Olympic Friday Fun

It’s a week today since the torch relay finished and the spectacular cauldron was lit and the first week of the Olympics has been surprisingly uneventful, as far as the dire warnings of London chaos were concerned. It would seem only right, therefore, to make today’s Friday Fun Olympic themed…

First up is a parody of the torch relay and cauldron lighting that is utterly delightful. As a Londoner, I appreciate its travels through recognisable streets and waterways, but all should appreciate the genius of  creating a film of vermin carrying the ‘torch’…

Secondly, something that’s just a little bit shallow, but still a little bit fun. My birthday present from an ex-colleague was the following link entitled ‘Hotlympics: The Hunks of London 2012’. (Yes, this would be the same colleague who instigated the office’s use of the ‘hot priests’ calendar…) But it’s all good fun and surely one of the points of the Olympics is the appreciation of the human form? [At this point, a male friend who has heard me venting on the subject of the beach volleyball uniforms and interval entertainment will accuse me of having double standards. I’m a woman. That’s allowed.] 
On the subject of being a woman and connecting with the use in the opening ceremony of suffragettes, my third bit of fun is rather educational, but fascinating. A collection of anti-suffragette postcards from the early 20th century is eye-opening in terms of just how hated those fighting for the votes were. 

Finally, I don’t know about you, but my number one Olympics event is the gymnastics. Generally, I prefer the women’s over the men’s, but I’ll pretty much watch anything that involves some balancing and acrobatic moves. But, have you ever wondered what it might look like if a man did a routine on the women’s asymmetric bars? Wonder no longer. This may be billed as a ‘comedy’ routine, but there’s no doubt this man has power…
With that, I will leave you to derive your Olympic fun from the athletes themselves. Presumably no one’s doing any actual work at the moment, right? 

Olympic tips

Regular readers, friends and anyone who has had the misfortune of asking innocently “so, did you get any Olympics tickets?”, will know that I most emphatically had not. If my initial application had been successful, I would have been spending today – my 31st birthday – watching my favourite sport (tennis), in its home (Wimbledon), and in its most iconic venue (Centre Court). Thanks, LOCOG, for denying me this dream!

Having failed to get any games tickets at any stage of the process, I did two things:
(i) Booked tickets for the Harry Potter studio experience for later this week. Morven and I are super excited – who needs the Olympics when you have quidditch?
(ii) Successfully acquired tickets for the Olympic Park only.

In fact, (ii) was so successful that my sister and I ended up with two pairs of tickets, so we decided to make a birthday Olympic day of it (our date was equi-distant between our birthdays) and invite along Kilverts Minimus and Maximus. They were an utter bargain at £10 – even more so, once the free Olympic (9 zone) travelcard was factored it (over £10 in itself). In fact, had I not been knackered on leaving the park, I would have suggested travelling the length of the DLR or sitting on the Circle Line for a while, just to make the most of it.

The day in question was Saturday – Day 1 of the 30th Olympiad and the morning after the opening ceremony. If you recall, the ceremony ended shortly before 1am, so meeting at St Pancras shortly after 8am was something of a struggle. But it turned out to be so, so worth it!

Having spent a day at the park so early on in the games, I thought it was only fair to share a few top-tips…

Olympic tip #1 concerns transport. If it’s convenient for you to do so, take the Javelin train from St Pancras to Stratford International. It doesn’t come up on the TfL journey planner, but you can use the Olympic travelcards on it. Given the journey time to Stratford is 6 minutes, it beats the Jubilee Line hollow.

Once you’re at the park – or even before it – tip #2 is to leave all British reserve at home and become an American for the day. Talk to strangers as if they’re your friends! It’s amazing how friendly the atmosphere was getting into the park – especially the volunteers with their pink foam fingers pointing the way through Westfield. The security staff were cheerful and even took photos for us. I returned the favour by taking photos for a super cute Canadian families (is there anything cuter than a family in matching team outfits?).

Tip #3 is an obvious one – get there early, before the crowds. Officially, park tickets don’t start till after 10am, but we chanced it and got there at 9am – no one batted an eyelid and it meant we got to explore a virtually deserted park and Olympic Megastore (home of all kinds of expensive Olympic tat). Much better to do that than have to endure the busyness of the park at lunch time.

Another obvious one, tip #4 is to bring your own food. Food is expensive and queues are long (especially in the cheaper food option of Europe’s largest McDonald’s), but there are plenty of picnic benches and open spaces. We had no problems bringing in crudités and hummus and saw plenty of other people with their own lunches. There are tons of water points, so take a refillable receptacle with you and you’ll be fine.

