I always wore cub uniform to school on Commonwealth Day (I’m not admitting to remembering Empire Day). That’s not a recent memory, you understand, and you’ll be pleased to know that I have no photographic evidence to offer you.
The Commonwealth appears to have got along reasonably well since that time without any further major inputs from me. South Africa has left and come back. So has Pakistan. Others, including Zimbabwe, have departed but not been seen again. I understand that Gambia left last year, though nobody got round to letting me know, and Wikipedia informs me that South Sudan is putting in an application.
And every four years they put on the Games. Glasgow, since you ask, later this month.
Blogfamily bought tickets the last time the Games took place in the UK – Manchester, in 2002. We had lived there until a decade earlier. The Games attracted 72 national teams, a record, and incorporated a programme for disabled athletes for the first time. Their success played a key part in securing the Olympics for London in 2012. Volunteers in shell suits around the city were an essential ingredient of that success, as was a ticket pricing policy that aimed at filling the stadia.
I can confirm it was all hugely enjoyable and the city took the whole thing very much to its heart. I still wear the T-shirt, though it’s doubtful that anyone actually thinks I competed.
Being occasionally of a nerdish bent where sport is concerned (Mrs. Blog tells me I can safely delete the word after “being”), I couldn’t get my head around the winner of the women’s 800 metres race that we watched coming from Mozambique. Now, call me old-fashioned but I thought, to be in the Commonwealth, you had to be somewhere that had had at least a nodding acquaintance with the wonders of Britishness. I mean, do they even play cricket in Mozambique? Apparently it had something to do with Mozambique, while a former Portuguese colony, being surrounded by bits that are, or were once, marked red on the map and thus a special case. So, there you go – an educational blog, it’s official. (Rwanda signed up in 2009. I rest my case.)
There is an application form you can fill in if you really want your nation to enjoy all the benefits of Commonwealth membership, like visits from the Duchess of Cornwall and a special tie. It includes questions like “Compare and contrast Sonny Ramphal and Sonny Ramadhin”, “Why is the Hackney Empire so called”, and “Just why are those red bits on the map red?” Candidate nations are now apparently required to demonstrate a current or previous “constitutional association” with an existing member state (or been invaded by one?)
The number of national teams taking part in the Games exceeds the number of countries in the Commonwealth, which is a neat trick. This comes down to places like Jersey, Guernsey, the Isle of Man, the Isle of Dogs and even Scotland entering their own teams in order to share the medals round a bit. (One of those was made up.) The USA might have done ok in the medals table, but they had their chance and blew it back in 1776.
With Mrs. Blog hailing from north of the border (have I mentioned that?), we were always intending to make the most of the Games coming to Glasgow. I know for a fact that she’s stocked up on blue and white face paint and has been practising phrases from her anthology of Gaelic abuse.
Thanks to conscientious and aggressive purchasing tactics we have acquired tickets for athletics, rugby sevens, hockey, netball (blogdaughter is known as the Vinny Jones of the netball court) and even the opening ceremony, which will surely showcase Scotland’s gifts to the world – like television, the telephone, the deep-fried Ferrero Rocher and Andy “Donald, where’s your troosers?” Stewart. My bet is that Prince Charles will take over the “parachuting into the stadium” duties from his mother. Which is ok provided he isn’t determined to wear a kilt.
One of the many charms of the Commonwealth Games – often described as the Friendly Games — has always been the possibility of seeing rank amateurs taking part, like a water polo team with buoyancy aids or a weightlifter from a small Pacific Island making up the numbers in the sprint relay. While not really expecting to see on the programme good old-fashioned sports in which the UK teams might conceivably “medal” (or “podium”??), like cribbage, welly chucking or maypole dancing, I was extremely disappointed to discover that my favourite Olympic sport, synchronised swimming, has failed to find a slot. They obviously wanted to keep that omission quiet until they’d made headway with ticket sales.
The Welsh water polo team search for the ball
Warm up time for a Scottish athlete in the javelin
The Australian bronze medalists in the Simple Simon Says competition
An early round in the Rugby Sevens: the Scottish team responds to the All Blacks’ haka
Medal ceremonies at the Games tend to be dominated by the usual suspects but wouldn’t it be good to have an outing for one or two of the less frequently heard national anthems? I have carried out some research so you don’t have to.
