Town Square

Palo Alto expat in London Reports As Olympics Approach

Original post made by David Vinokur, a former resident of the Crescent Park neighborhood, on Jul 9, 2012

Hello again from soggy London. Today a nationwide drought (or garden 'hosepipe ban') was officially called off after the wettest spring in recorded history. Who woulda' thought? In my ongoing efforts to give you my expat's perspective on London living and attending the London 2012 Olympic Games (including the opening ceremony), I will try to strike a balance between what I find noteworthy and what you might deem interesting about the Games of the XXX Olympiad. In that vein I will return another time to the topic of life on a crowded island. Right now, let's talk sports.

==B A sporting chance==

Growing up in Palo Alto, two of my favorite sports to play were soccer and tennis. That meant eight years of AYSO dribbles from El Camino Park to you name it, and countless baseline battles at Rinconada and across town. I also loved badminton at Jordan and Paly. What luck, then, to find myself living in the country that created these and many other sports. Britain is, of course, also the land that gave us golf and rugby, the latter of which is the clear progenitor of American football. Even the indigenous game of rounders can plausibly be considered the birth-sport (when spliced with cricket) of America's Pastime. So yes, Britain is absolutely a sporting nation.

Wimbledon, the mother of all tennis tournaments, is typically the highlight of the English sporting summer. We attend almost every year, and its proximity to our home adds immediacy and relevance for us. But the recently completed Euro 2012 football tournament had a tight grip on this country. With the Olympics a couple of weeks away, I really didn't focus on "The Championships" until this past weekend. Andy Murray falling to Roger Federer was thrilling but also historic and heartbreaking, as Murray is the first British man in 74 years to reach the final of this august competition. He is now a national hero, not for losing, but for his grace and poise as a runner-up.

==B Victory in defeat==

The U.K. loves a good hard-luck story, and Murray is just that. He will continue to press and impress, with his British-approved pluck and, lest we forget, outstanding athleticism. Another of the all-time great sports legends here is George Best. This much admired and lamented Northern Irish Football superstar once said: "I spent a lot of money on booze, birds and fast cars. The rest I just squandered." He went for the joke on that one, but he also foretold his demise, as he died in 2005 at age 58, after countless failed attempts to get sober.

Best will be loved for many years to come because he was a brilliant athlete, despite his slow and very public descent down the neck of a beer bottle. But like I said, the U.K. loves a good hard-luck story. Or more poignantly, is OK with not winning, depending on the circumstances. Even the World War II battle of Dunkirk, routinely cited as the ultimate example of Britain's steely resolve in the face of overwhelming adversity, was a defeat. But don't be mistaken: Britain is peopled by a highly competitive folk. And though opinion is divided on the role of the Monarchy, many here are fiercely protective of their Queen.

==B If you want to sing out, sing out==

Nothing quite stirs patriotism here like a good public airing of "God Save The Queen." This song is the national anthem of both Great Britain and New Zealand, and was famously skewered by the Sex Pistols in the '70s with their twisted number-one punk single of the same name. This sombre ode (not the punk one, obviously) to a "gracious" and "noble" Queen is a rather uplifting and positive hymn, truth be told. Unlike most national songs, it has two versions (#king) and is also the royal anthem of 10 countries, including our friends Jamaica and Canada. Heck, even Neil Young & Crazy Horse currently have a top-10 album in the U.S. and U.K. with their take on GSTQ.

A close second in the British anthem stakes is "Jerusalem." This poem by English writer and painter William Blake was set to song during the First World War to boost morale, and is regularly sung in Anglican churches. It was one of four hymns sung at Will and Kate's wedding last year and is the anthem of England's cricket team. Its "green and pleasant land" closing line goes a long way to describe the essence of Britain.

==B Definitely green, definitely pleasant==

Danny Boyle, the acclaimed director of "Slumdog Millionaire," is the producer of the London 2012 Olympics opening ceremony. He has cleverly chosen Green and Pleasant Land as one of the event themes. The cost for this pageant is rumoured at over $40 million (including live cattle), with a cast of thousands (including said cattle) and volunteer staff numbering over 10,000. As one of the lucky "punters" who were awarded the right to purchase tickets to this extravaganza, I am keen to see what Mr. Boyle & co. have in store for those of us in the Olympic Stadium and for the expected television audience of one billion.

