Archive for July, 2012

If you have had the good fortune (sic) to read my previous article entitled “My Olympic Journey”, you will have gathered that my passion for the Games has waned over time. In fact, I didn’t watch a single minute of the XXIX Olympiad in Beijing in 2008, when Great Britain garnered its second highest medal tally – 47 – in the modern era.

Yet, three years earlier, at around a quarter to one on Wednesday 6 July 2005 to be exact, I had stood in the middle of Trafalgar Square with hundreds of office and shop workers, and a group of mildly bewildered Italian schoolgirls in matching pink and purple backpacks, and witnessed the fateful and surprising words of President Jacques Rogge, speaking from the organisation’s 117th session in Singapore: “The International Olympic Committee has the honour of announcing the games of the 30th Olympiad in 2012 are awarded to the city of……..London”.

The detonation of delight following that agonising, reality TV show-like pause was all the more exhilarating for the fact that it had been widely expected by that stage that Paris, in its third attempt at securing the ultimate gig, had snapped the winning tape in a photo finish ahead of London.

Of course, the elation of that afternoon was brutally crushed within a mere twenty hours when news started filtering through about explosions on underground trains between Liverpool Street and Aldgate, King’s Cross and Russell Square, at Edgware Road, Old Street and Moorgate, and at Tavistock Square on the number 30 bus travelling from Marble Arch to Hackney Wick.

My tube train was halted in the tunnel between Westminster and St. James’s Park for around twenty minutes, occasioning angry mutterings from fellow commuters accustomed to signal failures and emergency track repairs. It was only after we were released into an eerily quiet daylight that we discovered that the Aldgate blast had been on one of the trains directly in front of us.

As manager of the director of a government department human resources’ office, the remainder of my day was spent trying to account – to both statistically minded management and anxious friends and families – for the hundred or so staff expected in the office that day. Thankfully, nobody was lost.

However, others had not been so lucky. The prospect of the Olympic Games in this suddenly terrorised city, seven years and 52 lives away, vanished as quickly as it had been acclaimed.

And, irrespective of the tragic events of that day, that was always likely to be the case, at least for the ordinary citizen not involved in the planning and preparation. But it did not need such carnage to convince those of us living and working in London to realise that.

Beijing came and went and still my interest was not ignited. It was only in 2010 when I began research on a 2,200 word paper for my travel and tourism qualification on the state of preparedness of the public transport system, that I began to allow myself positive thoughts again about what the Games itself and, most importantly, their legacy might be for both the east end of London and the country as a whole.

From that date, I have kept a keener and better informed eye on developments. Moreover, I have been fortunate enough, living so close to the capital, to watch the Olympic Park and its stadia take shape and feel the sense of pride and excitement growing in the area around it.

Now, us Brits are a cynical lot, and we love to moan, which, given that one of our most familiar phrases is “mustn’t grumble”, is rather ironic (the capacity for which is also part of our national psyche). And I claim my share of that not particularly attractive character trait, but, in respect of the Olympics in the incomparable city of London, where I have been blessed to spend so much of my life, including living there for eight years, I feel it is time to celebrate rather than snipe.

That doesn’t stop me smirking, raising my eyebrows and shaking my head when I read the stories of the firm handed vast sums of money to ensure the Games were safe and secure, failing to recruit anywhere near enough staff and having to be bailed out by the armed forces, or of lengthy queues at immigration at Heathrow Airport and threats of strikes (thankfully now averted) by the very same staff operating those desks. Or of the closure of the vital M4 motorway route into the city, of taxi drivers protesting at the installation of Olympic road lanes and coach drivers getting lost en route from Heathrow Airport to Stratford.

All of these are ammunition for the soulless and negative people determined to see the Games fail. And yes, the cost has exceeded the original budget threefold, those we voted for (or rather didn’t) will make as much political capital as possible out of any successes – and watch for repeated attempts to “bury bad news”, and the dead hand of corporate sponsorship will be all pervasive. But these, sadly, are inevitable consequences of the staging of any modern global event.

And all this against a backdrop of one of the wettest summers on record.

However, what has struck me most in recent weeks – and I know this is a cliché – is the manner in which ordinary people, from all corners of the island, have embraced the spirit of the Olympics, as symbolised in the joyous and exhilarating torch relay. The sight of the torch adorning such iconic landmarks as the London Eye, Snowdonia, Forth Road Bridge and even scooting through the Hampton Court Maze, has been humbling and inspirational. I am even astonished that my teeth no longer grate when I hear the words “it is the opportunity of a lifetime”, because, after all, it is, isn’t it?

