"You may say that I am a dreamer/But I am not the only one" John Lennon: "Imagine"

"So come brothers and sisters/For the struggle carries on" Billy Bragg: "The Internationale"

Elizannie has a reading room at 'Clarice's Book Page' http://www.villiersroad.blogspot.com/

Monday 23 July 2012

My Weekend Celebrating a very British Sport

Well I had a thoroughly lovely weekend celebrating British sport. Surprised at that statement? Read on....

I have hoped since 2005 for a lovely British Olympic Games in London 2012 - and have watched in dismay as the Olympic ideals seem to have taken such a hammering by the [alleged] underhand ways and incompetence of companies like G4S; the shenanigans of infrastructure schemes that are still to come to fruition like our own local road building scheme and the waste of money by many councils on unnecessary decorations etc.

But we were lucky to join with the happy side of the Games this weekend - when communities get together to celebrate and the true Olympic spirit really does shine through. We spent the weekend in East London with some of our Grandchildren and were in Waltham Forest when the torch was carried into the evening celebration and lit the cauldron. We had no idea who was carrying the torch on its last stage to the cauldron - so it was great to hear the announcement that Fabrice Muamba would be the torch bearer.

Having arrived in England with his parents - political exiles from Zaire - Muamba had attended school in Walthamstow and those who follow football will know all about him even before his dramtic collapse in March this year during the Bolton/Spurs game. His heart stopped for over an hour and probably his life was only saved because not only did the football club have excellent medical facilities but a consultant cardiologist who was at the game gave immediate medical aid.

The reception Muamba got from the crowd was brilliant! He looked frail but very,very happy and in his speech after he had lit the cauldron he again thanked all who had saved his life and described it as a miracle. I don't think I was the only one crying!

The photograph above is not that good, but it is mine! And shows a glimpse of the lovely police lady who stopped the very pushy lady who was trying to elbow my grandchildren away from the front of the barrier. How very dare she!

Onto Dagenham Town Show on Sunday and a chance to have one's picture taken with the real Beijing 2008 Olympic Torch.

Did Elizannie shrink from this challenge? No she did not!
A friend pointed out that I do look as it I am going to swipe one of my political opponents with it. Not a bad idea except [a] I am a pacifist and [b] After the town show the torch was taken off in an armoured type car.
And then to fill the boots of the Elizannie/Other Half household we had the brilliant results of the British Cyclists in the Tour de France! As massive cycling fans it has been an exciting three weeks and although it was obvious on Saturday that barring accidents Bradley Wiggins
would be the overall winner to quote someone 'It's not won until it's won'!! And with our Chris Froome second and Mark Cavendish as stage winner it was quite a day!
A photograph to sum up the excitement. Please note the seat upon which Youngest Granddaughter is viewing the finish to the Tour de France:

Today it has been announced that Sir Chris Hoy, the British Olympic Gold medallist will lead the British Olympians at the Opening Ceremony of the Games

So all in all, a very proud time for a what could be considered a sport which could be considered very British and originally a proletarian one. [Some say that it was a Scot who invented the bicycle]

Ironically, when cycling first 'got going' bikes were a luxury only the well-off could afford. However as soon as mass production meant that the working classes could afford their own bicycles, the rich mostly dropped their interest [apart from the profits that could be made from investing in cycle factories and shops...]

Cycles quickly entered into mainstream literature [H.G.Wells: 'The Wheels of Chance'; Jerome K. Jerome: 'Three Men on the Bummel' for example] and opened up the countryside for the working person. On their days off, the working population could reach areas that were out of walking range/public transport costs. Cycles could also be hired quite cheaply, within the working man's price range.

So bicycles became a leveller in a lot of ways - introducing the masses to areas which previously only their 'betters' had been able to visit.

Of course the sorts of bicycles used in road races now like the Tour de France cost thousands of pounds but in the early days of cycling and racing the differentials were not so large and anyone handy with a spanner could do their own repairs and adjustments!

We watched the Tour de France 'in the flesh when it came to Portsmouth & Brighton in 1994 and there was a big following here in the UK. Hopefully now that we have had three British successes this year we might get another look-in at the tour very soon!!

Onwards to cycling Gold medals in the Olympics!!

Wednesday 18 July 2012

Olympic dreams and reality

Honestly, I really was trying to be optimistic about the Olympics. I was excited when our bid succeeded, imagining jobs and contracts for workers in this country - which sadly did not pan out as expected. Please believe I really am not an Olympic Scrooge. Ah well.

I hoped that the Corporate Sponsorship would mean that the tax payer [income, council - both local and county council levels] would not have to dig into his/her pocket - or if money was required it would be as an investment for 'legacy' projects and 'trickle down' and improve local economies.

I loved the idea that the spirit of the games would enthuse our citizens, that young people would perhaps get the idea that sports were something that could be enjoyed in reality and not just played on Xpensive electronic gadgets - at the local park, say. Too many school playing fields have been sold off over the past few years to help pay for necessities within those same schools. And the idea that there would be some 'free' spectacles such as road races that might be passing near to our homes was exciting.

