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One of the iconic images of the great British seaside holiday of the fifties and sixties is of happy families playing beach cricket.  Everyone joined in, playing with children’s bats, balls and stumps that reduced fathers who fancied themselves as Dexter or Sobers to the same level of competence as their seven year old sons, non-sporting wives and even the family dog (when they were still allowed on the beach between May and September). Truly, we had “never had it so good”.

Sadly, the advent of the foreign package holiday, breakdown in traditional family structures and expansion of alternative leisure pursuits, all contrived to render such a scene virtually obsolete.  Over the past weekend, therefore, I embarked upon a one man (at least for now) campaign to revive this venerable but floundering tradition, pitching up on Ramsgate Main Sands with my wife at 2pm on Sunday for an impromptu game.

I say impromptu because my planning had left something to be desired – a brief glance at the tide times beforehand would have revealed that this was the worst time of the day to start.  Nevertheless, after twenty minutes inspecting the fast diminishing slither of sand along the bay, I found a strip that was marginally more playable than the Rose Bowl.  It quickly became clear, however, that if the game was to be remotely watchable, or attract other participants, it was pointless bowling anything other than full tosses because once the ball had pitched, it was firmly plugged into the sand.

“Sticky dog” wicket aside, it proved a batsman’s paradise as the leg side boundary shortened sharply with the onrushing scum brown tide, ensuring that the merest of flicks resulted in a boundary.  That said, the smacking of  my extra cover drives against the sea wall was more satisfying.  Frank Keating once wrote that Ian Botham played a net “as if he is on Weston-super-Mare beach and the tide is coming in fast”.  I’d like to think that if you substituted Broadstairs for Weston, that might accurately describe my batting on this day.

Public interest was negligible, evidenced by a succession of families, oblivious of the sacred nature of my work, plodding across the wicket at regular intervals.  It reminded me of my primary school football pitch which had a concrete public footpath running diagonally across it, constantly trodden by young mothers with prams during vital matches against our bitter rivals from the adjoining parishes of Luton, Delce and Arden.  Understandably, dribbling was a skill particularly valued at Glencoe Road.

But back to the summer game.

Human indifference was not mirrored in the reaction of the indigenous bird population. An improbable infield of gulls occupyied short square leg, silly mid on and extra cover loitered, more, I suspect, in anticipation of the next tasty titbit thrown up by the thrashing waves than hovering in hope of a bat pad.  Their noisy sledging would have done justice to any Australian test team in history. Eventually, with the wicket completely submerged, the players were forced to dash from the square to the nearest ice cream van.

Undaunted, I resumed my missionary work two days later with a game on the much larger and more suitable Viking Bay beach in Broadstairs.  Low tide was scheduled for 2.04pm but, conscious that the tide came in a lot quicker than it went out, I decided that play should get underway an hour earlier.

An early inspection of prospective wickets revealed not only a soft, dune-like sand texture inconducive to a meaningful contest, but also an unmanageable abundance of people, deckchairs, windbreaks and bouncy castles, along with the ubiquitous volleyball court, populated by hordes of young Latino youths, led me to cancel plans to play there.  However, we rounded the bend at the end of the beach to enter Louisa Bay which, a full hour before the scheduled start of play,  sported a vast expanse of dark, compacted sand. Only sporadic handfuls of spectators scattered around what would serve as the boundary.

My excitement was heightened by the sight of  TWO sets of wickets already pitched further along the beach.  This was promising.  Our game got underway and soon acted as a magnet for every bored child on the beach.  Questions such as “can I play?” and “can my brother / sister join in?” (only the absence of the suffix “mister” reminded me I had not been transported back to 1960) were music to my ears as I suddenly found I was setting fields for TEN kids of assorted ages and having to remember in what order they all batted and bowled to avert tantrums.

The majority displayed more willing than competence, all wanting to field at mid wicket for some unaccountable reason (maybe the proximity of the tea hut and toilets had something to do with that), but uncomplainingly hared after every ball, regardless of how far and in what direction it had been despatched.  Falling into a rock pool or getting entangled in the profusion of seaweed were no barriers to their enthusiasm.

