A world premiere for the Olympics


I’m at the back (for a change!). Photo: John Sargent

I never in a million years thought I would ever perform at the world (and therefore universe) premiere of an original piece of music. But this week, my alto tones joined the harmony made by 200 others in the unofficial anthem for a very special Olympic team.

It’s been four years since the country was overtaken by Olympic fever as we (and I mean Team Yorkshire) mopped up the medals, gathering the golds like they were going out of fashion.

A lot has happened since then and the world has become a less safe place. Atrocities and terrorism have featured in the news so often that they are no longer headlines. People who were living ordinary lives found themselves driven from their homes, their loved ones and their countries becoming homeless and stateless, living on the charity and goodwill of those who care, suffering at the hands of the bunch of bastards who would profit from them. That makes me so angry.

Yet today’s refugees are yesterday’s teachers, doctors, housewives, students and athletes. And at Olympic time, those refugee athletes who would have competed for their country find themselves with no country, no team, no flag and no anthem. This year, there are ten athletes, with heart-breaking stories, from countries including Syria, South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo, who will stand shoulder to shoulder with other other countries, but under their own unique flag, the five-rings of the Olympics.

So, thought extremely talented singer-songwriter and all-round wonderful person Beccy Owen,  why not write an anthem for them? And why not bring together a bunch of willing noisemakers and record it for them? And so it turned out to be.

Beccy teamed up with Boff Whalley who some know from Chumbawumba, but runners know as a very good fell runner indeed, to write the hauntingly beautiful ‘The World is Our Song’. Thanks to social media, 200 or so of us responded to a call to come and sing, and packed into All Hallows Church in Leeds . Three hours later, we had a recording, and dammit, it’s good. Don’t just take my word for it, check it out here on You Tube, though preferably pay to download it  as all the money goes to refugee charities.

It was a magnificent and humbling experience, standing shoulder to shoulder with strangers, yet singing together with one voice to show our support for these very special athletes. I’ll be cheering them on.

2012? In the words of Jonnie Peacock, f#@king get IN!

A glorious year seen through a caffeine haze

A glorious year seen through a caffeine haze

Today I raced against an Olympian. Well, by that I mean that I was in the same event as triathalon bronze medallist Johnny Brownlee. The fact that he’d finished, changed and was back home tucking into turkey leftovers by the time I crossed the line, was neither here nor there. Nevertheless, he and I, along with 1000 other runners, had enjoyed the mudfest that was the Chevin Chase. Seven miles of mud and hills in God’s Own Country – Yorkshire.

And that’s the story of 2012 for me. The London 2012 Olympics and Paralympics were the absolute highlight that have brought me more tears of joy, thrills, pride and inspiration than I can ever remember. Whether it’s the Olympic anthem, or soundbites from the many winners and nearly-winners on radio and TV, I have loved every minute of it and never grow tired of experiencing it again and again.

They inspired me, all of them. From the arrival of the flame and its journey around the country to the 007-inspired opening ceremony with Her Majesty parachuting into the arena with not a hair out of place, how DID she do that? Then the games themselves, the first medals, Super Saturday, 4 August when we, Team GB, wupped the asses of all the other nations to win gold after gold after gold, I thought I was going to burst with pride. if truth be told, I still do.

Their triumph was my inspiration. My rather mediocre running achievements would never be competitive, but I was definitely stuck in a rut and wanted to do better. And do you know what? I did, personal best after personal best, then my first, but certainly not my last, half marathon.

It has indeed been a most wonderful year, best summed by by the inspirational paralympian Jonnie Peacock who won gold in the 100 metres sprint. I’m no lipreader, but as the 19-year-old sizzled past the finish, he clenched his fists in triumph, exclaiming, “F#@king get in!!’ 2012? Jonnie, I’m with you, f#@king get IN!!

Along with the pure joy of the Olympics, I have had a wonderful year of coffee, it’s three years since I have started a coffee diary, my days in coffee, I do drink an awful lot of it.  The photo above is just a few of them from this year, but each one tells a story. What will 2013 bring?

