Friday, 31 August 2012

Beverley Knight - 'I Am What I Am'

If you didn't see the Paralympics Opening Ceremony then, firstly, shame on you, and secondly, you need to see this - Bevereley Knight's amazing version of 'I Am What I Am'. Trust Bev to bring a new reading to this song, previously Harvey Fierstein's gay anthem from 'La Cage Aux Folles' and now a disability rights anthem as well. "I am somebody, I am what I am" resounds through the Olympic Stadium.

I was proud of Bev who, given the closing segment of the Opening Ceremony, had to bring it in on the right note and she did so. Ever the consummate professional, Bev knows how to work a crowd and she did this on a mammoth scale in the Stadium. I've seen her play live lots of times and she can be guaranteed to deliver the goods and she means it. She showed that in the Stadium. Take a look for yourself:

The song is available for download on iTunes and I did so straight away this morning. I've played it multiple times. Part of me wanted it to turn into a disco stomper after the slow start but I'm pleased it didn't. Bev judged it just right and played on the chorus to take it forward with her voice keeping it all together.

Thank you Bev, you were an inspired choice for closing the show. I'll enjoy seeing where this takes you. Sing out, lass!

London 2012 Olympic Games - Inside the Stadium

I was lucky enough to get a ticket to see an evening of athletics in the Olympic Stadium on 9 August during the Olympic Games and I was rewarded with Usain Bolt and David Rushida making headlines. There were no TeamGB medals that evening but I didn't mind, I was at the Olympics!

I made sure I got to the Olympic Park early so I could take a look round in the sunshine and that place is big. Half a dozen different venues within the Park and the place full of happy, excited people from all over the world and I was one of them. I'd promised myself a healthy meal of chips and beer but you could only buy chips with fish which is no use to me so I had Mexican and diet Coke instead. There were good natured queues everywhere, including to get into the souvenir shops, and some venues were starting new sessions and others were finishing, so there were people everywhere. And the sun shone brightly.

As it got closer to 6:00pm I thought I'd better take my seat and get settled for the 6:30pm start. I crossed Bridge D, climbed the stairs to Block 254, found Row 41 and sat down in Seat 726. And what a view I had! The 100m started right below where I was sitting and I had an excellent view of the finishing line. The other side of the Stadium to my left was set up for the hop, skip and jump competition, ahead was laid out for spears and to my right was the podium and the flagpoles. I was thrilled.

The evening started off with the final two evens of the men's decathlon and began with the spears (aka javelin) and the Cuban lad had an amazingly long throw that went way beyond the last line painted on the grass. I don't know why but I get strangely excited by spears and I suspect it's something primal at work in the back of my mind.

The triple jump lads came on in their tracksuits to warm up and started walking up to the sand and jumping in. I assume they were testing the consistency of the sand or something, but they reminded me of kids in the playground jumping from a standing start into the sand. We had heats of the women's 800m and the women's 4x100m. The decathlon lads did two heats of the 800m to close their event and then did a lap of honour to great cheers. We also had a few medal ceremonies from competitions earlier in the day and, much to my joy, the evening finished with women's spears!

The first of the big races was the men's 800m, with Andrew Osagie representing TeamGB and David Rushida for Kenya. We all know the result and David set a new World Record that was a great thrill to witness first hand. Andrew came 8th - I refuse to say last since he set a personal best in that race and his time would have won him Gold in the three previous Olympic Games. That's not bad at all.

Of course, a certain Mr Usain Bolt was also running in a later race, the 200m men's final, and he succeeded in getting most of the publicity for his amazing win. The race started just over from where I was sitting so I could see him go through his preparations, his ungainly start and then his easy win - from where I was sitting he was quite obviously ahead of the rest of the field. He then did his lap of honour that went on for ages because everyone wanted to meet him, take his photo and, let's face it, he's a showman and he milked it. And he was great to see!

I stayed for the women's spears and cheered even louder as other people left after seeing Mr Bolt. It was a wonderful evening and a great atmosphere in the Stadium, everyone excited, oohing and aaahing as we watched personal triumphs, clapping and cheering the winners and the non-winners alike. The decathlon bloke from, I think, Belarusse who came final in the 800m by about half a lap got an enormous roar of encouragement as he pounded the track determined to finish and he did.

