My Olympics didn’t start well. I watched the torch pass my sister’s house in Lancaster last month, and it seemed a dispiriting omen: the torchbearer shriveled in the violent rainstorm, flanked by trucks celebrating banks and soft-drinks. So many aspects of it have also been disturbing, from reports of it being a temporary tax-haven for some of the world’s biggest corporations to the missiles on residential flats that WN Herbert and I wrote about in our recent radio-play Surface to Air. Whilst we were writing it, the BBC got nervous about the fact we were using words like ‘Olympics’ and ‘Games’ and ‘Gold’ – I find the fact the Olympic Organisation have tried to prevent people using these words utterly abhorrent. They’re not trademarks, they’re words, and no one – absolutely no one – should ever be allowed to own individual words if we want free speech.
Still, the Olympics is too vast, bizarre and complex to write off entirely, and now it’s here there is clearly much to rejoice in too. East London has a real buzz about it, and working from home I’m quickly sucked in: it’s fun to switch on at lunch and find yourself rooting for a random Italian fencer (love the futuristic flashing helmets) and I’m easily moved to tears by the sheer relief of someone achieving their dream. On Friday we watched the opening ceremony at our friends’ flat in the Barbican: they projected it on the wall and provided tapasy nibbles, and we could see the fireworks and Red Arrows from their balcony. It was great to see us celebrating the suffragettes and a lesbian kiss and Alex Turner’s lovely greaser quiff. On Saturday I enjoyed the party atmosphere under the railway arch at the London Fields’ Brewery, and reading this beautiful Pindaric ode to an Olympic chariot-race winner – translated by Cameron Hawke Smith and originally from Modern Poetry in Translation – in the weekend papers: it speaks of the ‘sweet urge’ to shelter a racetrack in the ‘primal greenness’ of a forest and ends: ‘now athletes / hot from the chase / and crowned / by the Arbiter of Games / carry that forest on their victors’ heads.’
Then yesterday I went with my husband Richard to see the Basketball. Richard’s an architect (he has a practice called Fleet), and so we got there early to explore the Olympic Park, which in many ways sums up these games – it’s a mixture of the beautiful (wildflowers by the river Lea) with the horrific (a building called the Coca-Cola Beatbox which looks like it was designed by a ten-year old boy); the elegant (the velodrome by Hopkins Architects) with the blandly corporate (the disappointingly small ‘biggest McDonalds in the world’). The beer was predictably awful (tiny Heineken bottles for £4.30 that barely wet your lips), but we were allowed to bring in a picnic.
The basketball arena itself looks like a giant, rectangular cloud, and the action, once it started, was brilliant. Rich is a fan, but I’ve never watched basketball before. There were time-outs! And cheerleaders! I took part in my first Mexican Wave! And it was amazing to watch Team USA, all lanky swagger, as they slam-dunked their way to victory. They definitely deserve an ode.
A few other, non-Olympian links while I remember – my essay about translating Caasha Lul Mohamud Yusuf is now online, as is an interview with me for Porte Magazine. Also, if you’ve not already read it, I’d highly recommend this interview from The Observer with Pussy Riot – some of the bravest, coolest women in the world, and another reminder of the importance of defending free speech.