On a more serious note, it was heartening to learn that you could still play an innocent game in public with a group of children that you had never met before, without being accused of wanting to take salacious photographs of or, worse still, interfere with, them.  In fact, the parents seemed content to allow them to play, even the mother who was called upon to console her ten year old when he retired hurt after being struck on the left thigh by one of my rising eighty mile per hour inswingers.

The most poignant moment arose when one small boy advised me, with evident pride, and in hushed tones, that the reason his brother was scoring so freely with quasi-classical strokeplay and bowling off a run up that appeared to start just to the left of the Goodwin Sands, was because “he PLAYS cricket”.

The game lasted nearly three hours, interrupted only by obligatory lunch and tea intervals, dictated more by my need for regular rest than by the tyranny of the clock.  Each succeeding resumption of play appeared to draw even more players until the relentless waves washed the wicket away completely.

So beach cricket is alive and flourishing in the cradle of the game, not quite the High Weald, but still in God’s own county.  It can be no coincidence that shortly after this pilgrimage, I moved to Folkestone which boasts one of the firmest wickets on the coast at Sunny Sands.

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I was born with cricket in my blood. My father was an enthusiastic if modest club performer who played for a team that, where once it had consisted largely of doctors from the local hospital from which it derived its name, and had been one of the strongest in the Medway area, had declined by the early sixties into a dad’s army of clerks, TV repair men and shipwrights (not to denigrate those trades but rather to demonstrate the disconnection over time from the medical profession).

My father’s skills were confined to a stubborn resistance to giving his wicket away easily (though, despite himself, he invariably did), and an aptitude for both pocketing slip catches himself, and occasionally by redirecting the ball from his commodious stomach into the hands of more agile teammates in the vicinity.

The team was my extended family – every player was an “uncle”, though not in the biological sense of the word, and I revered them, despite their limitations on the field. At the age of ten I graduated from mascot and scoreboard operator to become its official scorer. I fulfilled this role for the next five years, spending summer afternoons in cramped, rotting wooden sheds, invariably sat alongside grizzled, gap-toothed septuagenarians with a life long chain smoking habit.

But I loved it.

It wasn’t just the game that captured my young heart, but the environment surrounding it – the rickety double decker bus journeys through the Kent countryside, the team being forced to change on the bus if it was behind time, the sing-songs on the journey back (my party piece for some reason was Wouldn’t It Be Loverly from My Fair Lady) and the regular stops at pubs such as the Chequers at Loose and the Five Bells in Snodland. “Home” games at the Civil Service Sports Ground and Langton Playing Fields in Gillingham did not generate the same romance but were, nonetheless, events to be savoured. And then there was Tuesday night net practice, when I spent two hours building up a fearful sweat scurrying to retrieve balls that had been clubbed hither and thither (funny how they never managed it at weekends), was bliss.

At fifteen I made my own “first class” debut at Blue House Marden, a short walk from the Stile Bridge Inn and, “batting” at number eleven, notched a magisterial 0 not out in the customary crushing defeat. My other memory of that game was landing in a jungle of nettles, vainly chasing an edge down to third man. I could not sit down at school for the next three days.

And then there was the county side, on the cusp of its glory years of the seventies. Club commitments limited our outings to the Nevill, Garrison, Mote, Crabble, St Lawrence and Bat and Ball grounds, but my father and I managed a handful of days each season, courtesy of his Association of Kent Cricket Clubs pass.

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My greatest thrill came when our annual holiday to Folkestone in August coincided with the traditional Cricket Week. My parents would deposit me at the Cheriton Ground around ten o’clock in the morning and went off for a day of beach, bingo and Bobby’s shopping, allowing me to indulge in my busman’s holiday of scoring every ball of both matches and haring after Cowdrey, Knott and Underwood for their autographs as they left the field at lunch, tea and close. It was an era when, aside from newspaper photographs and occasionally black and white television coverage, we only saw our sporting idols “in the flesh” – yet they were more accessible for that.

Of course, I was playing cricket too at school, on both playground concrete and playing field grass. At Glencoe Road primary school I was the proud custodian of the chalk required to repaint the wicket on the wall at each break, lunchtime and long after the bell sounded to send us home. The only spectator sport that could compare were the regular fights outside the school gates at home time.

