By Tony Stafford
Last Saturday night, the Opening Ceremony fireworks shook my house. Last night, in the space of an hour, three gold medal athletics triumphs could be heard coming across the River Lea, so near am I to the stadium. I didn’t actually hear it, but my wife upstairs and newly returned from Cuba, did.
Peering now through the gap between the two low-level blocks opposite me and just before the river I can see that strange red thing, which in turn is next to the stadium, which I can’t see from here. Eighty thousand people, and maybe just a few dozen trailed their way past our place late in the evening.
The rest of them go different ways, and I had caught sight of a good few more as we made our way on Friday night to Tesco at Bromley-by-Bow.
So near and so far: like the promised traffic chaos. I came back from my weekly Thursday morning at Manton expecting to be marooned in the centre lane along the Marylebone and Euston roads while the buses and cabs hogged the inside and those Olympics people, those of the unused blocks of tickets, enjoyed the outside lane with its five rings and £130 fines.
In normal times it’s a nuisance of a road. On Thursday, and again on Friday and Saturday after Goodwood, it was a serene experience, TFL (Transport for London) - yes we get our own traffic body! – and the Met Police reacting so quickly to concerns, that all three lanes were available.
Almost every time I’ve been travelling, lanes have been opening in contrast to the original plan, and the only people who seem to be unhappy are the shopkeepers and theatres around the West End. One friend, who has a shoe shop in Baker Street actually made the web site and the paper itself complaining at the lack of passing trade. Sorry Lorraine, it’ll soon be back to normal.
So Seb Coe is not such an idiot after all. Now he’s kissed Jessica – can’t bear to call her Jess like everyone else, as that name will ever live in the person of Peaches Geldorf’s granddad – he’s guaranteed to get another honour. Lord just doesn’t do it, so how about the Duke of Stratford?
I only put Seb in the column to relate two stories about him, both of which are almost certainly true. My former Telegraph colleague Adrian Hunt was at a press reception when he – drink in hand no doubt – came into direct proximity with the great runner.
Adrian said, to the acute embarrassment of everyone in earshot: “You know I was so glad when you beat that xxxxxxx xxxx Sebastian Coe in the Olympics”.
The other is much funnier. Lord, or as he was then, Mr Coe was visiting the Royal Albert Hall one night and presented his credentials at one of the entry points.
The doorman looked at the ticket and said, in best jobs worth mode: “Sorry sir, this is the wrong entrance. You need to go round the other side”. To this our Seb said: “Don’t you know who I am?” The doorman, clearly enjoying the exchange, said, with straight face: “No sir.”
The future Lord Coe said: “I’m Sebastian Coe”, to which the in retrospect perfect rejoinder duly came. “Then it won’t take you long to get there, will it, sir?”
All those years later, it’s not taking any of us as long to get there or avoid it whichever is the plan. While those brilliant interpreters of the world, the media, have long been able to throw off their initial role as Jonahs – “Cavendish fails, Olympics a hideous waste of money” to become the whole-hearted celebrants of the cascade of gold medals.
Fair enough, but what about the swimmers? All that lottery cash, and all we got was some silver and bronze medals. Blow up the Aquatics Centre and the Copper Box and as for that penalty shoot-out! Actually, those young boys did very well, for all the predictably carping and grudging comments by Hansen and co.
I’m enjoying it so much, but one slight complaint is that there was virtually no way of finding out what was happening at the test match, one in which Kevin Pietersen had already got to 100 before I discovered that one of the innings of our time was being compiled.
I’m leaving for Newbury today at 11 a.m. so I can hear the first hour or so before my radio’s 720 AM channel disappears into the ether. Hope he gets to 200 and we go on to beat South Africa, who seem to have used up all their energy at the Oval and in the first half of the Headingley test.
I carry two mobile phones. My fairly new two-sim phone, bought lovingly by my wife for me on her latest trip to Moscow, does not accept the simcard for my own 3 phone, so I will continue to go with one empty slot until the contract for that one runs out, maybe in 2047. The 3 phone cuts out in the middle of most calls, and repeated attempts to get onto the Internet for some sports information (like the test) were doomed to failure. Yet I’ve just checked my monthly allowances and as usual was told “You have one thousand, twenty four units of internet allowance.” If I do, how the something something Duke of Stratford Coe do I get it? And where was the “and” in 1,024? Bloody Americanisms.
The Russian phone also defeats any attempt – by this technical dummy – to retrieve the wanted information and also cuts out at the most inappropriate times. Sometimes I forget that if I charge the 3 phone for too long, it de-charges, again spluttering incoherent at the worse moments.
For much of my life, I could go racing and be out of touch. True when I worked for the late Sheikh Mohamed Al Sabah – he of Pharaoh’s Delight - that’s one story I can never relate, unless you ask me nicely – fame, I was one of the first of my crowd with a mobile. He paid £3,000 for it!
Now you can’t dream of walking around without a phone. Thankfully I still don’t plonk it under some unsuspecting star’s mouth to capture ill-conceived words, or flash his face for a picture. But as I found yesterday after leaving my car at the Valet Parking at Goodwood only to realise as I got to the owners and trainers lounge that I’d left them in it, they can still be a pain.
I went back to the very busy reception area, and it took the combined efforts of three hard working gentlemen to retrieve them for me. My boss’s horse Catfish did not run to expectations: “She’s in season,” said Brian Meehan afterwards, “look how she’s lifting her tail”.
What a tart. It was not exactly fun to be reminded at 5 a.m. today of foiled expectations. The said Russian phone has a trick it plays with messages. I have one friend Glenn who once sent me a text which would then be repeated for up to a dozen times each day.
Somehow that stopped, but then the same Glenn, grateful last week for the suggestion that a certain horse might win – amazingly it did - sent another message, just a mysterious “x”. I thanked him for the message, wondered what it meant and was told: “that’s a kiss”. I reminded him of the previous saga, and full of contrition, promised never again and told me he was off to Thailand for a couple of weeks.
It wasn’t Glenn’s kiss that aroused me from my post-Olympic Super Saturday slumbers, but a message from our own Matt Bisogno, wishing Catfish luck. Thanks Matt, but don’t bother trying another. Love Tony x.