A day of wonderful memories ended with leaving the Olympic Park in the warm darkness of an August night, heading to Stratford to get the train home with a big smile on my face and ideas juggling round behind my eyes. I'll be going back during the Paralympics. Try keeping me away!

Monday, 27 August 2012

The Olympic Games London 2012

I've felt a need to do a big blog about the London 2012 Olympic Games but the slings and arrows of daily life have prevented me from completing it. Not least because my laptop died on me mid-way through the Olympics. So here is my tribute to the London 2012 Olympics - my Games.

A year and a half ago I first volunteered to be part of the wider Olympics, not as a Games Maker, but as a London Ambassador. I got through the selection process and the training days and it all started to become real when I received the pink and purple uniform - it sounds worse than it actually is, thankfully. I wanted to be a part, even just a small part, of the whole Olympic experience that won't happen again in my home city in my lifetime.

It's the job of London Ambassadors to welcome the world to London, help them find their way around town and enjoy the experience. My shifts were on the Southbank in the middle weekend of the Olympics when TeamGB went Gold medal crazy with Jessica Ennis, Mo Farrah and Greg Rutherford winning three Golds in less than an hour in the Olympic Stadium. The Southbank was packed with tourists and locals alike, all happy to take a map and a guide. I even had Londoners coming up to me asking where places in the guides were since we don't necessarily go out and see all the glorious sights in our home town.

My fellow Ambassadors were a lovely lot too and continue welcoming the world to London until the end of the Paralympics in September. All of us in our pink and purple shirts and jackets, black trousers or skirts, arms full of maps and trilbies on our heads. Everyone wanted to help out, support each other, answer questions that we didn't know the answers to and, generally, have a great time helping others to have a great time.

On my first day I had a question about the "shot put exhibition" on the Southbank, something neither I nor any of my fellow Ambassadors had heard of. So I found it in one of the guides and the next day, before my shift, I scoured the Southbank to find it, and I did. A giant shot put crashed to the ground as part of the Gift from the Gods exhibition, cracking the paving stones around it, and mighty impressive it is too. There's another one at Kennington Oval.

A special thanks to my colleague Roy for making the whole experience so pleasant. We met at one of the training days and teamed up on our first day on duty. Roy specialised in handing out maps and 'Time Out' and I specialised in the One Big Summer leaflet about the Southbank and the London Planner leaflet. If I didn't know the answer to something then Roy generally did, and vice versa. We patrolled the Southbank from the Big Wheel to the Oxo Tower, stopping to chat to colleague Ambassadors, chatting to the public and posing for photos for them, pointing the way to exhibitions and stations, agreeing that it was a shame that Olympic tickets weren't available and, generally, trying to be helpful. I thoroughly enjoyed it and am so pleased my shifts happened during the Olympics themselves. I even won my own 'gold medal' in the shape of a gold pin badge for 'excellence'.

I remember saying at one point, 'Who would ever have thought that the Olympics were happening 12 miles from my house...'

Being an Ambassador has had its perks, not least getting a ticket to see a rehearsal of the Opening Ceremony a few days before the actual Ceremony. It was a great thrill to get the tube to Stratford and walk into the Olympic Park proudly wearing my Ambassador trilby and with a big smile on my face, straight through the efficient security arrangements and gawping around at the stadium and all the other buildings we'd see so frequently on TV over the next few weeks. I was there and I saw most - but not all - of the Ceremony. There were still some surprises in store!

The first few days were nail-biting as we wondered 'where are the medals?'. We all got a bit hung up on medals and, nice as they are, some of our young athletes set personal bests without winning medals and that's a great achievement and something to be celebrated. It was awful to see Becky Adlington apologising for not winning Gold - you won an Olympic Bronze Medal, girl, be proud. We are proud of you!

And then the country erupted in joy when Helen Glover and Heather Stanning won our first Gold medal, which was also the first Gold ever won by the women's rowing team. I was on my feet cheering and clapping with the rest of the country. The joy poured out of the TV as we watched the laughing and crying, the hugs and the disbelief that they'd done it. There lots more to follow, of course, with big names and new stars winning gold, from Bradley Wiggins and Jessica Ennis to Alistair Brownlee and Nicola Adams. It wasn't all athletics - if anything, that was the junior sport. The rowing was an enormous success, horses did us proud, the Brownlee boys in the Triathlon were astonishing and our cyclists were, as ever, on the top of their game. That's part of the joy of the Olympics - so many sports in so few days, a feast of physical endeavour.

