Olympics


I’ve said on this blog before that I am not a sportsman – neither as participant nor spectator. It is no accident that when thousands of people were arriving in the UK for the Olympics 2012, I was on my way out.

However, there cannot be a Romanian anywhere in the world who was more delighted than I was when gymnast Sandra Raluca Izbasa took gold for Romania in the vault yesterday evening. This was not just because it gave me an excuse to open a bottle of wonderful Romanian red wine, Feteasca Neagra from the Murfatlar wine region in south east Romania.

For me the Romanian female gymnasts are the epitome of Romanian womanhood: very beautiful in a physical sense, hard working, determined, confident, intelligent but also with personalities which can only be called ‘beautiful’ – polite, modest, helpful, simply a pleasure to be with.

One of my followers, a Romanian abroad, commented that the Romanian ‘girls’ – ie young women – are “cute”. That’s a word I would reserve for the children, like five year old Bianca pictured above, who I met at a school gate on Friday afternoon; she was waiting for her mother.

If you watch Sandra in the few seconds of her approach during the vault, you can see all the qualities I mention above in her face. And see how, on the podium, she made no aggressive victory salute, just a winning smile and a grateful wave to all the crowd.

In recent years the Romanian gymnasts have suffered from poor conditions in the country and their dominance in the sport had begun to wane. It was so good to see them fighting their way back. They have in the past given me so much pleasure, completely overcoming my aversion to sport.

Having said that, I am really sickened by the concentration of the media – especially in Britain and the USA – on gold, gold, gold. In my opinion it is a symptom of the sick society we have developed in both my own country and that across the Atlantic. Every one of the athletes who has worked and strived to eventually participate in the Olympics is an Olympic champion, from whom we can all learn much.

Just look how obviously delighted Maria Paseka was to take bronze for Russia in the vault, and that is how it should be.

But to return to the Romanian women: to walk down a Romanian street in the summer, when the women are not padded and furred against the way sub-zero winter weather, you can see that the majority – and yes it is a majority – would not be out of place in the line up for Miss World, except they have a little more in the head than most you’d find there today.

During the time I lived in Iasi and Suceava (another town in northern Romania) I calculate I taught at least 2000 of them, some in their first year at school at 7 years old, others in the final year at 17 or 18, and everything in between. It was a delight. And it is a delight now to hear what they have done; just yesterday I learned one is now a doctor at the Marie Curie Institute in Paris, and another had just gained a place at Churchill College, Cambridge, to study science.

So, women of Romania, I want to take the opportunity opened up by Sandra Raluca Izbasa, to salute you. Felicitari. Salutari.

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I spent yesterday evening watching the Olympics opening ceremony and, at the same time, sorting out my blog-related emails. Today, I have to settle down to getting everything ready and packed to leave for Romania tomorrow.

I’m not a great sports fan, neither as participant nor spectator, but the Olympics has done something – something good – to Britain. I originally set up this blog to moan about how I found my country on returning after more than ten years absence. Yesterday I went into my nearest city, Bradford, 8 miles away; so depressing – the people in the street look depressed, the main shopping street full of empty shops – and I thought of writing a post about it, the sort of post I envisaged when first I created this blog more than four years ago.

Of course it’s not the fault of the people of Bradford, but that of the politicians – both local and national – who have allowed it to happen. The vast metropolitan authority needs breaking up to allow the local communities to have the local decision-making democracy which David Cameron seemed to promise but now clearly has no intention of delivering.

Part of Bradford’s main shopping street; there are least four dismal, empty, abandoned shops in this picture and many, many more within a few paces

But I also went to Leeds, only 3 miles further; vibrant, colourful, the people in the street look contented, elegant, happy – and I wondered if my initial depression on return to the UK eight years ago was just that I returned to my home city – Bradford. 

Seeing the enthusiasm of the crowds, including the blind and multiple disabled tenants of the charity for which I work, turning out to cheer on the Olympic torch carriers over the past couple of weeks,  it is difficult to remember that Britain has serious problems. Britons need a jolt to jerk them out of the stoic acceptance of bad times, and it seems to me that the Olympics could well provide that from what I have seen so far.

The dedication, perseverance yet wonderful modesty of Olympians like Jessica Ennis and Bradley Wiggins give us all something to aspire to. So, despite my aversion to sporting activity (though I do love to walk), I have high hopes that the 2012 Olympics will provide the jolt to spark a renewal in Britain.

Sorting gmail

As for sorting my emails, Google’s claim that you never need to delete anything and don’t need folders with gmail was beginning to look shaky as, despite labelling, I was increasingly unable to find anything among 563 blog-related emails since I began posting a little over a month ago. An internet search quickly showed how to create folders, so now everything related to likes, follows and comments on my own blog – 216 emails – is in one folder; everything related to other blogs – 347 emails – is now in another folder.