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August 27, 2012

Windows 2012



That's weird. Two years ago we picked a fairly random summer's day to visit Lacock with the intention of visiting the Abbey, but when we arrived there was a village fair going on, with stalls and morris dancers and things. As we only had time to see one or the other (Abbey or fair) we decided on the latter and vowed to return another day to complete our original mission.

That day finally came today, but it also turned out to be the day of the village fair, with morris dancers. You could conclude from this that they have village fairs at Lacock every day, but it is August Bank Holiday, which I suppose is the day when you are most likely to bump into morris dancers in any English village.

This time we arrived much earlier, so had time for the fair, a quick look in the tithe barn and the Abbey - and could afford it, too, having recently become members of the National Trust, so we got into the Abbey for free. It has interesting gardens with a couple of artworks, and the building itself has three things of interest.

Firstly, it's old; 13th century, no less, and hasn't been an abbey since the Reformation, when it was converted into a private house. Very nice.

Secondly, it has been the location for various TV programmes and films, the most notable of which, apparently, is a couple of Harry Potter films.

Thirdly (and, to me, easily the most impressive thing), Lacock was the home of William Henry Fox Talbot, and some of his ground-breaking experiments into photography were conducted there. The story is too complicated to say phohtography was invented there or anywhere else, or even by anyone else, but in 1835, he photographed one of the windows in the Abbey which is now the oldest surviving negative in the world.

It may have taken me 51 years to make the short trip to Lacock Abbey and actually go inside and see the aforesaid window with my own eyes, but that's quite a momentous thing, if you ask me, and provides all visitors with potential 'This is the very spot' moments, which I find so inspiring.

I can't imagine what Fox Talbot would think if he could see people like me standing in front of the very same window and taking exactly the same view, from the same spot, only with a digital camera, with the option of broadcasting it to an unsuspected world on their blogs. So that's what I did, and I have included the original below my version.

All this seemed to be lost on some visitors, who walked past the window thinking it is just any old window, and completely oblivious to its significance in the grand story of mankind's greatest and most wondrous inventions. But then again, we had been guilty of doing the same, two years earlier, and our only excuse is we had been distracted by the morris dancers.

Footnote: this year there were not one but two troupes of morris dancers at the village fair, proving the First Law of Morris Dancers, which is you never find them more than ten yards away from a pub. One troupe were outside one village pub and the others outside another. My Second Law of Morris Dancers - that all lady morris dancers wear glasses - was also proved.



















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August 25, 2012

The Urban Spaceman



It's time to dig out a picture I took during last year's visit to the Kennedy Space Center (above), and I couldn't let the death of Neil Armstrong go by without saying something, although I am only one of billions of people who have been touched by what he did on July 20, 1969.

It's not a particularly sad day, as such, as he was 82, which isn't young, and I can't think of anybody who was ever walked the earth who led a fuller, more amazing or valuable life and died wishing he had done more. And of all the people in the world, he was probably the least likely you were ever going to meet anyway.

But he has been a hero of mine ever since 1969, when I started to realise, at the age of eight, that we were living through remarkable times, and - thanks to the example that Armstrong set - there wasn't much that mankind couldn't do if he put his mind to it.

These were the days before pointlessly restrictive school curricula, so our teacher introduced a space topic which dominated our education in the weeks leading up to the moon landings. We learned everything there was to know about space and space travel, and I maintain that nobody has ever received a more relevant and stimulating few weeks of education than we did in 1969.

My admiration for Armstrong grew as I read more about his story. It would be easy to think that with 40,000 people working on the Apollo project and five other men being given the same honour of commanding an Apollo mission, Armstrong was simply lucky to be the first or in the right place at the right time.

In fact, he was a superman with amazing qualities, even by astronaut standards, as you understand when you realise that it was him, not Mission Control or the computers, that was flying Apollo 11, like it was an aircraft, not a spacecraft. Yet he was shy, modest and human, despite being a superhuman.

He was a remarkable man who will be remembered forever, literally. And to think I lived during his lifetime.


Curry for dinner and tea



The cheek of it; raining on the Mela!

Fortunately, the heavy showers that were forecast didn't arrive until 3pm, so our annual enjoyment of the Swindon Mela wasn't dampened. Not much, anyway.

We made the traditional early start, this year meeting up with our friend Pete, his son Frank and his partner, Jules.

