Thursday, 30 August 2012

Review - Paralympic Opening Ceremony

In the beginning was the Word. And the Word was with God and the Word was God. The same was with in the beginning with God. John1 v1-2

Well, that's the biblical view. Last night, it all started with the words of Stephen Hawking and a Big Bang. God was present - in the anthem at least, and also in the "god particle" - but the words were Hawking's. And Shakespeare's. And theme of Enlightenment was unapologetically scientific. 
The Paralympic Opening Ceremony kicked off with the words of one of the greatest thinkers to have ever lived - and one of the best examples of what can be achieved despite what life can throw at you. To have Hawking as a narrator and guide through the opening ceremony - encouraging the world to look to the stars and not down at it's feet - was inspired. Where the Olympics had a brief appearance from Tim Berners-Lee, the Paralympics had the greatest scientific mind since Einstein. Great as Berners-Lee's achievements are, there was no contest.

His words were followed by the Big Bang which was followed in turn by a routine performed to a backing-track of Rhianna's Umbrella. While the umbrella motif was an important part of the overall ceremony, this section was disappointing; it lacked wit and it lacked Brit. Fortunately, this was an aberration.

The lack-lustre opening number led into another appearance by Hawking and the first appearance of Prospero... Not, this time, Branagh as Brunel as Prospero but Sir Ian McKellen with disabled actress Nicola Miles-Wilden as Miranda. For the rest of the show, these three would be our guides; helping us to explore the world and our place in it.
This was followed by an original composition, "Principia", composed for the occasion by Errollyn Wallen and sung by a massed choir of performers. Inspired by Newton's Principia Mathmatica, it celebrated Scientific and Human Endeavour.
The Queen and Sir Philip Craven (head of the IPC) entered followed by the Union Flag which was accompanied by a beautiful rendition of Britten's setting of God Save The Queen. Rarely heard, it really does deserve wider dissemination.

Then the athletes parade then got underway and - perhaps predictably - overran spectacularly. It was almost eleven by the time our Paralymians made their way into the sold-out stadium to an accompaniment of Bowies' Heroes and 60-odd thousand cheering spectators.
The stadium - now bursting with both spectators and athletes - was rapt as the programme recommenced and Denise Leigh, the winner in 2001 of Channel 4's Operatunity, sang another new composition (also by Wallen) based on the Paralympic motto "Spirit in Motion". It was a spellbinding moment which augured well for what was to follow.
Lord Coe and Sir Philip Craven gave the opening speeches - Coe's inspirational, Craven's slightly too long - and the Queen (with slightly more enthusiasm than at the Olympics) declared the games open. Channel 4 reported that this was the first a head of state had opened both Olympic and Paralympic Games - if so, then it's another sign of progress. The Paralympic flag was paraded in to the strains of Holst's Jupiter, and raised to the Paralympic anthem. The oaths of the athletes, coaches and officials were taken - and it was time for the off again.
Handel's "Eternal Source of Light Divine", sung by Elin Manahan Thomas, raised more goosebumps as six paralympians - including Dame Tanni Grey-Thompson took to Zip Wires across the stadium in an aerial ballet. Miranda's journey of discovery - in an upside down umbrella - pays tribute to our nautical past and the role of science in navigation and leads to yet another spine-tingling, eye-welling moment: Birdy playing a piano and singing "Bird Gerhl" accompanied by double-amputee dancer David Toole.
This was a truly remarkable moment in an evening of remarkable moments. Mind, Body and Spirit uniting to convey something special about the human condition: it's ability to triumph over adversity and the inherent worth of all.
A tribute to Isaac Newton was followed by a tribute to the Large Hadron Collider, where the Higgs bosum (another British scientific idea) appears to have been identified in real life. Orbital performed and upped the tempo - to be followed by the Graeae theatre company performing Ian Dury's Spasticus Autisticus. Even this celebration of science could be edgy, it seemed. McKellen was waving a banner for equality!
And so, at last, we arrived at the lighting of the cauldron. The flame was carried into the stadium by Royal Marine Commando Joe Townsend - who wants to compete in the Triathlon when it becomes a Paralympic event in Rio - who descended on a zip-wire from the top of the "Orbit" tower. It was then handed to footballer David Clarke before being given to Margaret Maughan to light the cauldron. There was something very fitting about the choice of the winner of Britain's first ever Paralympic Gold (back in 1960) to perform the task - and for future, present and past Paralympians to all be involved.
Where Danny Boyle's Olympic Ceremony was exuberant and modern, Jenny Sealey and Bradley Hemmings created a more sedate, measured vision of Britain but one which is equally at one dealing with it's history, particularly scientific history, and the future. One in which, as Hawking said, "there should be no boundary to human endeavour". 

