Vir Cantium

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Category Archives: Culture & Sport

So When did the #Olympics Become a Religion?

I can’t help but be amused by this bit of Olympic news today:

London 2012 Olympics: Empty seats on the opening day prompts investigation

An investigation has been launched by the London 2012 organisers Locog after banks of empty seats were evident in multiple sporting venues on the opening day of the Games.

It looks like the sponsors are not using all their tickets. Incredible, isn’t it, that anyone would not want to go? It’s the Olympics!

Which reminds me of this earlier outrage:

Olympic relay torches put up for auction by bearers

Dozens of Olympic torches are for sale online as torchbearers are prepared to part with their prized relay memento.

The news has prompted much debate as to whether it is right that torchbearers, who were nominated for their achievements, sporting contributions and community work, should be allowed to sell their torches and uniforms after the event.

Ms Milner Simonds, from Burnham-on-Sea, told BBC Breakfast it only occurred to her on Saturday night that she could sell the torch and she was dismayed people who objected to her decision had started sending her unpleasant emails.

The theme that runs through these two stories is the apparent shock being expressed by some, that some of their fellow citizens are not fully signed up to the euphoria and blind devotion to the ‘Olympic Values’ that £9bn of our money is apparently meant to engender in us all.

Put to one side the irony that such a blatantly commercial operation as the Games should be somehow incompatible with participants looking to make a few bob (in some cases, not even for themselves, but their favourite charity). Put also out of your mind the incongruity of preaching the fluffy peace love and understanding  stuff, while at the same time seeing the Olympic authorities try to silence rivals with the zeal of an organised crime syndicate. Heck, even linking to LOCOG’s website in less than complementary terms is apparently against that site terms of use (see clause 5). The fascist numpties.

Blind devotion to a movement and its ‘values’, incomprehension that others may not share your beliefs, over-the-top responses to those who actually step out of your arbitrary parameters of acceptable behaviour … when did the Olympics turn into what is – by most definitions – a religion?

Its followers even have their own knee-jerk reactions to blasphemy against the faith:

PM urged to act over Games tweet MP
David Cameron is facing mounting pressure to condemn a Tory MP who branded the Olympic opening ceremony “leftie multicultural crap”. One post read: “The most leftie opening ceremony I have ever seen – more than Beijing, the capital of a communist state! Welfare tribute next?” Shortly afterwards he added: “Thank God the athletes have arrived! Now we can move on from leftie multi-cultural crap. Bring back red arrows (sic), Shakespeare and the Stones!”…

Labour frontbencher Michael Dugher said: “David Cameron should show some leadership and demand a full apology from Aidan Burley immediately. Burley has got form. His comments were stupid, ignorant and offensive.”

Actually, released from the 140 character strait-jacket, I think Burley has done a good job of explaining his views, but that will not satisfy the followers of the Olympic faith, or indeed that other great untouchable religion which formed one of the centre-pieces of the opening ceremony: the NHS (pbut).

P.S. For what it’s worth, I think the ceremony, from a technical viewpoint, was excellent (but then with the amount of our money Boyle had to play with, it damn well should have  been). Clearly it’s some of the choices of content I have issue with; whichever side of the debate they’re on, most people would accept that the NHS is a politically sensitive subject – so it should not have been dropped into the middle of such a ceremony.


Why A 30% Cut To The Arts Council Isn't Enough

Ed Vaizey MP

Ed Vaizey: Fighting the Good Fight

In today’s Telegraph, Rupert Christiansen argues that …

courage and quality should be rewarded

… when it comes to funding the arts. Ah, so clearly he opposes state arts funding and allowing audiences themselves to decide what’s worth supporting.


Within Jeremy Hunt’s Department of Culture, Media and Sport, Ed Vaizey is the junior minister with special responsibility for the arts.

I can tell that he is not a happy bunny.

I have never seen anyone who looks as bored, truculent and uneasy as he does. I guess he hates the job and that either he has lost all interest in the arts themselves and is sick of their acolytes shouting abuse at him, or else he doesn’t really believe in the regime of cuts he has been charged to execute.

As a father of two small children who can do their fair bit of whining and moaning, I would have every sympathy with Ed Vaizey if he’s tiring of the shroud waving and teeth-gnashing of the arts establishment.