We sat down for a lovely curry and a pint of Arkell's, mooched around, bought a T-shirt, bumped into loads of people we know, bought some spicy snacky things, tasted (and really enjoyed) some spicy tea, watched some Bollywood dancing and went home - and had curry for tea, too.

The Mela is more or less the same every year, but we go every year and we'll be back for more next year.











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August 24, 2012

Paralympics countdown

Only just over a week to go until we are back in the Olympic Park for part two of our London 2012 adventures.

The Paralympics has always been part of the plan, so we have tickets for two athletics sessions, swimming (although Julie and Holly have bagged the two tickets), road cycling (at Brands Hatch) and the wheelchair basketball finals.

Professing a love of the Paralympics always sounds like you are being patronising, but as we've avidly watched TV coverage of the last two, we have long since signed up to the idea that if you thought the Olympics provided inspiration, then you obviously haven't seen the Paralympics. They are about admiration, not sympathy, and Channel 4 aren't calling the competitors Superhumans for nothing.

For a start, Britain not only proudly invented it and have led the charge to embrace it, but we will undoubtedly deliver the best and best supported Paralympic Games ever, starting next week.

But it's when you break it down to personal stories that the Paralympics really gives us our money's worth, because every single one of the stories of the athletes, whether attached to the winners or losers, is worth hearing.

This is a dilemma if you are on Twitter and looking around for interesting people to follow during the run-up and the games themselves. But I have stumbled on somebody who has instantly become my second favourite Paralympian, behind Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson (did I mention that I met her once?)

She is one of the new generation of great British Paralympians, being, I think, only 20, and her name is Bethany Woodward. She has cerebral palsy and is running in the T37 200m, and if you visit her website you discover for yourself what she has going for her.

The first thing to notice about Bethany is she looks lovely, and the second thing is she sounds lovely too. When you read her website, you soon realise she is lovely. And that's before you get to the little matter that she is the 400m World Champion in her class.

But the thing that transcends even all that, and the best place to start, is her attitude to sport and life. Her website includes the transcript of a speech that she gave to some schoolkids this year. It starts off humble, gets humourous in the middle and ends with a really philosophical look at running and life.

I am currently making another desperate attempt to get fit, and when it gets hard to put one foot in front of the other - which is every step, now that you come to mention it - I try to remember her words about feeling fast and light, even though I am, by no stretch of the imagination, neither fast nor light.

Sod's law: although we are going to two sessions of athletics, neither of them are when Bethany gets to run, but we will be cheering her through the telly.

You can follow her on Twitter: @bethywoodward

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August 15, 2012

Swindon man guaranteed silver, but heading for gold

I don't want to get too soppy about this, but exactly a quarter of a century ago today I got married, and I can't let the day go by without repeating that it is the best thing I ever did.

Or ever will.

We have talked for a long time about how to celebrate, but never came to any conclusion, except to plan some meals out, or possibly in, with family and friends, before the year is out.

We don't go in for buying each other lavish presents, so Julie got flowers and a pot plant, while I got a commemorative London 2012 coin, which was perfect. Spookily, the presentation pack it comes in features Big Ben and the London Eye, and runners running between them - and our vantage point for the marathon on Sunday was, indeed, between Big Ben and the London Eye.

The Olympics distracted us from our anniversary at first, but seemed to turn into the perfect marker, with near-perfect timing, so we can always look back on it to remind us.

I was going to say I feel like I'm permanently on top of the medals table, but they don't give you medals for something as easy as living with a woman with so many qualities as Julie has.

On the other hand, she has now been training for 25 years for her gold medal in tolerance, which I am officially awarding her today.


Betty Reynolds RIP

Going to a funeral is not the ideal way to celebrate your silver wedding anniversary, but I had to pay my respects to a nice old lady who made an impression, even though I only met her three times.

Betty Reynolds was 91 years old and had the distinction of (almost certainly) being the last person alive who actually met Alfred Williams.

I first met her a couple of years ago when I interviewed her for a feature I wrote on the Alfred Williams website, then saw her again in March of this year to take some photos that were used with a feature I wrote about her for the Swindon Advertiser. A few days later we also made her a guest of honour at a performance of The Hammerman, the musical about Alfred's life, which involved picking her up and dropping her off at Highworth, where she lived.

Despite her age, she was full of beans - obviously quite slow on her feet, but extremely bright, mentally. Her memories of her very young days in South Marston, including the day of Alfred's death in 1930, were crystal clear and very evocative; she was able to tell us things that no amount of studying the archives could. And when we drove her home from the musical, she didn't stop talking, all the way, having really enjoyed herself.