It wasn't just the Golds that delighted and raised our spirits. Gemma Gibbons winning a Silver in judo and saying 'I love you, Mum' to the sky was a lovely moment. As was the joy and dignity of the men's gymnastics team winning Bronze after briefly being named in the Silver medal position but still clearly delighted at winning an unexpected medal. It was lovely to see Steph Houghton celebrating scoring goals in the women's football and for a brief moment it looked like she'd get the team through to the next round but we didn't. And young Zoe Smith coming 12th in women's weightlifting, the best we've done in years and, of course, she has years ahead of her, so I'm looking forward to seeing her in Rio.

I was in the Olympic Stadium to see Usain Bolt win the 200m Gold and David Rushida break the 800m world record to win Gold. I saw the final two disciplines of the men's decathlon - the spears (aka the javelin) and the 800m - and cheered them on. I saw heats of the women's 800m and the 100m relay and the final of the women's spears. It was a grand night, seeing medal ceremonies, the lads playing in the sandpit (aka the hop, skip and jump) and I had a great seat with a great view of all the action. That's an evening I'll remember for a long time.

Our great team continued to win medals and set personal bests with the home crowd cheering them on, just as we cheered everyone on. Everyone got a cheer, whether first or last, it was the taking part that really mattered and all those athlete's mattered. One of my early promises to myself was that I'd name every TeamGB medal winner in my blog. There are too many to write about and includes photos but the roll of honour is below. Congratulations to all of you - you made us proud. You made me proud.

The atmosphere around town was incredibly positive and people actually paid heed to the pleas from Transport for London not to clog up public transport unless we had to. The Tube had a record number of users during the Olympics, more than ever before, and it coped admirably. I loved the new pink signage around tune stations, pointing to destinations rather than the tube lines - I still smile when I see the signs.

The medals continued to be won right up until the last few competitions and then we had the marathon and the closing ceremony. It was lovely to see Ray Davies stepping out of a black cab to sing 'Waterloo Sunset' and those Spice Girls whizzing round the stadium bringing a a sense of fun to the proceedings. It was disappointing to miss out the '70s (where was glam? punk? disco?) but good to see Fat Boy Slim and The Who. And in a flurry of fireworks it was all over, the flame dimming only to rise as a phoenix flying to Rio.

And the Olympic Games of London 2012, the XXX Olympiad, were over. These were my Olympics, a mere dozen miles from my house and I went there and watched it. I cheered and cried, I celebrated and then celebrated some more. I was even a part of it in my own small way. I hope a tourist on the other side of the world  will look at their photos one day and think how pretty London was in the sunshine with Olympic banners streaming in the breeze and maybe see a splash of pink and purple and think of the bloke who directed them to the tube station.  We welcomed the world to London and I hope they all look back on their holiday in London as one of the best they've ever had.

Farewell London 2012 Olympics, you'll stay with me forever.

Now it's time for Round II - bring on the Paralympics!

Gold medal winners

• Anthony Joshua, boxing, super-heavyweight
• Mo Farah, athletics, 5,000m
• Luke Campbell, boxing, bantamweight
• Ed McKeever, K1 200m canoe sprint
• Jade Jones, taekwondo, 57kg
• Nicola Adams, boxing, flyweight
• Charlotte Dujardin, equestrianism, individual dressage
• Sir Chris Hoy, cycling, keirin
• Laura Trott, cycling, omnium
• Charlotte Dujardin, Carl Hester and Laura Bechtolsheimer, equestrianism, team dressage
• Alistair Brownlee, triathlon
• Ben Maher, Nick Skelton, Peter Charles and Scott Brash, equestrianism, team showjumping
• Jason Kenny, cycling, sprint
 Andy Murray, tennis, singles
• Ben Ainslie, sailing, Finn
• Greg Rutherford, athletics, long jump
• Mo Farah, athletics, 10,000m
• Jessica Ennis, athletics, heptathlon
 Jo Rowsell, Laura Trott and Dani King, cycling, team pursuit
• Andy Triggs Hodge, Pete Reed, Tom James and Alex Gregory, rowing, men's four
• Katherine Copeland and Sophie Hosking, rowing, lightweight double sculls
• Philip Hindes, Chris Hoy and Jason Kenny, cycling, team sprint
• Ed Clancy, Steven Burke, Geraint Thomas and Peter Kennaugh, cycling, team pursuit
• Victoria Pendleton, cycling, keirin
• Katherine Grainger and Anna Watkins, rowing, double sculls
• Peter Wilson, shooting, double trap
• Tim Baillie and Etienne Stott, canoeing, double
• Bradley Wiggins, cycling, time trial
• Helen Glover and Heather Stanning, rowing, pair

