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August 14 2012

Paint the town gold

The Post Office's gold-painted postboxes – celebrating Team GB's success – have gone down so well that now we all want one in our town. Has London 2012 set a new gold standard?

The most unlikely Olympic artwork of the summer has to be the postbox that was illegally painted gold in Lymington, where Ben Ainslie lives.

Did you see the story? A local man was so disappointed to hear no postbox was to be painted gold in Lymington to mark the triumph of the most successful sailor in Olympic history that he did the job himself. He was arrested. But show mercy, for it was the Post Office that came up with the notion of painting boxes gold in the first place.

In a plan perhaps reminiscent of Krusty the Klown's Los Angeles Olympics give-away in a vintage episode of The Simpsons, the Post Office vowed to paint a postbox gold for every British victory in the 2012 Games. Krusty promised free meals at his fast-food outlet Krusty Burger for every American Olympic victory, but lost millions when the USSR pulled out and America hit a gold rush. Similarly, our postal providers probably expected to be gilding a couple of postboxes here and there – but instead, their map of gold boxes shows a constellation of customised mail inlets all over Britain.

A decision to give Ainslie a gold postbox in Cornwall, where he grew up, and not in Lymington, where he lives, prompted the Olympic postal paint outlaw. And perhaps the postal service has set a dangerous precedent here. You give people an idea ...

British postboxes have been painted red since 1874. Like our old-style red telephone boxes used to be, they are a renowned national image. Is this the beginning of the end for that red uniformity? The point of the gold postboxes is that they represent a unique variant on a rigid formula. But now, everyone wants a gold postbox. Places that have been honoured want to keep their temporary festive postbox as a timeless memorial – Manchester is already asking for its gold letter receptacle on Albert Square to stay that way as a permanent reminder of cycling success.

Red just won't cut it anymore. Those poor towns on the map that have no gold postboxes are surely shamed, as places where no sporting legends are nurtured, where no one's been busy training on the fields of this green and pleasant land.

Green and pleasant? Perhaps the grass should also be painted gold in places that have raised Olympic heroes. Park keepers of Britain, where is your patriotism?


guardian.co.uk © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds




August 08 2012

Olympics in art: Jackie Kay writes her own armchair triathlon

Scottish poet Jackie Kay draws inspiration from Team GB's highs and lows in the triathlon, javelin and cycling to create three short poems that capture the spirit of the Games

Reading this on a mobile? Click here to view

Jackie Kay writes:

I was inspired by the triathlon today and the Brownlee brothers to try and write a triathlon myself. So I've written three short poems on three different sporting events today: the javelin, the triathlon itself and two events in the velodrome. I was struck by the idea that sharing somebody's disappointment is as intense and intimate as sharing their success. I used to be a long-distance runner, a Scottish school girl champion, until I broke my leg and didn't walk properly for a year and a half. So I was thinking about that too when I wrote the poem. How quickly we move into our unfit futures!

Point of View

i Goldie and the Three No Throws

I remember the fancy footwork of the discus or javelin,
That feeling as a spear left your body, as if it'd come from within
To be thrown into the future: the armchair of a middle-aged woman, watching the Olympics, twenty-four seven, shouting instructions!
(The only thing worse than an armchair politician is an armchair athlete, who no longer gets athlete's feet; or has to nurse her Achilles heel.)
Now, the woman from the Czech Republic, takes the chalk circle
An ancient Amazonian, her spear spikes the flaky air.
Then, out comes Goldie and the great bear of the crowd's roar.
But Goldie loses the qualification and her despair
Is as ancient as it is modern: hindsight is a golden thing
Goldie Sayers' words are wise – and the crowd adores.
Belief puts itself on the line; hope is not far behind.
My tears for her bravery, the biggest surprise.


ii The Brownlee Brothers

When the race begins, the swimmers together
Seem shaped like a great bird in the river,
The green-capped feathers all of a quiver.
The big bird cracks open; and from the bird's-eye view
Single swimmers emerge, brothers first – phew!
Alistair and Jonny Brownlee – sibling stars,
Shedding their wet suits first (the fourth element
Some say, of this transition) and mount the bikes fast.
The road to ambition is a road to perdition.
All transitions come with great risks.
The river, red tarmac and the Serpentine Road
Where one brother will get crowned with a gold
And the other brother a bronze, but hey
It is not the swimming, cycling, running
That is the biggest feat; it's the 15-second penalty
Possibility of defeat – that's the real deal.
Sport's biggest test is a character test
And sport reveals true pluck and nature
As the bird in the river unfurled the swimmers.

iii Farewell Victoria Pendleton

It was a day of drama in the Velodrome
As you watched agog, OMG,
As Trott took the Omnium
Against the odds of a collapsed lung
Coming home, coming home.
Not one but two golds to her name.
You saw the photo of not so long ago
With young Laura and her Bradley hero.

Not long later, you watched Victoria
Who rode as close to her rival
As a synchronised swimmer
And all the drama was in the lane error
Where the line was crossed in the Velodrome
As close as step to pets; palindromes,
The Mearest of lines, the closing line.

