Monday, 30 July 2012

London 2012: Interview with a Volunteer!!

2012 Olympic Opening Ceremony...... and my friend, Declan Cooke, was one of those wonderful people who rehearsed for months to get the night right.  He agreed to be interviewed, and I think I got a scoop here! 

Hello Declan!  Thank you so much for agreeing to be interviewed.  An exciting time for us all, and so let’s get going.  When did you first realise that you could be part of this special event?

I applied on line sometime in September 2011.  I'd already applied to be a "Games Maker" volunteer and I thought, "why not?"  There was an audition that November followed by a "recall" (i.e.  if you'd done ok at the 1st one) 2 weeks later.   By the way - In between the two auditions, I challenged 3 yoofs who were loitering inside the locked inner doors of my small block of 6 flats. I ended up with 2 black eyes for my trouble. I was fairly traumatised but worse, I had to go to the 2nd audition with my black eyes - ALL my official passes throughout rehearsals and the actual OOC (Olympics Opening Ceremony) had my picture from that time -  looking like a right thug - I got endless comments from the squaddies on security duty - who by the way, did an amazing job - friendly but professional - so full of admiration for those men and women.

The auditions were crazy - hundreds of us in the huge 3 Mills Studios in Bow (where they filmed the 1st series of Big Brother) - walking up and down, moving from H6North to H6 East in the straightest line without bashing anyone, dancing movements, endless routines. I genuinely found dance moves difficult and I was out of time on so many occasions that I didn't hold out much hope.   But, I got an email in Jan 12 telling me I had successfully been assigned a role.   "Character based - utility - non dancing"  was all I knew - the non dancing bit didn't surprise me in the least but I was over the moon. They attached a schedule of rehearsals.
What was it like, turning up the first time?  Was there a moment when you realised how awesome this was going to be?

The first rehearsal in May 12 at 3 Mills.  I was given a bib to wear that said "WMW957" - it meant "Working Men and Women, number 957 of 1,000" - I'd wear this bib over my shirt to every rehearsal for the next 3 months. There were 750 of us excitedly chatting in a room, wondering what our role would be.  Up popped Danny Boyle (I was really shocked, I thought we'd never meet him. He was at almost every rehearsal, rain and wind, encouraging us, sending us emails, chatting to us all and signing whatever we brought him - the man is inspirational, truly inspirational.  Danny showed us a mock up of "Green and Pleasant Land" (real sheep; 70 real sheep? was all I could think). He took us through a 20 minute video of how he envisioned the content of Pandemonium (the title of our Industrial Revolution scene). I just remember filling up with tears and saying to people "he's got it, he's really got it, he's nailed the history so well". I just felt immense pride.

You actually spoke to Danny Boyle for a short time - as there were 1,000 of you, how did you manage that, and how did you get your photo (I have seen your facebook page!) taken  standing next to him)?

I looked on Wikipedia and saw that his mother came from the same small village in Ireland that my Mother came from, so as children we’d holidayed in the same place. He's also - like me - from (near) Manchester and moved to London in the 80's.  He was at the end of our row of seats in the stadium one day.   I had a sheet of paper in my pocket with a monologue from Julius Caesar that I was trying to learn for a drama school audition.  I HATE asking for autographs but I thought "I really want this one".  So I sidled along and asked him to sign it - he started chatting to me about it (I had a nightmare that night - MY GOD, DID HE THINK I WAS AUDITIONING TO HIM - AAAGH!!) and then we chatted for a few minutes - just one of the nicest guys I've met.  

The photo?  Someone from County Kent (we were divided into county groups, there were 50 of us in Kent and we had a marked area of the “green and pleasant land” that was our responsibility to transform; it also meant we got to know each other very well as we always worked by County) saw me chatting and took the photo - I could have kissed him!
Danny Boyle’s vision for this - was it inspired?

YES - everything he does is inspired!

Describe your feelings as you walked into the arena?

 It's weird as you walk into the arena!  A bit of background.....We'd done 2 dress rehearsals that week in front of a full stadium so while you couldn't say you were getting used to it, it really wasn't as scary as you'd think. We'd been in costume for about 3 hours and just done the half hour walk from the costume area so you're actually starting to flag a bit but at the same time the adrenalin is starting to really pump.

