Friday, 31 August 2012

My Novels: Tales Willingly Told

Tales Willingly Told

Word count:

(Or just “far too long” would probably cover it...)

June to November 2003

The story – or stories – of Ashley, Mary and Luke, three young people from the south of England whose interconnected lives and relationships are related over a fifteen-year period. Luke’s brother James and Mary are a couple, but Ashley loves James and Luke loves Mary... James gets Mary pregnant while they are still teenagers, and the fall-out from this continues to create ripples and influences the lives of the three of them through the course of the story.

James Gibson.

Six foot two inches tall; thick, short dark brown hair that used to dangle around his head in head in a gorgeous mess when we came in from those PE lessons; a six pack to die for and all the charm, wit and sophistication of a bulldog. But what the hell did I care what he acted like? It was his body that mattered to me; a body I could barely take my eyes away from whenever that shirt came off.

Which was pretty difficult, as you can imagine, when you’re sixteen years old and still at school. Other guys don’t tend to like it if they realise you’re eyeing them up in the changing rooms, it doesn’t go down very well. So I had to be careful about it, subtle, cunning.

But fucking hell, what a body.

One of the many reasons I am proud to work for the BBC is because I think so much of what the Corporation has produced, for radio and television, down the years is superb. And there is no finer example of what the BBC does best when it is firing on all cylinders than the 1996 drama serial Our Friends in the North.

It tells the story of the lives of four friends from the north east of England over thirty years, from the mid-1960s to the mid-1990s. At its heart it’s the story of the relationship between a man and a woman; its writer Peter Flannery has also joked about it being a ten-hour drama about Labour Party housing policy. But it’s so much more than that. It’s the story of Britain in the late twentieth century, of the political battles between left and right, the changing of society and the lives, loves and friendships of four ordinary people, with the UK as their backdrop. It’s utterly superb, if you haven’t seen it I highly recommend you do, and it’s the sort of thing that justifies the licence fee on its own.

I first saw bits of it on its original run in 1996, and I was captivated by the characters and the story. I didn’t see it all until a repeat run, which I think was on Saturday nights the following year, but ever since I have adored it, have watched it again several times on DVD, and have always wanted to try and write something like it. I love stories of an epic scope and scale, which follow characters over a long time, and Tales Willingly Told was my attempt at that.

It’s just an ordinary, basic story of falling in love, not getting what you want out of life, frustration and misery and the hope of better things. I don’t recall exactly what set it off, but oddly I do remember the moment I suddenly knew what the story was, who the three main characters were and how it went – I was sitting watching the Canadian Grand Prix of 2003 on television when it happened. Perhaps it was a particularly dull race, although that would be unusual for Canada.

Anyway, I came up with the notion of telling the events of the story from the three different first-person perspectives of the three main characters, and it ended up being stupidly long. I think I’d made the mistake of thinking an epic timescale needed an epic word count, which of course need not necessarily be the case.

Looking back:
It was a stupid thing to try to write, really. 19-year-olds cannot write great long sagas of ordinary lives, because at that age you’ve barely lived yourself and hardly know anything. It took many years for Peter Flannery to get Our Friends in the North into its finished form – he’d lived, he’d been around, he’d done things.

I’d done bugger all, and was somehow trying to shape years of fictional lives out of that lack of experience.

It is too long. Far too long. I’m not sure if I ever will sit down and write my Our Friends-type work, but if I do I’ll try and make it a little more concise. One of the major problems with Tales is the fact that because it’s pretty much telling the same series of events from three different perspectives, once the reader gets to the third time around they’re probably pretty sick of it.

Plus, when it comes down to it, the story being told – from any of the three perspectives – is just... Boring. There was nothing to it other than tedious people living tedious lives. I thought I was trying to write some sort of gritty reality, but really it was just dull, and surely there can be few greater sins in writing a novel than that?

On the plus side, however, it was another step along my development as a writer in terms of how I prepared for writing a novel. It was the first novel – or the first one I finished, at any rate – where I actually sat down and wrote a lot of notes and plans, making sure I had the characters and the storyline straight before I was too deeply committed to the prose. Basically, knowing where I was going – which is always an advantage!

Looking back at my diaries of the time, I find – for I recorded such things very precisely in those days! – that I tried Tales on fourteen agents before I gave up on it. I think this description of the first reply I received from any of those agents probably shows that Tales got the response it deserved:

I had my first reply from an agent today regarding Tales. I sent all the submissions off on Monday, and this first reply was just my letter in one of my SAEs with ‘not for us, better luck elsewhere’ scribbled at the bottom.