It was a ceremony in which (dis)ability was both present and not present - with performers of all disabilities and none at one in the presentation of the spectacle. There was no patronising and no sympathy seeking. There was just a cast of thousands wanting to put on a show to match those of just a few weeks ago. It was exactly as things should be - a vision of a Britain and World not yet attained but which this Paralympics can help build.
One of my tweets last night said "Welcome to the Greatest Paralympics ever. We ran a Great Olympics but these games could be a bigger legacy to international sport." Whilst our Olympics were great, the competition was fierce - we couldn't match the extravagance of China, for example, and there will be future games that will exceed us in other areas. But our Paralympics will be a stand-out moment in the history of the movement; a staging point that says "This event is every bit as important as the Olympic Games. These athletes are as elite as their "able-bodied" counterparts. These games are worth investing in, are worth seeing, are worth supporting."
The show ended with Beverley Knight singing I Am What I Am. Not a disco-diva karaoke version but a slowed-down, soulful version. It was pitch-perfect and it said everything that needed to be said.

After a shaky start and a lengthy parade, it was the perfect close to a truly astounding, creative and emotional ceremony. In many ways more structured and coherent than Boyle's Olympic opener with (arguably) a better playlist than Gavin's Olympic Closing Ceremony, it was a ceremony that took the Paralympics another massive step on the way to being treated as seriously as it's bigger brother. In that respect it truly was about Enlightenment.


P.S. Aside from the peculiar syntax of the second verse, I was amazed to pull the quote from John from my memory.
P.P.S. I hope to goodness they make a CD of the music available - as yet, there is no sign of this.

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

NOW! That's What I Call A Tune! 47

And so with NOW! 47 - released in November 2000 - we reach the last of the 20th Century NOW! albums - and next week we'll enter a shiny new decade, century and millenium. There's lots of bubblegum pop to choose from... But that's all for next week!

There are a number of tracks I could have chosen this week too - including In Demand from Texas' Greatest Hits album (I struggle to believe that was 12 years ago but that's growing old for you!) I've chosen LeAnn Rimes instead though. She has a truly amazing voice - particularly on "How Do I Live?" which she sang as a mere 15 year old. On that song, her voice was mature beyond her years even if it's arguable if she had the life-experience to really appreciate the lyrics. 

For now, though, this is Can't Fight The Moonlight:


Tuesday, 28 August 2012

36 hours... and counting...

It may only have been just over two weeks, but the Olympics seems to have been ages ago. A fortnight of sporting brilliance, in which Britain proved it could both efficiently organise and host the world's largest sporting festival and win bucket-loads of medals. Ah, the Games of the XXX Olympiad were truly Britain's Golden Fortnight...

Should you still be suffering from the post-Olympic blues, fear not, it's just two days until elite sport returns to the East-End of London and just 18 hours to the Opening Ceremony of the XIV Paralympic Games. It's another chance for Britain to shine on the international stage - and for us to bask in the reflected glory of our Gold, Silver and Bronze medal winners - and all the others who perform to and beyond their expectations.

If, like me, you forgot there were other broadcasters than the BBC whilst the Olympics were on, you need to check that "4" button on your remote still works... It's time to meet the Superhumans on Channel 4. 

(aside: I'm really annoyed that that video has embedding disabled - I have no idea why Channel 4 wouldn't want to facilitate it's dissemination as wide as possible and can only imagine it's to do with licencing restrictions in relation to the backing track.)

In case you haven't seen them, Channel 4 have compiled a range of videos introducing both Paralympians and Paralympic Sports.

Here, for example, are some of our Wheelchair Rugby athletes describing the full-on nature of the sport and the injuries it can cause. Like it's able-bodied counterpart, it's not a game for the feint-hearted but as Kylie Grimes says "I've broken my neck, what more can I do?":

And here's (the rather cute) Jonnie Peacock speaking about Oscar Pistorius:

You can find these videos and many more on Channel 4 Paralympics You Tube Channel - go have a browse! And remember, the Opening Ceremony kicks off at 1930hrs tomorrow.


