Friday, May 21, 2010

We come in pieces


Wenlock and Mandeville - Olympic mascots. Photo by Suzanne Plunkett/Reuters



I can date the death of the so-called Cool Britannia back to the hideous and spectacularly pointless Millennium Dome. It was audacious only in the sense that no one could quite believe it was possible to spend 800 million quid on a grubby old tent. I, along with everyone else I know, only went because I got a free ticket. The organisers had to give the tickets away to keep the thing going and appease the concession holders. Grumbling customers were, after all, better than no customers at all.

As a general rule of thumb, if you have to call yourself cool, you undoubtedly aren't. There are plenty of pockets of cool in London but you won't get to them by wading through a thick sludge of charcoal-grey serge. Neither should you follow a man called Sebastian anywhere if you hope to keep a hold of your dignity.

It is terrible to see dear old London ravaged by such ferocious storms of naffness. No sooner had the horror of the Millennium Dome and its insane aftermath, (it was said to be costing £1 million a month to maintain it after the closure), subsided than the Olympic menace roared in like the bendy-bus from hell.

I have written plenty about that in the past. Like I've said before, it's not that I'm a visionary, it's just that it was so damned obvious from the start it was going to be a total disaster. The only glee to be derived from it is that it will be a Tory disaster. It will be remembered for the heavily egged faces of Boris 'not Gudunov' Johnson, The Decameron and Foghorn Glegghorn.

So, now to the envoys from the Planet ZOK who yesterday assumed the all-important mascot role. Unsurprisingly, their arrival was greeted with more-or-less universal derision.

According to one's adored Guardian newspaper,

"Wenlock and Mandeville, the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic mascots, elicited mostly baffled reactions as to just what they were at their unveiling today.

With a metallic finish, a single large eye made out of a camera lens, a London taxi light on their heads and the Olympic rings represented as friendship bracelets on their wrists, they resemble characters dreamed up for a Pixar animation."

It's all pretty much like that, a parlour game to identify which toddlers' toy or faddish folly they most resembled. The Times of London called them two parts Pokemon and one part lava lamp and claimed they were 'forty focus groups' in the making. They look like it. In fact they epitomise that old joke about a camel being a horse designed by a committee. Wenlock and Mandeville remind me of trodden-on gogo crazybones thingies or Teletubbies after botched cosmetic surgery.

If they were aiming it at the under fives, why didn't they just bring the Teletubbies back? They could have added an extra one. No one over three knew how many there really were. And they could have made them over in the Olympic colours. Or the Wombles? Nothing says London quite like,

'Underground, overground, wombling free, the Wombles of Wimbledon Common are we.'

Imagine how pleasant it would be to hear that playing as you shuffle through the curiously invisible 'transformation' of East London squeezed into a train with visitors from all over the world, half of whom are parked in your lap.

'Wombles are organised, work as a team. Wombles are tidy and Wombles are clean.'

How's that for an Olympic ethic? You could even have them cruising the site afterwards collecting up plastic bottles and bits of hamburger box to fashion into stunning pieces of public art.

When the result is this bad, I always search for an explanation. Not of why. That would require a top criminal psychologist. And I don't really care about the money since I'm no longer a Hackney council tax payer. It's just bound to turn up the funniest utterance I'm likely to hear all day.

So, over to Paul Deighton, The chief executive of something called LOCOG.

"The games have got a few stupendous assets – the mascot, tickets, the volunteers, the torch relay – and you have got to really use those to bring home your key messages. If you link them together you begin to have a really powerful story that people will respond to."

Oh yes, can't you picture all those happy punters reminiscing into the future? Never has there been a finer array of mascots, tickets, volunteers nor a grander torch relay than at the London Olympics of 2012! They probably don't have any money left to do any actual sports.

I'm at a bit of a loss as to what these 'key messages' might be and, as Wenlock and Mandeville appear to lack mouths, it isn't clear to me how these will be imparted. And this 'really powerful story'? Apparently the origin of Wenlock and Mandeville is a story by children's laureate Michael Mopurgo. They're made from some drops of steel from one of the girders from the Olympic Stadium. Fascinating.

When Milord SebCo did his little unveiling dance in front of that curious poster that appeared only to say 'ZOK' three years ago, I knew we were in for a treat. This is going to make the Millennium Dome pale to the significance of an impulse-buy holiday snow dome.