The UK goes supernova

The supermassive black holes are all that rema...

The supermassive black holes are all that remains of galaxies once all protons decay, but even these giants are not immortal. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A supernova is a colossal explosion of a star when the fuel within that star becomes too much to handle. When such a celestial event happens, the star shines brighter than an entire galaxy, but only for a celestial instant (a few weeks or months). During this time span, the star will burn more energy than our Sun will burn during its entire lifespan. Such events are uncommon. The last one observed in the Milky Way happened over 400 years ago.

In the wake of the star that has shone so brightly is left either a neutron star or a black hole. Neutron stars are tiny. One could fit in the area covered by Greater London. They are, however, very dense. One teaspoon of neutron star would weigh a billion tons. If the star going supernova is big enough, instead of ending its life as a neutron star, maybe it will become a black hole instead. Black holes are not seen. Black holes spend their time pushing the rest of the galaxy around in the background.

During the last year or so, I can’t help but feel that the UK has gone supernova. We have had a Royal Wedding. This year, not only have we have celebrated the 60th anniversary of Her Majesty the Queen taking the throne, but we have also witnessed the very first British winner of the Tour de France. To top it all off, London has been host to the Olympics – the first city ever to host the event for the third time. To add to that – we picked up our biggest medal haul ever.

Notwithstanding the Paralympic Games (which we are all looking forward to), there is a certain finality to this evening’s closing ceremony when we hand over the Olympic baton to Rio. After a glittering array of events on the horizon, we are back to life as usual. No Royal weddings to look forward to, no impending Royal anniversaries, no world-class sporting events.

As a nation, we will be coming down from a very big high.

When the cameras of the world are packed up and taken home, will the UK become a neutron star? Small, but full of substance and shining brightly. Or will the UK become a black hole? Almost invisible and only detectable by the effect of the country’s actions. Time will tell, but I fervently hope for the former rather than the latter.

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Are all gold medals equal?

English: Finland top-beachvolleyball player Ri...

English: Finland top-beachvolleyball player Riikka Lehtonen (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If you’d asked me how I felt about the Olympics a few days before the opening ceremony to London 2012, I probably would have shrugged my shoulders. To be honest I was a bit nonplussed with the whole event. After the triumphant opening ceremony, my interest started to grow.

Now after a whole week of competition, I am caught up in Olympic fever. I’ve been checking websites and watching coverage with the best of them. I regret not applying for tickets now. Some of the events leave me awestruck.

When I see the athletes leaping and pirouetting through the air in graceful somersaults one after another, it makes the hair stand up on the back of my neck. When I see a gymnast swinging at fantastic speed from bar to bar in the asymmetric bars, I watch transfixed. Somehow what they do seems so completely impossible that you expect them to fall at any moment.

When the guys on the rings hold themselves in the crucifix position before forcing themselves upwards slowly and gracefully, I find it hard to contemplate the strength and control that is required for such a manoeuvre. It’s not just the gymnastics. The synchronised diving takes my breath away. How can they perform such complicated dives and remain almost entirely in synch is beyond me. Lots and lots of practise I guess.

The endurance events like triathlon and marathon are also impressive but, because of their slower pace, they impress in a different way. The versatility required in the decathlon demands respect, and the swimming disciplines are exciting to watch. I’m a sucker for anything that floats, so I love the sailing, canoeing and rowing events.

When it comes to the beach volleyball, I can’t take it seriously. We already have proper volleyball, played on a court like we used to at school. Why do we need to have the game you play on the beach when you’re on holiday? I think it’s a sport which struggles to even take itself seriously. Maybe it’s the bikinis. Maybe it’s the bum-slapping after every point. Maybe it’s the Benny Hill music that plays in between games that sets it apart from all the other fine and noble sports that are part of the games.

Beach volleyball is entertaining to watch and I have no doubt that there is a lot of skill involved, and they need physical fitness, but does that put the sport at the same level as the others which seem so much more demanding? When I watch beach volleyball, I can’t quite shake the feeling that it’s a “sport” in which anyone could become proficient given the practise. When I look at the other events, they simply don’t seem that accessible.

The greatest show on Earth

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2012 Logo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When the winning city for the 2012 Olympics bid was announced in Singapore, Britain rejoiced for 24 hours. The following day, the 7/7 atrocity took place in the capital and the mood of the country flipped to sadness and anger. For a number of reasons, this Olympics will be etched into the memories of the host nation more than any other.

This is the 30th Olympiad and the 3rd occasion with London as the host nation. 4 years ago, it was Beijing and by any standards, the spectacular show the Chinese put on is crushingly difficult to follow. As always in the build up to such events, there have been wobbles along the way.

When Boris and Beckham in a bus rolled into the 2008 closing ceremony for the handover, I cringed. All Beckham had to do was kick a ball into a massive goal mouth and when he missed – I cringed again. It all looked so amateur in contrast to the drilled professionalism that surrounded them.

June 2011 - Aerial photo of the Olympic Park m...

June 2011 – Aerial photo of the Olympic Park main stadium and Orbit tower under construction (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Opening Ceremony for 2012 was a closely guarded secret. Indeed, when we took a helicopter over the Olympic park a few weeks before the ceremony, the flight restrictions were legion, apparently in place to stop photography of the rehearsals of the opening ceremony. Inside the stadium, there wasn’t much to be seen when we made our all too brief fly past. The base of the arena looked like the rolling fields of the British countryside.

We watched the opening ceremony nervously, hoping against hope that we didn’t embarrass ourselves on the world stage. we needn’t have worried – it was so good, we watched in again last night on BBC iPlayer. The opening was a bit shaky, with frolicking and wobbly Maypoles, but the choirs singing Jerusalem and Flower of Scotland raised the hairs on the back of my neck.

The Industrial Revolution kicked in and top hatted gentlemen in their hundreds made their way in. Uprooting trees and rolling back grass to make way for the vast belching chimneys. Pools of red-hot steel were poured into gullies to form large rings, Olympic rings. Once made whole, they were lifted skyward, triumphantly forming one of the most famous logos in the world.

A helicopter picked up James Bond and Her Majesty the Queen from Buckingham Palace and whisked them over the impressive London skyline and they parachuted into the stadium wearing Union Jack parachutes. The London Symphony Orchestra played Chariots of Fire with the help of Rowan Atkinson as Mr Bean in one of the funniest sequences of the show. A tribute was paid to the digital age with Sir Tim Berners-Lee  tweeting live from stage.

OPENING CEREMONY

OPENING CEREMONY (Photo credit: itupictures)

With our heritage of creative industry, music was always going to feature heavily in the opening ceremony. There were some strange choices I thought. Mike Oldfield and the Arctic Monkeys rather than the Rolling Stones. No Elton John or Cliff Richard for example. No Take That or the Spice Girls.

The athletes parade was enjoyable, but interminably long. It seemed to take an hour just to get through countries beginning with the letter ‘A’. There were many countries that I had never heard of and as the host nation, we had to wait until last. In we came along to David Bowie’s “We could be Heroes”.

One of the most poignant things I have seen for some time was the tribute to those who lost their lives in the 7/7 bombings. A haunting rendition of “Abide with me” as the photographs of the 56 victims flashed past in a montage on-screen. May they be remembered and let’s hope that nothing like it ever happens again.

Good luck to all our athletes. Proud to be British.