Mum told me about this programme she’d heard on the radio: Poetry 2012 - The Power of the Poem.
A Jamaican poet, Kei Miller, and the Director of the Scottish Poetry Library, Robyn Marsack, discussed a project the library has set up for 2012. Every nation taking part in the Olympics, all 204, are represented by a poem.
I thought of my own nation. Syria. How I miss you! How afraid I am for you! How afraid I am for myself!
I cannot say how I came here. That would be to betray too many people. But my final station on this journey came about thanks to Gramps. He was a shop steward when he was a miner, and has long taken an interest in asylum speakers. “Well,” he says, “look what they did to the miners in this country. They’ve been looking for scapegoats ever since they got rid of us. Looking out for the likes of you, Nabs – it’s the least I can do.”
Brad let me use his computer to look for the poem on the website’s library for Syria. The poem there was Sleep: To My Grandfather by Lina Tibi.
I read the poem and thought of my own grandfather. I do not even know if he is alive or dead…
These lines in particular made me think of him:
We’ll hear many stories about you,
we who stayed up any evenings
to hear your tales of demons, cats and grandmothers.
The days will not change us much
because your tenderness will stay with each of us,
we who often ate the products of your hands’ hard work
and whom you often distracted with flowers and basil on our balcony,
we who loved you.
Brad came into my room. I think he might have heard me. “What’s up, Nabs?” he said. I told him I miss my country, my family, my friends. He thought for a moment. Then he said, “I miss my legs, I miss being able to walk, to run around, to kick a ball. But that doesn’t mean I’m any less me. What we miss we sometimes have to learn to live without. Sometimes we might get them back; sometime we won’t.”
There was a silence then. I looked into Brad’s eyes. This stranger from a foreign country was trying to help me. I know that he and his family have their own problems. But my heart lifted a little. What is happening in Syria is terrible. My people are being slaughtered as the world looks the other way, at the Olympics, or their holiday brochures, or their smartphones.
But I know what is happening. Slaughter. Murder. Death.
But this young man and his family – they stand for something else.
Brad smiled and I tried to smile too.
“Nabs,” he said. “Last summer this country erupted into riots. For nearly a week it was like a civil war. There’s still a lot of crap going on. I reckon Jood getting her benefits cut is just the tip of the iceberg. But we can fight them. And we can win. We must win.”
I nodded and said thanks. And once he’d left the room I turned back to the poem: “Tomorrow in time/the morning will come.”
Simple words, written before trouble came to our door. But what else do I have only my faith in poetry and in people like the O’Crypes and their son Brad?
One of Mum's old Premium Bonds came up!
Most people do the Lottery these days but Mum won't have it. She says it's a voluntary tax for the poor. Gramps thinks she's beginning to get some sense ...
Gramps got the Premium Bonds for her ages ago, before I was born, back when he got his redundancy. Not that we're rolling in it - Mum says if she has to rob Peter to pay Paul any more she might have to ask Mary for a loan.
I haven't got a clue what she's on about - I think she's starting to crack up with it all - but with Jood losing her benefits we must be even more skint than usual.
But I managed to persuade Mum to take us all up to London with her winnings.
Britain has been gripped with Olympic Fever - it's as if the Olympic Flame has ignited a nation.
And I want us to be part of it just like everyone else.
But the athlete I'm really interested in isn't British - he's South African. Oscar Pistorius - the fastest man on two blades. Not that we've got any tickets. Mum says it's a scandal, all the empty seats at the events. The way she's going, she might even vote at the next election.
Anyway, Mum said yes. So we all took the train up to London. The usual fuss with ramps and being stuck near the bike rack on the train, but I was too excited to care.
I was going to see Pistorius!
We made a day of it - lunch at the Southbank, then down to Greenwich on a riverboat. We even caught the tail end of the women's marathon when we arrived in London.
Everywhere you went signage and volunteers and spectators were all saying, 'This is the greatest show on Earth'. The city was buzzing.
There was a big screen down in Greenwich and we saw it all. Rowers, cyclists and tennis players getting Gold for Team GB and then Oscar.
And guess what?
He qualified out of his heat! A Crip so fast even the Non-Crips respect him
Team GB might have won all those medals - and it was great to see a Ginger, a Mixed Race Woman, and a Muslim African cheered on by so many people - but for me it was all about Pistorius.
Kirani James of Guyana, who won the 400m semi-final Pistorius ran in the next day, even swapped name tags with him.
Pistorius - because one day there won't be a seperate Olympics and a Paralympics. It will all just be one Olympic Games, like there are now for men and women!
