Monday, July 30, 2012

A Very British Olympics

Mr Bean's star turn - Kodakoytpe by Pants

It makes me proud to be half-British, or is it ex-Pom repatriate? Never mind. What a glorious, Pythonesque farce it all is. 

From the moment it was announced that the Olympic medals were to be safeguarded in the Tower of London, along with the Crown Jewels, it was obvious what the strategy was going to be. With no hope whatever of matching the gaudy spectacle of the Beijing Opening Ceremony, Britain decided to remind the world that it had invented almost everything of real importance to it (industry, the internet, social care, the Beatles, James Bond, Harry Potter, pomp and snobumstance) and had once owned quite a slab of it to boot.

Taking pride in one's marauding, imperialist past was always going to be a bit tricky and required a hefty dose of self-deprecation and buffoonery.  Boris Johnson was purpose-built for this very occasion. Rowan Atkinson's performance as the pulse-providing keyboardist in Chariots of Fire was sublime. And the Queen - well, that unrelenting po-face finally proved useful. The world at large was, apparently, baffled. Mission accomplished then. A riddle wrapped up in an Enigma Variation.

A filmmaker understands the quantum of added value reaped by exploiting quality cultural references. Danny Boyle's coup in getting the Queen to participate defined the mix that makes Britain culturally unique. She simultaneously represents the height of sophistication and the epitome of naffness. That she did this means, in the whole of Britain, there is not one person unwilling to have the piss taken out of them if it's in a good cause. You could dress every Kardashian on earth in vintage Chanel and fire them all from cannon painted with Stars and Stripes for real and not achieve anything like the impact of one British monarch in salmon-hued silk appearing to descend from a helicopter on the end of a Union flag parachute.

I have been writing about what I perceived as the Olympic menace since the announcement was made on July 6th, 2005. People tend to forget now that it was the day before the bombings on the London Underground and the Number 26 bus - my local bus. I have written before about my own experience of that awful day and the incredible spirit and effort of the city to get itself back on the move. The transport system was functional the next day.

London is brilliant at dealing with crises but not so great at the fun thing. Who could forget the horror that was the Millennium Dome? Stories of Olympic fuckups have been legion for years, but not even I could have imagined how good it would get once the thing had actually arrived. We were all transfixed by the incongruity of the branding police telling recession-ravaged parents that their kids wouldn't be allowed to take part if they were wearing shoes made by the official sponsor's rivals and stomping on butchers, florists and bagel makers for having the audacity to fashion their produce into familiar ring patterns.

And then there were the less jaunty tales of missiles being placed on the rooves of council flats and the notorious security company that didn't seem to have enough employees to go round all the venues and expected the armed services to pick up the shortfall. 

Now, today, comes the news that someone has lost the keys to Wembley Stadium. Did Danny Boyle script this I wonder? Is this the Python touch that was missing from the Opening Ceremony? The special terrorist-proof (but not, apparently, idiot-proof), laser keys, worth about 40 large, somehow ended up lost and no one is sure exactly who should have had them. Let me take a wild guess - the last person who used them? But how to find them - I know, let's all have a treasure hunt. Someone call Anneka Rice.

Even less jolly is picture after picture of empty venues with rows of bumless seats and the news that great wads of tickets found on touts had been allocated to the Olympic family, corporate cronies and foreign dignitaries. I thought Britain was supposed to have wised up when it comes to genuflecting in the general direction of the feckless puppets of what's left of capitalism. And what exactly is 'the Olympic family' - is this like a hop, skip and jump Mafia? A little ferreting soon brought up an explanation from one's still beloved Guardian.

What's even more apparent is that all the good seats appear to have been freebies. So much for the economic benefits to London. People who wanted to pay money couldn't get tickets while those who got them for free couldn't be bothered to show up. That makes great economic sense, that does. Oh, and the ticketing website crashed too. It was awful to see swimming finals taking place in a half-empty venue. That's finals, people, with stars that people would pay good money to see. Even I know that swimming is one of the most popular Olympic sports. I also know that Londoners are a swimming-obsessed lot. That situation would have infuriated them mightily.

I have written about how important it was for me to get the hell out before the Olympics moved into my neighbourhood. I still think it was one of the better decisions I've made, although I did get a bit of a thrill from being able to spot the street where once dwelt House of Pants from a Kodakotype I snapped during the fireworks sequence. I could always spot my street from the air because I knew the shapes of all the parks that surrounded it.

Shortly after London secured the Olympics, I went to Olympia and had a totally runic experience. It was entirely possible to read from the fragments the thrill of those ancient contests. I even enthusiastically ran the length of the arena. Fortunately there were no witnesses. I picked up, and will treasure forever, a tiny piece of marble that I found lying on the ground next to a row of ruined columns. And that, folks, is the only Olympic memory I will ever require.

Sunday, July 08, 2012

Art of Pants

Ferdinand the Bull (2009) Oil and acrylic on canvas, 80 x 100cms

I've started a new blog for my artwork

Here's the first post. It will tell you all you need to know about the painting above. 

I've been intending for months to write something about the Matisse exhibition I went to in Brisbane back in January. I'll get to it in the next week or so, after I finish reading the exhilarating biography, The Unknown Matisse by Hilary Spurling.

Matisse said, 'Freedom is really the impossibility of following the same road as everybody else. Freedom means taking the paths your talents make you take.'

Well, you can count me as an unequivocal 'in' on the first motion - I seem incapable of following the same road as everybody else. On the second, I'm not so sure. What did Matisse mean by 'a talent', exactly? Not following everybody else is easy. Following yourself is hard.

I'll be using the Art of Pants blog to explore that journey.