Silver medal winners

• Samantha Murray, modern pentathlon
• Fred Evans, boxing, welterweight
• Hannah Mills and Saskia Clark, sailing, 470 class
• Luke Patience and Stuart Bithell, sailing, 470 class
• Victoria Pendleton, cycling, sprint final
• Nick Dempsey, windsurfing
• Christine Ohuruogu, athletics, 400m
• Andy Murray and Laura Robson, tennis, mixed doubles
• Louis Smith, gymnastics, pommel horse
• Iain Percy and Andrew Simpson, sailing, Star
• Zac Purchase and Mark Hunter, rowing, lightweight double sculls
• David Florence and Richard Hounslow, canoeing, double
• Richard Chambers, Peter Chambers, Chris Bartley and Rob Williams, rowing, lightweight four
• Gemma Gibbons, judo, 78kg
• Michael Jamieson, swimming, 200m breaststroke
• Tina Cook, William Fox-Pitt, Mary King, Zara Phillips and Nicola Wilson, equestrianism, team eventing
• Lizzie Armitstead, cycling, road race

Bronze medal winners

• Tom Daley, diving, 10m platform
• Lutalo Muhammad, taekwondo, -80kg
• Women's hockey
• Anthony Agogo, boxing, middleweight
• Laura Bechtolsheimer, equestrianism, individual dressage
• Robbie Grabarz, high jump
• Jonny Brownlee, triathlon
• Beth Tweddle, gymnastics, uneven bars
• Ed Clancy, cycling, omnium
• Max Whitlock, gymnastics, pommel horse
• Karina Bryant, judo, 78kg+
• Rebecca Adlington, swimming, 800m freestyle
• Alan Campbell, rowing, single sculls
• Will Satch and George Nash, rowing, men's pair
• Constantine Louloudis, Alex Partridge, James Foad, Tom Ransley, Ric Egington, Mo Sbihi, Greg Searle, Matt Langridge and Phelan Hill (cox), rowing, men's eight
• Chris Froome, cycling, time trial
• Louis Smith, Sam Oldham, Kristian Thomas, Max Whitlock and Dan Purvis, gymnastics, team
• Rebecca Adlington, swimming, 400m freestyle
• Liam Heath and Jon Schofield, K2 200m canoe sprint 

Friday, 24 August 2012

'The Last of the Haussmans' at The National Theatre

This week I went to see 'The Last of the Haussmans' in the Lyttelton in the National Theatre. It is an excellent play, an excellent production and with some excellent performances. Yes, I liked it! I even bought the programme.

When I first saw it advertised I liked the premise of an ageing hippy in the last of her days bringing her family around her one last time. I liked it even more since it starred Julie Walters who I'd never seen on stage before. Rory Kinnear played her son (Nick) and Helen McRory her daughter (Libby) with their complex web of memories,  relationships, needs and wants over the last 40 years. Nothing is satisfactory, nothing is straight forward and nothing is quite as it seems but it seemed real to me and I could recognise and remember some of the scenes and recollections.

There were some really delightful one-liners and the play was full of them. Nick talks about booze and drugs and says he can't blame anyone for him being a junkie, "well, except for David Bowie". When Summer, Libby's teenage daughter, comments that she  can't remember some things, Nick quips "you'd be surprised at what I can remember" referring back to his debauchery. And a great moment in the second half when 'Cum On Feel The Noize' has been played loud in the small hours and Libby says "it's too late at night to play SLADE" to which I (inwardly) replied that it is never too late to play SLADE.

I was particularly impressed by the three lead characters. Julie Walters was Julie Walters and Helen McRory was an excellent glue keeping the family together despite pain and distrust, but it was Rory Kinnear that I was particularly impressed by. I've seen him in various plays in the past (usually at the National and all serious) but not in a comic role and he was excellent. I'm not sure why he plays being gay as meaning he stands on one foot but he takes after his dad with the comic timing and the twists and turns of delivering a perfect comic line. He should do more comedy now that he has the classic dramatic roles under his belt. I would be quite happy to sit down with his character, Nick, for a chat over a beer or two and listen to his anecdotes.

