Wednesday 17 August 2016

Young Faces of Britain

Doesn't it give everyone, sportif or non-sportif, a boost to see young Olympians, the soon-to-be married, Laura Trott and Jason Kenny, winning and speaking on the TV? Not only do they work hard, not only are they highly successful, not only are they energetic, full of vitality and health, they are modest, positive thinkers and a joy to listen to. It gives me hope for the future that such wonderful young people can influence others to take up sport or succeed in other ways - rather as Beckham did - without cynicism or triumphalism. They are good to listen to simply because they don't boast or pull rank. They almost don't realise how stunning they are. And isn't it so much better for all of us to be open to such optimism than listening to the ramblings and weary infighting some of our politicians are indulging in?

This evening, having washed my hands of the Labour party leadership contest, I believed I may as well stand for the post as Owen Smith feels terrorists should be part of talks in the middle East. I understand he helped bring the former IRA to a negotiating table during N. Ireland's peace talks. Surely his latest gaffe is simply nuts? If the Labour party can't come up with better candidates I fear they are sunk. I shall not be voting in this latest leadership contest. My vote last year was for Andy Burnham, but he isn't re-standing and is likely to be Mayor of Manchester. Where have Hilary Benn, Chukka Umunna and Yvette Cooper gone? And why did Angela Eagle fold so quickly - hardly before her leadership election campaign had started? I have never voted Tory but the Labour party is currently shambolic and letting themselves down, imho. I expect historians will show us the party went through similar 'Labour pains' in the days of the defection of Shirley Williams, Bill Rogers, David Owen et al to their newly-formed SDP. I just can't understand why strong leadership seems to be evading Labour. Where are the Labour party heavy-weights? ( Yes, I know it's the summer recess but this leadership contest is like asking which of two five year-olds should be appointed Head of an Infants School. I don't need to state that I am most unimpressed - but there we are - I've just said it.)
If Jeremy Corbyn continues as leader the back benchers will be, at best, unsupportive. If Owen Smith wins - heaven help us. He was an unknown until he threw his hat into the ring. Why can't Labour MPs who have experience in cabinet stand for the leadership party? Are they busily making plans to become a centrist Lib-Lab party so are more interested in splitting?

I find it wearying and life's too short for such Labour party games. On a good day I find myself feeling bored, unengaged, unenergised and more interested in what Theresa May thinks, which is a very dangerous position to take as a lifelong Labour supporter. I'm not bored, am interested and feel inspired by our TeamGB, and I've never been athletic.
Kenny and Trott, Murray, Grainger and so many more are great ambassadors for our great country. They are the face of a Britain I understand and feel hopeful for. Infighting politics makes me tired.

Tuesday 9 August 2016

Rio 2016

Back in 2012, watching the opening celebrations of the London Olympic Games, after months, nay, years, of commentators complaining about spiralling costs, legacy and sustainability, my husband exclaimed, ‘He’s done it! Danny Boyle’s pulled it off.’ He was referring to the opening spectacle. A cast of thousands depicting pre- and post-industrialised Britain, intermingled with ‘happy’ children at Great Ormond Street hospital, the great institution that is our NHS, Mary Poppins, our multi-million pound export - ‘pop music’, David Beckham and, let’s not forget, the Queen parachuting into the Olympic arena. A strange mix but it did make us Brits feel we have something to be proud about. Perhaps we take our achievements, as a nation, for granted. Maybe our concerns as individuals, day-day living costs, poor returns on savings, if we are lucky enough to have any investments, too much traffic, not enough parking spaces… make us forget about the good things our country has created. We still enjoy free health care and schools for all, opportunities and wealth, for many, if not everyone. We can expect electric lighting, clean water and sewers to ensure our lives are safe and disease-free.

This year, watching the opening night in Rio, I was conscious, again, of the grumbles about the costs of staging the Olympics. Having read about the lack of sanitation in the favelas, the ensuing pollution in the waters where aquatic sports were to be held, one wonders why nations feel they have to spend so much on stadiums when other priorities – like actually paying essential workers – are left ignored. One can only hope that Tokyo uses the sports arenas they had in 1964, when a tuneful ‘Good Morning Tokyo’ rang out across our black-and-white TV screens. Am I the only one who feels a lump in the throat when nations put on fantastic displays for us to enjoy? We know that Rio residents are, in many cases, suffering and are angry about the money being used for such entertainments rather than for an essential infrastructure. The opening spectacles seem to leave me in two minds. Glad for the sense of theatre and celebration but sad that people still live in slums. Fireworks last but a few moments.

In the athletes’ march past I again felt relieved I live in a country which has freedom of speech and an Olympic team which has opportunities for training so they reach their potential. It was, as in 2012, sobering to see countries such as Sierra Leone offering a much smaller team of athletes than our own. The difficulties people in SL have had to overcome beggar belief. To be able to create a team at all is astonishing, given the tribulations suffered by that African nation. In the march past one cannot ignore the fact so many athletes represent countries where there are repressive regimes, corruption, poverty, war or lack of opportunity. Again, as in 2012, I felt proud to be British. I felt lucky to have been born in a country where so many advantages are enjoyed by most of its citizens. The team of refugees on parade, looking happy and full of life, brought more than a lump to my throat. Not only do these athletes not have a country, they may well have had an horrendous journey in their escape from persecution, they may have had to scrimp and save to afford sports coaches, a gym, a swimming pool or similar. Who knows what sacrifices they have made or what horrors they have escaped from? One can only wish them well and realise that the Olympics opening night is an education. It’s not just about sport.

Count your blessings!