And whilst a good proportion of the screaming, mobile phone camera toting, followers (and runners) have been children, whipped, no doubt, into a frenzy by media, parents and teachers alike, that really doesn’t matter.

Anyway, isn’t that the point? If nothing else, the Games are about instilling a passion for sport, healthy living and pride in one’s community in the coming generations, and howsoever that has been generated, the genuine, not engineered, enthusiasm of thousands of young people throughout the nation that we have witnessed can only be heartening.

Moreover, I was struck by what rapper Dizzee Rascal, whose music is very popular amongst teenagers but leaves me cold, perhaps because I emigrated from teenagedom some while ago, had to say in an interview with the BBC last night. He hails from the area adjacent to the Olympic Park and many of his childhood friends still live in the vicinity. Although some still harboured mistrust towards the authorities, he declared that the reaction was generally a positive and optimistic one, and saw a new hope emerging in the community.

That is, of course, the huge challenge that now faces those responsible for delivering the Olympic legacy in that and other deprived parts of the capital in particular. This really must not fail.

The cynics will argue that the Games are a complete waste of money, a classic instance of bread and circuses, deflecting the brainwashed masses from the reality of a country in double-dip recession and a government devising social policies that would have made the Thatcher cabinet blush.

I don’t belittle those claims, and will not lose sight of the domestic political context within which the Games are being played out, but I believe that it is now time to get behind the event, the volunteers, the athletes, London, the country, and especially those young people whose futures are so dependent upon their success.

So will I go?

I had not applied for any tickets, and although there are still some available, primarily for the football (which I have always had difficulty accepting as an Olympic sport), I will need a lottery win this weekend to allow me to purchase any now.

But there are, of course, the Paralympic Games in a few weeks, with tickets still available both for the Olympic Park experience and some sports. Securing some is now a priority.

I will be sparing a thought too for the friends and families of those who perished on 7 July 2005.

Let the Games begin.

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Now before you think that my Olympic medal winning exploits had passed you by, let me clarify at the outset that I haven’t even attended a Games, let alone competed in one, but cynically entitled this piece as I have to grab your hopefully more than fleeting attention. This is an account of my evolving connection with the Olympics over the past half century.

As I start this article the official website ( http://www.london2012.com ) informs me that it is one day, twelve hours and seventeen minutes to go to the Opening Ceremony of the XXX Olympiad in London, the precise details of which, including the identity of the individual lighting the Olympic cauldron, remain a surprisingly well guarded secret.

I leapt from the blocks at the Rome games of 1960, or rather sat on the living room floor with my legs, and, due to my proximity to the new but tiny black and white television, eyes, crossed, cheering on Great Britain’s two gold medallists, Anita Lonsbrough in the women’s 200 metres breaststroke and the diminutive Don Thompson, waddling hilariously for 50 kilometres in sunglasses and mum made white hat.

Great Britain doubled its gold medal tally in Tokyo in 1964 with victories for Ann Packer in the women’s 800 metres (whom of a certain age could forget David Coleman’s hysterical television commentary as she took the lead in the home straight and broke the world record?), Lynn Davies and Mary Rand in the men’s and women’s long jump respectively, and Ken Matthews in the shorter form (20 kilometres) waddle. The glory was accentuated by the fact that the television had grown a couple of inches in the intervening four years.

Don’t worry – this article is not a list of British gold medal winners over the last 50 years, but rather an account of how the Games have, or, on occasions, not, touched my life at various stages.

What is interesting about my childhood Games watching is that, bedtime regime permitting, I watched all of it, not just the glamorous events like the men’s 100 metres, pole vault and high jump (well ok, the 100 metres then), but everything – from fencing and water polo to weightlifting and graeco-roman wrestling.

And I loved it! There was never a chance that a British competitor would stalk the podium in the majority of sports, but it was the Olympics, the original “greatest show on earth” and it was on television! My only reservations at the time, as a prepubescent and then fully pubescent boy in the sixties, were that neither synchronised swimming nor  beach volleyball had been invented as Olympic sports for another 20 and 30 years respectively.

(one day, eleven hours and thiry six minutes).

It was the athletes from behind the iron curtain, particularly the Soviet Union, that fascinated me most. Perhaps it was their exotic names (the brilliant ice dance pairing of Lyudmila Belousova and Oleg Protopopov still raise a juvenile titter), or the fact that we knew so little about their society, or the allegations that most of their women were actually men, or the suggestion that they took performance-enhancing drugs, or that they received massive state sponsorship (there was still an expectation that competitors should be amateur) Or it may just have been because they were so bloody good.