Some things never change.
I can still remember when the Olympics were staged here last. In the midst of Austerity Britain 1948. Now what have we got? Austerity Britain 2012.
It didn't look like that on Friday night though.
I was all for switching the telly off then and there.
But then it started getting a bit more realistic - the countryside was destroyed by the top-hatted capitalists of the Industrial Revolution and all hell broke loose.
Nabs is right. He says there was nothing about slavery, about the British Empire, about the legacy of divide and rule the British left in Ireland, India, the Middle East.
But he did say he was glad to see that the “welcome” given to immigrants in the 1950s and 1960s is all a thing of the past.
No Blacks, No Irish, No Dogs - you couldn't get away with that today.
Brad went off on one. He reckons these days it’s still No Crips, No Benefit Claimants, No Dogs on a String.
And what about our beloved NHS? There we were in 1948 proudly witnessing the birth of it - and here we are now in 2012 fighting to stop it being destroyed.
I said that was the message in that bit of the ceremony on Friday night. Mum just wondered how all those doctors and nurses had enough time off to learn to dance like that and decided that was probably why her hernia operation has been cancelled twice.
Brad said the songs were genius! His take was that Danny Boyle had deliberately made a two fingered salute to Cameron and his Coalition cronies.
Nabs loved seeing the ethnic diversity of it all and cheered with the audience when the gay couple kissed on the big screen.
Jood says she wants to join that Deaf/Hearing People integrated choir.
By then it had all got out of hand in our front room, not least because Nan said that if the Queen could go parachuting at her age, then she jolly well could too.
Then Brad wound Jood up by telling her that the cost of two dozen of those fireworks at the end would have paid her Incapacity Benefit for six months.
Me and Nan thought, in the end, that at least the ceremony wasn’t all about the toffs, the bankers, the hackers, the tax dodgers, the expense fiddlers, the bent coppers and the corporate crooks.
No, maybe it was about the likes of us, the O'Crypes of the world, who dug the coal, nursed the sick, gave shelter to the persecuted, raised the next generation, and always put others before ourselves.
And if it did get up the noses of that horrible Tory MP and some other members of the Establishment perhaps it wasn’t money wasted.
Maybe it is OUR Olympics after all. Just like it was in 1948.
We’ve all been a bit down since Jood’s had her benefits stopped. Brad’s been telling me about all of these cases he’s found where ATOS have stopped other disabled people’s benefits. So they’ve stopped taking their medication in protest, had heart attacks, committed suicide.
I don’t think it’s going to come to that in Jood’s case, but you never know with young people. She’s definitely got a lot quieter lately. And she was so looking forward to taking part in her dance show. It’s like the sun has gone in and she’s lost in shadows. Brad is fuming about what ATOS, the DWP, and the government are doing to disabled people. ‘At least the Nazis just killed us off quickly,’ he says.
Anyway, we were all getting a bit down in the dumps until I spotted a piece in the Argus. To help celebrate 2012 Westsea council are putting on a free open-air showing of Chariots Of Fire down on the beach.
To be frank, I’m a bit dubious about all the hoop-la. ATOS sponsoring the Paralympics is one thing. G4S taking £57 million for shoddy security is another though. It’s as if the Olympics are sponsoring them.
But I thought to cheer everyone up we should go so we all went last night.
Well, it was free.
I can just about remember when Chariots Of Fire first came out in 1981. The height of the first Tory Recession under Mrs Thatcher. Three million unemployed. Homelessness on the rise. A government that seemed to have lost control.
Nothing much has changed!
And then along comes a film about toffs at Cambridge going off to Paris to take part in the 1924 Olympics.
Lots of shots of silly arses wearing blazers, having jolly Gilbert and Sullivan sing-songs round the piano, and swanning round posh colleges with floppy hair and cigarette-holders.
Like a home movie for the Bullingdon Club.
But then I noticed there were some other bits to the film.
Take Harold Abrahams, for instance. He took part in the 100 and 200 metres in Paris. But because he was the son of a Jewish financier the powers that be in the film – the Masters of Ciaus College and Trinity College – don’t really think he’s the ticket.
He’s just not… Well, he’s just not amateur enough. Nor English enough.
But Abrahams shows that he can win and lose as well as any Englishman.
The other main part character in the film is Eric Liddell. He’s a Scot, an evangelical Christian who refuses to run on a Sunday while the Olympics are on.
Could you imagine anyone at the Olympics doing that now? They’ve probably all signed contracts forbidding them to do anything the organisers don’t want them to do.
