Tuesday, 28 August 2012

On the Mic - Surrey Life - August 2012

Do you want to, er, read a preview of the Olympics? Sure you do. September's edition of Surrey Life magazine is in shops now. Here's August's column.

The countdown has finished. The torch has been and gone. The Olympics are here. Now. On our roads and in our faces. Faster, higher, longer, wetter... medal-ier. Woo. I’m in the zone. I’m stoked. I’m hyped. I’m…

There’s no doubt London 2012 has been a huge story for BBC Surrey from the moment it was announced that Surrey would host the Olympic cycle road races. We’ve covered every single aspect of the preparation and organisation, and I’ve enjoyed every second.

It’s just… I haven’t got excited yet. 

Put it down to being a comprehensively-mortgaged father of three young children. I don’t have the time to get energised about anything until it’s properly begun. Not when I’m so busy dealing with thrill-a-minute stuff like car insurance, the leaky roof or my children’s whereabouts (actually… hold on a moment...)

It’s okay, they’re fine. It wasn’t always like this. Back in the olden days, events like the FA Cup Final brought a frenzy of anticipation. The three hour build-up, the goal montages, the interviews, the excruciating suit-measuring sequence. By the team Abide With Me came round I would convinced I was about to witness one of the greatest occasions humanity could muster.

No longer. Even the 15 minute build-up to a Champions League match on ITV doesn’t get a look-in. All I can manage for any evening televised sporting event is a vague hope I might have finished putting the kids to bed, tidied up and dealt with dinner before most of it is over. If anything is scheduled during the day when our darling charges are awake, forget it.

But this is the Olympics. The Greatest Show on Earth. Mostly happening 25 miles from where I live. On two particular days, thanks to the road race, happening at the very end of my street.

Excited or not, it’s time to get involved. Partly because I have a professional and personal interest in being able to say I Was There, and partly because I don’t want my children to turn around in ten years time and say:

“We had the Olympics on our doorstep for the only time in our lives and you didn't take us?!”

Fair point. So the tickets to Stratford 2012 have been bought and we are now approaching an exhausting, but hopefully memorable day. If I had any doubt the hassle would be worthwhile, it evaporated when my eldest daughter Amy returned from school, glowing. Her friend’s Dad had the privilege of being an Olympic torch bearer and he’d brought his torch in for the children to look at. 

“I couldn’t believe I actually held it in my hands”, said Amy, “it was so special.”

If you’re going to any of the Olympic venues this August or will be glued to the sofa, red-buttoning your way to glory in the ultimate orgy of sporting prowess, good luck. 

If you want to keep track of how Surrey’s representatives in Team GB are doing, make sure you tune in to BBC Surrey throughout the Games. We’ll turn you into instant experts on a series of obscure Olympic sports and tell you if there might be a new Olympic champion in our midst.

And whilst you listen, you might just hear a hint of excitement in my voice.


Sunday, 26 August 2012

Please disregard this blog post

I can guarantee it will not be interesting. It's about me and my family being ill. I don't even want to read it. I just want to write it.

On Saturday last we returned from holiday in Devon with just one of our three children. This was not an oversight. We had left our two daughters with their grandparents to enjoy an extension to their holiday. This allowed me and Mrs Wallis to return to work without having to find expensive school holiday childcare.

On Tuesday night James woke us with his crying at 11.30pm. I went in to find he'd vomited all over himself, his pyjamas, his cot and his toys. I'd say there was a good pint of half-digested gunk covering just about everything.

The clean-up took half an hour. Fifteen minutes into this process he puked again. This time Mrs Wallis, who was holding James at the time, expertly steered him towards the sink. Again, amazing volumes of semi-digested food splattered into the bowl. I was quietly impressed.

I wiped down James' mattress, whilst Mrs Wallis gave him a bath. We got out a new sheet, gro bag, new pyjamas, found some new toys and put him back to bed. He lay there for a few minutes before puking everywhere again. We went through the whole process for the second time and got into bed around 1am.

Whatever James had, he passed on to all of us. First Amy, who woke up on Thursday with a temperature, unwilling to eat any food, and then Mrs Wallis, who was up most of Friday morning from 1am, being sick.

