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Monday, 30 July 2012

Olympic cycling comes to Box Hill

At the end of February 2011, after months of speculation, it was finally confirmed via a big Press Conference, that the Olympic road cycling races for both men and women would be coming through Box Hill. A public meeting rapidly followed the announcement, during which villagers had the opportunity to ask questions and raise concerns - and there were many of them. Then on August 14th 2011, we had the test race. This was a small taste of what was to come.

Coran and I as Assistant Editor and Editor respectively of the village newsletter Box Hill News, were lucky enough to have the opportunity to gain access to the restricted areas for the race, and take roadside pictures of the athletes as they made their way through. This was thrilling enough, but was nothing compared to what took place this past weekend.

As the Olympics approached the negativity throughout the village seemed to increase along with the excitement - all sorts of things were being said - there were too many cyclists, this would "put the village on the map" exposing us to a possible crime wave, there would be problems with litter, but most of they objected to the lengthy road closures, which meant in the words of one particularly vociferous villager "being kettled in". I am pleased to say that all of those fears have been proved to be totally unfounded, as the chaos (and there was much of it) was worth it all for the chance to see these world class athletes right outside our front doors - and all for free.

A week or so before the race, since we had been unable to sell the Box Hill News from within the ticketed zone, or even around the village during the weekend, Coran had the idea to make a video for the village, on behalf of the Box Hill Neighbourhood Council. Once the Council had approved the idea, we arranged to borrow a friends camera to do the filming with. Knowing that the athletes would be coming through for a test run on the Thursday before the race, Coran spent time filming the action while walking through the village all the way up to the ticketed zone. There she got talking to the security guards where she was given permission to film the ticket holders as they came in. En route she also discovered that BBC Radio Surrey were broadcasting live from Box Hill, and she also got permission to come and film them on the race days. Everything seemed to be running so smoothly with things just falling into our laps.

It was also an eventful week for me. News of the Box Hill News debacle made it onto the Internet following coverage in the Dorking and Leatherhead Advertisers. This led to an interview on BBC Radio Surrey and later to Sky Sports News, who interviewed me outside the village shop, having been unable to access the National Trust areas due to road closures. Sadly as we do not subscribe to Sky, I was unable to view the transmission, but various friends informed me that it was broadcast as part of the main evening news and that I came across as "friendly but saddened by the events".

Of course now the races are over, I can see why things happened the way that they did - for if we had been busy selling the magazine then we would not have been free to enjoy the races ourselves, and Coran would not have had the opportunity to create the video that she is now editing. We may not have been able to tell the story in words, to the villagers and spectators, but we can tell it in pictures instead, which will reach a much wider audience and is a more appropriate medium with which to get the message across.

Along with it seems most of the population, we stayed up to watch the opening ceremony and were literally blown away. The intensity of the drumming in the first sequence was one thing, but when the performers came on stage to those pounding drums, emerging from beneath the Holy Thorn on the model of Glastonbury Tor, the intensity was overwhelming. It seemed to us that this scene which was a reenactment of the industrial revolution was a means of clearing so much of the crap that has been caused over the years by our ancestors - the colonisation of distant lands, the abuses by the mill owners and other businesses, the Jarrow marchers (particularly poignant given the current state of our economy), I could go on. It was almost as if Danny Boyle was saying "Yes we fucked it all up, but now we have to apologise for that and move on".

The second sequence was less dramatic but nevertheless also had meaning - for me at least it was about honouring the role that women and children have and will play in the shaping of our society. You see most of the problems were created by men, and the women and children were the innocents to get caught up in their power games. Now the tables are turning as the feminine begins to rise within society and women take a more equal role. As for the third sequence, supposedly a celebration of the digital age, well this was and is about the future, a celebration of all that is to come, including, yes the gifts of both the Internet and mobile phones. It was one big party.

The parade of flags needs no explanation, but the lighting of the cauldron was the best part yet, when the honour was passed over to the young and upcoming generation - for they are indeed the future and it is now over to them to carry the light that will take us through to the new millennium and into the future, away from the shadows and shackles of our past.

When we left the house at 7.30am the following day, crowds were already beginning to mass throughout Box Hill Road, with a group of stewards to greet us at the gates to the park where we live. By the time we got up to the Smith and Western near the Donkey Green it was packed to capacity with fans of all ages. We made our way through to the BBC area where Coran proceeded to film presenter Nick Wallis who at that time was conducting an interview with a woman from Redhill who had taken part in the opening ceremony. Following a chat with Nick's producer Kerry, and a camerawoman from the BBC, we made our way up to ticketed zone where those lovely Air force people allowed us to film and photograph the spectators as they came through.

We stayed at this area as the first lap came through, sitting by the side of the road, literally inches away from the action, gradually making our way down through the village for each proceeding lap. There were nine of them in all. The streets were crammed to capacity with fans of all ages, all having a fantastic time, dressed in all their Union Jack finery. By the end of the day we were dizzy with excitement, running on pure adrenalin. I estimate that there must have been close to 50,000 fans along that part of the route alone.

Sunday was quieter, given the later start from The Mall at 12 noon, and the fact that the women did just 2 laps rather than 9, but in some ways the race itself was more exciting, particularly at the end.