The promises of the 'Cultural Olympics' seemed good to those like me who would rather participate in a pen and paper game that one holding some sort of stick or ball.

It is a shame so far that the weather is being a bit British, but hey ho that's life and we can still all have a good time!


I really don't want to do this, however there is a big but. Or a lot of small buts, medium size buts, all adding up to a rather massive but. Read on...

We won't talk about G4S, although seeing the tents ready for the army to camp out on the downs near here preparatory for the Mountain Biking events is a bit reminiscent of WW11 [no cheeky, I wasn't born then, but I have seen postcards!]

And at the awful traffic chaos which is Sadler's Farm Roundabout Improvements which had 'nothing to do with the Olympics' last year and should have been finished in March, is still not completed and it has been announced today that they will not be completed now before the Olympics which is causing some concern to the OAC. Of course the Essex County Council rate payer foots this bill. [And massive commiserations to all the commuters for the hours lost in all the traffic jams, night and day, since the works started. And all the local businesses which have lost money due to prospective clients being unable to reach them]

I was looking at an 1801 map of the area at the weekend, and it looked oh so peaceful then!

Another aspect to the Sadlers Farm debacle is that the junction leads directly to the nearest of the Park & Ride Carparks to the Hadleigh Mountain biking site. Allegedly due to water logging, this site has now been declared unusable, meanwhile most of the other three sites parking space tickets have been sold. Sadly more council-tax payers' money sailing up Benfleet Creek.

[And in case you all think I am being a bit of a NIMBY, we were in Cornwall recently and saw an area around a community which was in dire need of a road improvement scheme which had been passed and was all set to go until a nearby Olympic event venue popped up and the allocated money switched to building a road for that instead. I am sure there are similar tales around the country]

Luckily the torch relay around the country has been funded by corporate sponsorship and whether or not one is in favour of fast food and drinks sponsoring 'healthy games' it must be acknowledged that without this sponsorship not only the torch relay but the whole games would not be possible. However all the Official flags, bunting etc has to be bought by the local authorities themselves - at a cost - guess what - to the local tax payer. [I believe each flag costs in the region of £200+] And in our own are a club for disabled people has been closed due to lack of funding. Surely this would have been a better investment and Olympic legacy than the flags and bunting?

Meanwhile, not far from here an Essex town had 'organised a series of bunting making workshops across the borough to help local community groups make flags to line the route' [please read all about it in the link] It's a shame that more towns and villages didn't take a more do-it-yourself route to decorations. Those who know me know I love a bit of home made decorations [although sometimes it is to the embarrassment of others] And Other Half has been known on many occasions to paint the garage door with a message when something special has happened: football team winning at Wembley; birth of a baby; degree results et al!

Those who live reasonably near some of the road races have been told to stay at home and watch the events on TV which seems a bit of a reversal of the ideals. Road closures in a wide circumference from around 3am in the morning of such events means that if one is not within walking distance it will be impossible to get near the events, which is an awful shame. As I type yet another advert on the radio is pumping out this message.

I am very glad that there has been the Cultural Olympiad idea but - and here I sound really grumbly - the fact that so much of it has been concentrated around the capital is a bit of a drawback, and here I go into real Grinch/Scrooge mode [depending on your popular culture tastes] and suggest that not enough is being made of the events all around the country and a little more media advertising might help. So here's a link: http://www.london2012.com/about-us/cultural-olympiad/

I am not all grumbles, honestly. Lots of schools and organisations have had Olympic celebrations, we had a lovely afternoon last week at some of our grandchildren's school where all children got awards for taking part in an Olympic week. Lots of community fun where the torch has travelled. There is still time to pull together and make the games a really happy time. And look at the positives. And we can outface the weather - we are Brits!!

The picture above is of of a 1948 3d stamp celebrating the Olympic games. Just because I like it!

Saturday 14 July 2012

How the Olympics can make a garden grow

The seeds:

The plants in flower:
I love the internet. The way that from small seeds something bigger can grow. Well sort of. Yesterday in my blog here I put a picture of the latest badges that Other Half and I are wearing and then thought I would show it to all my facebook friends [the seeds]. This engendered a bit of a discussion of the Olympics in general and below is one of my replies [the plants shoot] I then thought a bit more about what I had written and decided to write a bit more on my facebook 'status' [the plants bud] In turn I thought I ought to let my Olympic dream/extended metaphor grow a little and become a blog [The plants in flower]

The plants bud:
'Having a bit of a discussion about the joys [or not] of the London 2012 Olympics and some of you may have seen my reply which unintentionally turned into a bit of a rant! So I am putting it up as my status and hoping that some of you will be able to change my mind and making me feel that it is 'all good' [to quote 'Twenty Twelve']

The plants shoot:
"I must sound a real curmudgeon and even non-sporty me enjoyed the cycling and a few other events in the past. I was thrilled when we were awarded the 2012 games back in 2005. However the misery [and I mean that] engendered by those like us who live near to the games locales by the road building schemes, dreadful cock-ups in planning road closures, the lack of availability of tickets, the 'suggestions' that even if the 'free' events like cycling are coming through your area you stay in and watch them on TV, the 'advice' to those travelling and working in London that they get up earlier and leave later as half the road lanes are to become 'Olympic Lanes' from Monday..... [Many of my neighbours already leave home at 6.30 am and arrive back more than 12 hours later] The money wasted by some local councils on Olympic flags at £300 a flutter per flag [allegedly] when 'they' are cutting back on welfare services to the disabled and the like [and if my local council wish to defend this please do]"

Now of course we have had the news break in the past couple of days about the sterling job that G4S security are doing - NOT. I don't know if any of you heard their 'Chief of Staff' [I am being ironical there btw] interviewed on 'Today', radio 4, this morning? The only pity was that he wasn't being grilled by John Humphries. Worth a 'listen again' imo.