As it happens, I don’t entirely support the “regime of cuts” … because they don’t go far enough.

Should this man have the power to decide which arts organisations receive grants from government?

No, because no arts organisation should receive grants from government simply to support their management or productions.

an Arts Council that keeps government at arm’s length from matters of artistic discrimination, remains the least bad option. I raise two cheers for its survival.

But the Arts Council, like it or not IS government, regardless of the niceties of the “arm’s length” arrangements. It is a pointless body.

The ACE will publish its judgements at the end of March. The process of culling must be agonising, and I don’t suppose there will be positively good news for many. But I hope that success will be rewarded without fear or favour

The money must be fairly spread across centres of population, to ensure that everyone has reasonable annual access to some opera, ballet, theatre, classical music and contemporary art.

Firstly, we’re not talking about A&E services here; ensuring access across geographical areas is not essential.  Secondly, why do “we” think people must have access to “contemporary art” or ballet? The apparent altruistic tones of the arts establishment often belies a snobbery that they alone are the best judges of what is required for the cultural nourishment of the great unwashed.

Size of audiences is not a criterion: it’s assessment of quality that should be paramount, subjective though this may be.

Bingo; there is the fundamental problem. Morally you should seek to maximise the audience, because they have all (by and large) been coerced into paying for said productions. Any official judgement of what is quality can only ever be a poor attempt to reflect the wisdom of the audience as a whole, so let’s leave it to them; if it’s good enough, they’ll pay to see it, if it isn’t then it certainly doesn’t warrant state funding.

Through education and outreach programmes, the arts can do their bit to offer uplifting opportunities to disturbed youths, deprived housing estates and the sick and elderly.

True, but then it’s not really arts funding; its funding for services for youth, the deprived (of what?) the sick and elderly and should be judged on those outcomes alongside other non-arts based policies and programmes – and that won’t involve an Arts Council nationally or locally.

But the arts do not have value only as extensions of the welfare state. They do not merit our attention or a tiny tithe of our taxes because they make us good citizens or even because they cheer us up. They must be supported simply because they are the supreme expression of our humanity.
Imagine a world without art, imagine a nation without plays, orchestras or paintings. Imagine a people who did not sing or write poetry or have any concept of beauty. You cannot.

No I cannot imagine such a world. Arts are a natural by-product of human civilisation. In other words, they would happen – and have happened for millennia – without public subsidy, be it from a tiny tithe or otherwise.

To be fair, though, there is quite  a bit in the article that I agree with, such as the use of Arts Lottery money (which at worst I am agnostic about, since the money was given voluntarily), and the piece ends on a question whose sentiment I can very much agree with….

And, remind me, what exactly does a Minister for the Arts do anyway?

… not least because for “arts” one can substitute a plethora of government functions.

Calm Down, Chaps, It's Only The #Ashes

Can I just say to my Conservative brethren up in Westminster: calm down.

Just because Ponting and his schoolboy XI think we’re all whinging poms doesn’t mean we have to reinforce the stereotype.

Australia Big Ben Ashes cricket stunt ‘illegal’

Westminster Council has threatened legal action after a taunting slogan was beamed on to Big Ben by Australia’s cricket team ahead of the Ashes.

Images of cricketers Ricky Ponting and Michael Clarke were projected on to the tower with the message for the England team: “Don’t forget to pack the urn.”

In fact, something similar on the Sydney Opera House would be a more appropriate response, methinks. I’m sure we can leave it to the Barmy Army to come up with something more original than “It’s OK Ricky, we didn’t bother bringing the urn”.

In Full: Coverage of the Future World Cup/Championship/Olympics*

(* delete as appropriate or insert sport of choice.)

Anchorman: So it’s over now to the Excuse-Making Championship Final, we’re they are about to start, and down there is former Excuse-Making national skipper, and legend, Nick Complainer.

Nick Complainer: Many thanks Adrian, though I don’t know about legend … they always had it in for us during my time, but yes, here we are at the final of the World Excuse-Making championships. An event that the Great Britain team have always been strong at. I’m joined here in the commentary box by our old Glaswegian friend and former professional touchline whinger John Macdonald. John, how do you see things going this afternoon?

