Monday, August 13, 2012

The Octopus’s Garden

After the outstanding Danny Boyle-driven opening ceremony and two weeks of equally astonishing athletic feats across the board, last night we finally arrived at the closing ceremony of the London 2012 Olympiad.

But… (fairly) closely guarded secret as it was, what would it actually comprise…? Part peculiar comic-book circus or a celebratory carnival of (British) music from the last five or so decades? Would Sir Cliff of Richard make a token appearance, would Dame Kate of Bush come out of hiding and perform live for the first time in more than thirty years? Would the Strolling Bones get the nod or would it be down to Status Quo to provide some invisible-pony-tail Dad-Rock? Would it be more wake than festival? Or, perhaps, it'd be a sum of those and many other parts?

It was and it wasn’t some of the above. Yet again, Britain proved itself a world-beater... in Pantomime.

Starring… The Villains:

The Spice Girls as The Ugly Sisters – the vision of Posh Spice frantically clinging to the ‘elf ‘n safety cage atop her black London taxi, out-of-time miming to ‘Spice Up Your life’ while hurtling around the stadium will live long in the memory… if only the taxi had just driven straight out of the park.

George Michael as The Village (People) Policeman, proving the Olympics can be bought by agreeing to sing one song on the basis that he was allowed to plug his tuneless new song straight after. Horrible. Jacques Rogge – hang your head in shame.

Eric Idle as The Widow Twankey – awkwardly warbling away surrounded by a glee club of high-kicking Roman legionaries, men dressed in Welsh women’s national costume and backed by a chorus by roller-blading nuns. Surreal so long as one’d taken the correct pharmaceuticals.

Jessie J as Cruella de Ville – killing a billion indelicately and indiscriminately with her song(s). A thoroughly unpleasant noise.

Taio Cruz and Tinny Temper as Dennis The Menace and Gnasher; hiding behind their designer-shades, all the bling and crocodile-hide transport couldn’t disguise the ineffectual twaddle proffered. Perfect pee-break / kettle boiling / extra glass of the well-chilled moment.

as The Tin Men – Suggs really should have opted for the full-mime option; flat as a Shrove Tuesday pancake resonated far beyond Camden Town tube station. Even Lee Thompson's Sax-in-Space moment seemed half-hearted.

Russell Brand as Russell Grant – involving him within the performance in the first place was enough of an own goal; his desecration of I Am The Walrus when he failed to even mime convincingly was pure travesty.

Brian May as The Scarecrow – his three minutes of ear-wrenching six-string pyrotechnics before slugging his way into We Will Rock You like a past-his-sell-by-date heavyweight boxer was more than enough. Being accompanied by Cruella de Ville writhing at his feat (sic) like a recently beheaded snake underneath Roger Taylor’s Barclay’s bank of kettle drums redefined unnecessary.

Annie Lennox as The Cheshire Cat – her entrance on a ghost Galleon was pure and unadulterated theatrical-magic; sadly the performance as underwhelming as soggy toast.

The Household Division Ceremonial State Band as Dick Whittington’s Cat – Blur’s Parklife didn’t translate well as a jerky arrangement for massed ranks of trombones.

Ed Sheeran as a ginger Andy Pandy – thankfully a song as good as that can’t be totally annihilated but, along with Big Ears (the tall bloke form Genesis) and The Classic Car Collector – the only Floyd-ster who could be bothered to show up – this was not a performance at which the Division Bell could come quick enough.

Liam Gallagher as Petulant Postman Pat – take one great song; the brother who wrote it can’t be arsed (for whatever reasons) to perform it with the original band… solution – bring on the other brother as substitute. As exciting as waiting for a letter posted second class.

One Direction as Wishee Washee – and, they were. Utterly pointless.

The Heroes:

Boris Johnson as Baron Hardup – the sight of him doing his Dad Can Dance routine alongside Mr and Mrs Cameroon in the upper-twit tier while Cruella de Ville, Dennis The Menace and Gnasher slaughtered The Bee Gees made one realize just why Barry Gibb stayed at home, pleading a previous hair-washing appointment.

The Set Designer as Sleeping Beauty. It began as a thing of wonderment and evolved into… something else again. Chapeau. It’s a shame that Thomas Heatherwick's spectacular flames had to be extinguished.

The Pet Shop Boys as Tweedledee and Tweedledum – what’s not to cherish when our favourite dead-pan-twosome perform from underneath gigantic conical chapeaus while being pedaled around the stadium clingfilmed inside two rickshaws and covered by fluorescent orange origami.

The Lighting Designer as Buttons. Whoever programmed the lighting throughout the entire show deserves as knighthood as much as Sir Bradley of Wiggins, Lord Mo of Farrah, Dame Jessica of Ennis and Queen Victoria of Pendleton will be (rightly) anointed in the forthcoming didn’t we do ever so well Olympic pat-on-the-back honours list.

The Supermodels as The Wicked Witch(es) Of The West – if looks could kill and they probably will… Games With No Frontiers: take a bow Kate, Naomi and the others… probably the first time you’ve all been in the back of one of Eddie Stobard’s finest for a while.

Ray Davies as Aladin – for igniting the lamp; a billion people singing the Sha La La’s when instructed and pulling one right out of the bag.

