Alan White's Olympics diary: The 2012 Olympics alternative awards

Yes, it’s the laziest of all journalistic tropes. But still, what would any sporting event be without an alternative set of awards?

The Gerald Ratner Garland for Brand Promotion Failure:

As the games have rolled on, these stories have died down, but there haven’t half been some crackers. For all the joy, one needs to remember that this is a deeply corporate event: the organisers were so desperate to snuff out un-Olympic sponsors they even taped over the handryers in the toilets. Even better, an official investigation was even launched into the athletes’ use of illicit condoms.

In this febrile atmosphere, kudos to this press release from RealStaffing recruitment agency: “If you are looking for the next Bradley Wiggins (of financial accounting) or Philips Idowu (of Project Accounting) to see your team over the finish line this summer then get in touch...”

But the winner is easily McDonald’s, with the bizarre stand-off over chip sales in the Olympic Park. According to business information group Precise, the company has generated net negative sentiment across social media over the course of the Olympics. Well done to all involved.

The “Hello, Harvey Weinstein? Have I Got An Option For You” Trophy for Inspirational Stories:

There are too many here, most involving women. Gemma Gibbons won silver from 42nd in the world, thanking her recently-deceased mother who had ferried her on public transport to every class. For Taekwondo medallist, Jade Jones, the people of the small Welsh town of Flint helped her raise funding.  Another competitor, Sarah Stevenson, lost both parents in the space of three months and suffered a devastating knee injury, yet still managed to compete. Boxer Nicola Adams – so skilful, so damn cool – worked as a painter and decorator and as an extra on Coronation Street  to finance her dreams. I also think this guy has to be in with a shout, just for managing to play on. Christ.

But anyway, the winner is diver Chris Mears. He was never going to get a medal. But in 2009, after rupturing his spleen and losing five pints of blood just before the Youth Olympics in Sydney, his parents were told their son had a 5 per cent chance of surviving the operation. You’ll pardon me for saying it’s not the winning that matters...

The “Damn, If Only Andy Coulson Wasn’t Busy” Plaque for Misfiring Political Involvement

There have been a number of successes which, in any other country, would be an almighty failure. Most people found Jeremy Hunt’s unfortunate bellend incident endearing and somehow managed to overlook his meeting with Rupert Murdoch at the pool. They did the same for Boris Johnson, and likewise giggled as he found himself suspended from a zip wire. Aidan Burley MP, it’s fair to say, hasn’t come out of the games quite so unscathed, but given he’d previously been known as the guy who went on a stag do where people dressed as Nazis, some would say merely being perceived as crass is a result.
But the overwhelming winner has to be David Cameron. It started with “The Curse of Cameron”, as the Prime Minister gamely sped around the events in the hope of spotting a Gold, ruining the dreams of scores of British athletes (apparently). It got worse when a photo was released of him watching the games at home. Cue a thousand people firing up photoshop for giggles. Then he said some stupid things about Indian Dancing in schools. And then someone found footage from prior to the games of him playing table tennis with Barack Obama. Boy, does he suck.

The Daily Mail Newsdesk Ribbon for Totally Missing the Point

Too many. Huge amounts of crap being spoken by columnists and online about how the Olympics tells us something New and Profound about footballers, as if every footballer is John Terry. Huge amounts of crap being spoken by the right on the death of competitive sport and on the left about how PE teachers are mean. The Daily Mail railing against mixed race marriages and papping the athletes. On the latter, the Guardian joining in. French protests against British cycling’s “Magic Wheels” (GB cycling performance director: “They’re very round”).  

The runner up? Piers Morgan. Complains about the national anthem not being sung by various athletes, is righteously slapped down, and to save face complains about a faked picture (you may recall why he left the Mirror).

The overwhelming winner: Surrey police, who arrested a 54-year-old spectator for a “public order offence”, saying he failed to smile or seem to enjoy the men’s cycling road race. He has Parkinson’s disease.

Other awards:
The Official New Statesman Shield for Olympic Spirit

In a field containing the British Men’s Eight going for gold and getting bronze rather than a likely silver, the classy Kirani James ignoring the faux-controversy and swapping bibs with Oscar Pistorius, and the various hugs, cuddles and kisses between competitors that followed every event, it takes something special to win. So (sob) I’m giving it to the thousands of Games Makers. Thank you, all.