The set is the house the family grew up in and it gradually spins round to show different rooms with the characters usually playing at the front of the stage. I thought it could've looked  bit more 'hippy' but it looked like a real house to me (and quite a nice one too, with a lick of paint).

I thoroughly enjoyed the play. I had a smile going on for most of the play and laughed out loud loads of times. Go and see it if you can, I don't think you'll be disappointed.

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Lynsey de Paul - LIVE!

Some things just have to be shared, such as pick'n'mix sweets, a bottle of wine and news about Lynsey de Paul playing live in London in a few weeks time. Yes, you read that right, Lynsey de Paul.

I've blogged about Lynsey a few times, most recently last summer when I discovered the songs from her first album, 'Surprise' were on iTunes. Now I discover that she's playing live and I've bought a ticket to make sure I get to see her play. I must say *wow*!

Lynsey is on the bill for the Marc Bolan 35th Anniversary tribute concert at Shepherd's Bush on 15 September. It looks like a great line-up, with T.Rextasy providing the music and guest vocals from Boy George, Marc Almond, Linda Lewis, Steve Harley and a certain Glen Matlock. And, of course, Lynsey de Paul! I am, of course, terribly excited at the thought of seeing her play live and can't imagine which of Marc's songs she'll sing. Maybe 'Life's A Gas'?

I went to the 30th Anniversary concert five years ago which was saved (in my eyes at least) by the magnificent version of 'Chrome Sitar' delivered by the one and only Shakin' Stevens. Shakey saved the day as far as I'm concerned. That was five years ago. This year, I'm looking forward to seeing Lynsey.  *Wow*!

Sunday, 19 August 2012

'Timon Of Athens' at The National Theatre

Last week I went to see 'Timon Of Athens' a Shakespeare play I've never seen or read before. I settled into the comfortable seats of the Olivier circle and gazed at an empty stage, empty except for a dozen or so tents at the back of the stage.

They were soon covered up when the main scenery descended in the shape of a wall with two entrances with, above one of the entrances, the words 'Timon Gallery' lit up. Ah, I know where we are now, the opening party for the new gallery room donated by the rich and benevolent Timon, with people milling round him, talking about him and talking to him. He is feted by artists and poets and his generosity is sealed when, without fluttering an eyelash he pays the fine for the son of an old friend to bail him out of prison. The scene is set, with Timon well-loved and generous, a power in stately Athens who can smooth away any unpleasantness for his friends with a wave of his chequebook.

Things are rarely as they seem with Shakespeare and we soon learn that Timon is massively in debt and when he sends to his friends to ask them to help him they all have  a reason not to dip into their own pockets while still accepting gifts of jewels and horses from Timon. And some even send in the bailiffs to get debts paid. Timon's cosy and comfortable world slowly comes crashing down as he realises he has no friends and the loyalty of his household is all he can count on but he sends them away.

I'm with this so far and intrigued with how Shakespeare will reconcile everything in the end.

The second half of the play takes place in what looks like a derelict site with Timon down and out, his meagre possessions in a shopping trolley. He finds a stash of gold and freely gives it away to the rebels when they politely ask. Word spreads and he's violently robbed of the rest of the gold. Then the leaders of Athens come to seek his gold again. The rebels join the government of Athens and, in the final scene are just as dismissive of Timon, the man who funded them when they asked, as the governors. The play ends with  a reading of his epitaph damning mankind. So, no resolution then.

The staging was excellent, the elegance and simplicity of the first half contrasting with the messiness of the second. The cast were excellent with Simon Russell Beale as Timon, Deborah Findlay as his steward Flavia and Hilton McRae as the philosopher whose clarity of vision troubles Timon throughout the play. It's a large cast and includes two dancers from The Royal Ballet that provide the entertainment for Timon's dinner guests in the first half of the play.

It's an excellent production but I can see why it's rarely performed. It's unsatisfactory, it leaves a bad taste in the mouth, it damns humanity. I was ready to be uplifted not damned alongside the rest of the audience. Where was the grand vision, the greatness of the language, the glimpses of heaven and hell? We were only given hell, a selfish, money-grabbing, me-me-me version of hell perfect for the economic and banking crisis of the last few years and today. O yes, Shakespeare foresaw it all and leaves us adrift with nothing to cling onto for comfort or safety.