This rant may become supersized [get the McDonalds reference, clever huh?] and become a blog. On the other hand I might just go for a calming down walk in the countryside in the rain.'

The Garden in Bloom:
Well, rain helps the plants grow. But also makes Elizannie a wet and unhappy lady. So I will end the metaphor with some of the good things about the games, hopefully. The corporate sponsors will probably have a lot of merchandise left after the closing ceremony which may mean reductions in prices and cheap Christmas present shopping for all of us [as long as we don't mind giving/receiving things with the awful logo plastered all over. I will just say that I am not proud] Those uncompleted road contracts, security contracts et al may mean huge penalty clause payments by contractors to local and county councils and governments so a reduction in our local and income taxes [sorry, you didn't just say there are no penalty clauses, did you?]

I really am not attacking the corporate sponsorships because without them the cost of the Olympic Games here in the UK in 2012 would have been impossible. Which would have been an awful shame*. So that's all good.

*Can't say this out loud as I have my tongue stuck firmly in my cheek.

Friday 13 July 2012

Westward Ho or Travels with my Other Half*

Elizannie and Other Half have just returned from another set of travels in the West Country which took in a bit of magic, a sense of awe, a bit of humility and a lot of fun. Returning to the Olympic hysteria surrounding the London suburbs/Thames Estuary was a rude awakening.

A large part of our two weeks away was shared [by arrangement] with a Gateway Club holiday. I have written about this group before, and we have been lucky enough to share holidays with the group on several occasions, but I have desisted writing about the fun we all have from a fear of sounding patronising and using the club members as examples of how we should all 'count our blessings' and rambling on about how those allegedly less advantaged are plucky etc etc, which is how too many observers too often treat the subject.

So what do I write? The truth, perhaps? That we had a good week with friends: lots of laughs, a few tears, a few misunderstandings - all in all a 'normal' week's holiday. Except that there was a lot less complaining than on a 'normal' week's holiday - the generally rotten weather was taken for what it was and it didn't stop anyone from getting on with the fun [although the sight of Other Half after a trip across the moors on an Open Top bus in the pouring rain was worth a thousand words!] Club members dressing up for evening entertainments shamed me into getting out of my scruffy jeans and t-shirts and finding skirts and make-up! No political discussions for a week was quite a relief too, really.

As always, if we had expressed our massive admiration of all the volunteer helpers they would have brushed it aside as they consider they are just on holiday helping out friends and positively do not look for thanks. But a big thank you from us to all from that particular Gateway club for letting us join with them in their fun.

The second week of our travels took us to Cornwall and - for this summer - reasonably good weather. As a 'King Arthur anorak' I wanted to climb to the top of Tintagel Castle and achieved it although I was the last of our party [despite being the youngest by all of eleven months!] to achieve the top of the winding steps! Still it was an impressive view down, and a magical feeling pertaining to King Arthur and his court too.

A further exploration took us on to the village of Boscastle which was disastrously flooded in August 2004. Miraculously no lives were lost but the amount of damage caused and the way that the town has recovered are both awe inspiring. Please do follow the link and read about the way that nature can be savage and man can persevere to rebuild. Our party sat outside a cafe eating scones and looking way above our heads at a sign showing how high the flood waters reached that day - which we remembered well because we were sitting very many miles further along the same coast line, in the pouring rain, enjoying a [wet] bar-be-que, with no idea of the devastation happening further down the coast.

After all these rather thought provoking experiences, it was quite a change to return to the South East and all the developing Olympic shenanigans. When we watched the latest episode of Twenty Twelve, 'Catastrophisation' on the night prior to returning home, it was as usual hysterically funny. However within twenty four hours of our return and after listening to London based radio stations we realised that just maybe some of the fictional situations we had watched could be coming true. And oh, the complaining on the airwaves! So maybe the badges we are wearing should be shared around a bit...

*Once more I have 'lifted' and adapted my blog title from literary sources, this time two books:
Travels With My Aunt by Graham Greene
Westward Ho! by Charles Kingsley. This book was so successful that entrepreneurs in the 19thC saw 'an opportunity' and built an hotel and other developments of the same name near where the book begins [in Devon] and eventually the village proper - Westward Ho! -developed. The only village in the British Isles with an exclamation mark in its name... but I am not allowed to put an exclamation mark in the 'Labels for this post' on this page. Oh well..