Dear Royal Mail, you’re Olympic gold

Olympic stamps – photo Royal Mail

Dear Royal Mail

I wrote to you earlier this year because I was a bit miffed about something or other, but do you know what? I’ve forgotten about it. Whatever you’ve done with my post and parcels, it’s forgiven. You have redeemed yourself with gold paint and massive stamps.

It may be that I have been caught up in the wave of Olympic gladness that has swept the nation, or relief that the sun has come out and at last we have a summer, or that I’m overloaded with endorphins from running too much in pursuit of half-marathon training, but whatever it is, I’ve come over all warm and glowing because of your gold post boxes and giant stamps.

As gold followed gold for Team GB, you responded immediately, presenting the medalled with a massive stamp featuring their photos, then dispatched a team of painters to their home town and transformed a local postbox from red to gold. Genius in its simplicity. Ooo I wish I’d been in the room when those ideas were discussed, whoever thought of it deserves a medal. And a stamp. And a postbox.

We quickly decided we wanted the full set of stamps – though the more golds we won, the more it was going to cost, but who cares? It looked like some of the winners were more excited about being on a stamp than being on the podium.

The Independent Kingdom of Yorkshire, is awash with gold post boxes (by the way, can you please see your way clear to giving us our own IKY postcode?) and locals are queuing up to be photographed with them. At the Jessica Ennis Postbox in Sheffield they were queuing around the block to be photographed with it. There was the small matter of guerilla painting in the village of Bramhope, home of the Brownlee brothers whose triathlon medals were celebrated with a gold post box in nearby Horsforth, but it was a storm in a teacup.

So thank you, Royal Mail, for the ideas, the stamps and the gold paint.



Please let the Olympics never end!

Cheering on Team GB, even though they weren’t playing

The Olympics just get better and better. I’m not sure whether I’ve just cried once, and it’s lasted since the flame was lit, or blubbed a hundred times as our boys and girls do their very best in front of proudly partisan supporters.

The Independent Kingdom of Yorkshire is doing very well in the medals table, better than Australia, there’s even talk of us hosting our own Olympics on Ilkley Moor (without a hat of course). All I can say is, bring it on! I’ll volunteer – hey, I’ll compete, I’m so happy I could jump over the moon!

We were regretting not bidding for tickets,  so when we got the chance to see the semi finals of the men’s footie at Old Trafford we jumped at it, especially when it was pretty much a nailed-on certainty that Team GB would trounce South Korea and would face Brazil, what a prospect! We had the flags, tattoos and everything ready to cheer on our lads, Noel drew the line at vuvuzelas. But then the Team GB game went to penalties, the rest is the continuation of football history. Though this is not a time for criticism, it’s the Olympics and Team G really can do no wrong – we did our best, we lost and Noel and I got to see Brazil play South Korea.

Just short of 70,000 people cheered on one or both teams and became expert Mexican wavers. Brazil won 3-0, it could have been more, we could have had more Mexican waves. Another fabulous day in these most wonderful Olympics. Oooo I wish it would never end!

Outbreak of spontaneous hugging

One minute I was in the camping chair, mini union jack in one hand, the next I was hugging a total stranger. It couldn’t be helped, Team GB had just won their second silver medal at the London Olympics and all of us around the big screen in Bradford city centre were very pleased indeed.

It was a bit parky for late July, but a few folk were milling around City Park where sponsors had set out rows of camping chairs and giant bean bags, that’s giant bags of beans rather than bags of giant beans. Cadbury’s were handing out chocolate medals for feats of athletic ability. I got one for throwing a ball through a hoop not once, but twice, it was emotional.

But that was just a prelude to the real excitement, we were all willing Team GB to beat the Kiwis to silver in the equestrian event, knowing gold was beyond our grasp. And we did it, so what else was there to do but hug a total stranger to celebrate?. Oooo I love the Olympics – gold’s the next goal, possibly tomorrow….please!

