Olympic diary: Saturday, 28 July

Olympic diary, Saturday, 28 July.

I went to the Excel Centre near Royal Victoria Dock for the women’s fencing (foils) semifinals and finals.

I gave myself four hours to travel there and go through the very thorough security. The trains were full but not overcrowded. I had bags of time to spare but I’m not sorry I gave myself so much time. I would have hated to miss anything of the event.

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Olympics diary: Wednesday, 25 July

The Olympic torch came to Harrow on Wednesday, 25 July. These photos were taken around 9.30. There were plenty of spectators, mainly kids and mums and dads, but a good cross section of the community too. [Read more…]

Olympic diary: Tuesday 24 July

With all the hoo-ha about Olympic security, I was tempted to add my two-penn’orth to the discussion.

I gave in to the temptation and wrote the following letter to the Daily Mail. It was published on 17 July!


Dear Editor

Israeli teenagers responsible for security do a great job checking travellers and their luggage at train and bus stations.

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Olympic diary: Sunday 22 July

I don’t know why I’m so excited about the Olympics. After all, I spent a lot of energy in my youth dodging playing sports at school. Yet at extortionate cost I have obtained tickets for 2 events; the women’s fencing final on Saturday evening 28 July, and one of the swimming heats on Monday morning 30 July.

Having paid out a lot of ££££, I don’t want to risk being late, so on Friday I did a dry run, checking my routes and the entry points to the venues.

I have a fairly good knowledge of the London Underground system so I’ve chosen routes different to those recommended by the organisers. Those of you who know me may suspect this is because I’ve always been a member of the awkward squad. My story is that I’ll be avoiding the more crowded routes by choosing alternatives to those recommended.

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The lady novelist diet

The late Muriel Spark was one of Scotland’s leading novelists. She is perhaps most widely known for, “The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie,” a novel, made into a movie, about an idealistic but eccentric teacher in a 1930s Edinburgh girls’ school who selects an able group of pupils to ‘educate for life’, in the widest sense, as she sees it. We then follow the ‘Brodie set’ to the threshold of adulthood.

Another of Ms Spark’s novels is a “Far Cry From Kensington”, set in 1950s London. Her heroine, Mrs Hawkins, lands a job in a publishing house, even though the other applicants are much better qualified.

She soon comes to realize that she and her colleagues have been, “deliberately chosen for some slightly grotesque quality.”

“What was wrong with me she asks herself? Why had I been chosen? it was then the reason dawned on me: I was immensely too fat.”

Her response is resolute.

“From that night I decided to eat and drink half. Only half of everything I normally ate, in any circumstances. I decided to tell nobody at all about my plan.”

She is extremely self disciplined and sticks to her half portions in what she describes as, “This hungry period of my life.”

The first sign that her diet is succeeding is when she is invited to a smart dinner party and finds to her joy that her black lace evening dress, “needed to be taken in a good inch both sides.”

She eventually loses so much weight that she becomes, “a normal shape.”

The extent of her weight loss is brought home to her in dramatic fashion. Wanda, a fellow tenant in the lodging house where she is living, accuses her of plotting against her. She believes Mrs Hawkins  is plotting because she is ill, and that it is her illness which is responsible for her weight loss.

“Mrs Hawkins you are making a plot against me in the house. Is it my fault you are ill? You are getting thin, you are wasting, wasting, and you will die.”

It would be misleading to suggest that, “A Far Cry From Kensington,” is a novel about weight loss. If weight loss is a theme of the novel, it is a fairly minor theme.

And. of course, it is fiction, not ‘real life’, although  it is possible Ms Spark based her character on someone she  knew.

Putting such reservations on one side, if we are going to draw conclusions, we can note that our heroine had a simple weight loss plan which she followed strictly. She was completely successful and lost a lot of  weight.

Sounds encouraging. Many diet plans are far from simple.

Alas, although the plan is simple, it is far from easy. Many dieters, perhaps most dieters, won’t have the self-discipline to eat only half of what they would normally eat.

The catering industry calls this sort of thing portion control and it is one of the ‘secrets’ of successful weight loss. If we can practice portion control in some form we are on the way to keeping the pounds off. The trick is to practice portion control without feeling too deprived.

We shall come back to this.



Famous stamp collectors

The stamp collecting President

Franklin D. Roosevelt, was elected the 32nd President of The United States in 1932. In peacetime, he tackled  the economic stagnation and mass unemployment associated with the Great Depression.

On 7 December, 1941 Japan  attacked the U.S. Pacific Fleet in Pearl Harbor, bringing America into World War II and thrusting President Roosevelt into the role of wartime leader of the nation, and eventually that of  leader of the Allied coalition against Japan and Nazi Germany.

He had severe medical problems, starting with an episode in 1921 which was diagnosed at the time as polio and which left his legs paralysed. By the early 1940s there were cardiac complications. Roosevelt, who kept his poor state of health secret, was under immense strain in fulfilling  his responsibilities of leadership.

For relaxation, he fell back on his childhood hobby of stamp collecting.

The president himself said, “I owe my life to my hobbies – especially stamp collecting.”

His son James also witnessed the relaxing effect his father’s absorption in his stamp collection;  “I have vivid memories of Father sitting at his desk when he had a half hour or hour with no appointments . . . with his stamp books and an expression of complete relaxation and enjoyment on his face.”

The philatelist King

Britain’s King George VI was an another person of influence who was a stamp collector.

Although a constitutional monarch, with limited powers, George V realised that the monarchy had to adapt to the conditions of the 20th century. Highly conservative in his attitudes, he nevertheless recognised that in a democracy he needed to pay attention to the attitudes and opinions of all classes and made a real effort to be a king for all the people.

He was conscientious in doing his duty, as he saw it but looked forward to the times he could unwind with his stamp collection.

In 1904, George V was Prince of Wales.  One day a  courtier told him that he had read in The Times that ‘some damn fool’ had paid £1,450 for a rare stamp from Mauritius. £1,450 was an enormous sum for a stamp at that time.

“That damn fool was me!”, the Prince announced.

Through his position of influence he was able to acquire many more philatelic gems, making the royal collection one of the World’s most important.

Stamp collecting; an antidote to stress?

President Roosevelt was one of the most influential leaders of the 20th century and a key figure in the leadership of the Allies in defeating the German-Japanese Axis. It would seem that, for him, stamp collecting was not an eccentric preoccupation best overlooked but was a relaxing diversion from his burdensome responsibilities,which helped him recharge his batteries.

King George V also benefitted from time spent with his stamp collection. It helped him unwind after he had completed the day’s tasks

For both these men stamp collecting  was an effective antidote to the stresses of their important positions on the world stage. This being the case, others with lesser responsibilities may be tempted to seek refuge in the hobby.