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Olympian Achievements

Initial scepticism

Back in 2004, 2005 or so, when London was bidding to host the Olympics, I was against it. My concerns were the cost, the crowding, and the general disruption of it all. I was, I admit, cynical. I recall being annoyed by the fact that the people running the bid published a number to which you could text “yes”, to say you supported the bid; but there was no option to text “no” to say you opposed it.

Looking back to what I wrote at the time, I see that my biggest concern was the effect on the Lower Lee Valley. It turned out that the removal of wilderness didn’t stretch as far as my fears suggested; and of course much of the land that has been used was polluted, abandoned, brownfield industrial sites. Bob Stanley of St Etienne (the band) has an interesting piece in The Guardian about that.

Coming round

But then London won the bid, and I though, “OK, fine, it’ll be interesting at least.” I had enjoyed watching the previous ones, and there was the regeneration for East London that looked promising. And the fact that it would just be down the road for me added to the interest. After all, that would make it easier to get tickets, right? Obviously there would specific tickets made available to to locals.

Hindsight even makes me wonder whether the events of the very next day didn’t make me more supportive: blitz spirit, don’t let the bastards grind you down, “soft power“, and all that.

The intervening years

Worries

In the years since then I’ve gone through various thoughts about the whole thing. Obviously there were the concerns about how long we would be paying for it all. And more recently there were the worries about the security preparations and the expected madness of the precautions. Of course more recently we’ve had the G4S fiasco, and the drafting in of extra soldiers.

More bizarrely we’ve seen the growth of the Olympic “brand police”, the forbidding of certain words and combinations of words (including, ridiculously, things like “summer”, “bronze”, and “2012”).

Cycle-friendly or not?

But closer to home one of the things that has annoyed me is the way they’ve treated our towpath.

The main stadium sits between two branches of the River Lee (or Lea): the river itself, and the Lee Navigation or Cut, which is essentially a canal constructed as a tributary1 of the main river. The towpath of the Navigation is a popular cycling and walking route for us local types. As we watched the construction site form and the massive buildings grow (and in my case moaned about the ugly fencing round it), we were able to keep a close eye on it all by going along the towpath. And indeed, a minor, but pleasing, instance of regeneration has been the resurfacing of the towpath, making it much more pleasant to cycle on.2

Above all, it seemed obvious that we would use the towpath to actually get to the Olympic Park. How else?

Until a few months ago when it became clear that the towpath was going to be closed for the duration of the games. The reason given — of course — was “security”. But what exactly is the security risk of providing access via the towpath?

In all honesty, I had my doubts about its use during the games; but I wasn’t concerned about terrorism. Rather I feared for people’s safety. It’s a towpath, after all: relatively narrow, unfenced, and unlit. And, critically, next to a polluted canal. If thousands — or even only hundreds — of people were trying to leave the park that way all at once — after the opening ceremony, say — then I could see that it would be problematic.

So I begin to wonder whether the “security” excuse was brought out to hide the more mundane, but always-criticised-by-the-tabloids truth: health and safety.

Then we heard that bikes would be among the banned items in the park; but also that there would be cycle parking: it sounded like mixed messages, but we would have to wait and see.

Those pesky tickets and the getting thereof

Ah, the joys of Olympic ticketing. Even as I write, on the third full day of the Games, they don’t seem to have really sorted it all out.

It’s a massively complex task, to allocate and sell tickets for hundreds of events over dozens of venues, all taking place in such a concentrated time period. But it’s not like they’ve never done it before; it’s not even like they haven’t done it in the Internet Age. It should largely be a solved problem, it seems to me.

We had decided to treat the Olympics as our family holiday: we would take a couple of weeks off, buy a load of tickets, and that would be our main summer break. After all, it would be just down the road, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, etc. So we signed up for the ballot, spent time listing events we might like to see, and so on. When the time came we hit the website and listed a summer holiday’s worth of tickets (hampered slightly by me having a MasterCard, which of course is the black sheep of Olympic ticket-buying).

In the end my beloved was allocated tickets to three events, and I got none (had they detected that invalid-card possession?)

However, that was just the initial ballot; and because I had been unsuccessful there, I was entitled to try to buy tickets in the conventional way in the second round.

On the day I woke up early and grabbed my laptop. The site, inevitably, crumpled. I went back to sleep for a bit. Tried again later.