Continuing the cheapskate theme, tip #5 is that it’s also a good idea to make the most of the freebies – there are plenty… If you’re a fan of badges, you can collect Olympic themed ones simply by having a Samsung phone demonstrated to you (it’s amazing what you’ll do for a badge and a pink wristband). Hanging out in the Park Live area (where the big screens are) will gain you attention from BA angels bearing GB flags, sun cream and tattoos (fake, obviously) – one even took a photo of us under the Olympic rings. If you’re able to endure 40 minutes of enthusiasm from out of work actors (aka Coca Cola’s ‘Future Flames) then you’ll get a free Olympic coke at the end of the Coca Cola Beat Box experience. Probably only worth it if there’s no queue and you’re desperate to hold an Olympic Torch.

You might think that wandering around the Olympic Park without being able to enter any of the venues was a bit of a dull day out – heck no! Tip #6 is to hunt for Olympic art, of which there is plenty – largely of an interactive variety (mirrors, climbing into phone boxes etc). There’s also ample opportunities for playing the Statue Game with the Olympic Mascots – in fact, you don’t even need to go to the park to do that, as they’re scattered across the streets of London too. You could do an Olympic style egg hunt if you fancied it.

Finally, tip #7 is to get home and book paralympic tickets. We left the park having decided that the stadium looked so impressive that it would be a shame not to get inside it – especially as that’s the only place where the Olympic flame is visible. So I now have tickets to an evening of paralympic athletics finals for just £20, meaning I get to make a return visit to the park in just over a month’s time. Awesome.

Olympic fever

Last Thursday, I travelled back to London after a week in the north of England (no phone signal, no 3G, no internet…) along a deserted M1. Never have I seen so little traffic – it was like a scene from an apocalyptic movie, a thought that gained further ground as we sped, undettered by other cars, into central London, along a Euston Road that could have appeared in 28 Days Later

It turned out Danny Boyle (director of aforementioned non-zombie, yet zombie-like, film) did have a hand in this bizarre turn of events, but only because of his role in the Olympic opening ceremony. Basically, TfL’s years of warnings had worked – everyone with sense appeared to have left London before the Olympics, their crowds of tourists and their complicated road restrictions, arrived.

I am no Olympic cynic, in fact, I could be described as an Olympic bore. My mind is full of useless bits of information about the games and I’d quite happily sit and watch obscure sports simply to acquire a few more. Thus, it was with enormous excitement that I sat down to watch the opening ceremony on Friday night. Quite frankly, my expectations were exceeded – I spotted one of three friends I knew to be involved in the opening dramatic sequence; I was moved to both tears and laughter; I got to support my home nation; and could cheer wildly for one of my students who had the honour of carrying the United Arab Emirates name sign.

Not sure how it’s possible that I nearly reached the age of 31 without owning a Tongan flag.

Perhaps my experience of the evening is best summed up in tweets:

  • Would you look at that! Rowan’s got a prime seat again. Being ABC really does open doors…
  • In unision me & @mim_monk have exclaimed: “Errr, Maddy Prior?!?”. [Niche musical reference…] [Turned out it wasn’t that niche – others spotted it too.]
  • Hilariously, @mim_monk is now choking on her tagliatelli at the appearance of Rowan Atkinson playing keys.
  • Literally just asked when the Archers would appear. LOVING this!
  • Another niche reference, but it’s just struck me that this is not dissimilar to a London Weekend show…but an awful lot classier. [London Weekend was a massive Methodist youth event for many decades, the highlight of which was a show in the Royal Albert Hall involving young people in formation. There was definitely one that did the internet in a similar way to Boyle’s tribute to Tim Berners-Lee.] 
  • Incidentally, one of the 3 Tongans looks about as Tongan as I do, but has a Tongan name. Curious. Clearly I could qualify! [This is the guy in question. Apparently his mother’s English.]
  • Oh, and we now have a drinking game too. Discover a country you haven’t heard of? Three fingers… Disaster with flame? Finish drink…
  • Right, clearly we win in the ‘who lights the flame in the best way ever’ contest, yes? Beautiful…
Take that cynics! [Incidentally, where was Gary Barlow? I didn’t think we were allowed to have a national occasion without him writing a song for it?] Yes, perhaps Boyle’s contribution was rather nichely British, but isn’t the point to show the world what we’re about? How surprising was it that it included more hymns that your average episode of Songs of Praise? But how wonderful was it that all over the world, 4 billion people were united in watching the same thing. That’s special. 
Zhen in action (she gets to keep the dress but not the sign).
Credit: Reuters.
This month, I am very proud to be both Tongan and a Londoner! 

When multi-tasking is an impossibility

As a woman, I pride myself on my multi-tasking capabilities. However, last night I came seriously unstuck as I attempted to do four things simultaneously…

Despite my frustration at London 2012 repeatedly emailing me about an event for which I have yet to acquire tickets, last week one of their emails finally bore fruit. As a way of checking that Olympic plans are going to, err, plan, there’s a series of test events taking place that are similar-to-but-legally-distinct-from the Olympics. An email arrived informing me that for just £10 I could watch international gymnastics. The athletes would be almost the same; the venue identical; and the price significantly cheaper – so I decided it could be a post essay deadline treat.