Monday, 27 August 2012

K25 Part 8 - Tightrope

The tardiness of my posting is getting worse and worse... not only was my Saturday Six two days late but I very nearly forgot the latest offering from Kylie as part of her K25 monthly treats.

I say offering, but this month there were two... The first is advertised at the start of the video - a special Kylie edition of an iPhone app - Beat the Intro. It's duly been added and - whilst perhaps not as much fun as SongPop - it has kept me somewhat amused.

The second treat follows on and is a version of Tightrope (a B-Side for In Your Eyes) from one of the Melbourne "Anti-Tour" shows.



Saturday Six 2 - The Bank Holiday Monday Edition

Well it's only the second Saturday Six and I'm afraid I've already let it slip by a couple of days... I do have half an excuse, though, having spent all Saturday out delivering! That said, I don't have a great excuse for yesterday - I did start blogging but other things just took over...

Anyway, here are this week's six:

First up, another two Assange related posts; The Blog That Peter Wrote analyses his Evita-like balcony speech whilst David Allen Green bursts some of the myths which supporters of Assange have been keen to perpetrate.

Caron has news of the book launch of Paddy Ashdown's new book on the inaugural mission of the Special Boat Service.

Lib Dem Voice's Stephen Tall discusses the imminent cabinet reshuffle and proposes a way forward that could see the raising of the profile of Liberal Democrat achievements in the government.

Jae Kay thinks the Campaign for Marriage isn't just missing a trick but employing Americanised tactics doomed not to work in the UK. Not that he's complaining...

And finally, the esteemed Mo Farah has been photographed running away from things. Lots of things.


Sunday, 26 August 2012

Sunday Sounds 50

I'm not a particular fan of Queen - them having been somewhat before my time (or at least before I listened to pop), although I can remember seeing at least some of the Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert as we did have a telly by that point.

I'm also one of those people who hears the opening bars of Under Pressure and can't help but think of Vanilla Ice. Not Good.

Putting all that to one side, though, I found these videos while trawling You Tube for Annie Lennox performances. First up, Lennox, David Bowie and Queen in rehearsal with, amongst others, George Michael and Andrew Ridgeley also around.

And here is the actual performance:


Wednesday, 22 August 2012

NOW! That's What I Call A Tune! 46

I was going to choose Stephen Gately with New Beginning but I couldn't find a good version of it on You Tube. In its place, I've decided to stay in Ireland and to choose another act managed (I think) by Louis Walsh. 

Hands up if you remember Samantha Mumba and Gotta Tell You...


Sunday, 19 August 2012

Sunday Sounds 49

It's Sunday Afternoon (just). Why don't you go and pour yourself a Brandy, don your Smoking Jacket, light a Cheroot and - when you're quite ready - settle back and enjoy Herbie Hancock and Annie Lennox performing Every Time We Say Goodbye?


Saturday, 18 August 2012

Saturday Six

Welcome to a new feature for my blog. Saturday Six will be a hand-picked half-dozen selected from my favourite blogposts and articles of a week; drawn from the pool of blogs I read and links I've followed on Twitter. It's likely to have a political bent as though I don't write as many political posts as I would like, I do read plenty!

On that basis, Stephen's Liberal Journal and Caron's Musings are likely to feature regularly, as they do this week. While I'm mentioning other blogs, I'd also point you in the direction of Jonathan Calder's Six of the Best posts, Andrew Hickey's Linkblogging and Jennie Rigg's The Blood is the Life posts for further digests of what people are reading. And, of course, there's the Lib Dem Golden Dozen.

So, without much further ado, the inaugural half-dozen are:

Stephen and Caron's pieces on Julian Assange and the UK's "threat" to enter the Ecuadorian Embassy to remove him.

Tom Copley on LabourList - on the irony of Assange's relationship with Ecuador.

Why should School Playing Fields be the responsibility of the Department for Education and associated QUANGOs? Dan Falchikov has an excellent point.

Suffering from OWS (Olympic Withdrawal Syndrome)? There's nothing like a good montage to perk you up - and Stephen (a different Stephen!) has one from the Lego Games.

The final post this week goes to Jo over at Stealing Good Design for her to-die-for desserts. Well, I say that, but I'm still awaiting my dinner invite! :-p In any case, if these were even half as good as her cakes, then they would have been exceptional!