The most notorious case was that of the Press sisters, Tamara (shot put gold in 1960 and 1964 and discus gold in 1964) and Irina (80 metres hurdles gold in 1960 and modern pentathlon gold in 1964), who were effectively hounded from the Games after Tokyo in the wake of persistent Western mockery and, more pertinently, the introduction of gender testing in 1966. They never took the test and their sudden disappearance was explained by Soviet officials as enforced retirement in the Ukraine to care for their ailing mother (or was that father?).

Before I move on, I must make it clear that, in the interests of political correctness and indeed accuracy, many of the most attractive women from that era bore the bibs of eastern European nations.

(one day, seven hours and fourteen minutes).

Leaving home and going to university in the Moscow Olympics year of 1972 put a virtual end to my slavish scrutiny of the Games, as I discovered other interests, or rather enjoyed the opportunity of exploiting those interests to the full. I will leave it to you to consider what they might have been.

As those interests, as well as responsibilities, expanded over the next thirty years, I became much more selective in what I watched, focusing largely on the track and field events.  The rivalry of Sebastian, now Lord, Coe and Steve Ovett over 800 and 1500 metres in the Moscow and Los Angeles Games of 1980 and 1984, probably stands out, not least because it sparked endless arguments between my mother, who adored the smarmy, former Loughborough University graduate Coe, and myself, who cheered on the Brighton bruiser, Ovett.

Memories of summer Games over that period centre on remarkable individual performances. The most notable for me included the four times gold medal winner at 200 metres (Atlanta 1996), 400 metres (Atlanta and Sydney 2000) and 4 x 400 metres relay (Barcelona 1992), Michael Johnson, pole vaulter Sergey Bubka, who, despite ten world championship golds, won just a single Olympic title in Seoul in 1988, Mark Spitz’s seven swimming golds in Munich in 1972 and Nadia Comaneci who, at the age of 14, won three gymnastic golds in Montreal in 1976 (and a further two in Moscow four years later). There are many others but these are my particular favourites.

(one day, three hours and twenty seven minutes).

But let’s not forget the Brits who have momentarily captured the imagination of this increasingly wearied Olympic follower –  (Sir) Steve Redgrave’s extraordinary five rowing gold medals, almost matched by (Sir) Matthew Pinsent’s four, Linford Christie becoming the oldest 100 metres champion in Barcelona in 1992, the hockey team that won gold at Seoul in 1988 and (my mother’s influence here), Torvill and Dean’s sublime ice dance routine to Ravel’s Bolero in Sarajevo in 1984. But, for me, the greatest achievement is that of Kent girl (Dame) Kelly Holmes who won double gold in Athens in 2004 (800m and 1500m) at the age of 34 and after years of injury heartache in major championships.

(one day, one hour and eighteen minutes).

With my discovery of skiing in the late eighties, I became more interested in the Winter Olympics over the next few years, modelling my own technique on that of Purmin Zurbriggen, downhill champion in Calgary in 1988, and Alberto Tomba, winner of slalom and giant slalom in both Calgary and, four years later, Albertville. If you’re wondering, the “modelling” extended no further than being able to stand upright on two skis.

They are my fondest memories of a truly global spectacle. My feelings about the only Olympics to be hosted in my country in my lifetime can be found in the following article entitled “Let the Games Begin”.

(eleven hours and forty two minutes).

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San Francisco can claim more than its share of personalities who have changed the course of society and popular culture, and Carol Ann Doda ranks high on that list.

She was born on 29 August 1937 in Solano County, California, and grew up in Napa.  Her parents divorced when she was three. She dropped out of school and became a cocktail waitress and lounge entertainer at aged 14.

Described as a “lovely, busty and curvaceous blonde bombshell” she achieved fame, or notoriety depending upon your point of view, on 19 June 1964 at the Condor Club at the corner of Broadway and Columbus in North Beachby dancing in a topless swimsuit, the first recognised entertainer of the era to do so, and spawning similar exhibitionism across the country. In fact, within 48 hours, the neighbouring bars had also gone topless, and at one point, 28 clubs along the Broadway strip were advertising bare-breasted dancers.

Her act, which she performed twelve times nightly, “began with a grand piano lowered from the ceiling by hydraulic motors;  Doda would be atop the piano dancing.  She descended from a hole in the ceiling.  She go-go danced the Swim to a rock and roll combo headed by Bobby Freeman as her piano settled on the stage.  From the waist up Doda emulated aquatic movements like the Australian crawl.  She also performed the Twist, the Frug and the Watusi“, all dances familiar to those of us growing up in the sixties.