Next up: Palo Alto Olympians, more Opening Ceremony details and logistics of Olympic proportions.

[Web Link See photo gallery]


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Posted by Brit
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jul 9, 2012 at 3:27 pm

You write well on British patriotism, but thought you might have mentioned the line in "Jerusalem" about "bring me my chariots of fire", since the famous movie depicting the infamous Olympic gold medal of Eric Liddell still does the rounds every 4 years'.

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Posted by Sharon
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 9, 2012 at 3:46 pm

Even luxury hotels in London are offering huge discounts today because nobody is booking.
The forecast is for very cold, very wet weather in London during the Olympics.

Plus bad, very expensive food and Orwellian security checks-

-no thanks

Most people will watch the Olympics on their TVs and computers-which have much better visuals and commentary.

The NFL has a similar problem selling seats for football games-

-people have a much, much better experience watching on their computers-- and they do not have to pay for a ticket, transportation or accommodation.

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Posted by Nora Charles
a resident of Stanford
on Jul 9, 2012 at 11:29 pm

Many thanks for your reports. I especially like human interest and offbeat stories, and I'm sure they'll be no shortage of those in London! Hope you have a really lovely time, and I look forward to reading.

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Posted by Ronnie
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 10, 2012 at 11:55 am

I had no idea Danny Boyle is behind the opening ceremonies. I'm sure it will be very interesting. Can't wait to watch that! Thanks for the report! keep 'em coming!

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Posted by Sam
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 10, 2012 at 1:35 pm

Usain Bolt vs. Christophe Lemaitre in the 100/200m...what is the betting line?

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Posted by daniel
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jul 12, 2012 at 2:56 pm

George Best had a particularly fascinating story. Born in Northern Ireland he was a stunningly brilliant football(soccer) player who was compared with the brilliant Brazilian players of his time. He is considered to be the best player to never play in the World Cup. He paled with Beatles and other famous pop and movie stars of the time and dated numerous super-models and beautiful actresses. He was an alcoholic who never seriously tried to quit. He received a liver transplant but resumed his drinking afterward and died almost penniless but still much beloved by the British public.

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Posted by Leytonstoner
a resident of another community
on Jul 15, 2012 at 2:17 pm

@Sharon is right when she said London is very wet at the moment (just as many parts of Mid-West are 'very dry' at the moment!) but I wouldn't say it's very cold here - it's actually a few degrees warmer than San Francisco right now. Maybe that counts as Arctic for Californians!

There is definitely heightened security around the Olympic Park but that is a modern fact of life, eh frequent flyers? Who knows - maybe Orwellian security might have prevented the deaths of two people in the Atlanta bombing at the 96 Games? And don't think that staying at home and watching it on TV is any safer, either - according to estimates at, in 2007 almost half a million US citizens injured themselves falling off sofas. And who can forget Dubya's close call with a pretzel while watching sports TV in 2002? California has a population somewhat over half that of the UK and yet has three times the number of murders. Fact is, you're not safe anywhere these days!

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Posted by Sam
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 15, 2012 at 5:23 pm

>George Best had a particularly fascinating story...

Yes, he did. A real 'bad' boy, who enjoyed his life, Belfast style, without much regret, while doing it. Brilliant artist on the soccer field. His (many) girlfriends thought he was brilliant in other ways....He was the Mickey Mantle of European football. He is still missed, despite all his warts.

Now, back to the current day: Usain or Christophe? Or neither?

Is David V. still alive over in London? Is he listening to the street talk? Gotta know, David...what do you know? So far, pretty boring on your part.

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Posted by Brit
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jul 16, 2012 at 5:59 pm

The athletes have started to arrive in London. Here's a BBC video report. Web Link

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Posted by Shyrlee R
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 20, 2012 at 5:36 pm

So happy to read your uniquely personal color pieces on the run-up to the Olympics in London - alert, observant, defining.
I'll take extra pleasure toasting the Opening Ceremony from Palo Alto with a Vanilla Ice Cream Root-Beer Float and remembering my former young companion.
Good job.

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Posted by Dressage Top Hat
a resident of Green Acres
on Jul 21, 2012 at 10:54 am

Leytonstoner - nice job refuting Sharon's falsehoods. Good to see others tell her she is off her rocker; it usually requires a couple seconds of search to disprove her, but you did it for us from the scene - thanks.

Good work, keep it up and have fun!

Any interest in Dressage?