Thursday, 17 May 2012

Talking about the Boy

Painting by Sian Frances of the
Statue of Zeus in his temple at Ancient Olympia

This last week or so I spent a lot of time preparing a talk about the Ancient Olympics (with reference to The Boy with Two Heads) for Adult Learners' Week at Penrith Library. This exhausted me because I was so nervous! Silly, but there we are. I find talking about what I've written myself much more difficult than talking about someone else's work. 
But I seem to be improving. It went OK on Tuesday (even the projector for the powerpoint pictures worked well) and the feedback the Library collected was overwhelmingly positive. People were particularly impressed by the wonderful painting by Sian Frances of the gold and ivory statue of Zeus that features so prominently in The Boy with Two Heads. 

Scraping off the oil
with a strigil
Foundry painter 480BC
Attic red-figure kantharos
They were also intrigued by the fact that the scrapings from naked athlete victors' skin, of olive oil and sweat and dust, was sold after the events as a good luck charm!

And in the midst of the preparation for that, Caroline Robertson interviewed me on Radio Cumbria on Sunday at 11.40 am about The Boy with Two Heads. I was hardly nervous at all! She made it a really pleasant experience. I read the first half-page of The Boy and talked about other books I've written. She was enthusiastic and full of positive energy. She emailed me afterwards and said my reading had been 'a real treat'. Thank you, Caroline!

Thursday, 10 May 2012

The Flame is on its way

On the day the Olympic Flame is lit in Olympia in Greece ... 

I have finished reading 'The Secret Olympian' (by Anon) that came out this month, published by Bloomsbury. I can't say I like their You Tube video. They make such a point of protecting his identity that you can hardly understand a word that's said. The sudden flash from one clip to the next is also confusing and irritating. However, the worst thing in my opinion is that they have used a short piece of the same music by Vangelis that I used for my own video. (This is a joke, by the way ... )

From the content of The Secret Olympian (which is much better than the Bloomsbury video), I am guessing that the writer is one of the male competitors in the stadium at the 28th Modern Olympiad in Athens in 2004. It is structured around his diary entries during the months leading up to the Games. It covers the emotional and psychological stresses of taking part in such a huge event, as well as the training, the drug testing, life in the Olympic Village, the aftermath, and other practicalities of competing at that level. It also gives a broader picture in a section on politics and medal retractions. 

There is humour and unabashed emotion. I found it very easy to read in spite of the plentiful, careful detail. I am impressed, and recommend it to anyone who is thinking of starting to train for the Rio Olympics in 2016

Sadly, though, I know that many Greeks feel that, much as they enjoyed hosting the Games at the time, the immense bills for what are now empty sports venues have contributed to their present economic problems. 

This must be true, to whatever extent, and that thought leaves a bitterness that cannot be ignored. Life in Greece has become so very hard with more than 11% of people in the cities without jobs or food, many without a home, and even those with jobs paying higher taxes and prices from pay packets that shrink every few weeks. Michael Portillo's documentary on BBC2 last night confirmed what I know from my Athenian family and friends. 

So I can only hope the organisers of Rio 2016 can avoid such pitfalls, and that those in London have already done so.