John Macdonald: Well Nick, as you say, Britain is the side to beat when it comes to making excuses for losing. Here we are looking to make it an unbroken run of two, no three …

NC: Yes, three

JM: … yeah, three decades of taking the trophy for having world-class reasons why it wasn’t our fault we lost. And here they come, another strong side fielded today. They have swept all before them in this tournament. They’ve literally given 200% this year.

NC: And what a few weeks it’s been John. As usual the Americans didn’t get far this year. Their strategy was an odd one – pointing out to everyone the number of Olympic medals they’ve won.

JM: Yes, very strange – this isn’t a sport that the Americans have ever quite got the hang of, is it Nick?

NC: No John, perhaps they’re more used to their own adaptation of the game. Of course, they do have a habit of making up their own versions of our sports and then claiming themselves world champions because no-one else actually plays them.

JM: Ha ha. Nick, those are the words of a true former captain of the British excuse making squad. Bit of the old Eighties magic there for the listeners.

NC: Ah, happy days John, Happy days.

And here we go, with the British captain starting with the classic opener, talking about the weather and saying that these aren’t the best conditions for play.

JM: Indeed, we’ll be hoping for an early breakthrough – a dodgy refereeing decision will be ideal at this point.

NC: Absolutely, and – I don’t believe it – you’re psychic abilities are on top form today John. It’s only a yellow card, but the interruption to play will smack of gamesmanship to team GB.

JM: The manager is looking now to capitalise on that early boost, and is tugging on the opposing side’s shirts, saying that the grey colour makes them near invisible, even on this clear sunny day, playing on the lush green pitch.

NC: Now he’s a canny one, our manager, and he’ll be keeping the colour of the grass in reserve in his tactical box of tricks.

JM: No sooner have you said that Nick and there is Geoff Cricketer on the outfield, blaming the pitch, claiming it’s a badly prepared wicket and how his grandmother could have done a better job of t’ rolling – there he is pointing out the cracks around the popping crease. Oh, but he’s being challenged by the Australian, whose saying that the other side had to bat on the same wicket and still made 500.

NC: Not to worry though John, the ‘keepers done a good job there with the old standby – there he is running around angrily saying “We Woz Robbed”.

JM: Yep, good save there, Nick. That’s the sort of blind indignation that has got us out of trouble a good few times in the past.

NC: The British fans are on good form today, keeping those flash bulbs going, putting off the players.

JM: Yes, Nick, you can’t underestimate the value of an enthusiastic fan base. And just as Team GB wanted, the umpire’s being slow to ask for no flash photography which has now given Tim Robinson a chance to complain. Nicely played.

NC: There’s Gary Striker now, trying to position himself in front of the Argentinian, trying to force a foul or handball, whilst simultaneously making it difficult for the ref to actually be sure.

JM: That’s a very difficult move that, but he is showing why he is the consummate professional here today, and now the ref will have to give the benefit of the doubt to the Argentinian.

NC: And Team GB are building on that run, asking if the ref’s name sounds a bit Spanish to you. There’s Kevin Redtop on the wing, doing the nudging and winking.

JM: I think today’s ref’s actually Portuguese Nick.

NC: Well, it’s all the same innit?

JM: Sounds like you’d rather be back out there again Nick.

NC: Ah, us old players never really retire, we just move to the back pages.

(Later …)

NC: Well, we now have just a few minutes left, and things aren’t looking too good, John – could we be about to see Britain’s record broken here?

JM: Well Nick, that new move from the Frenchman did outflank us – complaining that we were playing by the rules when they normally ignore them was something we haven’t seen before.

NC: Indeed John, but wait … yes, the British side have made a sudden match-winning break … yes, indeed, they are now pointing out those players on their own side who are from north of the border … yes, Team Great Britain have, on the fly, renamed themselves Team Scotland. What outstanding play. And that’s the final whistle, and so England have now extended their record run of 31 years without losing a contest of making excuses for losing.

JM: Eh, what?

NC: So John, you must be very disappointed at the performance of the Scottish team today.

JM: Och, it’s no bother Nick – we’ll just blame the English as usual.

[I can give you my word of honour that I wrote this some months ago, before they started moaning about the FIFA football being used in the World Cup. No, really I did!]