 The costume area - Eaton Manor, where the Paralympics tennis will take place - was definitely one of the most bizarre places I have ever seen in my life and needs a book to be written about what it saw that week.  Huge white tents containing 500 working men blacking up with industrial grime and changing into "working clothes" - segregated (i.e. separate tent) from the "working women" getting into their petticoats and bonnets and boots - segregated from 500 nurses changing into all in one body stockings, blue uniforms, heavy makeup and 40's style hair nets - segregated from - 1,000 "Thanks Tim" dancers changing into 60's, 70's, 80's, 90's and NOW disco gear. You'd go to the loo and be met by a group of Bowie's - 12 guys in electric blue spandex with full Aladdin Sane make up - get a bottle of water and crash into the Doves (the people on bikes with the huge white wings), then walk round the corner into the green faced, black feathered Dementors from the Harry Potter books. And everywhere this huge camaraderie and excitement, everywhere colour and shouts and laughing - we clapped each other in and out as each group came and went.

Anyway back to Vom 3 (the tunnel leading onto the FOP).

Stop right there, Declan!  My readers may not understand Voms and FOPS! 

OK, I'll stop being an arse; Vom is short for Vomitarium (apparently where we get the word VOMIT from as in Roman times, gladiators would be sick before they went into the arena). There are 6 Voms in the Olympic stadium, our group entered from Vom 3 onto the Field of Play - the "stage" or "FOP". We all had In- Ear Monitors and could hear all the music and Shakespeare through our IEM's - we all knew our cues and how long we had.  It got strangely quiet in the Vom,  just the odd shout of "let's do this";  "come on"  or "my f***ing radio has bust".  You'd also hear occasional instructions from Steve, the head of MASS - the Mass Movement Team who co-ordinated all the entrances and exits. Finally Kenneth Brannagh finishes the words from The Tempest and we hear the words  "Standby Strike..." followed by  "Strike GO"  and off we march.

I didn't REALLY notice the audience at first because you're concentrating on marching on in time and listening desperately for the cue for the first piece of choreography (a series of 16 movements known as "levers pull"). You're concentrating really hard because you know it looks so good when everyone strikes out their right arm (to pull back the first "lever" movement) at exactly the same time. The noise of the drummers is beautiful and deafening, you're filled with excitement and pride and then you're up the steps and "striking" the Green and Pleasant Land" set and transforming it into the Pandemonium of the Industrial Revolution. Exhilarating and genuinely hard work - the sweat at the end is very real!

Hard work!  But was it fun as well?

Incredible fun - we were paired off into smaller groups and I met one of the funniest guys I have ever met, an engineer called Ben from Derbyshire. I think he insulted every nation on the earth without once being offensive. I think only Northerners can get away with this, I think it's the cheeky laugh we do as we let the insults fly. For example, we passed a group of waiting athletes when we came off, they were beginning to queue for the Parade - Ben started high fiving them as if he'd just won a Gold Medal - he spies the Argentinian flag and exclaims "Argentina! Yay! You're not getting those Islands back" and chuckles off into the night.    Great fun, the best fun I've had in a long time.

You live in London, but what time did you get home?  I mean what happened afterwards?

We decamped to the pub about 11pm. We had to go straight back to Eaton Manor, collect our clothes and things and exit the Olympic Park as there was a huge exclusion zone around the Stadium for the Fireworks. Miraculously we found a pub in Stratford where we could watch the athlete's parade. We got to keep our costumes so a lot of people wanted pictures with us. Fame!  We left there about midnight and watched the amazing fireworks from a very unglamorous bridge near the tube station. Brilliant view.   I must have left about 1.30 am after many heartfelt, tearful goodbyes. We had worked and played together for 3 months and we had played a part in creating something rather beautiful. We were proud, happy and sad. I cycled back from Stratford to Brixton in full costume, no-one took ANY notice of me, and I just looked like another London eccentric. I got home about 3 am, exhausted, and immediately sat down to watch the Opening Ceremony on my laptop. Remember, we hadn't actually seen ANY of the TV coverage.  I was so proud of the whole thing. Strange, beautiful and funny.  Danny Boyle often says "I'm just a story teller". Well he's a bloody good story teller in my opinion.

I know you are proud to have been part of this.  How proud? a) makes you smile all day b) chest nearly popping out of T-shirt  c) want to take up shouting from rooftops?  Seriously, Declan – how do you feel now it’s all over?

 Deeply, deeply proud and a huge sense of gratitude and privilege.

And your final memory, please.

Final memory - driving my speedboat down the Thames to the David Holmes soundtrack. Some people said I looked a little like David Beckham, I think I looked far better. Don't know who the woman was up front with the Torch but she kept hogging the limelight.

Was that you?   hahaha! 

Thanks so much Declan for sharing this so quickly after the excitement, it's been a pleasure to talk to you!

 You are very, very welcome Sue.

(copyright - Declan Cooke)

So..... a privilege for me too, to get Declan's thoughts like that. 

Here's a link to a YouTube mini film, so if you want to see how the magic was created... this may help.  and there are loads more clips there, too!

