In which I think about PE at school and try not to succumb to the trauma

So, the Olympics is all over bar the politics, and it’s time to get back to normal telly. The nation is sharing a communal “just back from holidays” feeling where our two week refusal to tear ourselves away from the tv and do laundry or buy sensible food is coming back to haunt us. Mundanity is back with force.

The Olympics haven’t just provided a distraction from normality for us little people though. Our lovely politicians have also had a nice break from boring stuff like the economy and how we used to have a health service. All of a sudden all a politician wanting a picture in the papers needs to do is pop on a Team GB baseball cap and make a pronouncement on how bad we are at teaching PE in school. We are into a period of political PE inflation.

David Cameron kicked off be announcing that what we needed was a more competitive ethos in school sport, a cultural change, no less.  It was quickly pointed out that the current government had actually cut the previous requirement that children do at least two hours of PE per week, but Cameron was quick with his response. The requirement had been cut in recognition of the fact that some schools were not teaching Proper Sport. Some children were doing things like Indian Dance, on which Cameron commented, “Now, I’ve got nothing against Indian dancing classes but that’s not really sport.” This from the Prime Minister of a country that won two golds and a bronze in Horsey Ballet. Now I’m not criticizing the Horsey Ballet – so far as I’m concerned any day when a horsey pirouettes to songs from the Lion King on my telly is a good day – however, we probably can’t afford to be too draconian about the question of what counts as Proper Sport.

Since then we’ve had a kind of sport in schools inflation. Boris Johnson, I think,  managed to win the prize for the most pro-PE politician, when he announced that two hours per week was insufficient and children should be doing two hours of school sport per day. It’s not instantly clear where the rest of the business of education fits into this timetable, but then we’re all going to be athletes and shot putters don’t need to be able to count or read, do they? Of course, that was Boris, so it’s not entirely clear that two hours per day is what he meant. It’s perfectly possible that the data being transmitted from the Mother Ship simply became corrupted and mangled the distinction between hours, days and weeks.

All of the above somehow misses the point. Actually there are two points and it misses both of them. Firstly, we’ve done quite well at these Olympics. This presents an opportunity to get more people enthused about sport. It doesn’t obviously suggest that everything we’re doing at present in the teaching of sport is wrong. Secondly, it fails to ask what the point of PE in school is. Is it to breed new generations of elite athletes or is it to encourage an exercise habit and promote health? There’s no reason that it can’t be both, but if it’s only about elite competitive sport, that screws over the fat kids, the slow kids, the unco-ordinated kids who get turned off exercise for life and grow up into fatter slower less co-ordinated adults. I went to schools with a strong emphasis on competitive sport, and I was terrible at it. I was a podgy child. I’m not a natural catcher or thrower or jumper or runner, so I went through PE in school being not good enough. My favourite PE lessons were those where the teacher abandoned any pretense of involving the whole group and let the fat girls “field deep” (a schooldays euphemism for “sit on the grass and make daisy chains.”) I was probably twenty-seven before I worked up the courage to even enter a gym or go to an exercise class – and imagine my delight when I discovered that plenty of forms of exercise are not competitive. No-one loses. Why was I not told about this earlier?

So, if you’re a politician who likes to pop on your Team GB polo shirt and wander around the Olympic Park like you actually helped in some way (you know who you are), probably the best bet would be to actually talk to some elite athletes about what they need to reproduce these levels of success, and then, maybe, get on with doing that. It’ll probably be very boring and to do with funding and coaching programmes and not very much to do with primary school PE at all. Then, you can leave the primary schools to concentrate on getting children excited about sport and exercise and, if they enjoy it and it gets kids moving, why not a bit of  Indian Dance?

In which I think about the overall quite-goodness of humanity

In a fashion quite unlike myself I actually had a plan for what I was going to blog about this week. It’s my birthday today – it’s only 8.15am and I’ve already opened all my presents and started browsing Amazon for things to spend my vouchers on. I do like a birthday. They’re like Christmas but without all the tiresome Giving to interupt the important Receiving. Anyway, I was going to blog all about birthdays and aging and stuff like that.

However, I then became distracted by the wonder that is the Olympics, so I thought I’d blog a bit more about that, having already blogged a wee bit about it here. The Olympics have been brilliant. Ok, so my “Grenada to top the medal table” plan hasn’t quite panned out (so far – there’s totally still time), but Team GB are doing sterling work and I’ve disovered an unexpected passion for canoe slalom, ten thousand metre running and the pommel horse. Turns out us Britishers give good pommel. I also quite like volleyball, rowing and trampolining, although it amazes me that the trampolinists manage to get through their routines without shouting “Wheeeeeeee!” on the flippy bits.

