I am not surprised that twice as many people in England and Wales than in Scotland would vote for Scottish Independence. Hell is being forced to listen to James Naughtie interviewing Alex Salmond about it. Independence? I would even give them the oil so long as they promised to march those particular blue bonnets back over the border. What is it about Salmond that reminds one of Harry Lauder and that endless line of unfunny Scottish comedians? He has an air of a man in a polystyrene kilt about to break out with “I Love a Lassie”.
Of far greater moment was the admission about the Olympic Park. The former Mayor of London, newt fancier Ken Livingstone, you will recall, valued the 500 acres including stadium, aquatic centre, press HQ and development land at two billion pounds. He promised the money would repay the Treasury and the National Lottery. A more expert valuation this week estimated its worth as less than £160 million, a 75 per cent drop. One developer warns that the park will need hundreds of millions of pounds, a huge drain on the taxpayer, for any regeneration scheme to work.
I do hope it was nothing I said.
Not the only money worry for Lord Coe. He must have congratulated himself for the wheeze of a 50 pence Olympic piece which carried an explanation of the offside rule in football. According to some experts, the explanation is wrong. The coin shows two players, one apparently offside and the other onside. Because of an intricacy to the rule introduced in 1995, both players could be considered onside, some say. Not so, insists Neil Wolfson, a referee and coin designer. I don’t know who is right but I question the PR sense of designing a coin with a subject that has been provoking boring arguments since the days football was played with pigs’ bladders by players who were overpaid at £11 a week.
Many of you share my concern about The Games. Blog reader Perry discloses that Olympic organisers have set out social media rules for the 70,000 Games Maker volunteers, including a ban on pictures or posts featuring backstage VIPs.
Old broadcasting chum Allan Barham writes: “In one radio comedy show of the time I remember a government minister going abroad and saying to another minister, ‘Don't worry, if anything goes wrong just hold a festival.’ I suppose holding a festival is a better distraction than holding another war.“
Not much cheaper, though.
My cousin Jean had an interesting story to tell about an earlier, more dignified Games:
“I am a volunteer at a local charity shop. Another volunteer's father, Harold Langley, trained at Sparkhill Harriers in Birmingham. He won a medal at Much Wenlock in 1923 (where a earlier Game was held), represented GB in the 1923 Olympics in Paris and was a judge at the 1948 Olympics. He was a true athlete. He was given a blazer depicting the emblem of the Games. He used to put his hand over the emblem because he was so modest, and certainly made no money from it.
“’His daughter has no children and she generously gave me his scrapbook and numerous photographs of his achievements and his races, including at Much Wenlock. I had relatives living in MW and my cousin's husband put me in touch with the secretary (an ex teacher) of the Society. They were over the moon with the photographs and the scrapbook is being revived professionally by an archivist. They have also received a grant to extend their museum and I imagine the town of 2,500 inhabitants will be awash with visitors in the summer. “
On Jean’s advice I bought “The British Olympics” and was not surprised to find this profitable spin off of the British Games was printed in Croatia.
The notion of the Games being a tradition handed down from Ancient Greek takes a bit of swallowing. Greece was overrun by the Ottoman Turks in the 15th century after a thousand years as part of the Roman Empire. Tourkokratia (Turkish Rule) lasted until 1821, by which time the entire Greek aristocracy who claimed ancient Hellenic ancestry had been wiped out.
Like most other things, the Games was a British invention that was taken over by foreigners intent on making a swift buck. The first British Olympics were held on Dover’s Hill in the Vale of Evesham in the 1620s and still continue to this day. The original competitions included shin kicking, single stick fighting, bear baiting and a tug of war. Like most wars they were caused by religion. Robert Dover who founded them was a lawyer and intended them as a fight between “puritans and pleasure seekers“. He was firmly on the pleasure seekers’ side. He even wore a suit of King James I’s cast-off clothing, borrowed from a friend who was groom of the bedchamber to the king.
The Olympic Games at Much Wenlock in Shropshire were a spin off organised in 1850 to “improve the morals of the working class”. Events included football and cricket matches and a race for old women with a prize of a pound of tea. The founder was a local doctor William Penny Brookes.
Among the early visitors was Pierre de Coubertin who went on to found the Olympics as we know them today. He admitted: “The Olympic Games which modern Greece has been unable to restore....is due not to a Hellene but to Dr W.P. Brookes.”
Why, one wonders, are we loading ourselves with debt, traffic jams and bomb attacks by importing a foreign version of an English original ?