Silver for Team GB - the scene before the hugging!

Let the blubbing begin…..

Ringing in the tears. Photo copyright AP as published in the Washington Post

It started at 8.12am, Friday 27 July.  Anyone who had a bell or could say ‘ting-a-ling’ rang it or sang it to start the 12-hour countdown to the official opening of the London Olympics. Dame Kelly Holmes, a guest on BBC Radio 2’s Chris Evans show, rang hers so hard it broke the clapper. A scallywag friend rang the neighbour’s doorbell and, in the spirit of stronger, faster, higher, ran away, breaking the world record for that particular sport, it may feature in the Rio games.

The mass ringing brought on minor blubbing, I found it all very moving, as I had when the Olympic torch travelled through the our city and indeed any city. Though tears turned to massive sobs when soldier Ben Parkinsonseverely injured in Afghanistan, balanced on his prosthetic legs to carry the torch through Doncaster.

By the time of the opening ceremony, I was still snivelling after tuning in throughout the day via the interweb  to see the torch make its way through the capital. Noel is a bigger softie than me, so as soon as the celebrations started we were crying into the glasses we were using to toast the success of Danny Boyle, architect of the opening ceremony.

The whole thing was a celebration of Britishness, our history, our literature, our music, our television, our film, our diversity, our multiculturalness (I just made that word up), our National Health Service, our sense of humour, our pageantry and our Queen. Danny (Slumdog Millionaire) Boyle did us proud, directing thousands of volunteers. The Twittersphere was gushing with praise, apart from a certain Tory MP who thought there was too much of that multi-cultural stuff and couldn’t we just get on with beating Johnny Foreigner…At the time of writing he still has a job. Pity.

For me the best bit by far was the Queen parachuting into the stadium from a helicopter with James Bond. It was a wonderful piece of bet-you-never-expected-that film when 007, flanked by royal corgis, entered the Queen’s drawing room, her majesty was writing what looked like her shopping list, back to the camera. We all thought it was a looky-likey, it wasn’t, oh my goodness how her grandchildren must have loved that moment when, with a twinkle in her eye, she said, ‘shall we go, Mr Bond?’.

The big question then was, who would light the Olympic cauldron? The secret had been well-guarded, though smart money was on Steve Redgrave, multiple gold medal winner and our greatest living Olympian. He did take the flame, but handed it to seven youngsters who will be our next generation of athletes. Oh pass the hankies again!

Two more weeks of this, I just wonder if my tear ducts will stand it!

Torch magnet

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What’s metal and has magnetic properties, but isn’t a magnet? Easy, the Olympic torch. There are 8,000 of them carried by 8,000 people, each with 8,000 holes and presumably 8,000 little metal disks jangling away in the pockets of the white tracksuits worn by the torchbearers.

One of our students at the University of Bradford had the honour to carry the torch through Brighouse. Amateur boxer Saira Tabasum volunteers at a primary school in the city where she helps to run a girls-only non-contact boxing club. She also won the final of the British Universities and Colleges Sport Women’s Boxing Championships in her 67kg weight category. So no-one’s arguing with HER!

The 21-year-old agreed to bring in her torch, which comes in its own designer bag, for a photocall to feature in our in-house magazine. Once she’d been photographed she sat down for a quiet coffee in the atrium. But it wasn’t quiet for long, as the magnet-like torch drew admirers with cameraphones from all around. First my staff, who were supposed to be there to oversee the photocall wanted a photo. Then the security staff who sit in a windowless room spotted the activity on their CCTV and hot-footed it out for their photos. The chef and his team turned up too, and the students and random people who were passing through.

Saira was very patient but did eventually have to leave. She explained the torchbearers could buy their torches for £200 which personally I think is a bargain. The boxing club had paid for hers because students really don’t have that kind of money. Hopefully we’ll be seeing her at the next Olympics as one of our champions, then she’ll have a medal to add to the Olympic torch.