Saturday, 28 July 2012

Olympic Opening Ceremony - London 2012. What a start!

 Well, well, well! - And it did turn out well!  It's a lovely thing to feel proud of your own folk at a time when the world is going to hell in a handcart;  and last night was a time to forget the wars, the bad bankers, the recession too,  and look at the vision of film maker Danny  Boyle.   Celebrating Britishness with all our quirkyness was there, a few gasp out loud moments which is always nice and then the lighting of the flame which took my breath away!

I loved the "dark satanic mills" chimneys rising from the "green and pleasant land", with Mr Brunel overseeing the developments, and the olympic rings forged from the steel of those dark satanic mills.  Hate Mr Bean myself, but apparently the world knows and loves him and that 5 minutes with Simon Rattle and the orchestra - just inspired!  The Queen actually starring in a little spoof with Mr Bond - again, inspired!  The Mary Poppins's; the doves on bycycles - and at last, our David (Beckham) at the helm of a fabulous speed boat up the Thames with the flame to be delivered to Sir Steve Redgrave to take inside the stadium to light the cauldron.  And did you see all those people in hard hats clapping him on throught the bowels of the stadium?  The people who built it, thats who they were!

The group of people holding the Olympic flag too - just how did he pursuade them to do that?  So lovely to see Doreen Lawrence - who has fought for justice following the death of her son for so long;  Mohamid Ali (who could only touch) - and the others too.  What a group.

Then the cauldron.  A scene stealer and no mistake.  Every team led by the flag bearer and a child holding a copper cup.  TV announcers sworn to silence so that we didn't know what those cups were for until the penny dropped right at the end....and then, the lighting of the flame not by a famous Olympian of the past, but by those of the future!  This was better than Barcelona and it's  flaming arrow which has been my favourite up until now.  A masterpeice of design and a real "WOW!" moment. 

It is always a joy to see all those nations entering the arena with smiles on their faces, and sometimes bewilderment - in the case of tiny countries, more people in the stadium than the population of their country!  The costumes, the smiles, the cameras, the joy they feel.  Some famous already, some with their fame to come.  Saluting you all from my sofa!

Mr Mac agrees and said last night in Glasgow parlance "I wasn't looking forward to this at all - but it was Pure dead brilliant!And do you know what?  He was absolutely right! 

Monday, 9 July 2012

Not quite Fire and Brimstone - but the result of just one small storm in Dorset last weekend for the Macs...

