Archive for August, 2012|Monthly archive page
Little known fact – we’ve got Herr Hitler to thank for the Paralympics. The founding father of the Paralympic Games was a Jewish doctor on the run from the Nazis who took refuge in the UK. Ludwig Guttmann was born in Silesia in Germany in 1899 and got the hell outta there just before the war in March 1939 (a year after my dad who arrived in London in 1938 at the age of 1). He qualified in 1924 and by 1933 was considered the top Neurosurgeon in the country. Adolf’s arrival meant he couldn’t practice professionally other than in a Jewish-only hospital in Breslau. Once he made it to England he settled down to work at the Radcliffe Infirmary in Oxford. He became a British citizen in 1945. Two years earlier he set up a spinal injuries unit based at Stoke Mandeville Hospital in Buckinghamshire. He was a strong advocate of sport as a therapy for spinal injury, building up strength and re-establishing self-belief.
In July 1948, timed to coincide with the opening of the London Olympics, he established the Stoke Mandeville Games which focused on wheelchair sports like archery and involved just over a dozen patients. By the time of the next Olympics (1952) 130 international competitors took part in the Stoke Mandeville Games. In 1960 (in Rome) they transformed into the Paralympic Games (a term which actually came into usage in 1984 [four years after the good doctor passed away] but is retrospectively applied to Rome). At Rome Margaret Maughan, one of Guttmann’s patients in the wake of a 1959 car accident, won Great Britain’s first ever Paralympic gold medal, in the archery competition. The 84 year old lit the flame in Thomas Hetherwick’s Olympic cauldron at last night’s marvellous Opening Ceremony.
Meanwhile back in the Athletes’ Village across the Olympic Park Guttmann’s daughter Eva Loeffler has been acting as the mayor of the village. “I think he would be immensely proud of what has happened. … For future Paralympic Games it shows they are in no way second class games, they’re parallel games.”
The opening ceremonies, Danny Boyle’s and last night’s by Bradley Hemmings and Jenny Sealey, were very much in parallel and complementary – seated giants of Science Tim Berners-Lee and Stephen Hawking, The Tempest, Shaky thesps Kenneth Branagh and Ian McKellen, umbrellas, that beautifully designed cauldron, patiently swaying volunteers, and crucially punk attitude in John Lydon and Ian Dury to give the whole thing real British bite. Add to that some gold medal worthy signing alongside the singers, the rapturous welcome of the GB Team in their Major Tom-style white & gold suits, DV8’s incredible David Toole (star of the brilliant Cost of Living) and a rousing climax to the soul sounds of Beverley Knight in I Am What I Am and I am fired up for a very special occasion born of a very special man.
Another Olympic thing we have to thank Adolf’s merry men for is the torch relay, made much of in both the Olympics and Paralympics in London 2012 – not an ancient Greek tradition but introduced by Carl Diem, organiser of the Berlin 1936 Games for some fake Classical dignity for the inglourious basterds.
Sing Sing Sing – Benny Goodman
It turned me on to Jazz, not least through Gene Krupa’s drumming. I always had a bit of a thing for the drums anyway, even tried to learn to play at Saturday morning lessons at the Fender Soundhouse in Tottenham Court Road, with my long-lost step-brother who was quite a gifted drummer from the Carl Palmer camp. Strange this inheritance came from my step-father rather than my parents. My dad did have a decent collection of jazz records ranging from George Shearing (spotlighted in On The Road which I just finished reading yesterday) via Jack Teagarden (with the bright yellow sleeve) to Stan Freeman (a Sinatra alternative) but he never really communicated the passion for them – I think Barbra Streisand and Beethoven was more where he was really at). My mum has always loved music and taken me to hear it live but we’re more in the realm of Mahler and musical theatre with her – I guess a track from Jesus Christ Superstar could have been it, one of my first LPs (nabbed from her) which I drew and coloured along to for happy hours on end (we also saw Godspell together with David Essex in his Superman shirt). Her second husband was involved in the Archer Street generation, the musicians’ labour exchange on the streets of Soho habituated by the Ronnie Scott circles. I’ve just acquired a ticket to see Van at Ronnie’s little place which is a prospect and a half. And Benny would probably have enjoyed the trip back/forwards to 70s brown if his band would have fitted on stage. I’ve seen Maynard Ferguson’s big band there with an incredible young drummer called Stockton Helbing so it’s probably feasible. The drumming is primeval on Sing Sing Sing in the vein of Soul Sacrifice at Woodstock with the young&beautiful Michael Shreeve. And the Keith Moon craziness is key to the energy too. I like the way the Chicago Polak gets in touch with the roots of all ancestors through his insistent pounding – as Gershwin did in another way through Porgy, a profound understanding transcending race. Goodman is celebrated for breaking the race barriers with his mixed band – I love that too. By some twist of fate his great-niece ended up marrying my best-man via Argentina. The world swings in mysterious ways. And Sing Sing Sing swings with a mysterious primitive energy which does it for me deep deep deep down.
