Monday, 20 August 2012

Is it really worth this?

Another example of religious ideology driving people to do stupid, evil things in the news at the moment. Sometimes I despair of it, I really do. This poor girl is the latest victim of zealotry, with extremist reaction leading to threats to burn Christian homes - religious fervour once again being used as a wedge to divide people.

I've heard, and understand, the responses to my problem with theological extremism. It's not religion, it's people that are the problem. Well, yes. Of course - but would the response to some perceived slight in any other walk of life, any secular insult, provoke such a reaction? Remove the ideology, and you remove a stronger reason for hatred than any other I can think of.

I am, once again, reminded of the great quote from Mark Twain - a man who, despite being a Christian himself, saw religion and what it does to people rather more clearly than many of his contemporaries:

"The fleets of the world could swim in spacious comfort in the innocent blood it has spilt."

Let us hope that matters calm down in this instance, before it comes to that.

What say do we have left in our own lives?

I can't, generally, understand what it is that drives people to suicide. I'm fortunate enough never to have found myself in a position where it's even crossed my mind, and of those poor people driven to it, it's often thought of as 'selfish', particularly when it traumatises other people (train drivers, for example). I can't begin to empathise with people so full of despair that they seriously contemplate it, still less actually carry it out.

But the case of Tony Nicklinson offers an insight into the life of a man who has made this decision rationally and clearly. I'm lucky enough that I can't empathise with him, but I can at least understand his reasons and certainly defend his choice. He has, though, been denied that choice by a court. A court which has condemned him to live that life against his will, either because it has allowed concern for the letter of the law to weigh more heavily than human considerations, or for some other reason I can't fathom.

All he's asking is that somebody who cares for him, or a medical professional, be allowed to help him carry out that choice without being prosecuted for murder. But that concern for those he'll leave behind, and the fact that this has been done openly, has worked against him. It seems the law denies us that choice in our own life. The only reason for it, as far as I can see, is to prevent murder being dressed up as assisted suicide, but that possibility exists anyway, regardless of what the law says. There are bad people out there who could do this to somebody vulnerable - that will be a fact notwithstanding the wording of the laws.

Certainly any religious pressure not to take one's own life are outrageous - what right does a theological organisation have, for example, to tell an atheist they must adhere to their doctrine? Even if Mr Nicklinson is a Christian he's living, in his own words, a very real hell - you would hope a benevolent deity would be sufficiently understanding to forgive him his choice. It's also to be fervently hoped that such considerations played no part in the court's ruling.

So let's assume it was down to the law, and no more. If we can't even, in a sound and rational state of mind, take this decision for ourselves any longer, what rights to self-determination do we have left? I sincerely hope, for Mr Nicklinson's sake, that he eventually will be allowed the peace he's after, that he will be free to make this most fundamental of choices for himself.

Tuesday, 14 August 2012


Having absorbed as much of the Games as possible, and absolutely loved the entire thing, I was fortunate enough to be at the closing ceremony on Sunday thanks to my girlfriend getting tickets in the first draw, way back when.

She's been volunteering throughout the Games, and has had experiences she'll remember forever; indeed she attended the closing ceremony in her uniform, having come straight from the men's marathon earlier that day. The goodwill and thanks to her and all the volunteers from organisers and public alike where heartfelt and fulsome. I'll add mine - what an incredible job they all did. My missus came home exhausted from long days on her feet, but when I met some of her colleagues they, like her, expressed nothing but admiration for each other and enjoyment of their experiences. Hats off to all of them. My g/f most of all, of course - no doubt she was the best of the lot.

The closing ceremony itself was another exhibition of extreme Britishness, just as the opener had been. I occasionally felt like I was there under slightly fraudulent pretences, given my indifference to music and its pivotal role in the whole thing. But I enjoyed it immensely, as much, I hope, as a proper music fan would have done, and came away from it regarding it as an all round good thing. Spectacular, amusing again, and smoothly done.

Slight criticisms? It could have done with being about 45 minutes shorter - I got into bed at around 2.45am as a result of its finishing time, and bits of it were slightly flabby. George Michael should never have been indulged to perform that second one, a new song that nobody knew, from an album which came out the next day. Absolutely bare-faced, and the audience sat largely still and pretty mute as he performed it. An odd, incongruous few minutes which jarred with the tone of the rest of the show.

Good bits? Everything else. Stomp and Fat Boy Slim being there, both being from Brighton like me, was a particular joy. And I got as close as I'll ever get to addressing one of my enduring regrets - I never saw Queen live while Freddie M was alive. Amazing light shows from the seat-mounted LEDs all over the stadium. Cracking fireworks and some top set building. The beauty of the flame itself unfurling and dying slowly.

It wasn't for everybody, I suspect - I don't know what the vision of a modern Britain was of the older couple from just in front of us who left, no more than a third of the way through, during one of the show's noisier sections, never to return. But for me, yet again, it somehow succeeded in capturing Britain, exemplifying our modernity, diversity, our willingness to poke fun at ourselves.

