Fact or Fiction: TwentyTwelve or 2012?

The Olympics are just one cock-up after the next. But are we in sitcom territory yet?

The path to the summer Olympics has been one of cock-up after cock-up. So much so that, just as Armando Iannucci must be finding it tricky to write the new series of The Thick of It, so the makers of TwentyTwelve, the BBC sitcom based around the many failings of the "Olympic Deliverence Agency", must be feeling rather prescient.

But are they? See if you can tell which of these are from 2012, and which are from TwentyTwelve:

1. A safe-sex ad campaign had to be dropped due to complaints from Catholic countries. 

2. The Olympic torch was blown out in Great Torrington.

3. George Galloway announced he was planning to perform a citizens arrest on a Middle-Eastern dictator.

4. The interfaith worship centre was moved to a different building in the park after someone realised it didn't face Mecca.

5. A busload full of dignitaries gets lost on the way to the olympic stadium.

6. A naked man with "Free Tibet" on his bottom interrupted the torch relay.

7. Protestors dumped a pile of horse manure outside the organisers' offices in protest at the closure of Greenwich park for equestrianism.

8. An executive was shot in the foot testing a faulty starter pistol.

9. The Olympic Torch was blown out in Greece.

10. The official £5 Olympic Coin is sold for £40.

11. Until special laws were passed, the pistols used in the shooting events were illegal in Britain.

12. At the same time as Seb Coe launched "Diversity Day", Boris Johnson launched "Inclusivity Day".

Highlight for answers:

1. TwentyTwelve 2. 2012 3. 2012 4. TwentyTwelve 5. Both 6. 2012 7. TwentyTwelve 8. TwentyTwelve 9. 2012 10. 2012 11. 2012 12. Twenty Twelve

A mess-up of Olympic proportions

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

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Peter Hitchens on Twitter seemed barely human – then he came round for tea

During his visit I realised I had an awkward duty facing me.

But what about Peter Hitchens?” everyone is asking after my last encounter with him. He came round to the Hovel, you see, the day before the column, in which I said all sorts of nasty things about him, appeared. The reason why he came round is complicated and boring, but suffice it to say that books were exchanged, in a spirit of mutual diplomatic tension.

I offered him a choice of red wine, whisky, or tea. It was five o’clock. (He was punctual, which unsurprised me. He chose tea; he is not a fan of intoxication. Aha! I thought, he’ll love this: as a foe of modernity in many of its aspects, such as duvets and central heating, he will appreciate the fact that I do not use tea bags. Loose Assam leaves, put into a scalded teapot. “Conservative in everything except politics” was a formulation – originally, I think, applied to George Orwell – that Peter’s late brother was fond of, and I thought my old-fashionedness would soothe him.

Not exactly: he noticed I was pouring semi-skimmed milk into the mug. Of course you put the milk in last when you are using tea bags. When pouring from a pot, you put the milk in first. Milk poured in afterwards does not emulsify satisfactorily. If you are one of those people who say “but how do you know if you’ve put in the right amount of milk?” then I exhort you to start trusting your pouring arm.

Semi-skimmed milk, I learned quickly, is a no-no in the world of P Hitchens.

“But Orwell himself,” I replied urbanely, “said that milk that was too creamy made the tea taste unpleasant. Not, of course, that I believe everything Orwell said, but on tea-making he is sound.”

Mr Hitchens demurred, saying that Orwell was referring to the equivalent of what we know today as Gold Top. This allowed me to go off on a little rant, a positive, life-enhancing rant, about how good Gold Top is, how my children love it, etc. We moved into the living room. I noticed my shoes were more old-fashioned than his. Come to think of it, they may have been older than him. They’re almost certainly older than me.

There was a mood of civility in the air. Slightly strained, perhaps, like his tea, but unmistakably present. Part of the reason was that I had mentioned our forthcoming meeting on a social medium, and two of my friends, one a well-known novelist, the other a well-known columnist, both women, both left wing, had asked me, extremely sincerely, to pass on their best wishes. They knew him of old, had worked with him, were fond of him. These are two women whose opinions I take very seriously indeed. The Peter Hitchens I knew, of column and Question Time panel, was clearly not the whole picture. If these women say he’s Basically All Right, or All Right enough to ask me to pass on their best wishes, then that is pretty much good enough for me.

During his visit I realised I had an awkward duty facing me. I was becoming increasingly conscious that, the next day, in newsagents throughout the land, the latest edition of this magazine would appear, and in it, on page 82, would be a column by me, which contained several jokes at the expense of P Hitchens, Esq. And I knew that this column would not escape his vigilance. I massaged the bridge of my nose and launched into a pre-emptive apology. “I think I had better tell you...”

He seemed to take it fairly well, though I’d not given him the full nature of my assault. When we were tossing insults back and forth on Twitter, he seemed barely human; now, in my living room, he all too clearly was. I suppose this is how we all see our enemies on Twitter: as botched versions of the Turing Test, spouting opinions that are quite clearly wrong in spite of all our well-reasoned arguments. The only variable is how quickly the arguments de-evolve into base invective. I have my own theory about this. It involves Lacan, so I’ll spare you.

A couple of days later I received an email from him, courteously asking after me and my latest troubles, the ones I can’t write about due to their immensity. It also contained the precise quote from Orwell regarding milk in tea. (“Ninthly, one should pour the cream off the milk before using it for tea. Milk that is too creamy always gives tea a sickly taste.” You have to love that “ninthly”.) “Tempus mutatur,” I replied... but noted, too, that there was no mention of That Column. I was rather impressed. 

Nicholas Lezard is a literary critic for the Guardian and also writes for the Independent. He writes the Down and Out in London column for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 17 August 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Trump goes nuclear