Betty looked like she was going to go on forever, and in one sense she will. She will always get a mention in the talks I do about Alfred, and our chairman also had the foresight to record her memories.


The softer side of hardcore

I have neglected to mention that Sean has been on a ten-day tour in Germany and Belgium with his band The Cold Harbour, in which he plays lead guitar and writes most of the songs.

It was the third and apparently most successful European tour they've undertaken.

Although Sean said their brand of hardcore punk is actually fairly soft for some of the events and venues they played in (!), they went down very well. One day they were the first act on the main stage of a big festival at Ypres, Belgium, and by the second or third song they had persauded enough fans to crawl out of their tents for there to be about 2,000 watching. It must be amazing to play in front of that many people and see a few of them already wearing T-shirts with your band's name on it.

So we are pretty proud, although hardcore punk is not something that would ever sit comfortably on my iPod alongside Barry Manilow or even my all-time hero, Al Stewart.

Talking of Al Stewart: Sean informs me that The Cold Harbour's Facebook page has now passed an impressive 5,000 likes and they are rapidly closing in on Al's page, which as 8,000.

The latest talk is of a tour in the Far East in 2013.

And all this with what is really Sean's second instrument, after the drums.

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August 12, 2012

The finish line



By the time we got home from watching the Olympic marathon today and had given ourselves time to get ready to watch the closing ceremony, we felt as if we had run a marathon.

But it has been worth every minute. It may have been quite hard work this last fortnight, but we have loved everything - whether watching it on the telly or seeing it in the flesh. Today was no different.

I was up at 4.45am; we were on the road from Swindon to Chiswick by 5.35am, and on the District Line by 7am.

We were looking for something suitable to fill our time after the marathon, which was due to start at 11am, but we realised it would be best to do something before the race. Of all places, we decided to go to the Royal Opera House - not for anything to do with opera, but because it was the venue for a free exhibition called The Olympic Journey.

Like all our Olympic planning - and not unlike London 2012 itself - everything came together perfectly, and we had a pleasant hour and a quarter taking in the exhibition, which included gold, silver and bronze medals from all modern Olympiads (except a gold from 1896) and the torch from each Games since 1936, when they first came up with the idea of a torch.

They'd also selected 16 great Olympians to tell their stories through short films, and for me the highlight of this part was the artefacts they had chosen to also illustrate the story - tickets, mascots and badges, plus personal items, such as Cathy Freeman's running shoes, Sir Steve Redgrave's rowing kit and - best of all - one of the shoes Jesse Owens wore while winning the long jump at Berlin in 1936. They also gave away free programmes and we posed for a free picture of us with the London 2012 Olympic Torch.

From Covent Garden we walked to the marathon route, and although we hadn't made our minds up where we wanted to be for the race, once I realised it was a possibility, I took the executive decision to get a spot where we could see the runners go past Big Ben, on Victoria Embankment, opposite the London Eye.

We had nearly and hour and a half to wait for the start, but it was well worth it, especially as we got to see them lap past us four times - the first time after a mile, and then every eight miles after that, so by the last lap they had just passed the 25-mile mark.

My favourite picture is of the three leaders who were side-by-side on the third pass (see below), but they had strung out into their final positions by the end, with Ugandan Stephen Kiprotich* well ahead (also pictured, just over a mile before he took the gold).

There are obviously loads more pictures in our Olympics/Paralympics album.

Having run four marathons myself, I still find it difficult to believe that human beings can run 26 miles in just over two hours, so I am always in awe of elite runners, but I was surprised that some of the men in the race were half an hour off the pace, and the back marker, who was from Lesotho, was reduced to walking part of the last mile at least.

Although feeling pretty tired ourselves by now, we really enjoyed watching the runners go past, but even better was the atmosphere when the race was over. We walked down to Parliament Square, where there is an art installation featuring all the competing nations' flags, which I and lots of other people were drawn to because it was aimed at capturing the Olympic spirit.

But even more illustrative and captivating was the crowd, which included people wearing the flags of all nations. Apart from the Union Jack, the most popular was the Kenyan flag, which lots of people seemed to have adopted for the day. I watched a big Finnish man getting a group of apparently genuinely Kenyans pose for him. That summed up the kind of atmosphere it was - like the United Nations on its holidays.