Although, unlike football, we did not play against other schools, I opened the batting in games at the Maidstone Road recreation ground in Chatham. My finest cricketing hour in those pre-eleven plus days was, however, imbued with tragedy when having, like Hutton at the Oval in 1948, carried my bat in a pathetically low team total, I arrived home to be informed by my mother that my pet dog, Patch, had been put down. I suppose the events of that afternoon taught me the value of treating those “twin imposters” of triumph and disaster equally.

Moving to Sir Joseph Williamson’s Mathematical School I was converted in my first year from an opening bat into a medium quick (for a twelve year old) bowler with a capacity for late swing – an pubescent Jimmy Anderson if you like. After flirting with the styles of Fred Trueman, Wes Hall and the mercurial Alan Brown, I began to model both my bowling action and fielding demeanour, if not my batting, which suffered in the process, on the mighty John Shepherd (though there was still the occasional Wes Hall whirl of the arms for variety).

My school had always been strong at cricket, competing successfully with teams from the Judd School, Skinner’s, King’s School Rochester and Dartford and Maidstone Grammar Schools to name but a few. At under twelve, thirteen, fourteen and fifteen levels I was a prolific wicket taker, with regular six and seven wicket hauls. My proudest moment, and I suspect my father’s too, was when he slipped away from work early in London one evening to watch me play for the under fourteens against Chatham South Technical School. I took eight wickets for three runs in eight overs and we won by ten wickets. I don’t recall him coming again – perhaps he just wanted to cherish that moment always.

The most publicly acclaimed performance was seven for fifteen against Faversham Grammar School. The school headmaster, a fine club cricketer himself for, I believe, Linton Park, who umpired a number of the age group games, announced at the school assembly on the following Monday morning that my spell had been the finest he had ever witnessed by a schoolboy of my age.

My exploits caught the eye of the Kent under fifteen selectors and I played in a handful of trial games, including the final eliminator for the county team. Playing for East against West Kent, I chose that match, however, to misplace my customary accuracy and spray the ball continually down the leg side of Graham Clinton who, when he managed to reach it, clipped it to fine leg for four. He made the Kent team, and forged a strong county career – I did not.

But I didn’t fade into cricketing obscurity – yet. In the second of three years in the First XI at “the Math” I took forty nine wickets, falling just three short of the all-time record. I followed this with a couple of highly successful seasons at university, and subsequently – albeit briefly – played at a decent level in both Yorkshire club cricket and around south east London in the late seventies and early eighties, where, oddly, I reverted to being a middle order batsman who bowled a little.

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My playing is now limited to fielding the occasional ball on the boundary at the St Lawrence or Nevill Ground, and the beach (I recommend Sunny Sands in Folkestone and Viking Bay at Broadstairs). I wonder too if I’m alone in strolling around the ground in the breaks between innings or along the seashore in the hope of being called upon to pouch a skier or pounce on a straight drive from one of the ever diminishing number of impromptu games.

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We had not skied Heavenly since 2011, although we had visited in both of the intervening years.

In 2012, a planned three day break slotted between visits to San Francisco coincided with both of us contracting flu and being physically too weak to ski. And last June, logs, pipes and assorted wooden debris were all that lay on the mountain.

And for much of this winter the signs were ominous.

The guaranteed snow levels normally associated with Tahoe, and Heavenly in particular, had failed to materialise. Every day since Christmas, we scoured the webcams and weather forecasts, only to discover that many of the lifts and trails remained closed and the famed snow making operation was being pressed into overdrive.

We have always skied late in the season in the expectation that a) the snow would be plentiful and b) spring sunshine would dominate. So when we heard when we arrived in San Francisco at the beginning of the week that the long awaited snowfall would be pulling into town at the same time as us, and staying for the duration, we had mixed feelings.

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But we have been incredibly lucky.

We had purchased a four day lift pass, taking the Saturday off when the worst (or best depending upon your point of view) of the storms was projected to arrive.

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And it worked to perfection.

Although, with the exception of our final day, sun was in short supply, the wind that often affects resort operations, closing the higher lifts and restricting the capacity of skiers and riders to travel between the Nevada and California sides, was equally ineffective.