Football Heresy

Followers of the religion of the pig’s bladder should look away now, or risk a coffee/keyboard incident.

It seems that people will be pulling sickies at work, some schools might close early,and some on the radio this morning are even asking if the organisers of Wimbledon will be providing updates for the crowd of the England vs. Slovakia Serbia Slovenia game.

For pity’s sake. It’s only a game.

After all it’s not like it’s something important, like the two minutes silence, the Coronation, or the last day of the deciding test of an Ashes series ….

Arts Gratis

Suppose your business is having trouble attracting a particular section of your potential market, or simply wants to expand that market. You know that one big problem is the price of your goods or services.

Do you:

(a) Look at your costs and cut your prices?
(b) Make more of an effort in marketing your wares?
(c) Go cap in hand to the government for a handout?

Well, most businesses have to make do with either (a) and/or (b). Not however, if you are the sacred cow that is the theatre.

Government backs free ticket plan
Up to 95 publicly-funded theatres across England are to offer free tickets to young adults as part of a £2.5m government-funded scheme.

This is in the name of the mantra of “access”. No-one, not least on the publicly-funded BBC (strangely enough), has asked why cinemas, for instance, have not found the need to suckle at the teat of the State, even though their ticket prices are not always cheap either, especially in the West End.

One would have thought that if the theatres are producing what younger people want to see, at reasonable prices, then they shouldn’t need subsidies to survive. If on the other hand, they are producing things which don’t interest their audiences, or at inflated prices, then why should the taxpayer stump up for something that the theatre-going public themselves don’t think is value for money?

I just trust that next time (say) Peter Gabriel goes on tour, I can have some “free” tickets. After all, this is Brown’s fairer Britain, is it not?

Eurovision's Coming

Ah, Eurovision. Who needs by-elections when you get all the excitement of an early hours election count, but combined with cheesy music and thinly veiled medieval tribalism to boot?

Now I know it’s a joke over here. After all, if anyone has any real talent they have half the global music industry based in the U.K. to pick them up and make a few bob out of them, but to our neighbours beyond the White Cliffs, Eurovision is where it’s at.

Even so, it’s good old fashioned patriotism and racial brotherhood that is more than a passing factor in the Eurovision voting, especially since nowadays it’s all done by the viewers.

The trouble for Eurovision itself is that the major broadcasters, such as the BBC, make significant contributions to the running of the contest, in return for which the British acts get a free pass to the finals. Without the likes of Auntie, the thing would possibly collapse.

Now I am not a fan of Pop Factor, X Idol, Britain’s Got (No) Talent or any of the other reality talent shows, but I suspect, judging by their popularity, Eurovision would still garner some audience over here. I’ll be honest, though, if it wasn’t for Terry Wogan liberally pouring on the sarcasm, it just wouldn’t do it for me – and a good few others I suspect. Sadly, it’s a fact of life that Ol’ Tel won’t be around forever, and unless they can replace him with the likes of, say, Jack Dee or Bill Bailey, then that’s it for me. So if Terry goes, it will dent the audience, which makes it a bit harsh for the director of Eurovision television to complain about the tone of the Togmeister’s coverage. Of course, to be the boss of Eurovision I guess you have to take the thing unnaturally seriously, but does he not realise that without Terry, he might lose one of his major stakeholders? (Actually, he probably doesn’t care: he knows that the BBC, being just a teensy bit pro-European in its outlook, would probably still find the cash somewhere milk the licence payer for the necessary.)

So, where was I going with this? Ah yes, the voting. As a low-ranking psephological anorak, I have given some passing thought to how to sort out the Eurovision voting. Eurovision should be taking the voting problem more seriously because sooner or later, some of the old Europe nations, who do still think the Eurovision is where it’s at, will get fed up and take their balls with them.

Here’s my solution: regional finals, followed by the main final where each country still votes as at present, except they are barred from voting for their region’s entry – in the same way that they cannot vote for their own country’s entry now. That would put paid to the Balkans, Baltics or Scandinavians voting for each other. The sticking point would be drawing up the regions to be roughly equal in number of countries. We could take advantage here and do the football/rugby thing and send up four separate entries (or maybe six, including CI and IOM) – so we could possibly scrape together a British Isles region.

Anyway, problem solved. Next!