In truth the great majority of new anthems seem to cover similar territory, involving pristine sands, shining seas, heroic daughters and fair sons (or possibly the other way round). This, for example, from the British Virgin Islands:
But with strength and will power we overcame
To restore Beautiful Virgin Islands pride!
To preserve our beauty we devised a plan
To retain ownership of our precious lands!
Educating our people is the golden key
To maintain the success of this Territory!
So that’s the contents of the Queen’s speech sorted for them for a year or two.
Intriguingly, Jersey’s anthem, until very recently, bigged up the “beautiful sky of our France” and the desire “to see again my Normandy … the country where I was born”. I guess that’s what’s called “hedging your bets”.
Before 1949, when Newfoundland was incorporated into Canada, it fielded its own team at the Games. It may be just as well that its own anthem “didn’t trouble the scorers”, as they say, Team Newfoundland not having won gold, or indeed any other colour of medal:
|At winter’s stern command,
Thro’ shortened day, and starlit night,
We love thee, frozen land.We love thee, we love thee
We love thee, frozen land.
|When blinding storm gusts fret thy shore,
And wild waves lash thy strand,
Thro’ spindrift swirl, and tempest roar,
We love thee windswept land.We love thee, we love thee
We love thee windswept land.
Now the sound of that might have cast something of a shadow over proceedings at the Games. It can’t have done much for their tourism industry back home either.
“Come on lads, how about some sun, sea and sand type lyrics?”
“We don’t get sun and sand in Newfoundland.”
“And your point is?”
Newfoundland: a holiday maker strolls to the beach to light the barbecue
The Barbadian anthem has lyrics by one Irving Burgie, who also penned inter alia the far more memorable words for Jamaica Farewell and the Banana Boat Song. What wouldn’t spectators give for something they could all join in with after a long day in the hot Glasgow sunshine, like a rendering from the podium of
A beautiful bunch a’ ripe banana
Daylight come and me wan’ go home
Hide the deadly black tarantula
Daylight come and me wan’ go home
…preferably with the Stan Freberg “It’s too piercing man. Like, I don’t dig spiders” variation.
So, roll on Glasgow.
This blog has booked itself a pre-pitched tent at a rugby club in the city to avoid a long trek to out of town accommodation after each event. I should explain that I will not be accompanied for accommodation purposes by Mrs. Blog who “doesn’t do tents”. She was taken Eurocamping once when young and discovered there was no power source for her curling tongs. The experience left her deeply traumatised. Mrs. B will be resting between sporting events at the home of a fellow clan member before returning to her workplace.
Mrs. Blog roughing it at the Manchester Commonwealth Games
Happily, our programme provides time for local sightseeing. Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s wonderful School of Art may have been badly damaged in its recent fire but there are other fine examples of his work within reasonable distance, and, rest assured, this blog didn’t get where it is today without some serious ticking of sightseeing lists.
It has been – it must be said – some while since this blog exposed itself to the rigours of camping for such a length of time. Do tents come equipped with charging points for mobile phone and iPad nowadays? (I’m taking the airconditioning, jacuzzi and soundproofing as read.) Can blogging really take place under such adverse circumstances? Bear Grylls wouldn’t have lasted a minute.
To say nothing of the toilets. I fear the worst.
The Games campsite in Glasgow: blogging under difficulties
A postscript: “Why no blog about the Tour de France?” I hear you say. As a native Lancastrian I’m tempted to conclude that the amazingly positive response of Yorkshire folk to the Tour merely demonstrates a lack of interesting things to do in the white rose county (though the scenery did look rather fine.) This blog had the benefit of watching the cavalcade of the 1994 Tour through Sussex and was very appreciative of the free sweets and paper hat. Like waiting hours for the Olympic flame to pass by, it’s always good to tick off another of life’s experiences but I’m not certain that, if it were passing by my window this year, I’d be guaranteed to put my newspaper down to look.