Wednesday 16 April 2008


Is this what happens as you get older: some of the things that you absolutely adored, could hardly tear your self away from watching on the T.V. in case you missed something (eye-blink TV), just lose their appeal, or is it that those things change and not necessarily in the way you wish?

The two approaching events that I'm specifically writing about are:-

a. The Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Championships in June/July

b. The Olympics in August

My very favourite subject at school was sport. I was in teams for netball, rounders, lacrosse, athletics and tennis (when they were desperate!) and practiced shooting (netball) almost every lunch-time at grammar school. In fact, my ambition was to be a P.E. teacher until I moved schools for 'A' level GCS's and since I was, for the first year, the ONLY girl in the 6th form, and so did not have any P.E. lessons, it seemed ridiculous to hang onto that dream and so I trained to be a primary school teacher, later becoming an English specialist at secondary level.

I don't play sports anymore but I swim, do stretch exercises and walk for at least 30 minutes every day so, it's not that I'm a couch-potato fan.

But, I have always (did always), enjoyed certain international sporting events on the T.V. Yes, I watched England WIN the football world cup (Yeah!) in 1966), and England when they beat Germany 5-1 (sometime in the 1990's ?) and when England beat Australia in the World Rugby Cup in 2003 ( I remember that date because I wrote a newspaper article and short story (both still not published!) about that game, not that it was much fun watching until right at the end, when Jonny Wilkinson scored THAT drop kick in the dying moments.) And I still do enjoy watching international football and rugby and sometimes snooker and golf and even cricket.

However, Wimbledon and the Olympics were my must see favourites. But sadly, no more.

I'll write about WIMBLEDON first because I was absolutely fanatical about it, from a very early age, watching as much as I could and, of course, the repeats in the evening and sometimes the next morning if I wasn't working. And, even when I was living in Cyprus, I'd listen to it on the radio and kept a progress report in my classroom for my pupils to follow. So that truly is dedication for you.

My earliest memories are of the old greats: Rod Laver, Lew Hoad, Tony Roche etc - the real gentlemen of the game. And Margaret Court, Maria Bueno (have I spelt that right?), Billy Jean King etc. Then came the young pretenders, who eventually took over: Martina Navratilova, Chrissie Evett, Roscoe Tanner, with his incredible serve, the wonderfully charismatic Jimmy Connors etc. And then, my all time favourite BJON BORG, who could grasp victory out of the jaws of defeat time after time by playing the most exquisite shots that left you gasping with wonder. And, of course, who could forget the villain of the show, John McEnroe, who was, I believe, the most gifted tennis player of all time.But because he engaged in such gamesmanship when his skill was sufficient, most people hated him with a vengeance and his tantrums were a disgrace. (I heard on the news just the other day that tennis experts have studied his famous objections and have concluded that the umpires were mainly correct in their decisions, so shame on you, Johnny boyo). However, his tennis was wonderful to behold and he has redeemed himself, in my eyes, by his excellent commentaries now on the BBC.

And there was Pat Cash, Andre Agassi, Michael Chang, Stephan Edburg, Boris Becker, who literally hurtled himself into the tournament with such refreshing enthusiasm, and women players like Stephie Graff, although the women's game has never, to me, been as riveting as the men's until the later stages, earlier round matches often being far too one sided and therefore boring. And if a Brit was playing, either men's or women's , you couldn't really enjoy it because you wanted so much for them to win and you knew that although they might win that game, they probably wouldn't win the next.

A special word, though, for Tim Henman, who I thought did us proud. Although he never won the tournament, he was in enough quarter and semi finals to prove that he was a bloody good tennis player. If only he's had a serve as ferocious as Greg Rosseski's or as devious as John McEnroe's, then I think he would have won for sure.

The rot set in, for me, with Pete Sampras who just kept winning and winning and winning with such a dead-pan expression on his face and no-one really to challenge him, and the Williams sisters who were/are so frighteningly aggressive. I know that their tennis, all of them, is brilliant but where is the humour, where is the rapour with the crowd? I liked it when Jimmy Connors joked and Nastase and Henri Leconte clowned about. I liked it when there was such rivalry between Chrissie Evett and Martina Navratilova, Bjon Borg and John McEnroe that you just HAD to watch their matches because there was not just the rivalry but also the differences in style: the touch players and the base liners. Those matches were explosive and you never knew who was going to win.

The game has always been at its best when no one player has dominated; even though Bjon Borg won 5 times on the run, many of his matches were hard fought.

I suppose, with the demise of the wooden racket in favour of the metal one, power was always going to become the norm, so now you have two players wacking the ball back and forth (and with the women, those irritating grunts) and it all gets kind of tedious. And where's the fun? I know that Rodger Federer is a wonderful player but he always wins so where's the excitement in that?

I'm just hoping that Andy Murray will come good or the Spaniard, Rafael Nadal (what a body!), or anyone who will make the tournament, and particularly the final, something to really watch. (I despair about the women's game, which is now, to me, a watered down version of the men's game and NO, I don't think they should be payed as much!)

As for me, I'll be missing the first week this year because of a previous commitment, which would have been unthinkable a few years ago. But, yes, I will watch the second week. After all, you never know...


Where to start?

Again, I watched the Olympics every four years from an early age. I remember, in particular, a very talented British 200 metres athlete called Lilian Board, who won a silver medal and was our great hope for a gold 4 years on. But she developed stomach cancer and, despite having radical treatment in Switzerland, was not able to beat the disease and she died at a ridiculously young age. I still think of her from time to time.

