Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘Olympics’

The Olympics Closing Ceremony

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 13th August, 2012

I was so impressed with Danny Boyle’s Opening Ceremony to the London2012 Olympics that I thought I must watch the Closing Ceremony as well, though alas it did not live up to expectations. I know it was intended to be of a different nature — more of an after-party than a perfomance — and it did look as though most of the Olympians present were enjoying it. But I thought it was rather poorly constructed and there was an awful lot of aimless drivng around by vehicles of all shapes and sizes, the early ones for some inexplicable reason wrapped in newsprint. I thought having an actor impersonate Winston Churchill reading Shakespeare lines that had already featurred in the Opening Ceremony, this time from the opened top of Big Ben, was just plain silly. The best moment came with some, though not all, of the musical acts. The film of John Lennon singing ‘Imgaine’ (supplied by Yoko Ono, I believe) was genuinely moving and it was fun to have a resurrected Freddie Mercury leading a singalong. The Annie Lennox set was cool and Eric Idle was a treat in an example of British bonkers at its best; The Who were in better shape than one might have imagined. But all in all, I felt the evening was something of an anticlimax. But that doesn’t detract from the brilliance of the Games as a whole. Or the anticipation of the fun and riotous colour and music that there will be at Rio 2016, of which we got just a taster at the end of last night’s show.

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Road to 2012: Facing East

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 10th August, 2012

photos by Joe Bullock and Lucas Seidenfaden

Many of us who live in London’s East End viewed the hosting of this summer’s Olympics and Paralympics with a certain trepidation. And it is true that the Central Line — the quickest way for me to get into the centre of town from my home in Mile End — is hecticly busy at the moment all through the day. The only consolation of having to stand in sweltering conditions in the train is the extraordinary array of often quite beautiful people from all over to world to look at, for every taste. Anyway, though the Games are not quite over yet I think it’s fair to say that they have been a triumph. Moreover, as someone who has little interest in sport, for me the associated Cultural Olympiad, now culminating in the London 2012 Festival, has been spectacular. I have only managed to get to a few events, but they have been varied and stimulating. This morning I went to Four Corners in the Roman Road in Bethnal Green, a centre for film and photography that is currently hosting an exhbition of photos ‘Road to 2012: Facing East’. The work on display is by students in Fine Art and Photography at the University of East London and focuses on how the Games have impacted on the area, particularly Newham. There is an interesting variety of approaches, from Joe Bullock’s take on some of the characters who usually frequent the Lee Valley to Johanna Lees’ portraits of residents of one Stratford Street — all caught looking grave, or at least ambivalent. Contributors to the exhibition come from countries as varied as Cyprus, Germany, Estonia and the United States, with a range of styles and moods which means at least one will really appeal to any viewer. The exibition at Four Corners runs until 9 September and is a London 2012 Festival Project in partnership with the National Potrait Gallery and BT.Link: www.fourcornersfilm.co.uk

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The TeamEU versus China debate

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 8th August, 2012

There’s been a lot of chatter on twitter and elsewhere about the fact that were all 27 member states of the EU competing as TeamEU at London2012 then we’d be way ahead of China in the Olympics medals table. That is of course statistically true and it’s interesting to note that China’s population is more than twice that of the EU. However, it ain’t going to happen, at least for the foreseeable future, as the 27 EU member states are all sovereign states and the Olympics is one of the few occasions when their citizens can all get together and jump around waving their national flags. Besides, I think we should compare like with like. Thus is would be perfectly reasonable to compare TeamEU with TeamASEAN, as the 10 nations of South East Asia have also formed a regional organisation and coincidentally have a very similar combined population size to that of the EU. And if one does that then I’m sorry you guys from South East Asia, the Europeans have wiped the floor with you. But it’s important not to take that or any of this seriously. The Olympics are a time when normal life is put aside and we all get ino the spirit of things, with only mock national or regional rivalry. And of course, in ancient Greece, the athletes competing in the Games did not wear any identifying  sign or indeed anything at all. And if they won, they were rewarded not with a ‘gold’ medal but an olive sprig. Amateurism rules, OK!

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Bojo for PM?

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 6th August, 2012

The euphoria over TeamGB’s triumphs at the London Olympics over the past few days, as well as the boost to national morale that the Games have been giving, has caused a flurry of speculation about whether London Mayor Boris Johnson could become the next leader of the Conservative Party and therefore possibly Prime Minister. He always denies that this is his ambition but I doubt whether he would turn down the opportunity if it came along. Of course, he would have to get back into the House of Commons to do so, but that would not be difficult if a safe Conservative seat comes up at a by-election — definitely not Louise Mensch’s Corby, incidentally! Boris’s great advantage is that he appeals to many non-Tory voters — indeed to many people who don’t normally vote at all, including youngsters. Thus he was able to defy national opinion polls and retain the London mayoralty in May (though Labour made a big mistake in choosing tired and tarnished Ken Livingstone as their candidate again). There is a mixture of brilliance and buffoonery in Boris that is sometimes irritating but often endearing. Who else could have been left dangling from a wire during a slightly misfired stunt near the London Eye at the weekend and keep their reputation intact? And he has a way with words, like a boy’s own cartoon figure. I first came across him in Brussels when he was a boy, as I knew his parents Stanley (a writer then working at the European Commission) and Charlotte (an extraordinary artist). Boris returned to Brussels later for an ill-fated stint as a reporter covering the EU, when he lost his job for not letting facts get in the way of a good story. But his wit and verve and sheer cheek eventually won through, making him now one of the most highly paid newspaper columnists in the country. One thing is certain: in comparison with Boris, David Cameron looks insipid. But does that mean Boris would make a better Prime Minister, despite Cameron’s mistakes in government? That I doubt. One can clown about as Mayor of London; in fact it gives the job some panache. But that’s not an act that would transfer well to 10 Downing Street.

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International Olympic Truce

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 31st July, 2012

London’s 2012’s House of Hellenes (in normal life that bastion of the Conservative Party, the Carlton Club) this lunchtime hosted a panel on the state of the Olympic Truce. For those whose ancient history is a bit rusty or non-existent, this was the truce ordained in Ancient Greece at the time of the original Games at Olympia during which the various city states pledged not to fight each other. There were (probably not deliberate) echos of this in 1914 when fighting in the Great War halted for a brief while and the German and Allied troops facing off against each other in bloody trench warfare in Flanders played a game of football on Christmas Day instead. The run-up to the London2012 Olympics was unusual, in that all 193 member states of the United Nations not only signed but co-sponsored a UN resolution endorsing the Olympic truce. Alas this has not stopped the carnage and brutality in Syria (not to mention Afghanistan and elsewhere). The Syrian Olympic committee was barred from coming to London but there are 10 Syrian athletes here. I asked the distinguished panel how those athletes are interacting with their colleagues in the Olympic Village and how the Olympic Truce movement (if one can call it such) has reacted or should react. The more official members of the panel were unsurprisingly unwilling to say much on that, but Lord (Michael) Bates — who walked from Olympia to London over 10 months to highlight the message of the truce — was more forthcoming. He pointed out that the Syrian athletes, in common with all the others, had signed the Olympic truce and that they should convey that message back to their countrymen. It is interesting that the wall in the Olympic Village, on which people can sign up to express their support, is already completely full. So it probably needs extending! In the meantime, I, along with many others at today’s event, signed my support. Sport is a way of bringing peace between nations and communities and that message should not be lost when the Games themselves are over.

Link: www.olympictruce.org/

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Iftar at Bayt Qatar

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 30th July, 2012

Many of the competing nations at the London Olympics have hired prestigious venues as their ‘House’ for the length of the competition, as a base for nationals, supporters and guests, with all sorts of events taking place, as well as screenings of the sporting events themselves. This evening I was at Bayt Qatar, the House of the Gulf State of Qatar, which in normal life is the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) in Savoy Place, overlooking the River Thames. Part of the ground floor has been converted into a mock-up of Doha’s Souq Waqif and there’s a Sports Bar, offering what you would expect there. As a member of the executive Board of the Council for Arab-British Understanding (CAABU) I was  not only invited to the iftar (fast-breaking) dinner — Lebanese food courtesy of Harrod’s, now in Qatari ownership — but was also given membership of Bayt Qatar for the duration, which is something I am likely to make use of when I’m in that part of town. After dinner in the 3rd-floor restaurant and a refeshing breather on the terrace, with its fantastic sweeping view of the Thames, I attended a concert in the on-site theatre, starring Qatari singer Fahd Al Kubaisi, Italian tenor Tino Favazza and the zany Spanish gypsy guitarist and singer José Galvez, who wowed the children in the audience by throwing himself around the room like no adult they have ever seen. The finale for me (though not the concert) was a fusion medley of Arabic, Greek, Russian and Cuban influences by the Chehade Brothers. There was a great backing band all the way through, really getting into the spirit of things. Other events at Bayt Qatar over the next fortnight include fashion shows and film screenings.

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Olympics on the Kingston Big Screen

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 28th July, 2012

It was perhaps perverse for someone like myself who lives so near to the London Olympics stadium to go right across town to the Royal Borough of Kingston upon Thames to watch last night’s opening ceremony, but I’m glad I did. Kingston Liberal Democrats had decided to combine a celebration of their recent win in a local council by-election in Grove ward with the launch of the Rose Theatre’s Big Screen coverage of the Games — and it was a triumph. Local activists gathered in the Circle Bar for drinks and snacks while the theatre filled to capacity with Kingstonians there to enjoy the first of what will be daily screenings of the Olympics events, free of charge. The screen itself was huge and the BBC’s coverage of the opening ceremony was several notches above its relaying of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee earlier this summer. Moreover, a theatre was the ideal setting in which to watch Danny Boyle’s remarkable show, which was (as I said in a tweet at the end) referential rather than reverential, with lots of splendid jokes. The James Bond sequence with the monarch and two corgis was a classic spoof and Rowan Atkinson as Mr Bean in the symphony orchestra under the guidance of Simon Rattle was an act of comic genius. Moreover, the atmosphere in the theatre mirrored that in the Olympic Stadium itself. People roared approval of the highlights, stood up for the National Anthem, and few were left dry-eyed. As an overture to the London 2012 Olympics the show was brilliant. And as a way of bringing people into the Rose Theatre, which was conceived and brought to fruition by Kingston’s Liberal Democrat Council, last night’s event was a master-stroke.

Links: www.rosetheatrekingston.org and www.kingstonlibdems.org

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The London Government Dinner

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 13th January, 2012

Once a year, in January, the Lord Mayor of London (currently the genuinely charming David Wootton) hosts a banquet at the Mansion House for 300+ movers and shakers and top officials in London government; I’ve been there for the past three years as Chairman of London Liberal Democrats. The surroundings are historic — the banqueting hall is magnificent and pristine — and there are some very good Old Dutch Masters on the staircase on the way in. Unsually there was venison as the main course at the dinner this year, and very good is was too. But of course it is not the food or the (excellent) wines that really count, but the political content and the networking. The Aldermen and Common Councillors of the City of London — most of them present last night — are strictly non-party political, and for once the party politicians from the GLA and London boroughs put aside their differences and mingled. Council leaders and mayors are invited, as well as Chief Executives from each borough and the occasional hack (Tim Donovan of BBC London and Peter Dominiczak of the Evening Standard). The key attraction at these events is the speech by the Mayor of London (i.e. of Greater London, rather than the City), currently Boris Johnson. This year he stuck largely to his script, prepared (with the addition of a few of his own jokes and asides) by his staff this year; in the past, he has been known to furiously scribble notes for a speech during the meal itself. Predictably, his pitch was how wonderful London is and what a fantastic year we will have with the Olympics and Paralympics, the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, etc. He made fun of the very modest facilities provided at the 1948 London Olympics, which was a little below the belt, as Britain was still in a state of rationing and post-War fatigue then. But he is still fizzing with energy; love him or hate him he is a genuine character.

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London Olympics: Not Just about Sport

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 8th January, 2012

I’ve have always had zero interest in sport, in fact a minus interest. At school I was able to get out of football and rugby in winter because I am so short-sighted, and in summer acute hayfever kept me off the cricket pitch. Instead I spent many a happy afternoon slumped in one of the less uncomfortable chairs in the school library, devouring English and French novels, history, biography and above all geography, especially atlases. The world and its countries were a never ending source of fascination to me and remain so to this day. And that is partly why I can raise a tiny bit of enthusiasm for the London Olympics, which will be taking place not so very far from my home in East London this summer. Not for the events themselves, of course, about which I don’t care two hoots. I would never have dreamt of applying for any of those tickets that people have been salivating and fighting over and I don’t have a television with which to waste countless hours watching the Games either. No, it’s the 205 competing nations at the Olympics and Paralympics which intrigue me — 12 more than there are members of the United Nations! — and I look forward to our city being thronged with even more exotic people than usual. But if truth be told, the main reason I am happy the Olympics are coming to town is because of the parallel Cultural Olympiad. When the French Baron Pierre de Coubertin founded the IOC he made sure that each host city and nation would use the opportunity to draw parallels in excellence and achievement in the Arts as well as in sport, and that the events should be an occasion for attracting global artistic talent. That the London 2012 Cultural Olympiad is already doing in spades. Highlights this month include the opening of David Hockney’s ‘The Bigger Picture’ at the Royal Academy and this summer there will be the World Shakespeare Festival taking place in venues all over the country, during which all 37 of the bard’s plays will be performed — in 37 different languages! Over a thousand events in all are scheduled, and unlike the Games themselves, many of these cultural events will be free, including a spectacular River of Music in July, with pop and world music concerts held on six giant stages at iconic locations along the River Thames.

Link: www.london2012.com/cultural-olympiad

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