Olympic Splits



“It’s the real Queen!” was also the moment that got me. Before that, I’d Tweeted that the Olympics Opening Ceremony looked like a set up for “It’s a Knockout”. I was expecting Stuart Hall to start doing the announcements and I wasn’t quite convinced by Kenneth Branagh being Kenneth Branagh. I thought the five gold rings that had been forged should turn into massive gold coins that clanged to the ground to represent the credit crunch. It’s ironic that it was the Queen joining in that turned the tide. Her Jubilee celebrations had been a reminder that the North is marginalised in any national public representations of the country. But then, suddenly, in Northerner Danny Boyle’s vision- here we were. From the Jarrow Marchers to Rowan Atkinson and the Arctic Monkeys to the smelting of Thomas Heatherwick’s cauldron. By the end of the ceremony I felt a rush of euphoria and optimism I hadn’t felt since the Tories started sweeping things away.  It reminded me of how I once interviewed Danny Boyle in the Malmaison when I used to work for Metro Radio. He’d come to Newcastle to promote the film “The Beach” and spoke so passionately about writing about things that inspired you that I said I was going to write a screenplay about the North East. He said “Go for it!”. I never did, but that surge of excitement was part of what led me to give up being a radio journalist and become a writer and it was a surge of excitement I felt again on watching his fun, exuberant, thoughtful show that reflected back a picture of Britain that I, and lots of other people recognised for once. However, when I found myself saying of the GB eventing team that it was nice to see some athletes who you might meet in Tesco’s, I realised that I might be letting the Olympics euphoria that had been smuggled in by the opening ceremony, turn my brain as mushy as a festival field. My husband expostulated “What Tesco’s do you shop in?!”. I’d meant it was nice to see older women and a bloke, all competing together. But this is the team containing Zara Philips, who seems lovely and dedicated and talented but-let’s face it- had she grown up in Walker instead of Windsor, would be lucky to be riding the merry go round at the Hoppings, never mind a two million quid horse. I realised I’d been seduced. It’s nice to see glowing, committed young people doing well and being told that their Gold medals are “For you”. It’s nice to see Clare Balding interviewing ecstatic parents and crying people in tracksuits and to be temporarily interested in vaulting and archery. But, in reality, the elitism represented by the Olympics seems to come too much at the expense of grassroots sport, grassroots culture and basic social fairness. Having said that- Danny Boyle’s vision did point to a massive clue about how popular culture still has the power to change things, to harness energy and to give people an escape, temporary or permanent from the restrictions of late failing Capitalism. Where to look for it in the North East then? Easy, the Split Festival in Sunderland in September. The vision of the Futureheads and co comes from real musicians saying real things and being supported by the place they come from and giving back to it. They aim to be the greenest festival in Europe, to be family-friendly, to have fantastic quality and value food and drink- and of course some of the best music locally, nationally and internationally. I know that sounds like an advert. I didn’t mean it to, I have no connection to the festival, but just a renewed, optimistic sense that it’s that spirit that will give the North East’s young people something to be galvanised by and hopeful about. Something to aim for that won’t require going out and buying a two million quid horse. As the great Jarvis Cocker said; “Is this the way the future’s meant to feel, or just twenty thousand people standing in a field?”. Maybe that’s up to us. 



I’m with the Banned


Corporate sponsors only,

as far as the eye can see,

makes me crave a Burger King,

more than a Maccy D.

Telling me I can’t do something

trips a wire in my psyche,

so I’d want to strip off my Adidas

and start putting on the Nike.

It’s a good job I’m not an athlete,

my face on official Olympic mugs,

or I’d probably flip and neck a load 

of banned illegal drugs.


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