Friday, 17 August 2012

See No Evil 2012 - 1

It's that time again - Nelson Street in Bristol is hosting the second See No Evil. Last year's event saw a grey, soul-less, dead thoroughfare between Bristol's shopping and entertainment quarters transformed into an outdoor gallery with lots of colourful and images. Sure, not everything was to everyone's taste (some even claimed none of it was to their taste) but there was no denying the artistry of many of the pieces and the difference it made to a journey down the street. This year will see more pieces painted, additional sites used and the event also forms part of  Festival 2012 and the Cultural Olympiad to boot.

Three large scale pieces from last year have been kept; the rest painted over ready for this year's pieces: many of which have been getting executed over the past week. There is also an additional site at Temple Meads this year, where a particularly impressive "Last Supper" scene has taken shape... 

Here are some "Work In Progress" pictures taken over the past week; look out for these and other works in various posts to come:

You can see my pictures from last year's event here.


Julian Assange: Some Thoughts

So, Julian Assange has been granted diplomatic immunity by Ecuador and Britain stands accused of threatening to storm the Ecuadorian embassy in order to forcibly remove him and extradite him to Sweden.

Assange is a divisive figure - and not just between the establishment and the extreme left. He is divisive even amongst those who would consider themselves liberal. The added complication of rape allegations - which he denies and are seen as a proxy for American moves to seek his extra

This divisiveness has led to two of the Liberal Democrat bloggers I follow most closely publicly disagreeing: somewhat of a rarity as Caron pointed out when I tweeted about it:

You can read Stephen and Caron's respective views here and here

I'm going to qualify my remarks by saying that I've not followed the Assange case particularly closely. Also, while I believe that leaks can be justified, I believe the wholesale dumping of information into the public domain is irresponsible. Anyway, here are some thoughts that sprang to mind earlier:

1. We shouldn't be storming embassies in order to extract people we wish to extradite. Doing so would undermine the integrity of the diplomatic system and, potentially, put British Embassy staff at risk if similar circumstances were to arise elsewhere.

In any case, the statement reads more as a bit of sabre rattling - applying thumbscrews - rather than as a serious threat; it has, of course, somewhat backfired on the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

2. ...but we should be extraditing Assange. Whatever you think of the motivations of the two woman involved in the allegations against him. Whatever they alleged political backgrounds and former pronunciations, rape allegations are serious and should be thoroughly investigated. Ironically, this is one of those issues that many supporters of Assange would otherwise be adamant about. 

As to the seriousness of the charges: whether or not the acts in question would fall under the definition of rape in this country, whatever happened to "When in Rome?"...

It is alleged Mr Assange left Sweden when his lawyer was informed of his imminent arrest. It is a fact that he took refuge in the Ecuadorian Embassy when extradition proceedings were due to start. As things stand (and as far as I understand it) there is no US Arrest Warrant outstanding. Even if their was, Sweden is a fellow liberal democracy with a robust legal system - and is a co-signatory to the European Convention on Human Rights. I see no reason not to allow it follow due process and - should the US issue a warrant - deal with it appropriately.

3. Should we really be taking Human Rights Lessons from Ecuador? Caron's blog contains a link to the Amnesty International pages and reports on the country - do take a look. I find myself wondering what the regime of President Correa would have done if Wikileaks had leaked embarrassing or harmful Ecuadorian documents.


Thursday, 16 August 2012

¿Está siendo atendidas?*

*Are you being served? (according to Google Translate, anyway...)

I'm currently jotting down some thoughts (or at least transcribing of some I jotted down earlier) on Julian Assange and the goings-on of the past couple of days. Here's a little filler post, in the style of a letter to Private Eye, though.

You will no doubt have seen that a Mr Assange has been granted political asylum by Ecuador. As he is clearly related to a certain Mr Humphries, formerly of Grace Brothers, are we to expect him to be serving with equal aplomb in Quito's premier department store, Gracia Hermanos?
Yours etc..


Wednesday, 15 August 2012

NOW! That's What I Call A Tune! 45

Back in 2000, when NOW! 45 came out, I was still in my first career in grocery retailing. I was 9st 13lbs, working in Lockerbie, living in Dumfries and was getting desperate to be back in the central belt of Scotland.