The Instagram Hipster Rosette for Photography

So many here. Something dodgy in the water. Something else dodgy in the water. Usain Bolt’s photos after his win. Also, another photo involving Usain Bolt. X-rated action in the water polo. Team Rwanda at a bus stop. Ruben Limardo on the tube.

But I’m going to go with this picture of runners shimmering behind the Olympic Flame.

The Archimedes Presentation Salver for A Good Idea

Gary Naylor suggests that we should see gold, silver and bronze plaques on the walls of every medal-winners school.

The Fowler’s Modern Dictionary Bowl for Services to Language

Turns out “medal” as a verb dates actually back to Byron, but well done to the Guardian style guide for hoping this is the first occasion where people use “brink” correctly, rather than “cusp”, wrongly.

The Bert le Clos Silver Tankard for Heartwarming Parenting

Fending off stern competition from Aly Raisman’s parents and Chris Hoy’s mother, this goes to Bert le Clos. Let’s watch him again shall we?

That’s it: we’re done. I’d just like to thank my coaches, family, friends and...sorry, it’s all too much. Enjoy the Closing Ceremony everyone....

Want more? Jumbo Odds and Ends

The official London 2012 auction: everything must go.

The man with the wooden leg who won six gold medals.

Nice Vanity Fair feature on Olympic athletes of the past: where are they now?

Another great Olympic story: “The Flying Housewife”, from the 1948 Olympics.

Dr David Wright volunteered in 1948, and in 2012.

Is lactic acid to blame for Olympic pain?

Brilliant Ed Caesar piece on the Irish priest who trains Kenyan Olympians.

Nicola Adams’s dog watches her claim gold.

Best. Hashtag. Ever.

How would the ancient empires be doing today?

The BBC’s “20 things you may not have spotted” feature was excellent; so too its follow-up.

The physics of diving.

And the physics of cycling.

Steeplechase competitor’s awesome medal dance.

A love letter to the BBC.

How far do athletes travel?

Anyone else remember when high jump gold medal winner Ivan Ukhov competed drunk? (via 22 words).

Incredible Facebook album of 1948 Olympians.

The scariest British fan of them all.

Young athlete explains how he ran away from trouble last August.
 

The Olympic flame. Photograph: Getty Images

Alan White's work has appeared in the Observer, Times, Private Eye, The National and the TLS. As John Heale, he is the author of One Blood: Inside Britain's Gang Culture.

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Why the class of '94 still rules British poetry

The message of the 1990s generation - that seeing clearly is not as simple as we think - comes across powerfully in four new collections.

In 1994, the “New Generation” of poets was intent on bringing about one of those shifts that periodically redefine a culture. Twenty-odd years later, we can see that, imperfect though the project may have been, the baby boomers did change the face of British poetry. The class of ’94 still dominates the field, as this quartet of fine books demonstrates.

Of the four poets under review – one each from the remaining big trade poetry publishers – it is Kathleen Jamie who has arguably shifted ground the most over the decades. She is now equally well known for her insightful, evocative prose about the Scottish environment, in Findings and Sightlines. Like her prize-winning previous collection, The Overhaul, The Bonniest Companie is alive to every detail of plant and creature. Though they also capture skies, stones and animals, its (mostly short) poems work a little like a herbarium, storing these details for us to examine “a rock-pipit’s seed-small notes”, or “every fairmer’s fenceposts/splashed with gold”.

But the excitement of The Bonniest Companie comes in the concentration of its language and the way that concentration reveals its author’s fierce focus. The inclusion by anglophone Scots of entirely Scots poems in English-language books is a contemporary cliché and can be rebarbative. By contrast, Jamie reinvigorates poetic language, using dialect and loanwords alongside standard English to create vivid, springy textures. Colloquial compressions add to the bouncing, tight rhythms. Stepped lines compress the springs yet further.