I felt dreadful by 3am Friday morning, so called my dear boss and regular dep Mark Carter, who sprang into action and presented the BBC Surrey Breakfast show in my absence. Friday daytime was a bit of a blur. Mrs Wallis was in bed, I was feeling very queasy, but had to look after one ill child and two bouncy ones who wanted to get out of the house and do something.

By Saturday I felt sufficiently recovered to present the breakfast show, and Mrs Wallis was sufficiently recovered to look after the children. I can't pretend the broadcast was a triumph, but I was aided by the presence of the Redhill-based actress Zoe Battley, who was my studio guest for the bulk of the programme. She provided the vivacity and liveliness, I tried to keep up.

Amy was still tired and listless on Saturday, her third day without really eating anything. She also managed to bring up what little she did eat, which was nice. I still felt very grim and was stealing every opportunity to go to bed and sleep.

By Saturday evening Mrs Wallis and I were feeling well enough to contemplate a cheeky glass of wine. Nic was better, but I hadn't eaten much all day and wasn't sure I could cope.

The decision was taken out of our hands by Abi, who had hitherto been unaffected by whatever is going round. She had just gone down to bed when she puked up amazing amounts of the same kind of congealed muck James had produced on Tuesday.

After half an hour of trying to rinse this stuff off her sheets, and pushing the big lumps down the plughole with my fingers, I decided a glass of wine was out of the question, as, chances were, we would be up later in the night. I went to bed at 9pm.

Turns out Abi did puke again during the night. She managed to do it in the bucket by the side of her bed, then wandered into our room to tell us about it. She woke Nic up, but I managed to sleep through the whole thing.

James woke us at 6.30am this morning. He is now well. Amy, who I haven't seen smile for three days, just bounced downstairs and asked for breakfast. Thank God. Abi stumbled out of bed, not looking too good and running a temperature. My stomach is now churning again.

The last time I can remember throwing up was an August Bank Holiday weekend seven years ago. I was covering the Reading Festival for Newsbeat, and got food poisoning off some festival muck. I staggered back to my hotel room at midnight and called the newsdesk to report that I wasn't feeling too good.

During the call I had to run to the toilet to puke. My colleagues thought it most theatrical. It didn't stop them calling me at 4am the next morning to send me back into the festival after receiving reports there had been a mini-riot in the camping area. I know there is always a mini-riot in the camping area at Reading, but this had gone bad with a burger van being attacked and gas cannisters set alight.

I got the audio I needed and returned to the hotel room to file before puking up again.

That felt like quite at adventure. This doesn't.

Friday, 3 August 2012

The best piece of Olympics footage yet

Watch this. Look at what Alan Campbell has done to himself. Look at the state he is in. Look at how much it means to him.

I've seen this twice and it has set me off both times. And of course the fact Sir Steve is there to help him just makes it even more moving.

Thanks to @SimonNRicketts for making it pop up in my timeline.


Experiencing theeelimpics!

If the only reason you are intending to be at a given location is to say "I was there", there is something wrong with you.

I wasn't all that fussed about going to see the Olympics, especially after the ticket ballot fiasco.

Then I realised my daughters would turn round in ten years time and say "What, you had the Greatest Sporting Occasion On Earth on our doorstep and couldn't be bothered to take us?"

Fair point.

So I went through the internet hassle when a second tranche of tickets was released. We decided the "experience" was the main thing - all the exterior pix on telly are of the Limpic Park, so why not go Stratford?

Factor in dates we could all do it, grandparental babycare availability and budget and we ended up with 4 tickets to the women's hockey at the Riverside Arena for £86.

And of course we didn't know which nations we'd be watching when we bought the tickets, so you can imagine how thrilled we were to find out we had Holland v China and Germany v South Africa.

On arriving

We got up early. We got there in good time. The girls were dressed in official 2012 t-shirts with some official stick-on Team-GB tattoos, red white and blue hairbands, and Lloyds TSB "Official Team GB" union flag bibs attached to their backs.