Coran and I were filming at the ticketed zone again when a gentleman walked over to me and asked if I wanted a ticket as one of his friends had not turned up. I thought he was joking, but quickly realised that he was not, and then one of the stewards offered us another one that she had been given to pass on, so rapidly emptying our water bottles we made our way inside.

Coran stayed along the top end of the ZigZag while I made my way down to Straw Belle Slope to await the action and listen to the live commentary. Sadly they would not allow me to scramble down to Butterfly Bend for the next lap, but I had a great view as the riders came up the slope, which was useful as it meant I knew exactly when to start switching on the camera. On both days I kept it in burst mode and just kept shooting - during the 2 days Coran achieved 6 hours of footage while I took over 1000 pictures - that will be one hell of an editing job. It was the icing on the cake to get the women's silver medal, and a huge cheer went up from the crowd who were watching the final on the big screen.

The weather may not have been kind during the second day for the womens race, but this too had meaning. The sun which shone brightly in the days leading up to the opening ceremony and on the first day for the mens race is of course a symbol of masculinity, the fire element in all its glory. Water on the other hand, which rain of course is, is very much feminine, representing the emotions, which the female riders no doubt experienced in abundance, as did the crowds. Water acts to wash everything away, all the debris and all the detriment that we no longer need, replenishing us in both body and soul to start anew, which is of course in this year of 2012, exactly what we are doing.

It is no accident that London won the bid for these 2012 games, and it is also no accident that the opening sequence for the opening ceremony featured a model of Glastonbury Tor, for Great Britain is the hub from which much of the abuse of the past several hundred years stemmed from, and Glastonbury is the heart chakra of the earth, the heart being a symbol of forgiveness. The combination of the opening sequence and that rain on the second day paves the way for the new era to be ushered in, as we are now swept clean of all this debris that no serves us, and we are free to move gracefully into a new era.

Looking back with hindsight, which is as always a wonderful thing, if someone was to ask me whether the chaos and disruption has been worth it (and it was interesting how often the word chaos was used by the commentators during the opening ceremony - we were definately tuning in on the universal consciounsess there), I would say one hundred percent yes. In the space of a few hours, watching and interacting with the crowds and seeing the spectacle of Olympic class athletes free wheeling past quite literally on the doorstep, all the anger and all the frustration has gone.

Thursday, 12 July 2012

The nature of unpredictability

While it is true that Britain has a reputation for unpredictable weather, this year it has been more unpredictable than most. What little summer we have so far had, seems to have been confined in the southeast at least where I live, to a week or so in May and the occasional day (thankfully mostly on my days off) of luke warm sun. We have had rain, hail, and high force winds galore, frequently all at the same time. Even Scilly where I went for my summer holiday in June has been immune, the islands normally having the highest sunshine record in Britain. It is true that the weather there was better than at home, but we had some less than perfect days too, and the weather did for me at least seem unseasonably cool with convertible trousers rather than traditional shorts, the order of the day. On one occasion I was walking along the north coast towards the Bronze Age settlement of Halangy Down when the heaven's opened. Making a dash for the nearest entrance grave (which I realised would have a roof), I was surprised to find a couple already sheltering there, having had the same idea as me - we were rapidly joined by a second couple and proceeded to play a game called "How many live bodies can you fit in a Bronze Age grave". Being slightly vertically challenged at just over 5 feet tall I was the only one who was able to stand up without having to stoop, but that is another story ...

Anyway, I was thinking this morning about the nature of all this strange and unpredictable weather and what it all might mean. Those who are on the spiritual path or have some knowledge of Shamanism will know about the four elements of earth, air, fire and water and what they represent - namely that earth, is well connected to the earth, air (wind) is about communication, fire is about passion and anger and all those things that drive us, and water is about emotion. It seems then to me that with all this water, there is quite literally an excess of emotion that people just do not know how to deal with. It spills over like a river bursting its banks (and we have seen a few of them these past few weeks), often at the most inopportune moment.

At the moment as well, with all the changes going on both on a personal and a global level, people have a lot to feel emotional about - for many, especially those who are higher up the ladder in positions of authority and power, the rug is quite literally being swept from beneath their feet, for with the recent scandals and abuses that have come to light, first with the media and now with banking, ordinary people such as myself (they would be the ones who keep those at the top in their positions in the first place and consume the services that their corporations insist that we need), are demanding change, and that change is beginning to happen. The world is shifting and changing and the balance of power is beginning to shift and change with it, and those at the top are quite literally running scared, for they can sense that the end is nigh, and people are no longer prepared to accept the status quo. But are they?

While there is undoubtedly a great feeling of change in the air, for many there is also a feeling of helplessness and complacency, the thought that they alone are not powerful enough to affect the changes that we can now see that society plainly needs. They are of course wrong, but this too is where the overpowering emotions come from - society is shifting and changing so far and so fast that the majority who do not have the spiritual understanding that most of my readers have, do not understand either what is happening to how to deal with it. Thus it is that like the weather, one day they are up, the next they are down, like the wind, constantly shifting speed and direction.

Only when people are sufficiently angry will things really change and anger being fire energy in this context, can be seen as synonymous with the sun, and the lack of its energy. Maybe as more of these scandals come to light, and the enquiry into the rate fixing scandal begins to take form and more facts are revealed, people will start to feel that anger a little more. I suspect that only then will we start to feel the warmth of the sun.