I wasn’t optimistic that my £10, unreserved, level 4 seating would get me much of a view. (We were on level 4 for Glee and they were mere dots to us.) But I ended up with a vantage point that was more than acceptable:

After I tweeted this photo, my mother asked why there were no gymnasts 
– obviously, this is the ‘before’ photo…

…this is the first warm-up.
(Note: the 5th element is left-over from the men’s competition.)

The crowd was congenial (it was 4.30pm, so there were a lot of children), there had been no queues (nothing short of a miracle at the O2), and I’d stood in line at Starbucks with some of the athletes competing, so it was shaping up to be a great evening. I don’t know masses about gymnastics, but I’d known enough to apply for Olympics tickets and that my priority was getting a good view of the asymmetric bars – which I got.

Did you know preparing the asymmetric bars was such a complicated process? No. Me either.
[To be fair, they were changing the height for a particularly ‘lanky’ athlete. (My neighbour’s word.)]

Problems only began to emerge when the competition kicked off. If you’re unfamiliar with the process, the idea is that the gymnasts are divided into four groups and they perform on each piece of apparatus in turn. [In between they were ordered to ‘march’ from one apparatus to another, behind a sign saying ‘beam’ or ‘floor’ – presumably just in case they weren’t sure what was coming.] This concept means that at any one time a gymnast might be performing Khokina release on the bars [yes, I also know enough about gymnastics to know that it’s named after a Russian gymnasts, Svetlana, who competed at 3 Olympics]; a spectacular vaulting leap; an impressive tumble sequence; and a complex beam manoeuvre – i.e. four women, doing four things, in the same room, at the same time.
It is impossible to watch all four simultaneously. 
I tried – and failed. It’s not helped by the fact that only one of the four is commentated on in the arena. You always know who’s doing their floor routine, where they’re from and what they’ve scored because a loud booming voice tells you – and the music for their routine dominates everything else. It’s terribly confusing, because you might be absorbed in a floor routine and applauding a particularly good move, when suddenly the person next to you gasps in horror as someone falls from the beam or bars. At one point during the first session I simply gave up and played with Twitter. In the second, it was easier as there were two British gymnasts, so I worked on the principle of simply following them around the room and whooping loudly – they seemed to do fairly well, but occasionally the sparkly-ness of the Brazilian team’s leotards distracted me. 
The sparkly Brazilians warming up on the vault. 
[I believe that in Essex a ‘sparkly Brazilian’ is something quite different…]
It was certainly £10 well spent – five hours of sporting entertainment and a 2012 First to boot. I almost (almost) don’t care about the Olympics ticket debacle because at least I’ve seen something interesting. If you’re interested in something similar sporty and preparatory, there’s a diving competition in the same series next month at the Aquatic Centre. I’d highly recommend it – I hear the only multi-tasking involved there is the synchronised diving… 

Friday Fun through a pinhole

Enough of the festive fun frivolity – it’s a new year and time for some serious fun…

Firstly, something that’s both beautiful and fascinatingly educational.

This is an image created after a pinhole camera was left in place opposite Toronto’s skyline for a year. Utterly amazing – here’s how it was done.
Something else that’s arty, but manages to involve a regular Friday Fun feature – children, is this project from Australia. It begins with a bright white room, and ends in a cacophony of colour…

Combining art with some TfL geekery (because it’s actually been a while since we had some of that on a Friday) and some awesome stats is a new exhibition that opens today at the London Transport Museum. [How up to date am I?? Is it somewhat ironic that this gem was given to me by someone in Brooklyn?] Here are some classic London Transport posters containing stats you never knew you needed to know:

Painting By Numbers is at the museum until March 18th and I think may finally prompt me to make a trip there. Did you know that once you’ve bought a ticket it’s valid for an entire year? That’s pretty awesome in my book – so who fancies a nerdy day out?

Finally, we’re now in 2012 and in London, that means just one thing: it’s Olympics year! I’m staying upbeat and excited about this fact, despite the fact that I still have zero Olympics tickets [but I do have a ticket to next week’s pre-Olympics gymnastics, which kind of helps]. In fact, let me take this moment to quote a recent Sue Perkins tweet that I empathised with:
Dear London 2012 Olympics: please don’t take my life savings on the promise of a ticket, then deny me that ticket, then EMAIL ME EVERYDAY”

Anyway, this means that there’s all sorts of Olympics fun around, and this week’s particular recommendation is the Guardian’s 50 Stunning Olympics Moments. Currently they’ve published eight of them and it was No.8 – Eric Liddell’s 1924 victory – that drew it to my attention. I defy you not to be inspired… Plus, it will equip you with some excellent Olympics factoids that you’ll be able to pluck out of thin air over the summer, enabling you to look terribly knowledgeable, which is always nice.