My sister rang with glad tidings about her boys. She has four (not counting her saintly husband – sis and I are very alike so believe me he is). First born, Dan the man, has got himself a cracking new job with prospects and a pension. Second in line, brainy Jack, has just received a sparkling set of exam results. Third sprog, brawny Tom, is now playing semi-professional football at the tender age of 15 (they groom ‘em ever younger these days). But what of Josh, the baby of the clan? Well, he moves up a gear to secondary school next month and is showing quite a lot of promise himself in the kick-about stakes. Who knows? In a few years, we might have two players in the top flight. Time to pop our corks and toast to a comfortable dotage of wine and song. Remember, boys, we are your favourite uncles.
With the introduction of a vaguely worded law in Russia banning the promotion of homosexuality to minors (i.e. the very mention of it will attract a sliding scale of fines and repeated violations may result in a stint in the clink), the chattering classes have called for a boycott of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi on Russia’s Black Sea Coast. The idea is to give Tsar Putin and his Russian Orthodox cabal a good kick up the arse. I can’t see it amounting to much. After all, the soccer World Cup circus will be coming to town in Qatar in 2022, a gulf state with a less than sparkling record on human rights of any kind and we seem happy to do brisk business with a host of nasty little regimes around the globe. Let not conscience get in the way of the beautiful game or making a few shillings. The new Russian Law is similar in word and intent to the much-hated Section 28, enacted by the Thatcher Government in 1988 and only abolished in 2003 (now being reintroduced through the back door in some self-governing schools – along with creationism, no doubt). Section 28 was a vicious little side swipe from the Iron Lady’s handbag, tossed in to appease the swivel-eyed loons out in the shires. It was largely ineffectual in the real world and I’m hoping against hope that punitive Putin’s decree will go the same way. But then, Russia isn’t Britain.
So what can be done? I have huge admiration for the two Swedish athletes, Emma Green Tregaro and Moa Hjelmer, who painted their nails the colours of the rainbow while competing at this year’s World Athletics Championship in Moscow. It was a subtle rebuke but still caused quite a brouhaha. Nice one, ladies. How about Winter Olympians displaying the pink triangle (on their nails, a fake tattoo on their hands, whatever)? Personally, I think this would send a more powerful and historically resonant message. The pink triangle was the badge that gay people wore on their ragged uniforms in the death camps before the Nazis herded them into the gas chambers (just as Jews wore the Star of David and other ‘enemies’ of the state had their own emblems). Simple, effective and very televisual. Just a thought.
My sister’s football-crazed family has finally spawned a potential star. Tom, third boy of four, has been selected to train with Reading FC’s Soccer Academy. The Academy has a fine reputation for nurturing young talent. Tom’s only 14 (but nearly six foot tall with shoulders the width of a barn door) and his coach thinks he has what it takes to go all the way. Someone once said that to me when I was 14, but that’s another story.
Naturally, Tom turned to his wise old uncle for lifestyle advice. I told him to watch the drink (think George Best and Gazza) and avoid sleeping with prostitutes old enough to be his granny (Wayne Rooney). I also told him that, as his favourite uncles, Liam and I wouldn’t be the least bit embarrassed if he set us up in a luxury penthouse overlooking the Thames. After all, if he makes it into the Premier League, he’ll be bringing in more dosh than Denmark.
“I spent a lot of money on booze, birds and fast cars. The rest I just squandered.”
You might also like:
It’s curious how extended families, so close in childhood days, can grow slowly apart as children age and move on. I guess it’s related to our modern existence of social mobility, dispersal and transience. My own family is a case in point. When I was growing up, my mother and her siblings were very chummy and we spent much of our time squatting in each other’s houses even when we lived in different parts of the country. An effort was made, the bond was important. But, imperceptibly, the bond gradually eroded, finally snapping when nobody was looking. These days, only funerals bring the clan together (weddings and christenings are as rare as ginger nuns in my largely heathen tribe).
Last week I attended the funeral of my Uncle James. He was 87. The Grim Reaper called at night and Jim died quietly in his sleep. The funeral service was nose to nipple (clearly, dying young isn’t the only way to get a healthy crowd in for a send-off). Late-comers were forced to stand at the back.