I then became more specifically distracted by Oscar Pistorius. Wow. I mean just Wow. Oscar Pistorius is amazing. Oscar Pistorius is a double-amputee who runs under 46 seconds for 400m. He’s also had to go through a lengthy legal battle to challenge the IAAF’s initial decision that his running blades gave him an unfair advantage over able bodied athletes. There are still big portions of newspaper space filled with chuntering columns about whether Pistorius gains athletic advantage from having no legs below the knee, generally concluded with a vague “Where will it all end?” vibe.  These articles are silly. Where it clearly won’t end is with able-bodied athletes having their legs voluntarily chopped off so they can run on prosthetics. Assuming you survived the operation, which would be by no means guaranteed, the months/years of physio, the attendant muscle wastage, the re-learning how to walk on prosthetics, let alone run, would be more likely to end, rather than enhance, any athletics career you might have had. So lets just accept Oscar for what he is – an actual real-life (not out of a movie) inspirational person.

And then I got further distracted by this. NASA have successfully landed the Curiosity rover on Mars. Now putting aside the fact that the XKCD comic about the previous Mars rover is the saddest thing I’ve ever ever seen (apart perhaps from the musical montage prologue bit in Up), this is amazing news. The Curiosity rover weighs a tonne and it’s just landed on a planet that is at least 53 million km away from Earth. And we did that. Obviously I mean we – humanity, not we – me and my mates. Sadly our mission to Mars broke down at the planning stage, when we ran out of napkins to draw on and spent the remaining budget on drinking more wine instead.

Humanity though is amazing. When we’re not killing each other and breaking the planet, we’re really rather incredible. We can learn to run when we have no legs. We can overcome great odds to follow our dreams, like Saudi Arabian athletes Sarah Attar and Wojdan Shaherkani. We can send massive great hunks of stuff to other planets. We’re quite inpsiring when you stop to think about our positives. So, that’s what I’m inviting you to do today? Think about the positives. What inspires you? What makes you go weirdly smiley and teary-eyed all at the same time? Please do sharing in the comments, and, if you feel so inspired, please feel free to do following/subscribing too.

In which I, for reasons which will be made clear, get behind Grenada for Olympic glory

So it is nearly time to stop grumbling about the expense, and the traffic disruption, and the inability of multinational companies to recruit security guards, and get on with some actual sport. I am genuinely excited about the Olympics. The Olympics is, I think, my favourite delivery format for sport, and this is from a woman who has a fully considered opinion on Andy Murray’s best chance of winning a grand slam (would have thought US, but maybe Wimbledon after all), and on the relative merits of a range of England strikers (Wayne Rooney – increasingly overrated).

The Olympics has a sense of the village fete sports day that you don’t get with those other big sporting events. You’ve got your Usain Bolt, but you’ve also got your modern pentathletes, archers, mountain bikers, and table tennisificators. And it’s that mix of different events that makes the Olympics so utterly brilliant.

This year I shall be mainly cheering for Team Grenada. Of course. Because of how I am Grenadan. Which, actually, I’m not. No. The reason for cheering for Team Grenada is entirely financial. My nephew’s school are running a fund-raising Olympic raffle, in which “winning” ticket holders are allocated an Olympic nation. Prizes are given to the ticket holders whos countries achieve the most Gold, Silver, or Bronze medals. I got Grenada. Hurrah! Go Grenada! Go Grenada!

In order to best support my newly adopted nation, I’ve had a little look at their previous Olympic performances. It turns out that Grenada didn’t actually win any medals in Beijing, or in Athens, or in Sydney, or, indeed, at any of the Olymipcs they’ve competed at since their first Games in 1984. I’m not daunted by this fact though. Sure. I may have to be a little bit realistic. Probably we’re going to be competing for the prize for Most Bronze medals rather than Most Golds but I still think that’s totally doable.

The team with the most bronze medals in Beijing was the USA, who took home 36 bronze medals. Admittedly, the Grenadan team this year consists of just ten athletes, but I’m not letting that dissaude me from the potential glory ahead. And that, right there, is the brilliance of sport. Being a armchair sport addict is, in the end, all about hope. It’s about maintaining the belief that this year will be different in the face of all evidence to the contrary. It’s about knowing that it’s not over until the fat lady blows the whistle or the referee sings (or something like that), and then, even when it is over, regrouping and coming back and doing it all again. Hope is what makes watching sport so seductive, and is why I remain entirely confident of scooping raffle glory. I’ll be there. Bum on sofa. Olympic themed nibbles on lap. TV and laptop fired up to facilitate multi-event viewing, and Grenada will bring home those medals for me. Probably. Go Team Grenada!

So there you go – week one of my promise to blog every Monday, and I’m totally doing it. Hurrah! As ever, please do commenting and following and all that stuff. Are you excited about the Olympics? Do you fall over with boredom when Match of the Day comes on the telly? Are you a unusually big fan of Grenada?  I warmly encourage you to tell us about any, or all, of the above (or about anything else that is flitting through your mind) down there in the comments.