Thursday, 28 June 2012

The Olympic Torch on Midsummer's Day

Almost as soon as I got back from Greece, the Olympic Torch came through Cumbria. Connie of Trifolium Books had arranged for me to do some signings on its route.

The first was at the Wordsworth Bookshop and Coffee House in Penrith. It was sunny and people were out on the forecourt as well as inside at the tables. My thanks to Jon for his careful preparations and for spoiling us with a delicious lunch. 

We moved on to Carlisle to Bookends, where Gwenda Matthews had created a sporty window display with The Boy with Two Heads as the centrepiece (see Connie's blog). There we watched the Torch come through. After many sponsors' vehicles and police cars and bikes had passed, we actually saw one of the handovers when the next runner lights his/her torch from the previous runner's.

There were trampoliners (is that the word?) flying high, taut and graceful, and gymnasts bursting with energy in the pedestrian precinct, and quite a large crowd. 

Next day we were at the Fountain Gallery in Wigton where we were visited by Rory Stewart, the local MP. I signed a copy of The Boy for him and he took one of each of Connie's other books, which are on sale there every day. It was wet, though, and the crowd did not gather until just before the Torch was due. 

The street is narrower than the Carlisle precinct and there were no barriers. 

The outriding police bikes came close enough to the crowd to high-five some of them. Everyone enjoyed that, and there were those who climbed onto the monument for a better view ... The actual run with the Torch seemed to last only a few seconds once all the other vehicles had gone. So a damp but enthusiastic passage.

And our thanks to Beatfords Tearoom in Cockermouth, for our 'pitch' there later in the afternoon. The carnival on Main Street was in full swing when we left, some time before the Torch was due.

[In preparing this posting, I have spent far too long watching the BBC Torch relay site. It really is well done, covers every moment of the whole procession from the first moment until now, and is easy to navigate. There are, of course, long bits of video of the road journeys - rather like some of the videos I make on holiday!]

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Olympian water works

While I was in the Peloponnese, I spent a few hours at Ancient Olympia again. I wanted to find the alleged swimming pool near the gymnasium which I had not had time to look for before. It features in many of the reconstructions of about the time of The Boy with Two Heads and I included it in the story. It was not used in competition, it seems - just for cooling off and perhaps for training. This reconstruction is of about a century later.

I found lots of venerable rubble in the area where it must have been, but no sign of the thing itself. Of course, there have been 24 centuries of wild goings on at Olympia since then, so it's not exactly surprising.

I did find a strange square hole, but it looks more Roman than Greek to me and therefore possibly 500 or so years later.

I also saw a possible bath (though I think it's more likely to be a water trough).

So not quite a swimming pool. There had been lots of rain, though, and everywhere was green and lush. On my way back I crossed the Alpheios River higher up the valley by the road over a large dam.

A wide modern aqueduct takes water along beside the river towards Olympia and the coast. I can't imagine what that will all look like in 2000 years ...

[There are lots of websites about Ancient Olympia, and many of them perpetuate misunderstandings and even mistakes. I find the visuals on the Wikipedia site the clearest.]

Monday, 18 June 2012

Overview of Athens

I have just got back from three weeks in Greece. 

Part of Athens and the Akropolis from Lykavitos Hill
The first few days were spent in Athens, and I climbed the steep rocky hill called Lykavitos in the centre of the city each morning before it got too hot. This hill is mentioned in The Boy with Two Heads four or five times. There is now a small church on top and two restaurants, as well as a modern open air theatre. 

The Panathenaic Stadium, Athens,
from Lykavitos Hill
From the top you can also see the Panathenaic Stadium. It was just a small valley at the beginning of my story in 432BC. The Ancient Greeks turned the valley into a wooden stadium some years later and marble seats were only added 329BC. It was renovated in 1896 for the first modern Olympics. 

The pedestrian crossing where Suzanne is hit by a motorcycle is this one:

I was excited to be back and visiting my old haunts, but the city was strangely quiet as it prepared for the repeat election that took place yesterday. Life has changed drastically since I lived there. No one has the money for frivolities, like eating in tavernas and nipping down to the beach in the car. The people are dispirited and tired. Even hope seemed in short supply.