I don’t recall how long it took, but in the end I managed to get a further three events.

And that was that. Remember when I said up there, “it would just be down the road … that would make it easier to get tickets”? Yeah. Somehow that didn’t happen. The Olympics is clearly not meant for the people who live near it. Or not particularly. I’m not suggesting it should be only for locals; but how hard would it have been to allocate a percentage of tickets to residents of host boroughs — or the whole of London — in a first pass? If they didn’t get bought they would be offered on, of course. The answer is “not very”; the Hackney Weekend festival did exactly that, after all. Glastonbury gives free tickets to residents of the nearby village, I seem to recall.

Anyway, that’s where we are. We later added a Paralympic athletics day, which will finally get us into the main stadium; and a set of Olympic Park passes, so we can go and have a wander round and soak up the atmosphere on Wednesday. But as I write there are still tickets available, even for swimming, even for the main stadium.

If you’re made of money, at least. Hell, you can still go to the closing ceremony if you’ve got £995 or £1500 to spare.

But still…

But I don’t mean to turn all negative. I’m actually really excited about it all, and thoroughly enjoying everything I’ve seen on telly; especially, of course, Danny Boyle’s masterpiece of an opening ceremony. Much has been said about that elsewhere, so I won’t say a lot. Just that it was far better, and a far truer representation of Britain than we could have imagined, or even hoped for. Part of the fun was following along on Twitter, of course (when it wasn’t too distracting to do so). And my favourite comment of all was one that Mitch Benn retweeted from Simon Evans:

It’s not that I’m proud to be British. It’s that I’m grateful.

So true.

And I’ve been enjoying seeing the first few days worth of events on telly. Some thoughts:

  • The tennis is just like Wimbledon, except with colour, and Omega timing instead of IBM. And “London 2012” logos, of course.
  • I normally go from one Wimbledon to the next without watching any sport; now, suddenly, I’m almost fanatical about everything (except boxing and anything with horses; and archery is much more boring than you might expect).
  • Seeing those cyclists in the road races made me want to get on my bike; not for those kind of distances, though.
  • Similarly, badminton & table tennis; maybe there will be a knock-on effect on people doing sport after all.

I should write about legacy (and sustainability3), but I’ve gone on long enough, and anyway, it’s another whole discussion. But I cycled down that way on Saturday; along the part of the towpath that’s still open, across Hackney Marshes (by a new, temporary path) and to the bridge across the river where there is access via Eton Manor Gate. There is a vast cycle park there, and from the gate it’s only supposed to be a few minutes walk to, for example, the Basketball Arena. So it’s all good.4

We visit the park on Wednesday, and start seeing actual events from Friday. I may report back.5


  1. Or really an inverted tributary, as it forks off the main river in a downstream direction. 

  2. There are still a few spots of cobblestones, but we can cope with those. 

  3. Yes, that’s a Twenty Twelve reference; if you haven’t watched it, you should. 

  4. Yes, so was that. 

  5. But under no circumstances will I post photos, OK

A British Court Bans a TV Broadcast

BBC lawyers consider formal appeal over court ban on riots drama | Media | guardian.co.uk.

The most chilling thing about this is not so much banning the broadcast; there could conceivably be a legitimate reason for that, though it’s hard to imagine a good one. Rather it is this:

For legal reasons, the Guardian cannot name the judge who made the ruling, the court in which he is sitting or the case he is presiding over.

This meta-blocking smacks of the “superinjunctions” that we heard a lot about a few years back (but which strangely seem to have dropped out of sight recently).

Tip: using Pandoc to create truly standalone HTML files

If you’re using the excellent Pandoc to convert between different document formats, and you:

  • want your final output to be in HTML;
  • want the HTML to be styled with CSS;
  • and want the HTML document to be truly standalone;

then read on.

The most common approach with Pandoc is, I think, to write in Markdown, and then convert the output to RTF, PDF or HTML. There are all sorts of more advanced options too; but here we are only concerned with HTML.

