this sport? Jackson Pollock?
  • The only thing that would make the Madison madder would be to give the participants swords
  • The Madison will probably become a West End stage show - as long as Lloyd Webber doesn't have the final choice of riders, or music...

Tuesday, 19 August 2008

My newest favourite thing: Flowers

Okay, so flowers aren't a new favourite thing; I've loved them forever. They are beautiful and calming; they fill a room with scent and colour. They are the ultimate in interior decoration, as every real estate agent and magazine photographer knows. And you can chage them depending on your mood - wild and exotic or plain and simple; ordered from a hot house or picked from a hedgerow and displayed in a fancy arrangement or a humble milk bottle.

But I have them in the house so rarely. I don't buy them for myself and him outdoors reckons they're a waste of time - "They just die; I'd rather buy you a beer." Actually, I'd rather you bought me both! Men don't seem to get it - women love flowers. It doesn't mean that you've done something wrong and are apologising, or at least, it wouldn't if you ever presented them. His favourite excuse is, "I won't buy them on Valentine's Day - it's commercial nonsense. I should be able to buy them whenever I want, not because some marketing campaign says I should." Indeed you should, but you don't.

And they do have to be live flowers, so of course they die and maybe that's wrong but I don't need expensive bouquets. A couple of handpicked daisies would do! When I worked as a teenaged check-out chick, my manager gave me a bunch of dried flowers. He was creepy anyway, always offering me lifts home in his car - although he lived 12 miles in the opposite direction - and I have always associated these dead flower things with dodgy men and dust. You just can't get rid of them.

I love doing shows, and one of the reason is that you get flowers on opening night. There's nowhere to put them but they are gorgeous and they burst with good luck wishes into the dressing room and make you feel like a star, if only for a few weeks a year. When you take them home, you transport a little bit of that thespian glamour to your mundane existence and everything really does seem to be coming up roses.

Last weekend we had a party and a friend brought me an orchid tied with a ribbon. It was simply gorgeous. Most people bring bottles of wine or packets of crisps (actually, I think she brought these things too) but few people take flowers round to someone's house anymore and I think that is a shame. Wine and food you expect to share, but flowers are for your hosts' pleasure alone and will last long after they have cleared up the mess, hoovered up the crumbs and wiped up the spills. The excitement and the fun of the party will tangibly linger for a little while more.

Of course I could buy my own. One year my sister told me that her New Year's resolutions were to always have fresh flowers in the house and to write to me once a month. I bleieve she still has fresh flowers in her house, although the second of these resolutions had fallen by the wayside before three months had passed, as New Year's resolutions tend to do. And my mother routinely adds them to the shopping list so the family home is always bursting with carnations and fresias.

Incidentally, I heard that there is a gene that allows you to smell fresias, and some people don't get that heady scent. This must be an urban myth as it seems a particularly useless genetic quality to adapt and inherit. It's not as if it's going to save the species in the long run, is it? Or maybe, those with a genetic predisposition to appreciate flowers in all their rich sensuality are more likely to breed? Now that's a theory in which I could believe. Survival of the fittest and the floral.

Monday, 18 August 2008

Olympics: Medal weekend

Wow! All those medals; all those records; what a fantastic weekend!

I have great respect for all the athletes who are rowing, riding, sailing and swimming their way to the Olympic podium and to all of those who oh-so-nearly made it. Missing out by one hundredth of a second must be heartbreaking, and if our screams at the television set could help, you know you would have made it, by a fingertip or a bow-ball.

Team GB is looking unstoppable on the track, and it’s fabulous to see all that effort reaping rewards. Britian is currently placed third in the medals table which is actually undreamt of in living memory (if you can have memorable dreams – this is certainly one). I heard one commentator remark that all the other countries must feel like gatecrashers at a private party. But Hayden Roulston had a flier – I hope that was good for heart.

My friend remarked glumly at the beginning of the weekend that I should expect a lot of fourths from New Zealand. I’m sure she is more than happy to be proved wrong by the new Kiwi golden girls in rowing and shot-put to hold a candle to Sarah Ulmer from previous Olympic outings.

And I have to admit I was cheering my heart out for Mahe Drysdale and am so glad he held on to a medal, even if it wasn’t the colour he wanted. I’m even more pleased that he managed to give such a terrific interview, minutes after collapsing, and not blaming his illness as the interviewer so wanted him to, and just remarking that, “I pushed myself to the limit and probably beyond. I'm proud and I guess for peace of mind I knew there's nothing more I could have done. That's a great feeling to know that.”

So huge bouquets to all of the athletes involved, but once again, brickbats to TVNZ who cut away from the rowing as it was still happening to show repeats of the race we had just watched. I know NZ had won its first gold medal and they were very proud of the Evers-Swindell twins, and rightly so. It was a fantastic race with one of the closest finishes between the top three likely to be seen on the water.

But there were other events still taking place. Up until last week NZ were still interested in the men’s coxless four. Now that they have not got a boat in it, the TV coverage decided not to feature it. This is simply pathetic and an example of the parochial arrogance and lack of sportsmanship, usually reserved for rugby ‘supporters’, that tarnishes their reputation amongst sports fans overseas. Most Kiwis are not like this at all, so I wish the media would stop enforcing this image! Are they really so scared of the dreaded four?

Meanwhile, Team GB won the gold in the coxless four, in case anyone in New Zealand cares. Go you good things. Thank God for the Internet and the BBC.