Flamenco Sketches – Miles Davis
Jazz too. It was a tough battle between Miles and Trane (A Love Supreme), my two funeral tracks, the former to end, the latter to start. I love this track because it leads me consistently to a transcendant place of tranquility. It soothes my soul. I was first transported by the record (Kind of Blue) driving home from St Albans one day, I just had one of those moments when I heard it properly. I can recall other such incidents clearly too – Love Theme from Spartacus (Bill Evans) in Kilburn, Hyperballad (Bjork), Into the Fire (Bruce) in Parliament Hill. Music lifting you beyond. I leave this beautiful performance, a one-off moment of semi-improvised perfection, the culmination of the second wonderous side of Kind of Blue, to the Enfants Terribles as a key to peace on earth.
Some cheekiness from Channel 4, literally picking up from where the first #Superhumans trailer for the London 2012 Paralympics left off…
How wonderful is it to see a pretty much sold out Paralympics? London, you’re a star
“There’s sport going on out there” was the wry, teasing observation of Sebastian Coe as he walked into the London2012.com website office this afternoon shortly after I clocked on at 3pm. Within eight hours he was handing up a bunch of flowers to Jessica Ennis on the top step of the Heptathlon medal podium. Her performance in the last discipline of the 800m was electric – from looking to be falling just behind in the last 250m, she put on the after-burners, fuelled by the noise of the crowd, and blasted to a famous victory. And if that wasn’t enough, within the hour Mo Farah did similar in a perfectly run 10,000m, staying on the shoulder of the front-runners until the last lap where he too kicked off and drove in on the energy of the 80,000 filling the stadium, doing that last lap in 53 seconds.
Before starting work this afternoon I took a wander across the Olympic Park to the far corner behind the Olympic Stadium by the River Lea canal. As it has been since I started in earnest a week ago today the vibe in the packed Park was festive, friendly and enthusiastic. This must go down as an Olympic Games characterised by these three things, as well as the creativity I wrote about in my first My Olympics post. London 2012 will be remembered I hope as the Friendly Games. And it’s not by accident. I did the training for the Gamesmaker programme, the London 2012 volunteer programme, and was really struck by two things: how being yourself and welcoming, with your individual personality, the visitors to London 2012 to make it a brilliant experience for them was very much stressed; also, the whole training programme was shot through with the promises London made in its bid – to inspire young people and to create a genuine legacy for the Games.
From the first day I cycled down the Lea canal to the Main Press Office in the Hackney Wick corner of the Olympic Park, tied up my trusty steed on the railings of the Transport Centre and walked into the complex the Gamesmakers have been super-friendly, with a real connection and camaraderie. The soldiers manning the security have been noticeably polite and displayed a well judged sense of humour. There is a real sense of goodwill which must make it one of the best implementations of volunteering ever.
It’s a total kick to think you’ve contributed in some small way to such a wonderful event. I’m totally buzzing from a day like no other. I took the photo below when I got home as a little souvenir of this 6 Gold Medal day. The crowd bursting into a spontaneous rendition of Hey Jude in the Velodrome thanks to the presence of Paul McCartney among them, in the wake of the Team GB women’s Track Cycling Team Pursuit team catching up their USA rivals as they won by an amazing margin setting their 6th world record in six runs. Jessica Ennis and her six-pack taking her rivals on the outside of the last bend and raising her arms in triumph and relief. Mo Farah embracing his daughter (and Wenlock, the mascot). The power of Greg Rutherford on his run-up. Andy Murray’s sudden lightness in the Mixed Doubles. The youthful potential of Adam Gemili executing an excellent 100m against major league opposition, undaunted. It’s been a day rammed with memories and inspiration to raise the spirits.
This is the best thing I did at work today, 3rd August, the day the track and field started in the Olympic Stadium in East London – and the day when Jesse Owens won the first of his four gold medals at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. I managed to get him on the home page of the London 2012 website (where I’m working as a Gamesmaker volunteer).
Meanwhile, I’ve just taken out two books my grandfather fled from Germany with in 1938. On the fly-leaf is the writing of his sister Else who was killed by the Nazis in 1943 (it was a Christmas present from her in December 1936). The publishers of this record of the XI Olympiad couldn’t write Jesse out of the history but they do their best to undermine his achievements with the racist cartoon below his photograph. But he’s the one we remember and honour.