Miscellany and detritus, from the writer of Is This Mutton?com

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Friday, August 24, 2012

John's Olympic Volunteer Memories

John and his running club, the Orion Harriers, were among the 70,000 "Gamesmakers" who helped to make the Olympics such a success.

John didn't get inside the Olympic Stadium: his duties were in central London at the men's and women's marathon, the race walk and the road cycling.

He took his duties to the public very seriously, "working the crowd" at every opportunity and taking photos of people.

Here are a few of his pictures:

Here's where it all started, a rainy morning a few weeks before the Olympics. The Orions have been issued with their uniforms. John's in the back row, in the middle, with a cap on. Photo taken by me!

Doing the "Mobot"
A well earned drink
Getting their hands on some souvenirs

Friday, August 17, 2012

Garden Hits and Misses

This summer we've had a new garden to enjoy. Last year Leylandii trees were disposed of, a new fence put up and the shed remodelled. This year we created a new border with railway sleepers and put down an artificial lawn.
Early spring: the base for the artificial lawn

I set about planting, concentrating mostly on perennials with a few annuals to fill gaps and a couple of ferns and hostas to create additional texture and interest.

Quite a few learnings!
Large border, late July

The weather was of course challenging. Very wet with no prolonged sunshine until late July. When it is dry, our soil quickly gets like the prairie.

My first learning was that I didn't quite get the balance of height and depth right in the big border. Some of the plants just didn't live up to their predicted heights.

The other learning was colour. I had painstakingly designed the big border to be mostly pink with a little mauve and white. Then in spring, nasturtiums from last year re-seeded themselves in the smaller border and suddenly there was a mass interruption of orange and yellow. Undaunted, I allowed that border to be a crazy "jewel garden," and surprisingly, it works. Unlike the main border, which has too much pink . Nicotiana which was billed as lime green, which I thought would be a perfect foil for fuchsias and magenta cosmos, turned out to be a "dwarf" variety, and while growing in profusion, it is more yellow than lime green.
The "jewel border"

I grew cosmos from seeds my mum gave me, and the cosmos was disappointing. I have hoth huge leafy bushes of it and stunted little plants.

Several dianthus plants are starting to flower and smell divine, but they were such tiny plants when they arrived they're only just getting established.

Three lupins were attacked by something which I managed to eradicate. Three penstemons had a brief, lacklustre performance. The much vaunted foxglove, award winner Illumination has been a solid performer but I found the peachy colour a bit disappointing.

Finally it was year two for my blackcurrants and I achieved oh, 10 berries!

Nemesia Raspberry
Hardy fuchsia "Display"

Unknown salvia
The successes were: the nasturtiums, which are winding themselves round the hedge; nemesia, which I bought as an extra was gorgeous and I'll be getting more of them next year; the artificial lawn, which always looks great, and a salvia which I planted in the border after it faithfully grew back in a pot two years running. Two fuchsias were outstandingly profuse. Earlier in the year, clematis Dr Ruppel was fabulous and I have added another clematis, the mile-a-minute Montana Rubens, to sprawl over the fence. I also had a fabulous hellebore Niger  (Christmas Rose) and will get more of those.

Honeysuckle Serotina

Echinacea Vintage Wine
Next year I will re-site some of the plants; have more height and  depth by adding hollyhocks and delphiniums, and grow more of the successful plants: nemesia, fuchsias, echinacea  (I only had three this year as an experiment). For spring, I have just ordered my bulbs and will have a fantastic display in containers, concentrating on mostly purple and mauve tulips and daffodils and narcissi.

Monday, August 13, 2012

A Kaleidoscope of Colour ends London's wonderful Olympics

Eric Idle brings the roof down
The day after the end of the Olympics. BBC Breakfast is still coming from the Olympic Park but there's no-one there and the sun has gone. "Why are you crying?" demands J, as a solitary tear creeps down my cheek.

I, like many others today I suspect, am pining for the colour, warmth and exuberance of the most amazing two weeks we have ever known. An intoxicating cocktail where Londoners lost their stiff upper lip, everything ran to time and the recession was forgotten. Even the weather came good, after months of relentless rain.

Even on Twitter, the cynicism had disappeared for a fortnight, but during the early part of the closing ceremony it was back with a vengeance, people moaning and whining. Fortunately the show morphed into something so eccentric and over-the-top that it won everyone round and the tweets became funny and catty, like the Twitter we know and love.

So what of the closing ceremony? Looking back, it was like something that started gently and gracefully and then speeded up in a blur of flashing colours. No doubt this was intentional, but the start was a little too restrained. After a stunning backdrop of London's cars and lorries speeding past landmarks in a papier mache world (yesterday's news?), the first few acts including Madness and the Pet Shop Boys didn't seem to be hitting the right notes.

