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Wednesday, 29 July 2015

RIO ONE YEAR TO GO

July 27th held a nostalgic frisson for many BBTGs. Three years ago Danny Boyle’s diorama of all things British upped the ante for Olympic Opening Ceremonies. Rio, on the other side of the equator, now has one year to go.


At this time of year the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park is looking its best, with the gardens timed to bloom for the end of July/early August to coincide with the 27/7/12.  The Park itself is a success, the major venues busy with both elite and local sport, and homes, offices and retail covering the last of the spaces once reserved for corporate pavilions. The arrival of Olympicopolis with Sadlers Wells, the V&A and the Smythsonian on the old Water Polo site will further boost footfall and cultural cred. Mind as well as body, as it says on the Olympic label. The only underachiever seems to be the Orbit, so expect to see entrances fees come hurdy-gurding down – and the addition to the structure of a physical slide.

For all this we BBTGs can take a bow, as our presence with walks and coach tours from 2008 helped solidify pre-Games interest.

Surrounding the Park, the seven Olympic boroughs are now four years into a 20 year programme to harmonise with the rest of London in terms of giving ‘life chances’ to residents. Newham at the heart of it all has long been notorious for importing poverty and exporting wealth; as soon as locals get on, they get out. But recent surveys are indicating that this may be slowing down; (Manor Park and Forest Hill to the north of the borough have the highest house price inflation in London). Is the slow down just due to more affluent people moving into the borough, or to long standing locals enjoying improved living conditions? The figures are inconclusive.

Will it be worth flying down to Rio? Rio’s core Olympic area, Barra da Tijuca, is under a forest of swinging cranes. The rowing lake at Rodrigo de Freitas is now getting its spectator seating.  The Opening Ceremony will be 5/8/16. Rio will have 45,000 volunteers, 15,000 athletes and Mayor Eduardo Paes is using the 31st Olympiad to supercharge Rio’s development.  Unlike the World Cup stadia, many Olympic venues are being built by private businesses which will sell and operate the venues after the Games. This may help explain the budget of £7.9bn, slightly lower than London’s £9.3bn.

Local residents are ambivalent. In the Vila Autodromo many have taken compensation and the offer of re-housing and departed, but cynics say developers will use this area adjacent to the Barra for high value private residences post Games. Golf is back at the Olympics, and a new course is being built – rather than use one of the city’s two existing courses. The environmentally sensitive Marapendi reserve, home to rare butterflies and pines found nowhere else in the world, is being reshaped. The developers claim they are only using land already degraded by illegal sand mining.

The city is expecting 500,000 extra visitors during the Games and extra police drafted in, having been given English and Spanish lessons. Former middle distance Olympian Abberto Guimaraes, Rio’s Seb Coe, says Brazil doesn’t have the formality of the UK or the culture and history of China, so ROCOG plans to add fun and spectacle during breaks in competitions. Infrastructure projects, the redevelopment of the port area and the boost in property prices are all a turning point for Rio. Without the Games, says Abberto, it would have taken 30 years.





Sunday, 12 April 2015

GALLIPOLI 100

There’s a Turkish saying that one disaster is better than 1,000 pieces of advice. Whatever myths created about it in the last 100 years, Gallipoli was a disaster. The Turks won. Gallipoli was the British Empire and France trying to knock Germany’s ally Turkey out of World War One, thereby reducing the pressure on the Allies’ eastern front. As the historians say, “Gallipoli was launched almost casually, into a void, and was doomed to fail.”

There was little planning and the troops used were inexperienced. Part of the soldiers’ training was ‘how to recognize when a Turkish soldier surrenders.’ The initial assault was timed to take place between the setting of the brilliant moon at 2.56am and the arrival of sunrise – i.e. a window of just one and a half hours to get thousands ashore, but it took a full 40 minutes just to get the heavily laden soldiers into the rowboats.  The Allies thought they would be facing heavy odds, and the first troops ashore reported encountering ferocious gunfire, but often the gunfire was Allied. The sparse numbers of Turkish defenders had to hold out for 24 hours before reinforcements could arrive. And although the Aussies and Kiwis remember Gallipoli with a special reverence, we shouldn’t forget that of the half a million British Empire forces involved, the vast majority were British/Irish with significant contributions from the Indian Army, and the Gurkhas who in one deadly night attack drove the Turkish frontline back 500 yards. Nor should we overlook the 79,000 French.

Yet the significance for the ANZACs is undeniable. The eight months of brutal fighting gave the ANZAC forces a powerful sense of comradeship, a growing sense of military competence and ultimately their first real sense of nationhood. By the end of the Great War, the ‘colonials’ were appreciated as battle-hardened shock troops.

Without the lessons of Gallipoli there would have been no D-Day. D-Day saw two hundred thousand troops put ashore, in the right place, in the right formations, unlike Gallipoli, with immediate artillery support. Unlike Gallipoli D-Day quickly created a formidable beachhead with plenty of force to create an effective new Front. So yes, Gallipoli helped save the planet.

GALLIPOLI FACTS
Wearing of sprigs of rosemary is part of Gallipoli remembrance; rosemary is the traditional symbol of remembrance and grows wild on the Gallipoli cliffs.

8th August 1915 saw the bitterest Australian fighting at Gallipoli for the Lone Pine ridge with seven Aussie VCs being awarded. 8th August 1918 saw the Australians triumph on the western Front at the battle of Amiens.

Kebabs originated as skewers of lamb barbecued on the bayonets of Turkish soldiers.

THINGS TO DO DURING GALLIPOLI 100
ATTEND the march-past at the Cenotaph at 11.00 Saturday 25th April.
SEE The Russell Crowe action melodrama The Water Diviner
WATCH The Gurkhas march down the Mall 30th April at 2.30
VISIT Imperial War Museum for their Gallipoli collection
JOIN a guided Gallipoli 100 walking tour – visiting the central London the war memorials. Led by Blue Badge tour guide (kiwi) Simon Rodway 25th April - meet 2.00 Green Park tube park-side exit. www.worldwaronewalks.com


Lest We Forget