And David Emery spectacularly winning the 400 metres hurdles and the American, Carl Lewis, winning just about everything (how cocky he was; I found him a bit of a creep) and Alan Wells winning the 100 metres in Moscow (the Americans had boycotted the games) and Denise Lewis her gold in the pentathlon and Sally Gummer in the 400 metres hurdles and Colin Jackson almost winning at the 100 metres hurdles several times and Jonathon Edwards's gold in the triple jump and so on and so on.

Having been a sprinter myself, the 100 and 200 metres have always been my favourites. The American, Michael Johnson, was a treat to watch, with his upright gait and gold chains clanging round his neck, although John Regis (200 metres) and Roger Black (400 metres) gave him a run for his money, both winning silvers.

The Sydney games, were, I thought, outstanding. What is it that is so appealing about Australia? It's a country I really like. Perhaps because truth, common sense and talent seem to abound there. But what was Cathy Freeman wearing when she won the 400 metres? Some kind of futuristic/ cycling one piece? She certainly would have looked stupid if she hadn't won. And - I wasn't too comfortable with the fact that the commentators concentrated on the fact that she came from an aboriginal background, as if she were some kind of showcase. She was/is Australian - end of story.

And, of course, there was the rowing! Steve Redgrave's 4 golds on the trot, Mathew Pincett's 3 - such an achievement, such exciting if anxious finals. Plus, Great Britain often does well in the sailing, too.

I enjoy watching the best athletes in the world, no matter what country they represent, but there's always a sense of pride when it's a Brit who wins. And since it doesn't happen often, it's all the more special. And talking about special, I almost forget to mention Dame Kelly Holmes's 2 golds in the Athens Olympics. That really was fantastic, and Lynford Christie's gold in the 100 metres several games earlier.

But over the years, I have seen the Olympic Games becoming more and more tarnished: the backhanders to members of the committee, the unsporting and highly partisan audiences in Atlanta, and the drugs.

When I saw the final of the 100 metres a few games ago, which the American, Marion Jones, won, I said straight away that she won by too high a margin and that she had to have been on drugs. And sadly, she has recently confessed as much. And, of course, Ben Johnson's fraudulent win, and our own Lynford Christie (was he taking drugs when he won that gold?), and, recently, Dwain Chambers. How his team mates in the gold medal relay team must have loved him when they had to give their medals back!

Somehow, I wasn't surprised when we learnt that most of the East German team took drugs as part of their training regime, and that some Bulgarian/Romanian female athletes looked more like men than women, but now it would seem to be widespread and if anyone produces an outstanding performance, we're all going to wonder why ...

But this Olympics coming up in China is taking it to an all-time low. When China were first awarded the games, having promised to clean up their civil liberties act, I, for one, thought that it was a positive move. That it would bring us closer to China etc etc. And certainly their artist display at the end of the Athens Games was spectacular.

But now...the pictures of the bully-boy Chinese special forces in their conspicuous track suits 'protecting' the torch and Tibetan demonstrators being beaten up/locked up both in Tibet and throughout the journey of this 'precious' torch makes me feel very uncomfortable. China seems to have hijacked the Olympics and turned it into a powerful propaganda tool, which is disgraceful, in my opinion.

Okay, so the media can manipulate the juxtaposition of pictures to arouse anger - they certainly did so before the invasion Iraq and then decided to become anti the war. And yes, there are/have been hotheads who latch onto the demonstrations. But the squeezing out of the Tibetan culture is real and obscene. I have a friend whose daughter married a Tibetan nomad, who was in exile in India. And the daughter actually wrote a book giving her account of life with his family in the Himalayan mountains in Tibet (they were there illegally and would have been imprisoned if they had been discovered) and I was in no doubt then of the Chinification of Tibet, which is an international scandal.

I was so impressed with the calm and dignity of the Dalai Lama (isn't he always!)when he stated recently that he wanted the Olympics to go ahead in China, that the Chinese people deserved the Games, and that's what I'm trying to hold onto. Plus, of course, a respect for the hardwork, dedication and talent of the athletes (well, those who who aren't taking performance-enhancing drugs), which is what the Games are all about.

So, yes, I shall watch the Olympics from the comfort of my home, in a democratic country, despite all its faults, where I can write this blog and not be chucked into prison, and, yes, I shall be chuffed whenever a Brit wins a gold medal (please, Paula Radcliffe, let it be you this time - you deserve it). But...I keep thinking: 'What's going to happen when London hosts the Olympics in 2012, particularly if we still have troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, and it worries me...deeply.

And, finally, what makes a torch more important than people? Does anyone know?

Tuesday 1 April 2008

From Winchester Passion to Winchester Rock

...and folk...and jazz...and country and western...and blues...and gospel...

Polly Perry, the young actress who played Mary of Magdala in the recent Winchester Passion (check out the Winchester Passion websites to see pictures of her: she's the stunningly beautiful actress in the scarlet dress) is also a talented lead singer in local group 'Polly and The Billets Doux.'

Polly and her fellow members - hubbie Ben Perry, Dan Everett and Andrew Steen - have known each other for years but only formed their group a year or so ago, playing at venues in the South, including London, Brighton, Bristol and Bath.

And the band have just released an EP of their own music and lyrics entitled "Head of Steam' with local record company 'Black Mouse Music - already number 27 in the Radio One Indies Chart.

Their music is an eclectic mix/fusion of genres, which, in my opinion, works well.

This is a group with the potential to go far in the music industry and I wish them well.

Their next venue will be at the newly completed Winchester Discovery Centre on Saturday 24th of May, with support acts, including Tali Trow. If you're in the area and can manage to get a ticket, have a look see and make up your own mind.