Don't get me wrong - Lockerbie is a lovely place but for someone from (in Scottish terms) a reasonably sized town - it was a too small; in a town of c. 5,000 people, everyone knows everyone's business and when you work in the only supermarket in town, that includes you! Still, I have some fond memories of my three years there.

This week's chosen track is Gabrielle with Rise - a track that I had on CD single and which I probably embued with too much meaning at the time: but that's another story and probably not for this blog!



Sunday, 12 August 2012

Balloon Fiesta Mass Ascent

On Friday after work I took myself up to the Bristol International Balloon Fiesta to watch the "Mass Ascent" - when over 100 balloons took to the air over Bristol. (Or, in Friday's case, over North Somerset - the wind direction sent them away from the city!)

Here are some of the pictures I took:


Wednesday, 8 August 2012

NOW! That's What I Call A Tune! 44

This week's entry is the epitome of the type of track that I pick out when I look at old compilation albums - namely the half-remembered track which is - often - not quite as good as you remember. I actually had this on CD single, and do kinda still like it. But it wouldn't make my list for a Desert Island - as regular readers already know!


Monday, 6 August 2012

My Desert Island Discs

I recently promised that I would share my eight picks for Desert Island Discs just as Stephen is doing over on his blog. For once, it's a promise I'm keeping. 

I've said this before but I make no apologies for repeating myself (hey, this blog needs to be filled up somehow) in saying that I love Desert Island Discs and the stories it can throw up. For those guests that you know - or think you know - you often get additional info and tit-bits of background that you wouldn't otherwise here. For those guests that are lesser known, the whole interview can be an eye-opener.

Likewise, the musical choices - and reasons for them - can be revealing. Is the person emotional, sentimental, analytical? Have they opted to tell the story of their life and loves or just to take tracks they like? Have they thought about the context of the island - "I'm going to need something to dance to, or to cheer me up" or have they literally picked their favourite eight discs?

So, having opened up in your mind the idea that this post could be somewhat psychologically revealing - make of this what you will:

1. Handel's Sarabande: I've loved this ever since I first heard it - it's beautiful slow cadence and sombre mood just stir something in me; it's tranquil and serene whilst still building to a climax. I used to have it on my list of tracks to be played at my funeral - and it still would be if I thought about it long enough to commit my wishes to paper.

2. Rachmaninoff's 2nd Piano Concerto: You would have to go a long way to top this, I reckon. A melodic triumph of Russian Romanticism and a piece of music I can truly lose myself in.

3. A recording of H-H-Hancock's Half Hour. The obvious choice would be The Blood Donor but, so as to be so obvious I shall ask for The Poetry Society which is the one I normally cite as my favourite.

4. I would absolutely have to have something by Texas and I think I Want To Go To Heaven would be my choice. It's from their second, less commercial album Mother's Heaven when their sound was more guitar-laden than later albums. Of course, I would take ANY of their tracks, even from their less popular albums!

5. Annie Lennox, Cold. Another Scottish female singer to keep me company with one of the tracks from her first solo album:- Diva. If you don't have a copy, why not?

6. Howard Shore's score for The Lord of the Rings. If I can't have the three individual albums, then the Symphonic Version would be appreciated. I could listen to it and imagine the I was watching the films...

7. Dusty Springfield, Son of a Preacher Man. I'm not sure a comment is required on this choice - Dusty Springfield is, quite simply, one of the best singers to have ever committed their voice to vinyl or any other medium.

8. Pete Murray, Opportunity. This choice is a bit leftfield, but my sister brought the album this is on (See The Sun) back from Oz for me. He's an Australian Singer-Songwriter and the album appears to only be available as import-only - so it makes it a sort of secret pleasure of my own, as few others in the UK have heard of him. This is my favourite track from that album.

My book would have to be, with no question, The Lord of the Rings. I could read it with the film soundtrack on in the background. That, my friends, is called joined up thinking.

My Luxury? Soap - an endless supply of either Cusson's Imperial Leather, Pears or Wright's Coal Tar.

Finally, if (as Kirsty Young would say) the waves to crash to shore and sweep away all the discs, the one I would save would have to be the Rachmaninoff - it could transport me away on waves on emotion and wash over me in waves of melodic joy.

Of course, this is my list as of today... ask me to do it again and some of the above would no doubt change. Anyway, analyse my choices if you wish - and have a stab at it yourself!