It was, like so much of these Games was, an absolute joy to behold, and a great privilege to be there. The stadium is absolutely wonderful, and though I strongly suspect I'll be disappointed, it'll be a crying shame if it's handed over to a football club. (This from a die-hard footy fan, by the way - we made a legacy commitment to athletics during the bid process, and should be held to account for that commitment.)

I shall miss the Olympics terribly and look forward with great enthusiasm to seeing some of the Paralympics live. Evidently I'm not alone - more tickets have been sold for the Paralympics than ever have in the event's history, with those Games on course for a sell-out.

Truly, the British have shown, and are showing, the best of us to the world these past weeks. Can we take that best to heart for ourselves, I wonder?

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

A once-in-a-lifetime privilege

Last Saturday has already gone down in the annals of British sporting history, with gold medals all day, but particularly the three in the Olympic stadium in one dazzling 45-minute spell in the evening.

This was, for me, the day that I got to use the only tickets I'd been able to secure, for a morning's handball in the Copper Box. Taking the advice, or rather the dire warnings, on travel and getting to the venue early, I was up at six to meet my mate and head up to the park. The travel was, in fact, a doddle, as was getting through security and into the park. Friendly and efficient welcome, everybody chipper and a state of happy expectation. A slight hiccup when one of the many volunteers greeting crowds from vantage points on the top of step-ladder high chairs, on spotting a Belgian flag, yelled, "Good morning, Germany!" through her loudspeaker. Never mind - in keeping with the general atmosphere of goodwill, they took it in good heart.

Excitement grew pretty quickly after getting our bearings; I even posed for a photograph - willingly - in front of the Olympic Stadium, with a union flag. Anybody who knows me will realise the double-rarity value of such a thing. So, we headed to the Copper Box in plenty of time for the couple of games we were to see.

We saw a valiant GB side, put together from nothing in the past six years to compete at these Games, get handed their usual thrashing, and then saw South Korea v Serbia. A couple of hours very well spent in a cracking venue, with a loud, positive crowd really getting into both games. Handball is a game I've always thought would go down well in Britain if it were played to a decent standard, and it's been one of the success stories of the Games.

The rest of the day, though, was genuinely one of the great sporting experiences of my life. My mate and I spent the rest of the day and all evening in the Park, sitting watching British successes on the two huge screens they've put up there. All around were noises of cheering from the huge main stadium, from the hockey stadium, the basketball arena and around the screens themselves. As darkness fell and the big stadium filled up, partly emptying the park in the process, those without tickets to go in gathered in front of those screens and saw those three golds in quick succession. For all of them, but for Mo Farah in particular, there was jubilation. I saw, and felt, national pride without it spilling over into jingoism, and no trouble. It was an entirely positive experience. We left just as Jessica Ennis was receiving her gold medal, hearing the 80,000-plus in the stadium singing the anthem as we made our way out.

However much I was enjoying the Games already, nothing had compared to that Saturday. I have, needless to say, sat up late into each night since, trying until the early hours to secure tickets for anything else, anything, anywhere, without success. With so little time left I've basically given up trying now, and must instead look forward with huge anticipation to the closing ceremony, which I'm lucky enough to have a ticket for through my girlfriend.

With just four days to go as I type, it's been a huge success so far. They've ballsed up the ticketing, as I predicted in a much earlier post months ago, and they've ballsed up the mascots - in the Megastore in the Park, ranks of forlorn Wenlocks and Mandevilles sat unsold, while this new lion thingy which has appeared lately was flying off the shelves - but they've got the Games themselves right. Throw in a British public which, both in the excellent volunteers and the vast, positive, celebratory crowds, have switched off our innate reserve and pessimism for a couple of weeks, and you've got an absolute bloody marvel.

Friday, 3 August 2012

Absolutely loving it so far...

I'll come back to the tickets later, but now's not the time. The Olympics so far have been nothing short of wonderful so far, with huge, enthusiastic crowds (80,000 people turning up for a morning session of athletics mainly comprising heptathlon heats!), cracking venues and British success. Two people, in particular, caught my eye today. On a day when we won three further golds to go fourth in the medals table, a couple of bronze winners stood out for me.

Firstly, Rebecca Adlington. Winning a bronze in the event she won at Beijing, I think expectations of her were hugely over-inflated. Interviewed after today's bronze-winning swim, she apologised to everybody who thought she'd take gold. What the hell does this woman, who's won four Olympic medals for Britain, have to apologise to anybody for? She is an absolute heroine who is rightly feted, and owes the fans and her country nothing. Congratulations to our greatest female swimmer of all time who, far from saying sorry, can hold her head up wherever she goes.

Secondly, Alan Campbell. This shows how much effort he had to expend in winning his bronze, and how much it meant to him when he collected it. That somebody can drive themselves to such extremes of endeavour, and react so emotionally when they're rewarded for it, shows just why people love the Olympics so much, even with all the attendant corporate zealotry and occasional cheat. Oh, and the ticketing. Like I said, I'll come back to that later.