It was the same all down Whitehall to Trafalgar Square, with the atmosphere made even better because the roads were still closed. Leicester Square was also packed with the same international gathering of people, and they all spilled over into Chinatown too, which we were heading for, for lunch.

We had a cheap and cheerful all-you-can-eat Chinese meal (with a pot of Chinese tea for me), then a brief stroll around Covent Garden before heading home. Half-way along the motorway I was struggling to stay awake, so we had to swap drivers.

We always knew it would be hard work if we were going to make the most of the Olympics, but we wish we could do it all again. When we are older and greyer, we will have some fantastic memories of a brilliant couple of weeks.

So we are already looking forward to the Paralympics. They start in 17 days' time, although we have to wait another two days after the opening ceremony before Phase Two of our London 2012 journey enters Phase Two.

*Bizarrely, one of the Kenyans was also called Kiprotich















More pictures in our Olympics/Paralympics album.

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August 11, 2012

Mo-mentous



Another non-Olympic trip today, and another brilliant day out, thanks to our friends Pete and Julie, who we joined, along with other friends, at their house in Worcestershire.

We spent a lazy afternoon looking around the surprisingly entertaining Witley Court and were treated to not just a home-cooked dinner but also a home-reared one (nearly all provided from their little smallholding), then rounded it off by watching Julesbury (Pete's son Frank and his partner Jules) in concert at the nearby New Inn.

To be honest, I'd never heard of Witley Court before this week, and probably would never have gone there if it hadn't been recommended. It used to be a mansion, but is now only a shell, thanks to a fire in the 1930s, but the ornate Italianate church that is attached to it survived. The mansion now seems to be most famous for its fountain, which is switched on, on the hour, to make the scene even more photogenic.

It's the kind of place people go to shoot glamour pictures (see below) because, despite being a ruin, you can remind yourself - if you needed it in these extraordinary Olympic times - that we live in a beautiful country.

Julesbury were in fine form and seem to be getting better and better, thanks to Jules's powerful voice and the majestic yet modest guitar-playing of Frank. We are also looking forward to them adding more strings to their bow with the full-band version of Julesbury, which will include Sean on the drums.

It was well worth staying until the end, even though we had to be up at an ungodly hour the next day for the last leg of our Olympic adventure. It's really turning into a summer to remember, and it was fitting that part of the day was the unforgettable sight of Mo Farah winning the 5,000m gold medal (to add to the 10,000m he won last week), which we all gathered around the telly to cheer.































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August 10, 2012

Blessed are the cracked for they let in the light



In all the excitement of going to London, I sort of forgot to upload some pictures of a place we spotted when we were parking our car in Chiswick, last Sunday, before setting off for the tube that took us to the Games.

I just had to walk back and see this house in an ordinary residential street - although probably quite an expensive property, being handily placed in west London.

The truck in the drive seems to be a permanent feature, and among all the little details that make it such an unusual house, the fake blue plaque is probably the best.

I thought the place just seemed to capture the bohemian potential of London and probably the current mood, and while we were admiring it and photographing it, the lady who lived opposite came out and started chatting to us about the Olympics (my official London 2012 T-shirt and Julie's Team GB were enough of a giveaway, even without the little flag that she insisted on buying and waving).

The lady sounded pretty well-to-do and was in late middle-age, and when I asked her what she thought about living opposite such a place, I expected her to turn her nose up.

"It's great," she said, and added, as if with a wink: "They have some wild parties."

Whether or not she gets invited, I couldn't tell, but she obviously didn't disapprove. If it was a street in Swindon I expect the whole street would disapprove, but even if you felt like disapproving of such things in London, there probably wouldn't be much point.

But hats off to the people who turned an ordinary house into a real work of art.















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August 5, 2012

9.63 out of 10



That's not a day we are going to forget in a hurry.

It was the day when we not only actually went to watch the Olympic Games at the Olympic Stadium, but saw Usian Bolt set a new Olympic record with the second fastest 100m that any human being has ever run. And that was only the cherry on top of a huge cake.

We had naturally expected a lot from London 2012, but it easily surpassed all expectations. If the attitude of the volunteers at Eton Dorney reminded us of Walt Disney World (see below), then everything about the Olympic Park did.

There is a real buzz about it and there is so much to see - much more than you can see in a day - and the only difference is that whereas you can expect to bump into Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck at WDW, at the Olympic Park it was Kriss Akabusi.