Anyway, it was quite a good film, for all of its nostalgic, chocolate-box portrayal of Britain. A more innocent age in some ways. When the Olympics still had something noble about it. I’m not sure there’s much of that left. Brad reckons we like to kid ourselves about fair play, sticking up for the underdog, that it’s all about the taking part.
But I reckon Chariots Of Fire is about more than toffs and track and field, as the Yanks call it. The title comes from Blake’s Jerusalem.
They play it at the end, at Harold Abraham’s Memorial Service:
Bring me my bow of burning gold!
Bring me arrows of desire!
Bring me my spear! O, clouds unfold!
Bring me my chariot of fire!
I will not cease from mental fight,
Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand,
Till we have built Jerusalem
In England’s green and pleasant land!
I wonder if the athletes in the Olympic Village feel like we’ve built Jerusalem for them? Brad says it must feel like a living in a gigantic advert. I reckon it must be more like a fortress. They’ve got the Army, those missiles on the flats, and the no-fly zone. It’s a wonder anyone will get in to see them. A far cry from Paris in 1924.
I wonder if they’ll ever make a movie about London 2012? I wonder what they’d call it?
Jood’s had her benefits cut!
Mum is so thick sometimes – you’d think she had learning difficulties, not Jood. I told her ATOS were dodgy. She thinks just because they’re sponsoring the Paralympics they must be OK. But every day I read on the internet about some other poor crip being told they’re fit for work and getting their benefits cut.
And then they top themselves, or die of a heart attack, or the stress of it all kills them.
Because their ‘benefits’ are taken away!
It’s a joke calling them that – they’re about as much benefit as a kick in the backside. They keep you going, and that’s about it.
My cousin Enda in Ireland, he’s out of work at the moment. But he gets €188 a week! Imagine what life would be like for us if we got that. And it’s not as if Jood doesn’t want to work. But Westsea is like a ghost town. Mary Portas wouldn’t even come here, never mind tart it up.
I mean who are the café owners going to employ – Jood, or some fit school leaver?
The big excitement round here is the new gallery they’re talking about. Every other seaside town is getting one. But ours is ‘delayed’.
But we’ve got more than enough children’s homes. Another racket!
I need to do something, something on behalf of crips everywhere. I’m tired of being a good little boy, the kind of kid everyone can look down on just because I’ve got wheels.
I could just about put up with that until all this ATOS bullshit.
Because first they’re coming for Jood, then it’ll be Gramps and Nan, and then it’ll be me.
But I’ll be waiting for them.
Brad’s been really getting on my nerves. He knows we can’t afford tickets for the Paralympics. He says he wants to see Oscar Pistorius – calls him the Usain Bolt of disabled athletics. Only he doesn’t use the word ‘disabled’. He doesn’t even use the word ‘Paralympics’ – he calls them the ‘Cripalympics’.
I do hate that word – ‘Crip’.
Even if Brad does use it.
I reckon it’s a phase he’s going through – well he’s bound to be moody, ever since his accident. But there’s no need to be rude. I mean look at Mutt – he’s a lovely dog, even though he’s only got three good legs. But you never see him being moody. If anything it’s as if he’s even happier a leg short. Well, you learn to adjust, don’t you?
But I suppose that’s the problem with Brad – he’s having trouble adjusting.
Anyway, Judy’s happy, now this Cultural Olympiad is starting (I must remember that she wants to be called Jood now!). St Awaye’s has invited ex-pupils to take part in a dance show in late July. She loves dancing, does Jood. And she was saying to Brad that with ATOS sponsoring the Paralympics perhaps Brad could write to them and get tickets for the sprint finals.
It’s a funny name, isn’t it, ATOS?
Gramps says it’s ATOS as in ‘I don’t give ATOS,’ but I think they’re all right. Well, they must be if they’re sponsoring the Paralympics. I mean, they must get a lot of money if they’re doing that. I know some people say this government couldn’t run a bath, what with all the U-turns they keep making, but if ATOS have a government contract – well, they must be OK.
Anyway, Jood’s happy. She’s such a lovely girl, and growing up so fast. I thought life would be hard when the doctor at the hospital told me she’d been born with learning difficulties. But she’s a lovely girl.
I’m not sure why some of her benefits have been stopped though. It seemed to happen after we had to go for that assessment with ... now what was their name?
Anyway, I’m excited about the Cultural Olympiad.
A shame about the Paralympics though. Brad would so love to go.
Now – I must write to ATOS.
They sound like a nice lot.