None of this is drily technical: this joyous book re-creates the livingness it observes. A poem such as “Migratory III” feels tossed and slung between the line ends:

Those swans out there at the centre

of the loch

a dozen or thirteen

moored close together, none adrift –

they’ve only just arrived

an arrow-true, close-flocked,

ocean-crossing skein . . .

If Jamie has broken through to a new and distinct form of northern lyric, her compatriot Don Paterson deepens a long-term project in his 40 Sonnets. In recent books, he has variously translated, written about and anthologised the form. He is a master of strict formal verse, and his virtuoso touch has always embraced both humour and moving metaphysical reflection, as it does again here. The collection includes comic monologue, an onomatopoeic record of white noise, homage, love poetry and elegy.

Most of the 40 poems are in iambic pentameter. This is no longer the automatic choice for the sonnet form, as Paterson knows better than most. Elsewhere, beyond the sonnet, pentameter seems a natural fit for the diction of certain contemporary poets (such as Tony Harrison or Sean O’Brien) who have a particular kind of lapidary authority. For Paterson’s quicksilver intelligence, iambic pentameter provides a less “natural”, more audible music: the form adds to and changes the poem, not only as it is being written but for the reader. We hear and rehear its effects and the well-known sonnets of history echo in Paterson’s poems:

The body is at home in time and space

and loves things, how they come and go,

and such

distances as it might cross or place

between the things it loves and its

own touch.

Characteristically criss-crossed with a metaphysical thought that is also a spatial metaphor, this is an extract from “Souls”, one of several sonnets here that will surely soon enter the anthologies.

Sarah Maguire’s Almost the Equinox is itself an anthology. This generous volume, at almost 150 pages long, interleaves work from her four collections, eschewing the conventional chronological treatment. In its new and satisfying whole, we trace recurring themes. Each of three consecutive poems called “Psoriasis” is taken from a different collection. Connections are often tonal and emotional: a Tunisian migrant’s story juxtaposed with a Warsaw childhood juxtaposed with Ramallah create what Maguire calls “the soft cry of crossed songs”.

She observes the physical world and the definitive failure of human choices with equal clarity. Her tone can be wry: “Your abandoned bottle of Russkaya vodka lies in my icebox,/Cold as a gun . . .” After a while, though, it becomes apparent that wryness is a veil. These are love poems to the world. The “you” that they repeatedly address is not necessarily a lover but the poet’s self; even, perhaps, us. Maguire’s world knits together even when it seems not to: the Middle East and London, the lost birth mother with the adoptive one, absent lover and speaker. As she writes in her title poem, “The tide has turned, the Thames comes inching back,/drowning everything it will reveal again.”

If Maguire’s poetic world is densely furnished, Neil Rollinson’s seems to have had everything unnecessary removed. ­Talking Dead, his fourth collection, is as lucid and direct as anything being written today. Partly that is because he has moved beyond contrivance. Every word is subordinated to its purpose: not the display but a mastery of the writing self.

Rollinson was not part of the “New Generation” promotion but made his debut two years later. Though his poems read with the ease of apparent artlessness, they are absolutely wrought. This book’s title sequence turns the “little death” convention about orgasm inside out: the recently dead speak of the rapture of violent demise. That could be appalling in both taste and tone. But these lyrics are perfectly judged, as when “Talking Dead – The Bed” turns drowning into a dream sequence:

I opened my mouth to breathe,

like I do in dreams,

and the water flowed into me.

The point is not reportage but the resolving logic of a beauty that is found in unexpected places: death, the smell of urine, a child kicking a toadstool.

Rollinson has an impeccable ear. His eye is impeccable, too. And possibly that is the lesson of the 1990s generation: seeing clearly is not so simple as we once thought. 

Fiona Sampson’s collection “The Catch” is newly published by Chatto & Windus

The Bonniest Companie by Kathleen Jamie is published by Picador (62pp, £9.99)

Almost the Equinox: Selected Poems by Sarah Maguire is published by Chatto & Windus (149pp, £15.99)

40 Sonnets by Don Paterson is published by Faber & Faber (44pp, £14.99)

Talking Dead by Neil Rollinson is published by Jonathan Cape (51pp, £10)

This article first appeared in the 05 February 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Putin's war