Pop (Art) Will Eat Itself - Review - Damien Hirst at Tate Modern

On Saturday I took myself up to London, and one of the purposes was to visit the Damien Hirst retrospective at Tate Modern.

Hirst is an artist who divides opinion - not least in my own mind. Having only seen a limited amount of his work "in the flesh" this was a chance to review his oeuvre and, perhaps, revise my ambivalent opinion of his work. It was also a chance to see some of the pieces that I've most wanted to see - the famous pieces and also "Away From The Flock" which I missed when it was part of "The British Art Show 4" in 1995.

Billed as "the first substantial survey of his work in a British institution" the exhibition is a blockbuster. It cover his earliest work - found objects such as saucepans painted in household gloss, a ping-pong ball balanced on the airjet from a hairdryer to the later works sold directly by auction by Sotheby's in 2008.

Hirst's work is obsessed with opposites - life and death, attraction and repulsion, beauty and ugliness. Indeed, he is quoted as saying:
"Life and death are the biggest polar opposites there are. I like love and I like hate... I like all these opposites. On and off. Happy and sad. In an artwork I always try to say something and deny it at the same time."
The major pieces are all present and correct - "The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living" (aka Shark in Formaldehyde) and Mother and Child Divided, which I have wanted to see for years amongst others. "A Thousand Years" - a two chambered' Vitrine in which flies hatch from maggots, feed on a severed cow's head and either live out their lives or die in an insectroctor - was another work which I had only previously seen on television. These pieces didn't disappoint, and neither did the spin paintings which have a certain joie de vivre in their "composition".

His spot paintings did disappoint, however, and I'm not sure why - I've liked them in the past but was underwhelmed on this occasion. Perhaps seeing them in large quantities meant I wasn't able to appreciate the individual pieces. The series of Medicine Cabinets - in which Hirst presents a series of filled cabinets each named after a track from The Sex Pistol's album "Never Mind the Bollocks, Here's the Sex Pistols" also left me cold. By contrast, "Lullaby, The Seasons" (four large steel display cabinets with mirrored background and lots of replica pills) is a beautiful work.

The exhibition also re-creates some of Hirst's installations, including a twin work ("In and Out of Love") featuring butterflies on brightly painted canvases in one room and a subsequent room where butterflies hatch from pupae attached white canvases. Another installation was "Pharmacy" in which Hirst returns to the use of Medicine Cabinets but on a much larger scale.

The exhibition moves on to rooms featured display cabinets with surgical equipment, taking his earlier obsessions with medicine to a new level, his beautiful butterfly pictures (creating the look of stained glass windows with butterfly wings) and  one containing the fascinating "Black Sun" made from dead flies and resin. The latter rooms feature hugely commercial, blinged up versions of his earlier works - revisiting old themes but with a larger budget and an eye on larger profit margins. 

Hirst's art is about controversy and commercialism. For all my scepticism about the made-for-market work, I still bought the exhibition catalogue on my way out. Therein is Hirst's power - to make attractive the repugnant and to make commercial the controversial. My ambivalence about his work may remain but now he (or at least the Tate) have some of my money too. I'll leave you to decide who was the winner in that particular equation.

The exhibition is on at Tate Modern until 9 September 2012. It won't be to everyones taste but is a must-see for anyone interested in British Art of the last 20 years. Tickets are based on fixed entry-time periods, so it is probably best to book in advance.


Sunday, 5 August 2012

A True Brit

In many respects Jessica Ennis has been the poster girl of this Olympic Games - and she's repaid that in style with a series of personal bests in the individual Heptathlon events and a British Record overall. Indeed - she made sure of the record - and put on a show for the crowd - by running the fastest time in the 800m even though she had no need too.

But if Jess Ennis has been the poster-girl, Tom Daley has been the poster-boy man. From a 14 year old boy in Beijing, he has carried medal hopes for this games through the past 4 years. He's had to grow up very publicly and has had the personal tragedy of his father's death played out in a very public arena. Next week, is has chance to shine; if he does his best he can take Gold, but if he doesn't we still shouldn't belittle his achievements - and I hope the press remember this.

But this post is about another, undersung, hero of British athletics - and a man whose story deserves to be celebrated.