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Radio in a Roundabout Way

On Monday, BBC Radio Norfolk – for whom I work in the day job! – broadcast a documentary I made called Radio in a Roundabout Way. It was all about a programme called Roundabout East Anglia, which the BBC broadcast from Norwich for the eastern counties in the 1970s, in the days before there were BBC Local Radio stations in the region.

It’s a subject that appealed to me because it was a show that had been forgotten by a lot of people, a story that hadn’t really been told on-air before, and even in published sources only mentioned as the occasional footnote in histories of Radio Norfolk. I’m something of an enthusiast of the history of broadcasting in general and the BBC in particular, and the opportunity to explore one of its lesser-told tales could not be resisted.

I worked hard on the programme, interviewed various people who were kind enough to give up their time to dig into their memories, did a lot of research and managed to turn up a reasonable amount of archive material that probably hadn’t been seen or heard by anybody for decades. I was rather proud of the finished result, have had a lot of nice feedback about it, and should anyone reading this fancy a listen, it’s still available online until next Monday.

The reason I mention it here is because I have found over the last couple of years that I rather enjoy making radio documentaries, and I think I’m rather good at it. They’re not something you regularly get the opportunity to work on in local radio, usually only cropping up on Bank Holidays and over Christmas, things like that. But one of the advantages of the small scale and informality of local radio is that, if you have a good enough idea and go away and make something well, you can usually make a good case for it being broadcast at some point.

I think I like making documentaries for much the same reason I enjoy writing – and there is some writing involved, of course, in scripting the links for a programme. (Although I think you should always have as little narration as you think you can possibly get away with – which isn’t a bad rule for writing either, when you should write as little as you need to in order to tell the story). It’s all about piecing together a narrative, and in making a documentary it’s much easier, for the simple reason that once you’ve recorded all your interviews or found all your archive material, it’s all laid out in front of you. You don’t have to write or create or struggle over anything yourself – it all exists, you just have to cut it down, move it around and put it into an order that works.

I can – and have – worked for hours at a time, sitting down cutting interviews and archive into a series of fragments, then working out what to discard and what to keep, and in what order it should all go. One of the advantages of a radio documentary is that, also like writing, it can be something of a solo pursuit – you don’t need teams of people to make a documentary for the radio. You just need you and some editing software and some patience and time.

I think, if I weren’t able to ever be a full-time writer, I would happily take making radio documentaries for a living as a second choice. Neither is particularly likely at the moment, but at least as things stand I do occasionally get paid for documentary-making. I suppose you could say a drawback of documentaries is that you’re always telling somebody else’s narrative, not your own... But if your characters feel alive and real to you, perhaps that should be what a novel is like anyway. Telling someone else’s stories, and working out what to keep and what to discard, and how to tell the story in the most economical but affecting fashion possible.

Thursday, 23 August 2012

My Novels: In Loving Memory

In Loving Memory

Word count:

January to May 2003

In a rather grim block of flats called Ericksson Court, strange things are happening. People are disappearing, and odd things are being seen and heard. Sophie lives in the flats, looking after her friend Natalie, who is mourning the death of her lover. As the unusual occurrences start to become intolerable, Sophie asks her old friend Alice Flack, a woman with a passion for the unexplained, to investigate. At the flats, Alice meets a aloof and obnoxious man named Jardine – who claims to be a ghost hunter. Together, they delve into the mystery of the building and those who live there.

“What can you see?”

Natalie was dimly aware, somewhere, that there was somebody in the room who had asked her that question, but she didn’t consider it important enough to respond. She didn’t consider anything much important enough to respond to these days.

She was busy looking – watching, waiting, hoping to catch a glimpse of him again. She looked hard, through the glass of the window gently stained with the grime of the city, past the gathering spatter of raindrops covering and confusing the view, down onto the grey streets below. Unimportant people meandered along the pavements, some clutching at brightly-coloured umbrellas which served only to highlight the dull tones of the street around them.

Spots of colour in the dark. Just as her sightings of him were spots of colour in her life.

It had been three days since she had last seen him, at the very extremity of her vantage point from the window, standing by the bus stop at the end of the road outside of the newsagent. It had been wet that day too, and he had had the long grey coat he wore – always the same coat – pulled tightly around him. Part of the collar obscured his face, but she knew it was him.