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The intermittent gloom and smattering of snow flurries of the first couple of days enabled just to take some satisfyingly moody photographs.

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We were able to ski virtually the entire mountain over the four days. Only on the first day were we prevented from cruising both states, being confined to the California side due to the closure of the Tamarack chair. This was welcome, however, as we tend to spend more time on the longer trails in Nevada. With the Sky Express chair leading to the highest point in the resort open, we were allowed to spend time on our favourite trail, Ridge, which arguably provides the best views of the lake, and the High Five trail that we had not skied before.

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We also managed morning hot chocolate stops and lunch breaks at all the major mountain lodges – California, Tamarack (pictured), East Peak, Sky Deck and Stagecoach – that were open.

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My only regret?

Not having the presence of mind to reach for the camera as Janet struggled to get to her feet, having fallen on the Galaxy trail only minutes after she had joyfully proclaimed ONE NIL when I had suffered a similar indignity.

Ah well, you can’t have it all.

We may not have seen the last of the snow as we look set to grapple with the next big storm on our return to San Francisco tomorrow.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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We had purchased tickets before leaving home for three San Francisco Giants games at AT & T Park this month. The first was against the American League East’s bottom side, the Toronto Blue Jays, whom they had beaten on the previous day, courtesy of a two-run homer from Andres Torres and a rare for this year, quality pitching display from Tim Lincecum that evoked memories of his Cy Young award winning years of 2008 and 2009.

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We arrived, courtesy of two MUNI routes, around an hour and a half before the scheduled first pitch to enable us to survey the wares in the Giants Dugout Store, perambulate around the park, take photographs and, of course, avail ourselves of the culinary delights on offer. Despite a hearty breakfast, the Polish kielbasa dog on the Say Hey Sausage concession stand proved too enticing to resist.

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Early morning fog had been burned away by the time the Canadian and American national anthems were sung beautifully, though I do not recall the name of the chanteuse  in question.

The starting pitchers, Barry Zito and R.A. Dickey, kept the offenses quiet during the first four innings, though Dickey took an immediate grip of the Giants batters, whereas Zito (pictured below), whilst maintaining a better, two to one strike to ball ratio, struggled to finish off his opponents.

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Dickey’s dominance with his knuckleball received its deserved support in the fifth inning when the Blue Jays bats scored the only four runs of the game. At the time we thought that Sandoval had made an out at third base that would have ended the innings at the cost of just two runs – and Pablo felt so too as he stood, arms in teapot position, for several seconds. Apparently, however, TV replays narrowly substantiated the umpire’s decision. It proved academic anyway as the Giants “failed to trouble the scorers” in cricketing parlance for the remainder of the game.

Last year’s National League MVP, Buster Posey had a frustrating afternoon, but his presence, at the plate and behind it, still evokes excitement, and not a little adoration, among the AT & T Park faithful. He will not have to wait long before again being a major influence on a game.

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Pablo Sandoval, like Posey, leading the race for a position in the starting lineup in the National League’s All-Star team, was one of the few Giants to come out of the game with some credit, making the team’s first, and until the last inning, only, hit, and performing some neat, efficient plays at third base. Although his “running” around the bases is more likely to elicit chuckles than cheers, he is surprisingly athletic in the field and has an accurate, venomous throw.

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Hunter Pence, like many of his team mates, flattered to deceive with several ferocious swings of the bat that, at the moment of impact like that pictured below, looked as if they might end up in Oakland rather than the hands of the Blue Jays’ outfielders.

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Giants’ mascot, Lou Seal, entertained the crowd, especially the younger fans, throughout the afternoon, though he was conspicuous by his absence at the end of the game. It was hard at times not to contemplate whether it might have been worth Bochy letting him loose as a pinch hitter late on in the game. Having said that, his speed around the field makes Sandoval look like Usain Bolt.

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Tradition dictates that, if the Giants’ are losing at the onset of their ninth innings,  the home crowd is encouraged to join in Journey’s great anthem Don’t Stop Believin’ . It has done the trick many times over the past three years but did nothing to inspire their innocuous bats on this occasion. There was to be no emotional walk-off win this afternoon, though they did manage to get two men on base in the ninth inning when Sandoval came to the plate for the last time with two outs.