The pandoc command has an option which allows you to style the resulting HTML with CSS. Example 3 in the User’s Guide shows how you do this, with the -c option. The example also uses the -s option, which means that we are creating a standalone HTML document, as distinct from a fragment that is to be embedded in another document. The full command is:

[shell] pandoc -s -S —toc -c pandoc.css -A footer.html README -o example3.html [/shell]

If you inspect the generated HTML file after running this, you will see it contains a line like this:

[html] [/html]

That links to the CSS stylesheet, keeping the formatting information separate from the content. Very good practice if you’re publishing a document on the web.

But what about that “standalone” idea that you expressed with the -s option? What that does is make sure that the HTML is a complete document, beginning with a DOCTYPE tag, an <html> tag, and so on. But if, for example, you have to email the document you just created, or upload it to your company’s document store, then things fall apart. When your reader opens it, they’ll see what you wrote, all right; but it won’t be styled the way you wanted it. Because that pandoc.css file with the styling is back on your machine, in the same directory as the original Markdown file.

What you really want is to use embedded CSS; you want the content of pandoc.css to be included along with the prose you wrote in your HTML file.

Luckily HTML supports that, and Pandoc provides a way to make it all happen: the -H option, or using its long form, --include-in-header=FILE

First you’ll have to make sure that your pandoc.css file1 starts and ends with HTML <style> tags, so it should look something like this:

[html] [/html]

Then run the pandoc command like this:

[shell] pandoc -s -S —toc -H pandoc.css -A footer.html README -o example3.html [/shell]

and you’re done. A fully standalone HTML document.


  1. It doesn’t have to be called that, by the way.

Weekend Warblers

Hackney Weekend: the main stage

The Radio 1 Hackney Weekend festival was fabulously well organised, loads of fun, and passed off with only three arrests.1 Booking the tickets a month or two ago had turned out to be easy (we sat with multiple browsers and phones as the SeeTickets site crumpled, but in fact it was no trouble at all after we left it for a while). Being local residents helped, as half the tickets were for Hackney households.

It was a free show, so there were restrictions; most notably that you could only book for one of the two days, and only two tickets per person. We were doing it for the kids; and the kids in this family (to say nothing of most of their friends) favoured the Sunday lineup; so that’s the one we went for.

The lineup leaned heavily to the various dance subgenres: (modern) R&B, dubstep, and so on. Not forgetting hip-hop, of course; not only did Jay-Z headline the first night, he guested with Rihanna on the second.

Hackney Weekend: Jessie J on the main stage

For me the highlight of the day was Jessie J; though I was mildly disappointed that she censored herself in my favourite of her songs, ‘Do it Like a Dude’.2

Tinie Tempah was also good, though since I’ve subsequently been listening to Enter Shikari, I’m slightly disappointed to have missed them as they clashed with Tinie.

There was great secrecy and much speculation over who the “Special Guest” was to be. They managed to keep it hidden until the day, which, while impressive in its way, had me worried. I thought that, depending on who it was, there could be a disaster. In particular, if it had been Justin Bieber, as some kids were speculating, there would have been a vast, simultaneous, two-way flow, from and to the stage (my kids would have been running away from the stage; there are no Beliebers at Devilgate Towers).

Not long before the guest’s time I heard on good authority that it was going to be Beyoncé. Believable, as her hubbie was there, and she was said to be “in the house”. But I doubted it: isn’t she a bigger name than Rihanna? And anyway, I get the sense that she’d be too much of a diva to go on second on the bill.

Anyway, in the end it was Dizzee Rascal, which with hindsight made total sense, what with him being a local boy and all.

Hackney Weekend: colourful flags

As we wandered through the stages and the day, we heard snatches of Rihanna’s ‘We Found Love’ seven times (I started keeping count at the third) from various between-act DJs and stalls. So by the time it closed the night, I was thoroughly ready to hear it properly. And a damn fine ending it was, too (though the fireworks were a tad tame).

I was hugely impressed with the organisation of the thing. We got there nice and early, and there was hardly any queueing, despite the airport-style security. The staff were all lovely and friendly, and — get this — there was hardly ever a queue for the toilets!

I would strongly support any moves to make it a regular thing. Radio 1’s event moves around the country, so it couldn’t stay free, but I could easily see it working as a commercial festival in the future.


  1. I have it on the authority of a Hackney police officer. 

  2. Hint: “Dirty dirty dirty dirty dirty dirty sucker” doesn’t rhyme with “D’you think I can get hurt by you, you [puts finger on lips]”.