She later spent $20,000 on enhancing her bust size from 34B to 44DD through a total of 44 (“just a coincidence” she said) direct silicone injections (now illegal because the plastic tends to migrate), earning her breasts the nickname of “the new Twin Peaks of San Francisco”.  She had them insured for $1.5 million with Lloyd’s of London, but never had recourse to claim on it. In his 1968 book, The Pump House Gang, Tom Wolfe referred to them as “two incredible mammiform protrusions, no mere pliable mass of feminine tissues and fats there but living arterial sculpture – viscera spigot – great blown-up aureate morning glories”.

Such was her popularity that delegates from the 1964 Republican National Convention flocked to see her and, four years later, she was given a film role as Sally Silicone in Head, created by Jack Nicholson and Bob Rafelson, and featuring The Monkees.  She appeared in another six films. The U.S.S. Kittyhawk aircraft carrier named her Pinup Girl of the Year and she even received a Business Person of the Year award from Harvard.

Doda created a further seismic impact in the entertainment industry on 3 September 1969 by dancing completely naked at the Condor, though she was obliged to reinstate the bottom part of her costume in 1972 after the California alcoholic beverages commission prohibited nude dancing in establishments that served alcohol.

She explained that “even in liberal San Francisco, what I did was technically a crime. The cops raided. The owner and I ended up in the slammer. I was back slamming on stage in two shakes of a stripper’s tail”.

In an interview with the San Francisco Chronicle in October 2011 Doda stated that she only caused a scandal “about a year and a half after I started, because the cops came in and said no more bottomless unless  you move the tables back 5 feet. I had to explain to the people we can’t do bottomless and topless because the health department folks are afraid our pubic hairs will jump into your drinks”.

As a witness during the trial of two completely naked dancers at the pink pussy Kat in Orangevale, California, arrested for “indecent exposure and lewd and dissolute conduct”, she performed to live song and dance numbers and a 17 minute movie entitled Guru You, at the Chuck Landis Largo Club in Sunset Boulevard, Los Angeles, which was set up as a temporary courtroom. Cross-examined by a deputy district attorney, Carol, dressed in a red miniskirt with blue piping and beige boots, explained that her act, rather than being pornographic in itself, represented a a satire on it, “to show people the humourous side of sex”.

She also became a spokesperson for Channel 36, now known as KGSC-TV, in San Jose when, filmed from the waist up and wearing clothes, she’d intone “you’re watching the perfect 36” (there was no channel 44 at the time).

Doda returned to dancing at the Condor three times a night in 1982, at the age of 45, performing to blues, ragtime and rock ‘n’ roll, dressed “in a gold gown, traditional elbow-length gloves, and a diaphanous-wraparound.  Her clothing was removed until she wore only a G-string and the wraparound.  In the final portion she was attired in only the wraparound.  Her small body looked slimmer without clothes which was emphasised by the dwarfing effect of her breasts”.

Despite the notoriety she earned by being the first dancer to break the topless / bottomless taboos in the U.S., her act was rarely regarded as sleazy.  As she herself said: “I always just wanted to give people a good time, have fun.  Nothing really dirty – just fun”.

Larry Inla, who spent most of 1966 playing in a band called Stark Naked and the Car Thieves at the Galaxy, a couple of blocks from the Condor, reiterates this point, recalling that, thanks in no small part (sic) to Carol, “it was a fantastic place at an incredible time” and that the “ambience was more naughty-but-nice, in a sophisticated European city kind of way, not a sleazy, dirty kind of way”.

Retiring from stripping later in her mid forties (“you can’t go on stripping forever”), she formed her own rock band, the Lucky Stiffs, with whom she played for several years.

Doda now runs the highly respectable “Carol Doda’s Champagne and Lace Lingerie Boutique” in a pretty courtyard at 1850 Union Street in Cow Hollow, which she opened after San Francisco Chronicle columnist, Herb Caen, who was a clear fan, announced in the paper that she was going to do so. She specialises in “plus” sizes and waits on customers personally. She takes particular pride in being recommended by Macy’s, Nordstrom, Sacs, Neiman-Marcus and bridal stores who can’t cater for larger sizes.

Well into the new millennium, she has continued to put ten years of voice training to good effect by singing, whilst fully clothed, club standards like All of Me  at a variety of North Beach clubs, including Amante’s and Enrico’s Supper Club. In late 2011, at the age of 74, she was still performing at Gino and Carlo’s Bar on Green Street in North Beach, where she had been for around twelve years.

And finally, in a city with high foodie credentials, she has been truly immortalised in having a gourmet hamburger named after her at Bill’s Place at 2315 Clement at 24th in the Outer Richmond! Unsurprisingly, it consists of “two third of a pound plus hamburger patties served side by side on a sesame seed bun, each patty topped with an olive and full garnish on the side”.

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