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A limp display by the Giants but there were consolations – the weather was hot and sunny, the bay looked serene and we had great seats immediately behind the Blue Jays’ dugout, half way between home plate and first base. I had, however, committed the ultimate sin for anyone visiting San Francisco in believing the weather forecast. The early morning cloud was scheduled to linger by the bay for the afternoon, so we omitted to take either suncream and, in my case, Giants cap, to the park. The resulting sunburn was not what I had  anticipated having to contend with after barely 48 hours in the city!

I did, at least, remember to take my jacket!

After two World Series in three years, expectation is now high, perhaps unreasonably so, in the Giants Nation. And some comments on social media following the game exposed the irritating modern impatience for victory every time the team takes the field. The team has faltered before at various points in the season over recent seasons and, whilst there might be just cause (decline of the pitching rotation, lack of batting power, frailty on the road) to believe that they might not be playing in October, it is still far too early to be writing this proud, resilient team off. And the atmosphere as we walked back along the Embarcadero was resigned but relaxed rather than critical. You cannot get too depressed about the fortunes of your sporting heroes in this city. There is too much else to raise the spirit.

Our first port of call (pun perhaps intended) was the Wine Merchant in the Ferry Building where we mulled over a bottle of Napa Valley “pink” before deciding where to eat. We succeeded in resisting the blandishments of Fisherman’s Wharf, preferring to walk up Market Street and cutting up along Sutter before reaching Union Square.

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The Daily Grill, next to Lefty O’Doul’s on Geary Street, was relatively quiet (though, purely coincidentally, full by the time we left), so we took refuge in its old-style San Francisco ambience, the sort of dining establishment that famed San Francisco Chronicle columnist, Herb Caen, would be found in late at night.

And what was the first thing our server wanted to talk about – yes, the Giants ailing fortunes! There is no escape from baseball talk in a city where every third person you see appears to be wearing a cap or Giants sweatshirt or cap.

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With the 2013 Opening Day a heartbeat away, it seemed as good a time as any to showcase some of my photos of the World Champions’ home. These were taken during the official tour of AT & T Park on in April 2010 and the opening home game against the Pittsburgh Pirates last year.

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Is there a better setting for a sports stadium anywhere in the States?

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Three hours to the first pitch. Go Zito!

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Filling up – yet another full house taking shape.

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So disappointing to learn that I’m too old to ride the slides inside the Coke bottle!

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Or play in this miniature ballpark! I think even I could hit a home run here!

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Taken from the “Ride the Duck” tour – audio deliberately omitted.

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The eventual World Series MVP starts the season how he means to go on.

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It was the longest of fortnights, it was the shortest of fortnights.

In witnessing the most exhilarating public event of my life, I, along with millions of others, was enraptured by, and became not a little knowledgeable about, previously obscure and disregarded sports like taekwondo, dressage, beach volleyball and BMX racing (I still draw the line at synchronised swimming), fuelled by the BBC’s all-embracing coverage.

But now they are over, gone as quickly as they arrived. What do I do now between the hours of 9am and midnight? Where are the rowing coxless pairs heats, 58kg weightlifting semi-finals and 50m rifle 3 position shooting final when you need them, and not just because they passed the time but because they inspired and enthralled us?

But let’s not dwell on my post-Games melancholia just yet.

Apologies in advance to my international readers – this is an unashamedly GB-centric piece, and merely passing reference to the prodigious feats of Usain Bolt, Michael Phelps, Missy Franklin, Oscar Pistorius, David Rudisha and many others does not diminish their extraordinary achievements.

It really all started on the first Wednesday (day 5) when my wife and I, intrigued but ticketless, decided to travel to Stratford and spend the evening at the Westfield shopping centre adjacent to the Olympic Park. As I had left the house, Helen Glover and Heather Stanning had just won Team GB’s first and, what seemed at the time, long overdue, gold medal in the women’s rowing pair.

Delivered in time by an efficient public transport system that belied the anxiety expressed by the IOC in the bidding process, I was able to marvel at the big screen with hundreds of others as the hugely popular Tour de France winner Bradley Wiggins doubled the tally in the men’s individual cycling time trial at Hampton Court.

