How does the Olympics make you feel?

News reaches me that the authorities plan to use the London Eye to project a Twitter snapshot of how the nation feels about the Olympics every night the games are on.

What colour the wheel changes to and how much of it is lit up will reflect an analysis of millions of UK tweets for whether they are broadly positive or broadly negative.

Which strikes me as a bit of a gamble. Presumably the object is to show that people are enjoying the endeavour, but my own sense is that most aren’t. There are two people in particular in my Facebook timeline who are enthusiastic about the Olympics, but then they both have jobs at the games and so Mandy Rice Davies applies. Everyone else is spectacularly Eeyorish about it, as this wonderful New York Times piece explains:

LONDON — While the world’s athletes limber up at the Olympic Park, Londoners are practicing some of their own favorite sports: complaining, expecting the worst and cursing the authorities.

Asked “What do you feel about the Olympics?” the other day, a random sampling of people here gave answers that included bitter laughter; the words “fiasco,” “disaster” and “police state”; and detailed explanations of how they usually get to work, how that is no longer possible and how very unhappy that makes them.

The piece goes on to describe the Daily Mail as having the unofficial motto “What Fresh Hell is This?”

One of the main reasons for emulating the anhedonic donkey is there are just so many reasons why the Olympics might make you feel grumpy: the London focus; the cost to the taxpayer; the militarisation; the sponsors (“some of the worst corporations in the world“; the stuff about brand protection – whether or not true; and the exhortation only to write nice things about the Olympic website.

I am hardly the person to be objective on the issue of the Olympics as I don’t actually like sport of any kind at all – and yet even I have been a little tempted to try and get tickets to something to see what all the fuss is about. Far less to actually watch any sport happening – I really don’t give a rat’s ass – but I am quite keen to see what all the fuss is and see the Olympic Park from a urban planning perspective. It featured on Gardener’s Question Time and sounded interesting. I’ve visited, for example, Munich’s Olympic Park, mainly to climb the Olympiaturm, and that piqued my interest. How long will it be – if ever – before London’s Olympic Park is opened to a wider public? Will anyone ever be able to climb the crumpled rollercoaster without an event ticket, or will the whole thing be dismantled and boarded up as soon as the Paralympics wheel out of town? (Loads of tickets left for the Paralympics, if you wanted to get to see the site and/or experience the Arabfly Dangleway.)

When the torch came to town, I did sort of go and see what all the fuss was about – by being a bellringer for the occasion as the torch came past one of the churches I ring at regularly anyway. I was grudgingly impressed by the huge number of people who turned out to see it, and the city was incredibly fortunate with the weather – just hours before, rain had beaten the torch back into the van in Mansfield, soaking dozens of the kids I taught a few months ago, and yet in Nottingham the glorified cigarette lighter got blazing sunshine.

It’s just my abiding thought about all of the trappings of the Olympics – the torch parade, the park, the building projects, the precision of the planning, which has taken hundreds of people to do, the faffing in the regions – is that this is all something of a huge waste of human endeavour. What could be achieved if all this money and good will could be put to use for something more worthwhile?

But then that is what I think about sport more generally, so perhaps I’m not the best placed person to judge. And it’s not as if I have any actual suggestions as to what that more productive thing might be, so perhaps I should just shut up and let the enthusiasts get on with it all.


Speculoos / Spekulaas

I only really know about Speculoos biscuits as an accompaniment of espresso or café coffee. Order a coffee, and get a lovely little spicy biscuit wrapped in plastic. I’d mostly thought of it as a ginger sort of thing.

If you like your speculoos enough, you can buy the same biscuits they use in cafés here on Amazon.

Also recently Time to Cook Online Blog gave a recipe for making your own Spekulaas biscuits, based on a Dutch recipe, where they are common. In the Netherlands, you can buy the spice mix, but elsewhere you just have to make it yourself. I’m not rushing to do it because either my pestle and mortar are not very good or my technique is poor – it goes all over the place! I’m not in a hurry to grind cloves by hand.

Interestingly, Time to Cook does not list ginger as one of the spices in the mix – but the Wikipedia page does.

Jar of spread with red and white labelThe reason for my renewed interest was a trip to a French hypermarket while we were in Normandy last week. In addition to the classy French food and booze and the crate full of French stationery destined for the classroom we bought, we also strayed in the “Pâté à tartiner” aisle where there are things to spread onto baguettes for French children’s tea time. We swooped on some Cora own brand white chocolate spread and then eagle-eyed P also spotted some Speculoos spread.

Once we got home we found it’s delicious! It almost has the colour and grainy texture of peanut butter but is sweet and spicy. The jar will not last long in our house and it’s all we can do to remember to spread it on bread and not just eat it out of the jar with a spoon. I haven’t seen it in UK supermarkets, but you can buy it on eBay. (Also available in crunchy!)

Whilst searching for the spread, I also found on Amazon this Speculoos syrup – similar, I suppose to the sort of syrup Starbucks use to make a gingerbread lattè. Another suggestion for its use is to flavour whipped cream. Delicious suggestion.

Photo credit – Charles01. PS is it ok to link to images hosted on wikipedia or do I have to copy them?

Non fic stories

Most of what I read for pleasure is fiction, and almost all of that, for almost all of the time I have been an independent reader, has been detective stories of one sort or another.

But in the last few years, I have started to branch out a bit into reading non-fiction for pleasure. And there’s a sort of new genre I have come across – or at least new to me – of a weird sort of travelogue / nonfic hybrid. Nonfic authors essentially writing stories that happen to be true, but have the readability of fiction. And maybe also footnotes.

The first I really bumped into were Mary Roach. I can’t now remember why I started reading her, but her books are brilliant, about all sorts of unsavoury subjects. There’s Stiff, about cadavers (which I also talked about for Pod Delusion here) Bonk, about sex and Spook about scientific investigations into the afterlife – one I didn’t enjoy quite so much. In all of these, Roach travels about the globe, meets people and then writes about the journey and the discussions.

I suppose the king of all of this genre is probably Bill Bryson. For some reason I have resisted reading almost anything by him, although I did dip into A short history of almost everything on honeymoon and did rather enjoy Notes from a Small Island, in which Bryson travels around Britain, meets people and then writes about the journey and the discussions.

Then the latest discovery is Jon Ronson, of whom I had previously not heard, but someone (probably Kayray) tweeted about his book The Psychopath Test, and I, being for some reason at a low resistance (ie tired, under the influence) popped over to Amazon and bought it. Most weeks there are a scary flood of parcels coming through the letter box of things I only dimly remember buying. And there are now two versions of Mt Toberead – the Kindle version and the print version…

Whilst on holiday, a brief moment of time away from our wonderful hosts while he wired his new sound system and she showed P around the garden and got him to take cuttings, left me alone in my room with my book for a few hours. So far, so good, and so I turned to Jon Ronson. And finished it in two sittings – three hours then and a few more on the return ferry from France.

It’s a book in which Jon Ronson travels around the world, meets people including psychopaths and mental health professionals, and then writes about the journey and the discussions. It’s fascinating and worrying, takes in the corporate world, Scientologists and Broadmoor. And eminently readable. So, at the end of the book, when the Kindle automatically suggested I might like also to read the Men Who Stare At Goats, I added that to the mountain.