He was always around, somewhere, hovering just out of view. Occasionally he allowed her to see him, just so she wouldn’t forget he was there perhaps. As if she ever could.

But not today. Today was not special, it was just like so many of other days. Bleak and depressing and full of nothing.

She began to cry.

I was in my first year at university, living in the Waveney Terrace halls of residence at the UEA, when I wrote In Loving Memory. I don’t remember anything in particular that prompted the interest, but I wrote quite a few ghost stories around this time – short stories, I mean. Many of them involved the character of Jardine, a terse and taciturn, miserable sod of a ghost hunter who was heavily influenced by the character of Steel from the old ITV sci-fi series Sapphire & Steel, which I had recently seen for the first time on DVD.

I don’t recall where the idea for the storyline of In Loving Memory came from, but I do remember very consciously deciding to set it in an urban area. This was after talking to a chap called Tim Davies, who lived on my corridor and with whom I later shared a house in the second year, about an earlier possible novel idea I had, which took place in the distant, isolated countryside. It was also a ghost story, and Tim made the point that these stories often seem to be set in out-of-the-way places where nobody ever knows what’s going on. I thought this was a good point, and changed things accordingly.

Looking back:
I was still on a steep learning curve with In Loving Memory – I’m still on the learning curve now, of course – but I think I had slightly more of a grasp of how to go about writing a novel with this one. Just browsing back through it, the writing’s not nearly as poor as I would have expected from the 19-year-old me, and I think it may be the first effort where I had a decent grasp of structure and pacing.

I read some of the chapters out at feedback meetings of the UEA Creative Writing Society, and I remember some of them getting a fairly decent response. It also has the positive point about it that, much like Fatescape, it’s not a novel where I’m trying to be at all literary, and am simply trying to tell an entertaining story, which is always safer ground for me.

I still quite like Jardine. Maybe I should go back and do something with him someday.

I had sent off novel submissions before, but looking for references to In Loving Memory in my diary for 2003, I find that in June I wrote:

I submitted In Loving Memory to eleven publishers yesterday, the first time I have ever properly submitted a novel to anybody. Of course it won’t get published, but just to have the experience of having gone through the rigmarole of preparing and submitting a novel will be a good experience for me. And I enclosed SAEs with all of them so they’ve got no bloody excuse not to at least write back and say ‘fuck off you talentless hack’ or whatever it is they say. I originally had a list of thirteen I was going to send it to, but upon buying a more recent copy of The Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook narrowed it down to eleven for the very good reason that two of the companies I had on my provisional list either no longer existed or had been swallowed up.

Shows how stupid I was about these things at the time – dashing off submissions of the first draft rather than taking the time to work through the novel and actually try and knock it into decent shape. Not surprisingly then, a couple of weeks later we have:

Speaking of sending things off, the rejections for In Loving Memory have already started rolling in – I got three on Friday, one of those via e-mail rather than post, and all strangely from publishers whose names begin with ‘S’ – Simon & Schuster, Severn House and Souvenir. On the bright side none of them rejected it for artistic reasons, Simon & Schuster because they only accept agent-submitted work and the other two because they had no space for it on their lists, and there are still eight more to hear back from… But I’m far more interested in the new project now in any case!

Said “new project” was a novel I had already started writing in June, with In Loving Memory not even getting a redrafting. This was possibly the first case – but by no means the last! – of me suffering from “next novel syndrome.” This has been an all-too-frequent occurrence for me, where I get towards the end of one project and then suddenly find I am far more interested in the story idea I have had for the next one.

I suppose it’s because the unwritten novel always holds more potential and promise than the one you’ve struggled through and found to be not nearly as good as the conception of it you had in your head!

Saturday, 11 August 2012

Inspirational landscape

This past couple of days I have been on my travels, seeing the Olympic women's football final at Wembley with my friend Ollie, then spending a pleasant day back home in West Sussex with my parents.

A short way into the train journey back up to London and thence Norwich this morning, we passed one of my favourite sights - the chapel of Lancing College. I worked it, and my feelings about it, into a section of the novel I am currently submitting to agents and publishers, The Wicket in the Rec. So I thought, as I hadn't so far posted any of my actual writing on the blog to any great degree, I'd post the excerpt in which Lancing College features.

After all, if I'm blogging about writing, I ought to actually show you some of my work rather than just talking about it!

Oh, and I took a few photos too, with mixed results - the below is one of the best. Not bad from a moving train, eh?


Ken Jordan hoped that he still had a while left on this planet. But he was nothing if not a practical man, and so three years ago he had finally set about making a will, to stipulate what should happen to the small amount of independent wealth he had been fortunate enough to accrue.

In this document, there was a bequest to Lancing College. A small bequest, admittedly, but still not one to be sniffed at. The condition of this was that the money should be used to help with the upkeep of the college’s impressive chapel. An outside observer might have thought this strange, as Ken had never studied there, nor was he in any way religious. The school and its chapel meant nothing to him in and of themselves.

But they represented something. An emotional tug at his soul that, in all his years of staying away, had never quite disappeared.

Anyone who travelled on the railway line between Brighton and Littlehampton would know the place. Going west from Shoreham station, the sound of the wheels on the track changing as the train rattles across the bridge over the Adur. Then, once over the river, past the 1930s control tower of the airport... and there it is, rising up like a great Cathedral of the Downs.

Ken could see it. Not in his mind’s eye, not in some childhood memory, but he could see it on this very day, because for the first time in so many years, decades, he was on a train travelling home.

He had landed at Gatwick early that morning, on the only flight available at such short notice. He had taken the train down to Brighton, and was now travelling along to Angmering, where he hoped he would be able to find a bus, or failing that a taxi, that could take him to the village of his birth. The place he had once sworn never again to visit.

He had not been sure what he would feel as he passed Lancing College on the train. Had not known whether the old twinge would still be there. The feeling that once you saw the chapel you were nearly there. ‘Home is this way,’ it always seemed to be saying to him.

He had peered wistfully at it as a train had taken him away to the war and, although he could never have known it, to five long, hard years of imprisonment. And he had stared at it as he came home after the war’s end. Older, wiser, bitter perhaps, but excited by the thought of home all the same. Indeed, that day, he had nearly wept as the chapel had come into view through a misty, dream-like morning.

There were no tears today. But still he felt his heart beat faster to see it there, unchanged, identical to how it had always been. The dirty old slam-door train he was on may have been cold and draughty, with stained seats and miserable-looking travellers. He may have been heading to the funeral of a man he hated, to a village he hadn’t seen for years.

But for the first time in his journey, as the train lumbered past the college, he felt as if he really was going home. He even craned his neck around to keep on looking at the chapel for as long as he could, before it slid out of view, and the train travelled on.

Monday, 6 August 2012

"Yes, I was there too..."

Not a post about writing, I’m afraid. Sorry about that, but I will try and keep these sorts of posts to a bare minimum on this blog. However, I couldn’t let the chance pass by to write a few words about my trip to London last Friday – to the Olympic Games.

I was still at university, just about, when London won the right to host the Games, on July the 6th 2005. I think I’d finished my exams but was still going in daily to use the internet, as I didn’t have it at home at the time due to the miserable couple of people with whom I spent a fairly joyless year house-sharing.

I recall very clearly sitting in one of the computer rooms in the Arts block, with my laptop plugged into the network, listening to the announcement being streamed via 5 Live on the BBC website. Looking back at my diary entry for that day I can see that I was already planning to attend some events in the far-off Space Year 2012, although as I put at the end:

Seven years… I wonder where I’ll be in life and what I’ll be doing then? Doubtless I’ll be coming back to read this entry anyway! Hope you’re doing well there, Paul aged 28.

Yes, not too badly, thank you.

I never would have expected to still be living in Norwich by the time 2012 finally rolled around, but being here has meant I’ve seen, from a distance, the Olympics grow up and take shape. If you live in Norwich, whenever you have to get the train down to go to or through London, you always pass Stratford on the line into Liverpool Street Station, and many’s the time in recent years I have looked out of a train window to see the Olympic Stadium beginning to take form, and the park around it too.

The Olympic Stadium in Stratford, East London.

Last Friday morning, I got the chance to sit in the stadium as the athletics events of the Games got under way.

I didn’t get anything at all in the first round of ticket sales last year, but in the second round I managed to get tickets to the women’s football final at Wembley this Thursday, and for the princely sum of £150, a ticket to be in the Olympic Stadium itself for the first session of the athletics. I chose the football because I wanted to actually go to an event where a medal would be won, and because it’s a sport I enjoy watching. But I also chose the athletics because... Well, that is the Olympics, isn’t it? For all the other sports, it’s the running, jumping and throwing that are emblematic of the Games.

Seeing the fantastic reaction of most of the people around me to the opening ceremony and the first week of the Games, the feeling of so many people wanting to be a part of it, the sense of a coming together and a shared joy among the nations, certainly convinced me I made the right choice to spend the money on a ticket. I’d been looking forward to it all week, and when the day finally came I’m pleased to say that I was not disappointed.