Ray Davies, 68, looked slightly overwhelemed as he was deposited by a London cab to sing his wonderful "Waterloo Sunset."  He may have a limp from when he was mugged in New Orleans a few years ago but he showed he still had his voice, unlike Paul McCartney and Elton John when they performed at the Jubilee concert.

The arrival of the athletes seemed a welcome distraction on Twitter, where people were scathing and restless, but it took too long to assemble them and form them into the Union flag. I was yearning for Usain Bolt to move everyone along. Meanwhile the four songs that we had heard so far seemed to be endlessly reprised. "I love Britain and I love our four songs," said someone on Twitter.

Eventually the athletes were all successfully kettled, and then the party really started. Whoever was staging the show was now determined to turn it into a raucous celebration of British eccentricity and diversity. This is what we're really good at.

Two deceased artists, John Lennon and Freddie Mercury, appeared on video screens. When pictures of David Bowie appeared, the whole of Twitter went mad - "is it him? We need him!" and it would have been the most fantastic, best kept secret had David Bowie appeared. He didn't though: we had a few super models standing around while Fashion played.

I would have done without George Michael, who had the audacity to sing a new song, and "Pink Floyd." Elbow and Muse both seemed to lack a bit of welly in the vast stadium. Annie Lennox was also surplus to requirements, although the pirate ship was a nice prop.

I was getting concerned that none of the kettled athletes would have even heard of any of the acts as we were fielding quite a lot of mature talent. Fortunately some younger acts appeared including Jessie J and Tine Tempeh, with someone's dad (Fatboy Slim) coming down from the pub to spin a few records.

Russell Brand was a cross between the child catcher and Willy Wonka as he demonstrated that he can't sing but has enough charisma to compensate, trundling along in a Magical Mystery Tour style camper van.

The Spice Girls looked and sounded great, although Victoria Beckham had a slightly pained "I didn't really want to be here, I have a career you know" expression. The highlight of their short set was Boris and Cameron dancing and being captured on Youtube.

For me the show was undoubtedly stolen by Eric Idle and "Always look on the bright side of life."  Shot from a cannon (I was hoping Boris would have been the cannon fodder), this was totally surreal. Eric was surrounded by Bollywood dancers and hoardes of nuns. Suddenly everyone on Twitter was saying it was so over-the-top it was wonderful.

After the speeches from Lord Coe and Jacques Rogge  (does he ever smile?) and the formalities of the handover of the 31st Olympiad to Rio, it was left to Take That and Darcey Bussell to extinguish the cauldron, a poignant and moving moment. Then the party revived with The Who proving "their generation" still has a lot more to offer than zimmer frames and hip replacements. And thank goodness we didn't have to endure Paul McCartney, Elton John and Cliff Richard this time!

Fantastic night to round off the most aamazing two weeks. I have been privileged to be part of it. Tickets for the Paralympics opening ceremony have now been secured as I was determined that this time we will get into the park.

Friday, August 10, 2012

England's footballers need to step up to the plate

We're nearing the end of the Olympics and what a phenomenal achievement it has been for Team GB all round!

Yes, fully deserving of an exclamation mark, even though I normally steer away from them. 

Before it all began I was telling everyone it would be wonderful: there was nothing to worry about. The problems with security and trucculent transport workers faded away, and instead the UK basked in the glow of largely excellent weather, superb organisation and praise by IOC chief Jacques Rogge for being on a par with Lillehammer, noted for the friendliest games ever.

As for the performance of Team GB, where do we start? After the years of hurt we have had with the UK's mediocre football teams, we were stunned into disbelief as athletes rose to the challenge and gave the finest performance of their career to clinch a record tally of gold medals. Yes, even Andy Murray!

It's an amazing achievement for a country of our size to finish third in the medals table. There is a degree of satisfaction in particular in trouncing Germany and France. Germany's Der Spiegel published a very sour article ahead of the Olympics saying that London 2012 would be dogged by chaotic organisation and bad weather. Meanwhile France have been poor losers, accusing "les rosbifs" of cheating simply because we're now so dominant in cycling.

One thing the Olympics has taught us is that we are still "Great" Britain. We don't have to settle for mediocrity. We are fearless competitors.

The spotlight has occasionally fallen on football during the Olympics and the contrast between our fine Olympians and that pathetic bunch of overpaid prima donnas, the footballers.

Forget Team GB, the excuse for a team put together for the Olympics. For reasons known only to themselves, and no doubt to do with not wanting to lose their jobs if a united UK team was found to be better than separate country teams, Scotland and Northern Ireland declined to take part.

The team ended up by repeating the England team's uselessness at taking penalties.

We're less willing now to put up with the lacklustre performances of England, the excuses, the mediocrity. Like our Olympic athletes, our cricketers and our rugby players, football needs to step up to the plate. Put up or shut up. "The beautiful game" is now officially on two yellow cards.
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