Now is the perfect time to stage this play again and, judging from the lack of seats the other night, it's doing well. And the mysterious tents at the very start? Clearly the set designer is being clever and alluding to the Occupy London protest outside St Paul's earlier this year. The tents never reappear so perhaps that's an allusion too far? 

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Buffy Sainte-Marie at Meltdown

I've fallen behind with my blogging due in part to the Olympics but mainly because my laptop died on me last week. I need to do a mammoth Olympics blog but the day after the Closing Ceremony is not the right time. Instead I'll tell you about something that can only mean joy - Buffy Sainte-Marie has been back to London for two shows on the Southbank as part of Anthony Hegarty's Meltdown festival and I attended both (indeed, had guest list tickets to both but that's showing off).

The first event on Monday 6 August in the Purcell Room was originally billed as, 'An Interview With Buffy Sainte-Marie' but, due to the absence of an interviewer became, 'Buffy Sainte-Marie - A Multimedia Life'. We were treated to a slideshow of Buffy's photos over the years to get us in the mood and then on she strode with the confidence of an experienced public speaker. Buffy spoke for the next hour or so, delivering an entertaining and thought-provoking talk about indigenous peoples and how the ordinary peoples of Europe had suffered for centuries under the same rulers that invaded the Americas.

She then did a Q&A, answering questions the audience had previously written down. I had three questions answered:
  • 'No No Keshagesh was originally called AIM Elijah - what does that mean?' - Elijah refers to Elijah Harper, a Native American politician in Canada who blocked constitutional changes that hadn't been agreed with native peoples. AIM refers to the American Indian Movement.
  • 'What was the last record you bought?' - Alabama 3
  • 'If you were in the Olympics what sport would you take part in?' - Buffy pulled a face and said, 'naah' she wouldn't be in the Olympics since she lacks the competitive gene. She loves flamenco dancing but if she was being chased by a tiger she'd be the meal!

As a teacher, Buffy gave us three book to read as homework: 'Indian Givers' by Jack Weatherford, 'Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee' by Dee Brown and 'The Female Brain' by Louann Brizendine.

The second event was a gig in the Queen Elizabeth Hall and we were treated to a full two hours set. She walked onto the stage in a glitter jacket and with glitter in her hair with her band of Jesse, Leroy and Mike (also known as Juno award nominees Bruthers of Different Muthers). The setlist was:

Piney Wood Hills
Cho Cho Fire
I'm Gonna Be A Country Girl Again
Mister Can't You See
Cripple Creek
Still This Love Goes On
Up Where We Belong
No No Keshagesh
Universal Soldier
Darling Don't Cry
Until It's Time For You To Go
Working For The Government
Little Wheel Spin And Spin
Soldier Blue
The Big Ones Get Away
Blue Sunday
You're Not The Loving Kind
Look At The Facts
The Priests Of The Golden Bull
Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee
He's An Indian Cowboy At The Rodeo (encore with pow wow dancing).

There were two big highlights for me. The first came with 'Darling Don't Cry' when I was transported back to Belleville in Canada in 2005 and the theatre erupting into pow wow singing as the mainly First Nations  audience sang along and lifted the roof with their beautiful sound. The second was hearing 'Generation' for the first time played live.

Since it was an extended set then Buffy played some songs that she doesn't normally include in her set and 'Generation' was one of the additions. It's from the 'Buffy' album from the early 70s and a song I recall hearing for the first time back in 1976 on a BBC2  programme about Buffy. It was released again a couple of years ago when all of Buffy's early 70s albums were re-released. A mighty 'wow' for that song. The chorus ends with the line, "I just want to dance with the Rosebud Sioux this summer" and I was wearing my rosebud shirt to celebrate Buffy in London.

It's always good to see Buffy play live and the Queen Elizabeth Hall is a good venue to see her. My one beef about the Meltdown is that Buffy wasn't mentioned in any of the promotional materials for the series other than on the main poster that listed everyone - or, at least, I didn't see any mentions. Why was that, Meltdown people?

Thursday, 2 August 2012

London Ambassador Day 1

Today was my first day as a London Ambassador and, while I thoroughly enjoyed it, my feet are going 'ow, ow, ow' from walking up and down London's Southbank seeing what I could do to welcome the world to London. There's so much going on on the Southbank - we have the London Eye, the Royal Festival Hall, the Queen Elizabeth Hall, the National Theatre, art installations galore, pop-up restaurants and bars, the roof garden on top of the Queen Elizabeth Hall, Fisherman's Wharf, Jubilee Gardens... so much there and so much going on.