Take That as Tinkerbelles – if only for Jason Orange’s running on the spot routine as he waited for Sir Gary of Barlow (hat-tip to courage in light of recent personal events) to morph into the Queen Mother of Song center stage.

The Video-designer as Snow White – the inclusion of Lennon’s face, full-screen, as he (and a children’s choir) sang Imagine was heart-stopping as was Yoko’s unfolding piecemeal design of her husband’s face in repose, like a gigantic death-mask… A dry eye in (Our) House…? Not a chance.

Darcey Bussell as Princess Jasmine, the senior flight attendant air-lifted into impossible Phoenix arising ballet-shapes.

The Who as (the) Genie(s) Of The Lamp – showing Queen, The Kaiser Chiefs and Muse just how to do it with a startling rendition of My Generation… real lyrical irony given that this Olympiad can only inspire this (and future) generations.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Fix You (Babylon Makes The Rules)

Last Friday, a British athlete, holding a corner of the Olympic flag, read the Olympic Oath penned by Baron de Coubertin – using the exact same words as were recited by the Belgian Fencer, Victor Boin at the start of the 1920 Olympiad held in Antwerp.

"In the name of all competitors, I promise that we shall take part in these Olympic Games, respecting and abiding by the rules that govern them, in the true spirit of sportsmanship, for the glory of sport and the honour of our teams."

There was something in the air, the other afternoon on the roadsides around Weston Green, Esher, Kingston, Teddington and Hampton Court… not just a collective feeling of being part of a little Britain inhaling a bit of (British) sporting history. That was celebratory in itself but there was also that indefinable knowing that the absolute best won the day.

The Cycling TT is exactly that, a timed trial over a set distance; the fastest man or woman gets the Gold Medal. It is, as the French like to call it, the race of truth. Man (woman) against machine, wind, rain, road surface and adverse camber or otherwise… it’s dead simple, the fastest wins. And… it’s the Olympics = as blue a ribbon as it gets.

At the end of the men's race, Wiggins and the German, Tony Martin embraced; both had ridden to limits of endurance; one – the World Champion – roundly beaten by the other, the first ever British winner of the Tour de France. It was a poignant moment that epitomised all great sporting achievements; the best on the day won fair and square and the athletes themselves acknowledged it.

OK... so here's the bit I don't get...

Over the last few days, there has been total media (and public) outcry as some of the Eastern nations’ Badminton teams were clearly seen / shown to have thrown games. Reason being, they all wanted an easier draw for the next round… thus losing against an opponent they should have beaten meant an easier passage into that next round.

The public howled; the media growled and the authorities acted – all of those athletes were disqualified.

Yesterday, we had the bizarre sight of not just Britain but also China getting disqualified in the ladies team sprint at the Velodrome. For why? The commissaries (the judges) ruled that both teams had made an illegal move when their sprinter (in Brian’s case this being Queen Vic of Pendleton) went to the front at the start of her charge to the line (and a probable medal) outside the designated limit on the track.

Quoted in today’s Guardian, Pendleton was candid. "It was an illegal change. I came through about a metre too early. We are talking about one hundredth of a second of a mistake there. Jess (Varnish) moved up a fraction too early and I just saw the door and went for it, because that's my cue to try to squeeze underneath her as quickly as possible. We felt we were getting into that gold medal gear. But, now and again, rubbish things happen."

As much as the public booed in the Velodrome, as much as the experts stated it was a stupid rule, as much as it was virtually impossible to see the change over line (especially if you’re haring round a track in excess of 55kph), as much as the public felt cheated at not seeing the world’s best going head to head… Rules are the rules are the rules.

Bit of a bugger, but there you go – I mean, imagine if Usain Bolt gets to the 100 metres final next week and then false-starts..? That’s him done. No one’ll like it, 80,000+ people in the stadium and countless millions round the world viewing on TV will feel somehow cheated… but… that’s Usain B back to the dressing room.

And yet… last night we had the equally bizarre sight of Philip Hindes, the lead-out man for the men’s team sprint, crashing moments into the race. Did he have a mechanical failure..? Had he punctured..? (In which case, the rules state a restart is allowed). No… it seems not. He’d just made a lousy start. And knew it.

Quoted today in The Independent, this is what Hindes said, “We were saying if we have a bad start we need to crash to get a restart. I just crashed, I did it on purpose to get a restart, just to have the fastest ride. I did it. So it was all planned, really."

Maybe I'm just a bit old fashioned but I was brought up to respect (and abide by) the rules.

When I was much younger, I played a lot of Squash… dare I say it, I was pretty good. No, not International material but still darned good. One day, I came up against someone who was much better and was being roundly beaten. I tried a spot of gamesmanship but still got played off the court. A few days later, I mentioned my attempt at gamesmanship to my father thinking he would be pleased by my win-at-all-costs ideal. He was appalled. He told me, “If you’ve played to the utmost level of your skill but are beaten by the better player, no one can ever ask for more. Learn from that… practice harder and one day you’ll be the victor. But never, ever, resort to underhand ways of winning. If you do, the victory will just be a hollow one”

It’s been a principle central to my very being ever since.

I very much admire Sir Chris of Hoy – one of the greatest Olympians of all time regardless of nationality but, I’m really wondering how he feels wearing another Gold around his neck that 'appears' to have been obtained by a degree of stealth?