 We live at the top of a hill, so you’d think that we'd have no trouble with flooding, wouldn't you?  Our garden slopes down towards the house, and when we moved in, we decided (as the house is an old cottage with no damp course)  that we should do something about it.  The builder said "what you need is a soakaway".  So we had a massive hole dug, and into that hole went two open cages full of flints (weight around 10 tons) before the soil was replaced.  Along the edge of the house had been an old  border,mostly weeds, and the soil sat against the house.  So that was all dug out, the area paved and waterproofed, a drain put in the middle, which fed any rainfall to the soakaway.  Brilliant!
Well, mostly.  This area is about about 20 ft x 5 ft, and 9 inches deeper than the sheds that abut the house, and the path between this paved area and the rest of the garden, so when it rains a lot, it's like a swimming pool until it's all been taken up by the soak-away.  (The important thing is that it doesn't leak, so keeps the house dry).  However, for the first time since we have lived here, an Amber warning from the Met Office for Saturday fulfilled its promise, and when I got up on Saturday morning, the water was lapping at the house wall, and thus the kitchen door and the shed doors.  One shed has garden tools and loads of logs, and the other has a spare freezer, the tumble dryer, and shelves of paint, cleaning stuff etc. Another inch, and it would be knocking on the front door, too! 
Nothing for it but to get rid of some.  Put on my trusty waterproof mac over my nightshirt, and bare footed, set off to attempt a bailout.  Three buckets and the washing up bowl later, I used the bowl as a scoop, and John took the filled buckets out to the road and tipped each one into the gutter when no cars were passing.  We probably removed 50 gallons of water by hand to bring the level of the water down about 1.5 inches.  After a hot shower and dry clothes we went out for a hosepipe so that we could run a little pump and get the water out to the road.  Our thinking was that it would take several hours of severe rain to fill that 1.5 inches back up again. 
Left the house in the car to go to a country store, where we could get hosepipe, new wellies, a larger pump etc and then realised that the roundabout at the bottom of our hill was flooded, so it took 20 minutes to do a one minute drive, and we turned off early to get to a garden centre instead of the country store where we successfully found new wellies and plenty of hosepipe.  Got home, fixed hose to mini-pump and started it off. 
Meanwhile, out in the street, one of our neighbours was out with his (very unreliable) dog.  He offered us a hand to bail out more water, and  as John walked towards him, the dog bit him.  When I asked the guy if he had a muzzle, he said yes, but not today!  I was ready to bite a nail in half I was so angry, but all he said was “Do you want a hand or not?”.  Luckily the bite wound, on the shin, didn't go as deep as the bone, although quite large, so washed it with diluted bleach, and would have left then for the hospital which is about 20 minutes drive except that due to the flooded roundabout in Bridport  the traffic was backed up around 4 miles and then you have no idea whether or not you can get back home. ..... 
Anyway, dog owner and wife assisted with many gallons of bailing out, and then another neightbour who we didn't know at all, arrived with a larger pump ! (Saviour!).  We got the level down even further, and then ran the newer pump all the rest of Saturday and overnight, finally switching it off when it’s intake was exposed to the air.  Thought and thought about why it took so long – but under the soil in the garden, which we know is about 6ft deep is solid clay, not water permeable, is it, so of course, is was just pushing the water back up the pipe from the soakaway.  During all of this a lady appeared in our garden pleading to use the toilet – a journey which we know takes about 20 minutes had taken them 2.5 hours, so pee stop and a cuppa were welcomed for this family of Canadians.
Sunday morning we set off early from home to go to A&E at Dorchester, to get the dog bite looked at.  The only village on the road between us and Dorchester is Winterborne Abbas, and it has a stream running along side the road..... which was a torrent at 8.30 am as the stream had more than burst its banks.  The village is still closed more than 24 hours later, and probably not open tomorrow, either. Stiill had to drive through it to get out the other side, and they closed the road within minutes of us going through. 
At the hospital all went well.  Full tetanus course in both buttocks for John and a week of antibiotics, but wound looking good and no sign of infection.  Home then, via a detour, and when we got to another village with a stream running through, guess what - it too had just burst its banks, and I suspect that it would be road closed again very shortly there.  Set off along a windy narrow country road that we know, expecting to have to pull in tight at the passing places - but didn't expect to be hit from behind when stationery! Looks as though the other driver's brakes locked.  He came off worse, lot of damage to his little motor, but not so much (superficially at least) to ours.  He declared he was at fault, and by the time we got home his insurance company was ringing and arranging pick up and hopefully repair of our SEAT Ibiza, and the dropping off of a hire car.  Our insurance company confirm that we loose nothing nor pay for anything, so that's good for us.
Our road (A35, a trunk road)  was definitely closed Sunday night, so quiet for us! And limited traffic today.  So.  You can see what one storm can do.  If you are not reading this in the UK, we described that lot as North American rain – have seen it over there like that, but here, we just don’t have the systems to take it.  North American storm drains are huge, ours are not, and finally, because I am old enough to say this – if we still had “hedgers and ditchers” (and yes there really used to be people who cleared the hedges, and dug the ditches out on a yearly basis) the flooding everywhere just might (might) not have been quite so bad. 
Lets hope for no more!

Friday, 6 July 2012

The title is "joyful rodent"

joyful rodent and isn't he just the happiest little fella.  What a fluke to have caught this on camera.  I purloined this from a friend on another site because, well, just because.  Enjoy.

Monday, 2 July 2012

Look! click on "Garden"!!

Some assorted pictures in my Garden section, which has been empty and waiting up till now.

Sunday, 1 July 2012

Gents - Warwick Collins

Beg, borrow, or steal a copy of this very short novel (140 pages only), and delight yourself! 

Ezekiel Murphy, a West Indian living in London with his wife, has a new job, as a lavatory attendant.  He joins his boss, Josiah Reynolds, and the other attendant Rastapharian Jason.  The three of them, West Indians all, concentrate on keeping the Gents clean, tidy, smelling sweet, and trying to prevent too much sex happening in the cubicles.  For this is a lavatory with a reputation - a fine place for "cottaging" (quick sex between consenting male adults, no questions asked).

But when the local council says that there have been complaints, they need to stop it altogether, and because they are rather too successful, their jobs may be at risk.  How they deal with this problem, and what happens to them is a short and wonderful journey about the human condition.  They speak the way they would speak at home in Jamaica - but you won't loose your way, the sentences are short, and easy to follow.

Published in 1997, this book needs more readers - now!

And today,12 Feb 2013 - I have sadly to record that Warwick Collins, only in his early 60's, has died so now I insist that you read Warwick's little gem.  He himself thought it a lost classic, and got it republished.  Read it.  Comment please if you loved it (or even if you didn't).  Here's a link to a lovely blog obituary of Warwick Collins:

Early One Morning - Virginia Baily

I was attracted to this novel purely by the cover (as I suppose this is meant to happen!) and it has very little about the contents on the b...