I met some lovely people - my fellow Ambassadors amongst them - who seemed really pleased that there was someone to give them a map of London and answer a few questions. Our job is to make visitors visits better, whether they're from elsewhere in the UK or around the world, and I hope we did that. I got slightly distracted on occasion by all the street artists along the Southbank - well, you've got to watch and enjoy!

I had three, small, personal highlights. Firstly being stopped by a woman from Holland who said she's been in London for two days and was thoroughly enjoying herself and that all the volunteers need to keep their energy levels up and be positive. Secondly by a bloke who asked what all the pink and purple shirts meant and was impressed that we were all volunteers and doing it for free. And thirdly that I met one of the planners of the Marathon who showed me her maps for road closures in exchange for one of my Olympic maps.

The whole time was positive, smiles everywhere and even my fellow cynical Londoners smiling and saying 'no thank you' when offered a map.  Well, some Londoners look like tourists too. I didn't hear a single negative comment.

There was a single major sadness. I approached Russian and Canadian Olympians (there seemed to be a lot of them about) and none of them wanted a map. My challenge over the next week is to persuade an Olympian that they need one of my maps.  Whichever team it is, they will be a star and fully deserve a Gold medal.

Watch out for the pink and purple shirts on the Southbank... it might just be me!

London 2012 Olympic Games - Day 6

Today was a bit of a medal rush for TeamGB with three Golds and three Silvers in a range of sports.

Gold and Silver were won in the two-man canoe slalom with Etienne Stott and Tim Baillie winning Gold and David Florence and Richard Hounslow winning Silver. Two medals in the same final isn't bad at all. That led on to winning Gold in the men's cycle sprint team with Sir Chris Hoy, Philip Hindes and Jason Kenny winning in a new world record time. That'll be a big weight off Chris's shoulders as one of the leaders of TeamGB who held the standard for the team at the Olympic Opening Ceremony. The final Gold was won by Peter Wilson in the men's shooting.

The second Silver was in rowing in the men's lighweight coxless fours with Richard and Peter Chambers, Rob Williams and Chris Bartley, and this is the team's third rowing medal, keeping the sport in the spotlight. The final Silver was for Gemma Gibbons in judo and, I think, I'm most pleased about that. Seeing the  footage of each of her bouts, the personal battle and her joy and celebration of each win was a lovely sight. She enjoyed herself and that comes across strongly - that's what it should be about. Well done Gemma!

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

London 2012 Olympic Games - Day 5

Today TeamGB delivered not one, but two, GOLD medals. The first gold medal for the team was in rowing and was won by Helen Glover and Heather Stanning in an amazing race that saw them effortlessly pull away from the rest of the race and power into the finishing line to the sound of a very euphoric crowd. It's particularly special since they've only been rowing together for two years, which is no time at all for a rowing team. Where do they go next, I wonder? It would be great if they stayed together and worked to get more women into the sport and more women winning. They seem like really nice people and potentially really powerful role models. Well done girls!

The second gold was won by Bradley Wiggins, who won the Tour de France last week. That's a great testament to his incredible fitness to recover from the Tour and still win a gold medal. It was one of those expected golds in which you half expect something to go wrong but it didn't. It was a commanding win from Bradley and he's all over the news this evening. It's an astonishing achievement and much is being made of him having now won more Olympic medals than anyone else in this country, which is pretty special. Note to the media - please remember Helen and Heather won gold first and deserve some coverage.

Bradley's colleague, Chris Froome also won bronze in the same race, which is good for British cycling, but he's hugely overlooked in the media in favour of Bradley.

In the pool, Michael Jamieson won an amazing silver in the men's 200 breaststroke that saw him catching the winner, getting closer and closer and, if there'd been another metre or so, would have caught him. The winner set a new world record and Michael was a smidgeon behind with a new GB record (again). That was a great race!

We also won bronze in the men's eights rowing. What should have been a happy event seemed more like mourning during the post-race interview. Yes guys, you wanted gold but you won a bronze, that's an OLYMPIC BRONZE so cheer up! You might not be proud of it but I am on your behalf, so well done!