Mo Farah arrived in the UK at the age of 8, a member of a family of refugees fleeing conflict in Somalia. Settling in West London, Mo took up running at school and was spotted by a PE teacher who encouraged him - although initially his ambition was to play right-back for Arsenal. At 13, he entered the an English Schools Cross Country. After finishing 9th that year, he entered again the following year and won the first of what would be 5 medals. 

After a number of years competing as a junior - which included winning the 5,000m European Athletics Junior Championships - he moved onto the Senior circuit in 2005. He concentrated on the track races - winning silver in the 5.000m at the 2006 Europeans - although he won the European Cross Country Championship in same year.

Less successful events followed in the next couple of years including a disappointing Olympics  in Beijing when he didn't make the 5,000m finals. Since then, he has collected Gold Medals in European for both 5,000m and 10,000m and World Championship Gold for the 5,000m  and Silver for the 10,000m.

Whilst he trains in the States, and is coached by Cuban-American Alberto Salazer, a former American record holder at both 5k and 10k as well as being an accomplished Marathon runner. While he may have been born in Somalia and train in the U.S., there is no mistaking than when he runs, he runs for Britain.

Last night, in the wake of becoming the first British man ever to win the Olympic 10,000m, a journalist asked him if he'd rather be racing for Somalia. The Huffington Post reports the story:

"When asked in a press conference if he'd have preferred to run as a Somali, he said to the journalist: "Look mate, this is my country.”

Farah added: "This is where I grew up, this is where I started life. This is my country and when I put on my Great Britain vest I'm proud. I'm very proud.

"The support I got today was unbelievable. I couldn't believe it. It was the best moment of my life.

"If it wasn't for the crowd and people shouting out my name, cheering and putting the Union Jack up, I don't think it would have happened.

"To win the Olympics in the place you grew up and went to school just means so much to me.""
Hear! Hear!

Mo is testament to a modern Britain, a place where a refugee child can find a home, a skill and achieve his dreams. Although not the one about playing for Arsenal - that dream has been left for someone else to achieve.

Hats of to Jess and all our medallists and competitors - but two hats off to Mo and his achievements. He makes me proud to be British.


P.S. Never mind Olympic Gold though, I didn't know until today that Farah had taken on and beaten The Cube, too:

5 on the 5th - Summer Reprise

Stephen has dusted off 5 on the 5th for a Summer Special!

My photos are from my trip up to London yesterday. I wanted to try and soak up some of the Olympic atmosphere, see the Damien Hirst exhibition (review to follow at some point), and take the Cable Car across the Thames from Greenwich.

I succeeded in two of those aims and also met my Uncle, Sister and Brother-in-Law for drinks and a lovely meal. An enjoyable day which has generated stories a few family stories - thanks to my lateness in meeting the others and then a trek across the Greenwich peninsula.

Anyway, my pictures of the day have an Olympic theme. It was ironic that the very day I was in London, I was least in touch with what was happening - doubly ironic given that it was a record-breaking day!

Buckingham Palace ahead of the Woman's Triathlon and Men's 20K walk

The Mall

Hyde Park - Who'd have thought Triathlon would be so popular?!

Olympic Rings (with St. Paul's behind)

Arty Wenlock


Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Desert Island Discs - What Would You Choose?

I've previously blogged about my love of Desert Island Discs, Radio 4's long running interview programme in which guests choose eight tracks they would choose to have with them if they were stranded on a desert island.

Guests are normally people who have achieved greatness or recognition in their field and are not always public figures or celebrities. As such, it can be a fascinating window on the lives of others - and what drives and motivates our top scientists, academics, artists, politicians and authors (for example).

Music choices are most often chosen to remind guests of people in their lives, or particular times and/or places. Occasionally someone will do something different, like James Ellroy who chose five tracks by Beethoven! Some guests have even chosen their own works, which is rather narcissistic! 

Stephen over at the state of the nation UK is currently in the process of revealing his choices, decided to represent different periods of his life and presented chronologically. His first choice was Don McLean's American Pie, which he shares with four previous guests on the show. His second, by Slade, has not previously been chosen!

Whatever you think of his first two choices, he's encouraging others to join him in sharing - and I've started on my list for publication soon!


NOW! That's What I Call A Tune! 43

I could have chosen In Our Lifetime by my beloved Texas, but I've opted instead for Semisonic whom I rather liked. Whilst not quite One Hit Wonders - they had 4 top forty hits including this, their first and biggest song - they did kind of disappear with little trace.

Here's Secret Smile: