Barely a few hours after unpacking from Scout Camp, I was on the road again this morning, heading for Southampton with my sister. After spotting a Groupon deal, Mum had arranged for the two of us to experience an hour on a powerboat, in celebration of my becoming Head Boy and of Harriet turning 22.
Once fitted with the necessary life-jackets, the twelve of us in the party were given a safety briefing. The boat – a Jet Viper – was clearly built for speed rather than comfort, and our skipper dutifully explained that we would need to cling on to the ‘grab rails’ firmly when the boat was going at top-speed.
“Any questions?”, he asked, after delivering his instructions.
“Yeah,” replied a fellow member of the party, “Do you serve tea on board?”
An amusing comment, but the smiles would quickly be wiped off our faces after the short voyage out to the Southampton Water estuary. There, the skipper had the space to really show off the power of the boat; at one point making our wake leave incredible cyclic trails. Half-way through the experience, those at the front (including Harriet and me) swapped seats with those at the back, meaning everyone got an experience at both ends of the powerful craft.
All in all, it was a great morning, and a fabulous finale to this amazing summer of 2013.
Making hay of the good weather, the four of us (my brother Matthew is currently away in France with the Taize community) thought we’d take an afternoon’s bike ride to Windsor. We decided to follow The Green Way, a waterside corridor that goes from Cookham, through central Maidenhead, and out to Bray. We joined on York Road (near the Maidenhead Library); followed it past Stafferton Way, the sewage works, and the Nature Centre to get to where it crosses at Hibbert Road; then continued on until where it finishes. We then found our way to Summerleaze Footbridge (the bridge, of course, was built to take away extracted gravel from Dorney Lake‘s construction on a conveyor belt), where we caught our first sight of the lake (known as Eton Dorney for the duration of Olympics) through a clearing in the trees.
But that glimpse of blue, sparkling water was to be one of actually very few views of the rowing centre. Such is the security operation of the Olympic venue that when Mum harmlessly took out her camera, she was challenged by a soldier patrolling the perimeter fencing. (Fellow Maidenhead blogger Paul Baker, however, took a number of interesting photographs from inside the venue just a week before it closed to the public.) Mum and I at least thought this was a little extreme, given the lack of visibility to the venue anyway.
Further along the edge of the venue, though, we met a G4S worker and we began talking through gaps in the fence out of sympathy for his inevitable loneliness and boredom. On breaching the subject of the personnel scandal, he replied: "It’s the military boys I feel sorriest for," he said, "they had their leave cancelled at the last minute; roped in to help out my boss’s bosses. You know, loads of them have just got back from Afghanistan – two weeks ago, some of them – and they’ve had to miss holidays with girlfriends to spend it here, in long, boring days. They get paid less than us too. It’s not fair on them." This put our complaints over the restrictions on photography into perspective.
One of the things that most interested me was the presence of two 93-metre high towers at either end of the course. The cables that linked them instantly gave away their purpose: they’ll provide a high vantage point for the television cameras, with the wires being used to suspend a Flycam from, thereby providing global audiences with aerial tracking shots of each race.
As we continued cycling, we spotted rather attractive multi-coloured bunting embellished with Olympic icons adorning the side of Court Lane. Then, as we pedalled down Boveney Road in Eton, flags of every nation participating in the Olympics could be seen in the distance.
As everyone knows, 2012’s London Olympics begin next week with the Opening Ceremony on Friday (27 July), though the games themselves get underway this Wednesday with Women’s Football.
However, what slightly fewer people are aware of is the ‘Cultural Olympiad’ that accompanies London 2012: an arts festival, which offers what some may call an ‘alternative’ to all the sport. It is, as its website proudly states, ‘the largest cultural celebration in the history of the modern Olympic and Paralympic movements’, apparently involving 16 million people from across the UK either taking part in or attending performances around the nation.