But I am getting ahead of myself because by a twist of fate, our athletics tickets brought us to London on the same day of the women's marathon, so we just had to see that as well.

Having stayed overnight at Heston, I worked out the best plan was to park at Chiswick and get us on the District Line, which would take us all the way to Tower Hill to see the race. Like all our Olympic planning - and not unlike London 2012 itself - it worked perfectly, even if we had a two-hour wait before the runners came past. We had a prime spot for various reasons: a slight bend that gave us a good view up the road; a section where they ran on both sides of the carriageway; and we could see not only the towers of the Tower of London, but also the Olympic rings hanging from Tower Bridge, which seemed pretty appropriate.

Unfortunately, the weather was appropriately British too as it was pleasant to begin with but turned to heavy rain - hardly the showers that were forecast and which had persuaded me I wouldn't need a coat. It was still raining, six miles into the race, when the runners came past us but by then I had bought an 'emergency poncho'. The weather brightened up a lot before the runners came past for the second time.

In fact, they came past our vantage point three times, but we only hung around for two of the laps as we were keen to get to the Olympic Park.

Once inside and once we had got over both the breathtaking scene and the fact that we had finally arrived, we had our lunch in the rain. But now we didn't care about the weather. I think we both felt a kind of relief that we were there. Having found out, months ago, that we had got tickets for the session including the men's 100m final, we then wondered whether there had been some kind of mistake. We had also been in London for the first half of the day, which gave us countless opportunities to somehow lose the tickets or have them stolen.

The pressure of having the hottest event tickets we've held also got to me in the morning when I put the plug in the bath to take a shower - just in case I knocked a contact lens out, having forgotten to bring any spares. This is despite the fact that I've never lost a contact lens in the bathroom, since starting to wear them in 1978!

We had a stroll round the park, resisted the temptation to buy any souvenirs - the only black mark: prices are far too high - and had the distraction of Andy Murray winning gold in the tennis at Wimbledon, which Julie was keen to watch on the big screen.

Still, it added to the atmosphere even more, and as the time for the athletics approached, the crowds grew huge.

After some pie and mash for tea at 5.30pm, we couldn't resist going into the stadium any longer, so crossed the bridge to the turnstiles. There had been no mistake about our tickets after all, so within five minutes we were inside the stadium and climbing up to our seats in row 63.

I had never been very worried about being so high in the stand or so far from the finish line because I knew from experience that the stadia are always smaller in real life than they appear on the telly. In fact, the Olympic Stadium is perfect for all spectators. It's small enough for you to feel part of the action but big enough to impress, while the fact that it's circular makes it even more elegant.

We were at the opposite end to the Olympic Flame; if it had been at our end we would have almost been able to warm our hands on it.

We were still drinking in the atmosphere when the action started - high jump qualifying, right in front of us, which Britain's Robbie Grabarz easily made it through; the women's triple jump final, which was on our side of the stadium; the women's 400m hurdles heats; the men's 100m semi-finals, which gave us our first look at Usain Bolt; the men's 1500m semi-finals; and the first of the track finals: the women's 400m.

This was our best hope of a British medal as Beijing winner Christine Ohuruogu had made it to the final. However, it wasn't much of a hope as she wasn't among the favourites, and when she hit the home straight, well behind the leaders, we were sure we would be disappointed. But she came from nowhere to win the silver.

We were also treated to two medal ceremonies that were left over from the previous night, in which British athletes had won gold - long jumper Greg Rutherford and Mo Farah in the 10,000m.

Meanwhile, the men's hammer final, at the other end of the stadium, got underway. Sadly, the British guy was never in contention, and it was hard to see the hammers until they hit the ground. However, we were impressed with the little remote control Minis that ferried the hammers back to the start.

Our session lasted three hours and ten minutes, but we were amazed how fast the time went. There was always something going on and something to watch. If it wasn't the sporting action, there were preparations and celebrations, and even watching them put out hurdles is fascinating.

Pretty soon, it was time for the main event came round: the men's 100m final. I had taken hundreds of pictures during the day, but decided - as with the women's 400m - not to have this distraction for the big race, which would obviously only last ten seconds.

The race may have been over in the blink of an eye, but the build-up and the laps of honour afterwards are all part of the excitement. And just as good as the race itself is the silence while they are on the starting blocks. You can't help holding your breath while you wait for history to be made, and know that literally billions of people around the world are watching.

Most people, including me, were delighted that Bolt won, and although his time of 9.83 seconds wasn't a world record, it was an Olympic record, and it soon came up on the scoreboard that the silver and bronze medal winners had done personal bests. It was only later that I realised that only the runner who came eighth took more than ten seconds to get to the line.

After Bolt's lap of honour there was still the women's 400m medal ceremony to come, although half of the crowd sadly decided to leave before it took place, which was a bit of a shame.

I was also surprised how quickly people filed out after that, too. As we were relatively close to the start line of the 100m, I thought it would be worth going down for a closer look. We could almost reach out and touch the blocks on lane seven (third from the right) that Bolt had defended his title in. What struck me most, looking down the home straight, is just how long 100m looks from there.

We left the stadium and had a few more minutes of soaking up the atmosphere before we left the park, which looks impressive at night too.

But it was finally time to go after a long but brilliant day. We had a surprisingly long walk to West Ham station, a tube journey of more than 20 stops, a short walk to the car and then the drive back home, arriving at about 1.30am.

Our Olympic adventures are nearly over - just the men's marathon to come - but we also have Paralympic events to look forward to.

As well as the pictures here, there are plenty more on our online photo album.

There is also a Usain Bolt video to see - not the race, but a small part of his lap of honour, which gives a nice view of the stadium. See it here.













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August 4, 2012

What, no Olympics?

I don't think anybody could ever accuse us of wasting our weekends.

Despite all the Olympic stuff going on, we still managed to enjoy a lovely day out in Brighton today.

Our friends Mike and Zeta, who actually live in China at the moment, are over for a visit, and when they suggested meeting up, we realised it would fit in perfectly with our Olympic schedule and theirs to meet them in Brighton.

It's the third time we've been to Brighton in about a year, and it is rapidly becoming one of our favourite places. In fact, there is something about its cheery, cosmopolitan, chilled out and unashamed (despite being British) character that is not unlike the kind of stuff currently being generated by the Games, and which appeals to us more and more.

Zeta is Peruvian, which means she finds a lot of British things a culture shock, so we will be interested to find out what she will make of Brighton, when she has had time to digest it.

After strolling along the prom prom prom (tiddly om pom pom) and the tacky pier, we had lunch, chilled out and then went our separate ways - them back to relatives and us to a pub to watch an amazing night of British gold-winning action in the Games. For the record: heptathlete Jessica Ennis, long jumper Greg Rutherford and 10,000m runner Mo Farah all won.

Then it was back to Heston for our overnight Travelodge stop, so we could get on the tube early in the morning and head for our big day out at the Olympic Park. Unfortunately, we went to the wrong Travelodge, on the wrong side of the M4, which wasted a lot of time, but at least our exertions mean we don't have any trouble getting to sleep at the moment.

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August 2, 2012

Oarsome



The latest episode in our London 2012 adventure was our first ticketed event - but turned out to be enjoyable for largely the same reasons as the first two.

The atmosphere at Eton Dorney Lake for the rowing was excellent, even if, as a sporting contest, it slightly passed us by. As a spectacle it was interesting as we'd never watched any kind of rowing race before, and the sight of crews of eight, especially, is a pretty majestic thing to witness.

We always knew it was going to be difficult to be really engrossed in the action as - like half the crowd - we had unallocated standing tickets rather than seats in a stand. It meant that we were never going to see the finish close-up, but by the end of the day we felt as if we had actually turned the situation to our advantage.

While we had to watch the closing stages of the dozen races, including the three finals at the end, on one of the two big TV screens, not being confined to a seat meant that we were freer to explore the whole venue, soak up the atmosphere and have a look around. This included a close encounter with Wenlock, the Olympic mascot, and being photographed with an Olympic torch (hence the rare picture of me appearing on this blog).

We had to move half-way down the 2km course to find a spot where viewing the boats from the fairly level spectator area was easy - blocked only by the people who cycle along the path next to the lake, who are all coaches and officials.

At one stage we walked the whole length of the course to be at the start for one of the races - although sadly they don't let spectators within 100m of the starting gates. The long walk also meant that we got to see, upclose, the big Olympic rings that were near the start - probably something that most of the seated spectators missed.

Medals-wise, it was a bit disappointing that, despite British teams making it to all three finals of the day, there were two fifth places and - where we had hoped we might see a gold medal won - the lightweight men's fours missed out by a quarter of a second and had to settle for silver.

