Surely Some Mistake It makes no sense to boast of London having ‘won’ the right to host the Olympics, since this colossal nuisance and waste of public money makes losers of us all, says Alessandro Tomé
Surely Some Mistake
It makes no sense to boast of London having ‘won’ the right to host the Olympics, since this colossal nuisance and waste of public money makes losers of us all, says Alessandro Tomé
AS SCENES OF jubilation and delight were beamed across the world from Trafalgar Square, juxtaposed with the tears of the losing bidders, England and London in particular gleamed with a sense of pride at the International Olympic Commitee’s unexpected decision to award them the honour of staging the 2012 Games.
What the cameras didn’t show were the scenes of shock and awe which rapidly morphed into panic, disbelief and anger, spreading like the plague to various government departments, starting with the Treasury and swiftly followed by the Home Office, all the way to the door of Number Ten, where they switched back to blind glee. For Labour’s Number Ten had long been detached from any sense of care or reality and only had its fingers on the pulse of the media moguls or in the cash kitty.
How had this happened, the civil servants asked. The Swiss had said that after the political hot potato of China, a couple of Western democracies forwarding bids would be a panacea. Please organise a semblance of a bid, travel the world at our expense, draw a few plans and put it in the post, we’ll do the rest, they said. And don’t worry, you won’t win, they promised. These are the only reasons I can fathom that would compel semi-bankrupt Britain and dysfunctional London to do this. We were merely making up the numbers. We were not meant to win, that wasn’t the point. Gallant loser is a more familiar concept over here. But there it was — the reliable Swiss had been unreliable. Why the surprise, I am not certain, but one thing is for sure: winning was not part of the plan.
Let’s look at it in the cold light of day. Why else would a city like London ever want to stage the Olympics? Is it because it felt bad about the Elgin Marbles? Did London really need the publicity, did it feel it was perceived as a backwater location in need of a spruce-up? To show everyone how it can’t handle airport traffic, or any type of traffic, as it is, let alone for an event like the Olympics (except by stopping all other traffic)? Or was England in need of global PR to demonstrate its democratic credentials and lack (or mostly lack) of torture, at least when compared to the previous Chinese hosts? To show that Britain still matters politically and economically? How is that going to happen?
Redeveloping a part of London most people didn’t know existed sounds like a wonderful ambition. But how many Olympic locations have turned into real long-term successful regenerations? Most of them are now larger, modernised derelict areas. England needs to spend money on infrastructure — but not just more publicity for Anish Kapoor and a small Tube extension. England needs train tracks that are built for future public transport needs, which don’t fail when it rains or shines and are connected to more cities. It needs a better motorway network, flyovers that don’t threaten to collapse under an overweight donkey, communications systems that move beyond the Victorian age.
But it’s for sports, you cynical fool, you say. Football or rugby, I would understand. At least here there are history and tradition in drunken behaviour, pointless fights and the beautiful game. The stadia are mostly there already. But the Olympics? Other than a bit of running to the sound of music and rowing while not being distracted by the close-up sight of builder’s bum crack on every stroke, English tradition cannot really have been part of the logic here. Semi-naked men in tights can be seen in any soft porn rental movie or at your local gym — you don’t need to spend tens of billions to do it live.
And they are never going to win much, because the British are fundamentally honest — certainly on a relative basis. Some British athletes do try to catch up on the drugs front, but they inevitably get busted by the honest and efficient British labs. And get banned. For life. Rightly so. That is, until the Swiss let you down again and say it’s fine to cheat, just not too often and within the accepted average. They tell us that if it were absolute zero-level tolerance, there would only be Eddie the Eagles competing, and so no records, no spectators and no money for the Swiss to spend on themselves.
But I think they are wrong. At least it would be real, we wouldn’t be so cynical, we would laugh and cry and it would really be about ‘taking part’. And it wouldn’t bankrupt most nations that have hosted it, create ghettos and desolate crumbling ruins. It would give us all back a sense of truth, vitality and much more desire and even the aspiration to be one of them, because we just might be. As long as they add a running event for Fat Bolts like me.
Illustration by Jeremy Leasor
I am not really meant to do restaurant ‘reviews’, so please, do not mistake this for such. I am far too insecure to want to place myself alongside some of the luminaries featured on Masterchef as renowned food critics. I just have not yet reached the right girth, even though I am assiduously working at it, nor the level of stomach acidity they must all suffer from if their faces permanently contorted at the sight of food are any indication. Someone should lend the hand of friendship, even at the risk of it being bitten off, and let them know there is medication for it, and they might even start enjoying eating, possibly even living, again.
But it’s easy for me to say, as having to pay for my meals is what perhaps helps me be more appreciative of the whole experience, rather than start off negative because it’s free.
Look at a recent meal I had at Cut, at the 45 Park Lane hotel. It would be easy to immediately not like it, as for starters it is in a hotel, and one that tries hard to be hip. And trying hard is never good. But as I was paying, it helped me think positive thoughts. By the time I had read the menu and gone over the wine list, I realised my appreciation for Cut was going to have to be boundless at this price. This was going to be an absolute love-in, weeks on end of it.
So I found it amusing rather than very irritating that although they only mainly serve cuts of meat that would bankrupt a small nation, they still didn’t manage to serve the right piece of meat to the right guest. We actually enjoyed playing Pass-the-£100-Plate for a while as the meat got cold — sorry, rested a little longer. More fun was had by all playing Guess Who Got Your Tea, Where’s the Jasmine and Hands Off My Mint. But my favourite of all was Spot the Only Trained Waiter in the Restaurant. No winners in that game.
The bill duly arrived, service included — a final painful reminder to be appreciative of my dinner at Cut. Hugely appreciative. Massively actually… Hence this piece. Not a review this. And not a bad word to say. Even about the prodigious amount of good food that didn’t help me sleep well that night.
Shot to Hellas
My beloved late Greek stepfather used to say that once upon a time in Greece there were gods, but now there were only God-damn Greeks. I feel a lot of people may empathise with this joke, but I find it unfair and most of all misdirected. For it is one of the traits of our societies to always blame someone, anyone, else for your own doing.
After all, it was Britain and Churchill himself that saw European union as the way to avoid further Franco-German conflicts engulfing the world. Not the Greeks. The baton was eagerly taken on and led to economic union by Mitterrand as a counterbalance to ever-growing renewed German might. Not the Greeks. France and Germany agreed to remove the 60 per cent debt to GDP maximum limit to allow Italy in and later on were the first to breach the 3 per cent deficit rule. Not the Greeks.
The rest, as they say, is catastrophic history. No Greek gods here, only sacrificial lambs to a Franco-Saxon altar, with a bit of Goldman Sachs greed thrown in.