The Olympic Stadium, home to the sometimes eccentric but always chest-swelling Opening Ceremony five days previously, was not to re-open for another 72 hours when the track and field athletics were scheduled to start. But the aquatics centre and other venues in the park were already providing thrilling action. The atmosphere in the adjoining mall was correspondingly electrifying.

The immediate impression on stepping off the high speed train at Stratford International was that there was a giant party going on, to which the whole world had been invited – after all, isn’t that what the Olympics is meant to be?

Athletes, coaches, officials, military personnel, volunteers, spectators and shoppers mingled in a festive, friendly atmosphere that would have disarmed the most hardened cynic.

Over there are two athletes dressed in Eritrean track suits with bulging carrier bags from River Island and John Lewis. Outside the Waitrose supermarket a soldier shares a joke with a couple of young Brazilian girls (beach volleyball competitors maybe?). And everywhere the “happy, shiny” Volunteers in their pink and purple outfits are directing pedestrian traffic and dispensing unlimited advice and bonhomie.

Everyone is smiling (the smile, along with the tears, becomes an abiding memory of the Games). There is not a hint of the stressed undercurrent that haunts busy shopping centres at any other time.

Is this Great Britain I ask myself? Is this the country that many of its own citizens said couldn’t be trusted to organise the biggest of all peacetime projects? Is this the city with the broken transport system? Are these the people notorious for being unwelcoming to visitors?

Not any more, at least for these two weeks.

And it just got better and better.

Yes, and I cried as much, nay probably more, than anybody at the swift procession of triumph and heartbreak assailing our TV screens, and not just those of the British participants. I will never forget the sight of Sarah Attar, the first Saudi Arabian woman ever to appear in the Games, lying crumpled on the track after pulling her hamstring immediately after springing from the blocks in her 100m hurdles heat.

Nor can I dismiss from my thoughts the sight of the exhausted and distressed Zac Purchase, virtually having to be carried out of the boat by his partner, Mark Hunter, after just missing out on the gold to Denmark in the lightweight men’s double sculls.

Most poignant of all were the interviews with competitors who, having put their lives on hold for the past four years for this “once in a lifetime opportunity” (the most frequently uttered quote of the Games), performed miserably when they arrived at the very moment that was meant to validate all that hard work and sacrifice.  Whilst British triple jumper Phillips Idowu may be the most high profile casualty, there were many others who failed to get out of their heats or, perhaps most criminally of all, did not achieve their personal best on the biggest stage.

Of the 65 GB medal winners, which were my favourites? A difficult choice but here, with apologies in particular to Sir Chris Hoy, the scary Ben Ainslie, the not so scary Jessica Ennis, the Brownlee brothers and, well, everybody else who captured gold, silver or bronze, are my top five:

1. Mo Farah, the Somali born Muslim who came to London at the age of eight, and through sheer hard work and sacrifice, was taken to the hearts of his adopted country and became on successive Saturday evenings, one of its greatest ever athletes;

2. Nicola Adams, the first ever Olympic woman’s boxing gold medallist, who said at the start of her campaign that she only wanted to make her mum proud, and having won, was going to celebrate with a trip to Nando’s;

3. Double gold cyclist, Laura Trott, whose infectious, post-race interviews (“I can’t believe this is happening….I’m just a 10 year old kid”) were as joyful as her performances were thrilling;

4. Jade Jones, our youngest gold medallist, in the women’s 57kg category of taekwondo who described her victory as “bonkers”- she could kick my head in any day; and

5. Bradley Wiggins – after his heroics in the Tour de France, striking of the Olympic bell in the Opening Ceremony and handsome time trial victory, “Sir Brad” became a bit of a forgotten man during the last ten days of the Games as new British heroes emerged. He probably preferred it that way as it would have allowed him to continue getting “blind drunk”. His feats can never be underestimated though, and he remains, for me, the brightest star of Britain’s glorious sporting summer.

TV moment of the Games? It has to be the interview with previously mild-mannered, even diffident British Finn class sailor Ben Ainslie. Aiming for his fourth Olympic Gold he lost to his Danish rival, Jonas Hagh-Christensen in the first six (of ten) races. In that sixth race the Dane, along with Dutchman, Pieter-Jan Postma, alleged that Ainslie had hit a mark whilst turning round it, thereby incurring a penalty. Ainslie felt obliged to repeat the manoeuvre, causing him to lose vaulable time, though he was unconvinced that he had committed the offense.