So, farewell Victoria dearest, you say.
You salute her. She runs her last lap, and bows.
The last time I'm going to go through that, she says.
And even her brave coach is in bits.
We knew it would end in tears, the TV says.
And they roll down your cheeks too – you armchair, you.
The greatest ever theatre – sport's soap opera.
Victoria. Oh Victoria. Collect your silver!
Your ordeal is over: take your seat on throne.


guardian.co.uk © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds




Jackie Kay creates her own armchair triathlon – video

Scottish poet Jackie Kay reads out three short poems she wrote after being inspired by Team GB's recent performances in the javelin, triathlon and cycling. She follows the highs and lows of Goldie Sayers, the Brownlee brothers and Victoria Pendleton





August 02 2012

Bradley Wiggins on his Olympic throne – a reminder of Britain's true history | Jonathan Jones

This picture hints at something that was missing from Danny Boyle's Olympic opening ceremony: empire

The 2012 Olympics began with a vision of British history. Danny Boyle's romantic panorama started in a pastoral land of shepherds, then showed it torn apart by the rising chimney stacks of the industrial revolution. But out of this pandemonium rose the suffragettes, marching for the vote, and the wonder that is the National Health Service.

Five days into the Games, and Bradley Wiggins was pictured here on a golden throne in front of Hampton Court Palace. Wiggins sprawls on his throne for photographers after winning his gold medal in the cycling time trial. He paid this royal palace the ultimate insult of apparently not knowing where he actually was – "wherever we are", he told interviewers. This picture might be seen as a sequel to Boyle's imaginary revolution. The people have occupied the palaces! Comrade Wiggins sits on the tsar's throne!

And yet, the red bricks of the mighty building behind King Bradley tell another story. As Olympic events take place at evocative locations across southern England, there is some consolation for Tory critics who suspected Boyle's extravaganza might – just might – be a little leftwing in its none-too-hidden messages. While Boyle celebrated a people's history of Britain, Olympic locations like Hampton Court, not to mention the Eton rowing lake, offer a toffs' history after all. As Wiggins celebrates his medal in this picture, the warm ochre facade of Henry VIII's palace bears quietly formidable witness to who really built Britain.

Boyle's vision of Albion imagined a Britain where folk shared the common land before the rise of those "dark Satanic mills". But Hampton Court is a monument to the powerful state built by the Tudors centuries before the first factories appeared. This grand house, originally built for Cardinal Wolsey, became one of a constellation of royal palaces along the Thames. Here Henry received his advisers. Here, according to folklore, walk the ghosts of his executed wives.

Hampton Court is as much a wonder as Wiggins is – and it tells a story of Britain just as spectacular as the one Danny Boyle crafted. The ancient wall behind the triumphant cyclist has terracotta portraits of the caesars embedded into it. Within the palace itself are Mantegna's paintings of power and glory, The Triumphs of Caesar. Why all the caesars? In Mantegna's paintings – bought for Britain by Charles I – defeated prisoners are brought to Rome as slaves while their goods are booty. It is an image of imperial triumph. And here's the real absence in Boyle's vision of Britain: we had the biggest empire in world history.

Britain's wealth did not start with the steam engine. It started with empire. The British empire was imagined in Tudor times, as Hampton Court's caesars show. When Henry VIII was desperate to divorce his wife and the Pope said no, Henry's scholars "proved" Britain had always been an empire since ancient times. A dangerous idea was born. By the end of the Tudor age tentative colonists were braving the wilds of north America. Plantations in Virginia prospered in the 1600s on the back of slavery. Britain's slave empire was driven by an appetite for sugar not only among the rich but among the innocent ordinary white people so celebrated by Boyle, too.

The strong, centralised monarchical government so long established in Britain enabled it to rule a global empire without any pressure on its internal social fabric. Essentially, the British are not Boyle's nation of protest but a docile people who celebrated their royals while the French and later Russians were executing theirs, and who enjoyed the wealth of empire with few questions or scruples.

Maybe this picture holds within it not a Tory so much as a pessimist's history of Britain. Are we really a nation of rebels and visionaries? Or are we lost in Hampton Court's Maze, our present and future bamboozled by a royal and imperial heritage?


guardian.co.uk © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

July 31 2012

Team GB poster: keep calm and carry on – we've still got Bradley Wiggins

Team GB officials are urging us not to panic. So, let's take them at their word: print out our poster and place it in your window





May 29 2012

'It really took me aback' - Jonathan Edwards meets train wreck likeness

• Train operator commissions sculpture of British Olympic hero
• Sculpture of Edwards made entirely from used train parts

The triple jump world record-holder Jonathan Edwards has unveiled a life-size sculpture of himself – made entirely from used train parts.

The special moment when Edwards paraded a Union flag after winning gold at the Sydney 2000 Olympics is recalled in brake pads, springs, seat frames and bolts, among the 150 components from diesel and electric trains. Weighing 770lb, the sculpture took two weeks to build, with all parts sourced from East Coast's engineering depots across the UK.

After the great reveal on the new western concourse at London's King's Cross station, Edwards said: "The sculpture is very striking and really took me aback when I first saw it. It's incredible to think it was possible to create such a structure from old bits of train, but it has been crafted brilliantly."

The gleaming tribute by Ptolemy Elrington was commissioned by the East Coast train operator. It will be displayed at key stations along the East Coast main line with the aim of raising awareness of rail travel to London this summer.

These include York station from 30 May to 3 June and York's National Railway Museum from 4 to 10 June. It heads to Leeds station (12-15 June), Newcastle station (19-25 June) and Edinburgh's Waverley station (26June-4 July).


guardian.co.uk © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds


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