Everyone was very nice. The gamesmakers were nice. The stewards were nice. London looked nice.

The "airport-style" security we were told could take up to 2.5 hours was cleared in five minutes. I swear some of the smiling army blokes who dealt with us still had sand in their hair. They exuded such sure-footedness I can't help feeling this self-important, brand-obsessed Games is being given an ill-deserved level of gravitas by their presence.

Once in, we had time to look around. The Olympic Park is a triumph. It looks exactly like it should. It's huge, well designed and works on lots of different levels.

The Orbit is as grim close up as it looks on the telly. I have nothing nice to say about it. It's like the visual realisation of a very painful fart.

Most of the time before we had to go to the gated Riverside Arena was spent watching the rowing on a big screen, queueing for free water (something I never expected to have to do in 21st century Britain), and trying to decide which piece of rip-off memorabilia to buy in the Limpic Megastore. We eventually handed over £17 for the cheapest things we could find - some sweatbands, and a toy bus for my absent boy.

Pick that one out

So to the Riverside Arena. Temporary, and therefore not as well-landscaped as the rest of the park. In fact, it is all scaffolding, branding, asphalt and concrete. We were trapped in there for two games over the course of four hours as they had a no pass-out rule.

Hockey, even at the very highest level, is a hard game to enjoy. The three twenty second moves that led to the goals we saw (over 140 minutes) were brilliant. The remaining 139 minutes ... not so much.

It doesn't have to be this way. Basketball is the perfect example of a game which knows its limitations. I went to see the Guildford Heat play last year, and the way the most of the energy was focussed on ensuring the crowd had a good time whether the game was a stinker or not was an education. At the Olympic basketball, they have apparently raised the bar yet again. Bongo cam, anyone?

Hockey has a long way to go. The first Mexican wave (a sure sign of boredom in a crowd) started 13 minutes into the first game. I'm amazed my girls lasted as long as they did.

After we got out of the Riverbank Arena we tried to find something else to divert us. The idea of queueing for 45 minutes to do something vague in the Coca-Cola funhouse didn't really appeal, so we bought some fish and chips (£8.50 per serving), ice-cream (£2.50 per cornetto) and fizzy pop (£2.30 per 500ml bottle).

Whilst wondering what to do next, I couldn't help escaping the impression that we were at a wonderful, expensively-maintained theme park, paying for someone else to go on all the rides.

In this case, the athletes.

That's not to say their sacrifices and successes don't deserve all the attention they are getting. But paying for it twice through my taxes and tickets didn't - for me - provide enough of a return in terms of live entertainment to justify the expense. There's a reason why hockey, shooting, swimming and rowing etc aren't usually popular spectator sports.

On leaving

Between the Olympic Park and Stratford station lies the Westfield shopping centre, which you have to go through to get to Stratford station.

This "Exit Through The Gift Shop" strategy just serves to ram home a corporate determination to wring every last drip of disposable income out of every Olympic visitor. Mug punters in a holiday mood, sold on the prospect of a "once in a lifetime experience" are easily parted from their cash. As I trudged past high-end retail outlets I'm not successful enough to buy things from, I prayed our journey home would be easy, as the children were getting ragged.

I'm glad I went. Sometimes you have to watch awful films so you can have a valid opinion on them. I'm glad we made the effort for the girls' sake. They loved it and can talk about their experience for years. My wife had a great time.

But for me, much of the Olympics only seems works when it's packaged up on TV/radio/online/print with clever writers, producers, presenters and pundits delivering the reason why we should care about a particular participant in a particular sport.

I love it when broadcast media can get right into athletes' faces during the most important ten seconds of their lives, and then spew out relevant stats, live interviews and raw emotions in the reckoning.

Even Mrs Wallis complained that today she felt more cut off from what was going on at the Olympics, because she was at the Olympics, rather than being whizzed directly to the heart of each drama via radio and TV.

We're going back. We've got tickets for the Paralympics on 2 Sep. If anyone's got any ideas on how to enjoy it more next time round, I'm all ears.

And if you have Olympic Park tickets and are remotely put off by my moaning, my advice is to ignore it.

It's probably just me...