There were many things I knew about my uncle. I knew that after his wife (and my favourite aunt), Ruth died and, following a minor stroke, Jim found physical and emotional recovery through fitness and jogging. I also knew that he first completed the London Marathon when he was 73. I didn’t know that Jim went on to complete 8 marathons in all and raise £16,000 for a local cancer charity in the process. I didn’t know that he was given a Local Hero Award, an MBE and selected to carry the 2012 Olympic Torch when it went on national tour last year. Uncle Jim enjoyed a star-spangled dotage. This is a grand lesson to us all.
I also didn’t know how to knot my black tie. After a five year absence from the wicked world of the waged, I’d simply forgotten. This doesn’t auger well for my own dotage.
Former Welsh international, Gareth Thomas, demonstrated that he’s just as nifty on ice as he is on the rugby field. The man mountain with more muscles than Atlas proved that big doesn’t mean clumsy as he lifted and glided with elegance and flair. It’s enough to make a boy go weak at the knees. Even though gorgeous Gareth had to drop out of the competition due to ill health, the boy from the Valleys did well, very well. Get well soon, Gareth.
Now the Welsh beefcake has hung up his sequins and skates, he’s got time to catch up on his reading. And guess what he’s reading?
You might also like Rainbow Sporting Heros
We Brits love to wallow in glorious failure. It’s almost a national fetish. We relish the underdog fighting against insurmountable odds – remember Eddie the Eagle and the Jamaican Bobsleigh Team (not to mention Dunkirk)? This time we had a runaway success on our hands and it crept up behind us like a batty boy in a back room, confounding the doubters and crowned with a bulging bag of bling. Blighty has been in a foul mood for years and, for a brief moment, people have something to smile about. For me, it was the Paralympics that defined the true spirit of the Games – from mad dash to Mad Max, fire to phoenix, high fliers to high wires, gold-play to Coldplay – the very best of humanity tainted only by the very worst of Channel 4 coverage. Keenly covered at home, not so keenly covered abroad, some of our friends across the seas should hang their heads in shame. The Americans televised only limited highlights (despite the presence of a large and impressive American Team) and my former foster home, Turkey, decided to screen a soccer match instead of the opening ceremony. Tonight saw a joyous and very British closing show received by a wall of noise. It was a triumph – a triumph made in Britain.
Now that the big top has come down and the circus is leaving town for Brazil, what next? Will the park become a weedy white elephant like so many of the past? Will the colossal cost deepen the double dip as the bills drop on the mat? There’s a chance, a good chance, that the legacy will endure. The park itself is small and perfectly formed (a bit like me), the velodrome was going to be built anyway and the aquatics centre will replace the aging National Sports Centre pools at Crystal Palace. I used to train there when, for a short while before I discovered hormones, I was a promising young diver. It was a bugger to get to. As for the Olympic Stadium itself, it’s a great fit for big-ticket concerts by big-wig stars. It’s already booked for the 2017 World Athletic Championships and we may yet see Hammers’ fans screaming from the terraces. Transport links in that part of town have been completely transformed and the Olympic Village will provide quality affordable housing for one of the most deprived areas of the country. Remember the Millennium Dome (itself a 2012 venue)? Who would have thought back in 2001 that it would emerge as one of the most successful music venues in the world as the O2? Few facilities were specifically built for the Games and some were designed to be temporary. One or two may even get packed up and shipped off to Rio for 2016. Now, here’s a thought. Perhaps the IOC should commission IKEA to design the travelling flat pack games. Now where did I put that allen key?
See the best of the Games. You’ll have to click into You Tube to watch the video.
You might also like:
London welcomed the Parallel Olympic Games with a dazzling display full of guts and gumption, and with a look-up-at-the-stars-and-not-down-at-your-feet message of hope. Only the commercial breaks and a plodding commentary marred a marvellous show. For the first time in Paralympic history, the gig is heading for a sell-out as ticket sales surge. Channel Four had its best viewing figures for a decade. As the tidal wave of cheer and goodwill continues to sweep over the realm like a benign Great Flood, this would not be a sensible time for the Government to benefit-bash the disabled. But then, there never should be a good time to bully the easiest of targets. Pick on someone your own size, I say. Like the filthy rich Fagins who squirrel their money away in tax havens. I’ve nothing against people earning a bob or two (If only I owned the copyright to the Union Flag at the moment) but I do expect everyone to pay their fair share. Here endeth the lesson. Let’s sit back, wallow in the joy and hope for a swag bag full of bling.
You might also like: