A House!

And… relax!

I have never before been as busy I was in 2014. It was the perfect storm of several things happening at the same time. A year of ups and downs and changes. Eventually it turned out for the better but only after a lot of stress, worry and hard work.

This is why I haven’t been blogging very much on either of my sites for the last year or more, why I cut down in other areas both offline and online – and why online I effectively limited myself to Twitter!

Without going into too much detail…

Continue reading “A House!”

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A Positive Union

On Thursday 18th September 2014, just a day away, over 300 years of union could be brought to an end as Scotland votes on whether to leave the United Kingdom.

I can scarcely believe I wrote that sentence. The whole concept still feels unthinkable. And yet it is very real.

Continue reading “A Positive Union”

London 2012: Part 5 – Paralympics at ExCel

So far in this series I had only been around the margins of London 2012’s Olympic Games. Things were about to be different. When September’s Paralympics came around, when almost the whole of Britain wanted to this great summer to roll on and on forever, I finally got into the midst of the action with real, actual tickets!

Over two days I would see live sport at the ExCel Exhibition Centre in the afternoon, the Olympic Stadium in the evening, and the second day would be spent at Brands Hatch. A busy two days!

September 6th, 2012 – Afternoon

As with the visit in the summer the morning was spent taking the train from Dorset to London Waterloo and making my way to the venue. I’d wanted to try the brand new cable car across the Thames but hadn’t yet found a reason to go all that way over there – I mean who would put it there and expect it to be used? Yet as luck would have it, it turns out the fastest way from Waterloo to the ExCel is to take the tube to the Millennium Dome (the ‘O2 Arena’ as I suppose we have to call it) and use the cable car, which plonks you down about half a mile from the ExCel.

 

This part of London is a mix of the exhibition hall, conference centres, restaurants and so forth. It used to be the famous sprawling docks of the city and some tributes remain as a legacy.

The first thing to do was negotiate the notoriously thorough London 2012 securit, which was as restrictive as airport security: can’t take in more than 100ml of fluid, can’t bring your own drinks, can only bring a small rucksack bag which needed to be emptied in front of them. Not particularly helpful to those who didn’t have time to check into their hotel beforehand (i.e. me) so I had to travel light. The staff, whether G4S or Armed Forces personnel (a lot of RAF) were immensely friendly though and everyone was passing through easily.

ExCel London

I had a day pass so I could go wherever I liked. The ExCel was hosting several sports although several coincided so I had to plot my moves. It was quite difficult as you never knew when something might end, and there were quite a lot of people around especially when there was a break between sessions. The worst part was when all sessions ended at once and everyone was queuing to get in to the next one.

Nearest the door: table tennis. Let’s do that first.

Table Tennis

Table tennis arena. 5 games in progress at the same time!

Within a few minutes I realised four things:

One, wow lots of games at once this is a bargain!

Two, watching from a distance the tables are quite small and so is the ball.

Three, I don’t know anything about any form of tennis except some basics. In fact this whole Paralympic experience was the first time I’d attended a sporting event without knowing anything about the sports or their competitors.

Four, as a motorsport fan when I’m trackside I am accustomed to having a radio in my ear with commentary provided by the circuit or the championship. At the Paralympics there was no commentary, although I’d not brought my radio anyway!

I was confused for a while especially as the crowd on one side of the arena was getting really animated and were cheering one of the games near to them, which made me think I’d missed something in the game I was watching! I hadn’t, they were just watching a different thing.

I’d perhaps naively expected several screens perhaps with one for each table, and very clear modern scoreboard. What we had were a few fairly small screens all focussed on the same match and an old-fashioned single-colour scoreboard right outta the 70s with everything abbreviated so you didn’t know what it meant (unless you did). For the year 2012 at an event sponsored by a giant electronics company I was not impressed.

British competitor on the left hidden behind the marshal

It was fun though. Just because they are in wheelchairs doesn’t mean the game is any slower. I’d say it is a lot more impressive playing in a chair rather than leaping around trying to hit the ball, your reactions have to be very fast to hit the ball before it goes out of your more limited reach and that in turn makes for a very rapid game… or a lot of misses.

I was on the verge of moving but I started to get really into the game happening in front of me, what I think was Turkey vs Russia. It was a team event and these weren’t in chairs so I guess they were partially-sighted or something. There was a singles, then another singles between the other two, then they finished off playing doubles. I’ve been to Turkey and liked it so I was pulling for them.

Turkey vs Russia
Turkey vs Russia doubles

I could see the scores just next to the umpire there and on the screen at the back (just!). It was a close contest, which is why I didn’t move over to the other stand to watch the British athletes! My memory faded now but I think Turkey just about won. It was close all the way through.

Britain vs China (I saw more through the camera than through the eye)

And there was good support for the British team. When the game in front of me finished I decided not to stay, instead I went back out into the atrium and head to the fencing which was on at the same time.

The atrium.

Wheelchair Fencing

I really liked the idea of wheelchair fencing. I just couldn’t see how it would work, from what I’ve seen of fencing one of the key components of it is the ability to move back and forth to attack or defend, yet these guys were sat in chairs which were strapped to the ground and couldn’t move. How could they have a swordfight?

Wheelchair Fencing

As it turned out it was fantastic. Such a fun sport! Such a fast sport as well.

HIT HIM!!

I didn’t have an optimum position so it was hard to see, and again lots of contests to follow which again I found difficult. The nearest me happened to be two Frenchman which I didn’t think was fair on the French team!

I missed a lot though. I thought I was being clever in doing tennis first and fencing second but when I stayed longer at the tennis I’d forgotten that would mean less time at the fencing (even though there should’ve been a clear 1hr15min of fencing after the tennis ended which wasn’t the case). Just inexperience with the sports – had I known beforehand that I’d end up liking fencing I’d have allowed more time for it! The second session wasn’t to start until 5pm and I couldn’t stay that long.

After lunch and a lot of waiting around for the next set of sessions I gave up on Sitting Volleyball thanks to the sheer mass of people. It would’ve taken ages to get in. I wanted to watch that but so did everybody else! So I went to see boccia instead.

Boccia

Boccia turned out to be quite boring. It was basically a form of bowls with a shorter field of play and about as interesting as bowls, which is to say ‘not very’. If it had been a variant of skittles or ten pin bowling I’d have been more interested but I suppose they’re a bit harder to throw from a wheelchair.

Boccia

But again, some Brits were in there doing well with a lot of home support and the home crowds were cheering in the right places so they clearly knew their sport so good on ’em. Probably says a lot that I was happier watching the synchronised sweepers.

Time To Go

And that was pretty much it. I was there for five hours and saw three sports, queued for lots of things, and after not knowing what to expect I actually came away wishing I’d got there earlier and had more time. I really did enjoy it. Not at all bad for what I’d previously thought was just a £10 ‘filler’ to waste the afternoon before the trip to Stratford!

I couldn’t stay any later though, I was off somewhere exciting: The Olympic Stadium!

Goodbye ExCel.

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This is part five of my series of posts on London 2012 Olympic & Paralympic Games. There are two later parts.

Other parts:

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London 2012: Part 4 – Olympic Triathlon & Camden

I’m looking back at 2012’s summer of sport centred around the London 2012 Olympic & Paralympic Games. In this part my sister and I visit the Triathlon in Hyde Park with only a little success, before becoming tourists in Covent Garden and Camden. Click the links for extra photos and larger sizes.

Part 4 – London, Tuesday, 7th August 2012

A week and a half after my previous Olympic-related exploits, I returned to London with my sister Celine for a day at the triathlon. We wanted to do something together, she wanted to see the city decked out for the Games even if we couldn’t see a sport. I’d had no luck at all with Olympics tickets but there were free events. The Men’s Triathlon fell on a suitable day and didn’t even require a ticket so it was perfect.

Short of money unable to afford a hotel, we took a morning train up from Dorset (nearly a three hour run) and got to Green Park tube as quickly as we could, Hyde Park tube being closed. It was when we got to Hyde Park Corner that we discovered everybody else had decided to attend as well!

Hyde Park

Hyde Park Corner was very, very busy. The atmosphere was great, a party without the aggressiveness that alcohol can sometimes bring at sports events. Neither of the two of us are great with crowds but I didn’t mind it this time except for the one problem: they’d lined the fences everywhere to be seen, there wasn’t a gap to be found!

All along I had clear intentions. Certain parts of the cycling course would be re-used for the running part of the triathlon so we should just park ourselves along there before the swim finished and stay until the race was over. Alas we were too late, we could barely see anything over the heads of everyone already there.

Just as we got to where I wanted to be and we tried to find a spot the swimming leg of the race finished and the athletes were on their first cycling lap. This is the view from my camera held above my head and from eye level:

Crowds in Hyde Park for the Men’s Triathlon
Crowds cheering on the triathletes

The atmosphere was fantastic, such a good vibe with everyone being cheered on, not just the British athletes. Even though we couldn’t see anything much it was worth just being there.

Mind you it was quite frustrating going all that way.. We probably should’ve stayed there but I insisted on walking up and down looking for a space.. but this wasn’t going to work, we couldn’t see anything. Stay or try somewhere else? We headed across the park to the other side, the return side in the hope it was clearer. It was, only very slightly.

 

Thankfully here we did catch something of a glimpse… burst mode to the rescue!

  

And a cheer for the marshal following them!

Soon they were on the last lap of the cycle race. We’d moved away from the running course and I still wanted to see that part of the race and that meant moving again. On our way we encountered the big screens. Brits love free sport, especially free sport on a huge telly..

Free sport!
Wow.

Now that is a crowd!

It was very tempting to sit with them to watch the end especially with food vendors nearby and us hungry (it was lunchtime). But we didn’t:  frankly the prices being charged were just ridiculous – and I nearly paid it, were it not for the huge lines. There weren’t enough food outlets, I think the organisers under-estimated the potential crowd numbers!

After much walking, I have to say a lot more walking than I expected (it turns out Hyde Park is big) we reached the Princess Diana memorial from where we could see the start/transition/finish area across the water and just about catch a glimpse of the athletes running over the bridge and on this side of the water.

Main grandstand
More big crowds, and athletes now on the 3rd leg of the tri.

By now our stomachs were grumbling so as the race drew to a close we made our way out and stumbled upon an ice cream seller. Perfect for this hot day! We were tucking in to that when Alistair Brownlee crossed the line, his brother finishing not far back: Gold and Bronze for the brothers! A tremendous result.

The atmosphere in the park was really good, everyone relaxed and friendly. It was a shame we couldn’t get there any earlier and that we struggled to find a nice spot but these were just small downers and after all the negativity in the lead up to the Games nobody could’ve predicted such a massive turnout. It was great to have experienced an event this big in such a positive atmosphere.

Being A London Tourist (Again)

That was half the day done. After leaving the park we tried to find some lunch, again a surprisingly difficult task. We eventually got a bit lost and walked to South Kensington station. A long, tiring walk in the heat!

The rest of the day was spent being touristy in London. Instead of seeing the famous landmarks – we’d both done that before – we headed to Covent Garden and to Camden. Here are a few photos from our meanderings.

Albert Memorial
How many stairs?? And a long queue for the lift. Not welcome after our long walk! I’d completely forgotten this aspect of Covent Garden tube station.
Covent Garden, Olympified
Camden
Camden

In the markets of Camden Lock you can find foods from all over the world. And a bronze lion.

  

  

There are also many clothes market stalls and shops and Celine happily wandered among them!

Unfortunately some of the uniqueness is being lost with the prevalence of shops selling identical tourist-trap tat, miniature red phone boxes and black taxis, hundreds of t-shirts with identical designs and identical slogans (‘Keep Calm’, ‘Mind The Gap’, etc.). I don’t mean similar, I mean literally the same stuff. Even one of my personal bugbears of a Union Flag shirt with the word ‘England’ on it – I’m English but No, No, No – that’s the UK flag not the English one!
Similar shops have taken over Picadilly and Leicester Square and they’re infesting other parts of the city as well. Just… stop it.

Somehow we didn’t get food at one of the amazing stalls (we shall have to go back to sample those!). We resisted because our sister Kerryn had recommended another place so we ended our day with dinner The Diner where Celine had a huge veggie taco salad, and I had probably the best caesar salad ever made. If you are in the area you are going to want to go to this place.

There’s More!

That’s it for today and for July, but don’t go away. The Olympics may have passed with me only seeing a bit of it in person, but Britain was not ready for this great summer to end. We wanted more. Just a month later it would be time for the Paralympic Games and I had tickets for those! As it turned out, these Paralympics were no side-show or afterthought..

For the full photo album from the football in Cardiff to the food in Camden please see Picasa or Google+.

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This is part 4 of my series of posts on London 2012 Olympic & Paralympic Games.

Other parts:

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