But it didn't matter. It is still pretty incredible to think that we have actually attended Olympic events, rowing was a genuine first, and the growing national pride I have been experiencing during the Olympics - which is still something I'm unaccustomed to - took on another aspect today.

We were seriously impressed with the park and ride set-up for spectators, which made the trip easy for us (by car to Maidenhead and then shuttle bus to the venue). As soon as we arrived it reminded us of the Walt Disney World approach, and we were amazed to find that the rest of the Eton Dorney experience felt the same.

The organisers had clearly gone out of their way to choose the right volunteers in the first place and then train them in the kind of customer relations skills that Disney and most other Florida venues excel at. So everybody smiled, wished you a nice day or a safe journey home, welcomed you to the venue and the Olympics in general, and tried to make the experience as good as possible. Some people had been given megaphones and sat on top of tennis umpire-style chairs, chatting with the crowds as they passed.

And it worked. We experienced levels of efficiency and friendliness literally never experienced on home soil before - or at least never on this grand scale. And that's yet another reason to be thankful for the Olympics.

On our way out we bumped into our friend John Forster, who is 74 and is actually involved in coaching rowing to kids. He had had a great day too, and came away with the same positive impression.

After two tiring days, I am now catching my breath before we head for the Olympic Park and the main event on Sunday.

The pictures below are obviously only a selection. There are loads more here.











There is a footnote to Wednesday's trip to see Bradley Wiggins win gold in the Men's Time Trial. It's this video by Paul Ashman, which not only captures the atmosphere of the day, but features my arm and a few cheers from me as Wiggo finishes the last 250m of the race and we watch him cross the line on the big screen. Make sure you turn the sound up.


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August 1, 2012

Go Wiggo!



It's all very well going to the Olympics, but you really need to come out of it with a feeling that you've seen history being made - and the chance to say "I was there."

Well, now I can. Or rather we can - me and Sean, who went along to see the women's and men's cycle time trials, which started and finished - after 29km for the women and 44km for the men - at Hampton Court.

We left home before 9am, driving to Shepperton and then taking a slow train to Hampton Wick. The route of both races actually passed the front of the station, but we were heading for nearer the finish, especially having heard that our drum teacher and cycling fanatic Paul (who actually does endurance races) and his daughter Sophie had got there early and had bagged a fantastic spot, just 200m from the finish, and were saving us a space.

This was virtually as close as you could get without getting tickets - and had the added advantage of being close to a big TV screen, which kept us informed of both races. We had about an hour to wait until the women's race actually began - and more than half an hour before the first finisher came past (in time trials, riders race against the clock, starting at 90-second intervals).

Slim British hopes of a medal from the women's race faded, with Emma Pooley ending up in sixth place. But there were bigger hopes for the men.

After Saturday's disappointment, news that Bradley Wiggins was eight seconds down on German Tony Martin at the first time check didn't bode well, but he reversed that on the next split and it soon became clear that he was heading for gold after all. And there was a bonus in that Chris Froome got the bronze medal.

The atmosphere was as good as any sporting event I've ever been to before - and also made me pretty proud to be part of it as it had all the hallmarks of a cricket match and the British sense of fair play. Despite the noisy, partisan support for Wiggins and Froome, characterised by a lot of thumping of fists on boards, it didn't stop everybody - not just the casual watchers but knowledgeable fans too - from cheering Wiggins's rivals.

That included more thumping of the boards for big German rival Tony Martin when he set off, even though he eventually won the silver medal. And when one rider broke a chain before he'd even got off the start ramp, the crowd gave him the board-thumping treatment too.

There was also a special cheer for Fabian Cancellara, who bravely rode with an injury sustained in Saturday's road race. If fit, he might have been challenging Wiggins rather than finishing fourth - and everybody in the crowd sportingly recognised the efforts and the reputation of the Swiss.

The best moment of the day was undoubtedly when Wiggins whizzed past us - so fast that I didn't manage to get a picture of him (for the second event running) - and then disappeared round the corner into the home straight. We watched on the big screen as he crossed the line in the lead, with only the struggling Cancellara left to finish.

The rest is history. The story made the headlines on the national news and Julie even reckons she spotted me in the crowd on one of the bulletins. She may have been right. As I will tell anybody if they talk about Wiggins's famous win: we were there.

There are yet more photos on our London 2012 photo album.