When interviewed about this afterwards, a clearly incensed Ainslie stated that he was “seriously unhappy” about this and that “they’ve made a big mistake, they’ve made me angry and you don’t want to make me angry”. I felt afeard even from the other side of the television screen. It reminded me of John McEnroe in his pomp when his public outbursts appeared to drive him to perform still better. Needless to say, Ainslie collected his fourth gold and the reward of carrying the GB flag at the Closing Ceremony.

One other hero – London.

Never was Samuel Johnson’s famous phrase that “when a man (or woman) is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford” more apt. All that life could afford was present in this past fortnight.

Lord Coe recounted at the post-Games press conference that Jacques Rogge, President of the IOC, had advised him that if he exploited just 10% of London’s heritage in designing the venues, it would be spectacular. And spectacular it was.

I now offer a public apology to whoever took the decision to block off from the public a large chunk of Greenwich Park a year ago in order to prepare the site for the equestrian events. It was worth it. The most dramatic blend of action and backdrop was the sight of the show jumpers negotiating the “Moon” fence with the spendour of Greenwich’s maritime buildings in the immediate foreground and Canary Wharf and adjoining buildings in the background. Pure genius.

Only this could have beaten the volleyball arena in Horse Guard’s Parade, with the Whitehall rooftops and the London Eye enjoying birds eye views of the scantily attired athletes, into the silver medal position.

If there is a single word that defined these Games, and which my personal roll of honour above exemplifies, it is diversity or, if you prefer, inclusivity.

Tory MP Adam Burley called the opening ceremony “leftie multi-cultural crap”. As novelist Tony Parsons put it, “this was a rotten fortnight to be a bigot” as British athletes of black, white and mixed ethnic origin, of different religions, and from every corner of the nation, won medals. Burley’s angst will be intensified still further when the disabled Olympians take to the stage later this month.

I wrote this piece, not only as a counterpoint to the two articles published on the eve of the Games, but to provide some measure of catharsis or, in the modern vernacular, closure. But as I surround myself with commemorative brochures and newspaper reviews and look forward to the DVDs to come, I don’t want it to end, though I know it must.

The sceptic in me has re-entered the room, bragging that the spirit of generosity and celebration so overflowing in the past fortnight will soon be swept aside in arguments between politicians about the funding of sport in schools, surliness between strangers on the creaking tube, rail and bus network and a return to the national pastime of moaning.

Well, maybe, but we will always have London 2012.

I had intended to write also about that all-important issue of legacy, but I will leave it to others better qualified. Besides, I think I have occupied your time long enough.

All I will say is that I pray that these Games form not only the trigger to greater participation in the unifying and health-giving pursuit of sport in schools, clubs and throughout society (sustaining GB’s success in future Games), but that they act as a springboard to delivering the much-needed regeneration of eastern London that has been so trumpeted by politicians and adminstrators.

The true success of the Games, and its implications for the future of Britain, will be determined over a much longer timescale than a fortnight. And we face harsh economic times that might quickly remove the shine on those glorious medals.

But I will never forget the spectacle and the atmosphere, the way London 2012 made me feel good about my country, my fellow citizens, those inspirational athletes and the city I have lived and worked in for much of my life. Nothing will change that.

And let’s not forget – the Paralympics are returning home on 29th August and they are already scheduled to be the best supported in history. And I have two of the 600,000 tickets alone that have been purchased since the Opening Ceremony, enabling me to sample that extraordinary atmosphere in the Olympic Stadium!

Let’s replicate that feel-good atmosphere and celebrate a movement that, perhaps more than its big brother, exemplifies the Olympic ideals.

And finally, I’ll return to my previous article entitled Let the Games Begin when I concluded by stating that I would be “sparing a thought too for the friends and families of those who perished on 7 July 2005”.

I’d like now to finish with a quote from Dr Ian Harte who treated victims of the bombings that day:

I saw the worst of mankind that morning, and now I’m into this and I’ve seen the best.

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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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