It was a very early start on Friday morning, getting the 5.30am train down from Norwich, but already there was a touch of Olympic Spirit about place. There were pink-jacketed railway staff – soon to become a familiar site at stations all over the capital – handing out free maps of the venue areas and amended train timetables, and in my carriage there were certainly other Olympic travellers, some happily with Union Flags painted on their cheeks and eagerly chatting about what they were off to go and see.

Finally, after all these years of glancing at the Olympic Park as I went through Stratford, I was getting off the train there to actually go and visit the place.

It was an incredible feeling walking down from the station to the park. Everyone was very effectively shepherded, with volunteers brandishing big pink foam hands labelled ‘London 2012’ with a pointing finger standing every few feet along the way, ensuring you couldn’t possibly get lost. Every so often one of these volunteers would be seated in a high chair and armed with a loud hailer, to encourage you that it wasn’t far to go now, telling us they hoped we all had a good day and occasionally asking whether we were all from the UK or what countries we’d come from and who we were there to support.

The walk from Stratford Station to the Olympic Park.

I have to say that the volunteers all around the Olympic Park, in their fetching orange-and-purple colour schemes, were an absolute credit to the Games and indeed the country. Unfailingly helpful, polite, cheerful and almost all of them clearly absolutely delighted to be there and be a part of it all. They must have to put up with a lot, but I never saw any of them looking angry or stressed, and they all seemed happy to help out with the constant requests to “please take my photo with the stadium in the background!” from all around.

“Please can you take a photo of me...?”

There was a real sense of crackling anticipation and excitement in the crowd as we shuffled along to the Olympic Park – shuffling being a main feature of the day, actually. Wherever there were long queues in the Park, they never stayed static for long. For the megastore, for the toilets, for food... They may have been long, but they always kept moving, which quite impressed me.

Getting in was actually a doddle, and only took a couple of minutes. When I had to turn out my pockets into a plastic tray, the soldier checking my things noticed by BBC pass (I wasn’t working and was there purely as a spectator, but I like to carry my pass around with me when I go on trips like this, just in case I should need to get into any outpost of the BBC somewhere) and joked with me whether I was there to do an undercover exposé of Olympic Park security!

And then I was in. The Olympics!

Being there so early in the morning was actually a great bonus, although I didn’t realise that until later on when it became much busier. Although it was very busy in the morning, it wasn’t as jam-packed as it would later become, and it was fairly easy to walk around the Park, exploring, looking at all the venues without getting caught up in big crowds.

Being there before the crowds got too deep meant the chance to pose for pictures like this one.

One of my favourite moments of morning came as I was wandering around, taking it all in. I saw a Frenchman, brandishing a large flag of his country, very excitedly running up to two police officers and asking if he could have his photo taken with them – real British policemen with their funny helmets. The constables, of course, duly obliged!

I spent over an hour just walking around, taking pictures, and then queued up to get into the ‘London 2012 Megastore’ to buy some souvenirs. I also managed to accidentally purchase what I would say was a deceptively-packaged Australian flag, but it was all right – once inside the stadium I managed to get a UK flag from one of the smaller merchandise outposts, to wave in support!

The stadium itself is, I would say, incredibly well-designed. I wouldn’t consider myself to be an expert on stadia, but compared to the last stadium I was in, Carrow Road, it didn’t feel many times bigger, and didn’t lose any sense of the ability to follow what was going on – even though it seats 80,000 compared to the 20-odd thousand of Carrow Road.

However, the noise and the colour of the crowd was really something else – as soon as I walked through into the stand, and looked from left to right at the chattering, waving, excited mass of people, I could feel the scale of the thing. The sheer joy to be there. This was the Olympics, and we were there!

Not a bad view, eh?

I had a pretty bloody good seat, too – on the back straight, pretty much bang in the middle, and not too many rows back. The long jump / triple jump pits were directly in front, and there was a decent view of the hammer and shot-put circles, although the high-jump area and of course the start/finish straight for most of the races were right over on the other side. But with the big screens and scoreboards at either end and rather simplistic but nonetheless cheerful stadium announcers, it was always reasonably easy to follow everything that was happening, except perhaps when there were races and field events going on at the same time.

The announcers, it does have to be said, weren’t the greatest or most insightful of characters – a British chap sounding like an encouraging holiday camp redcoat, and an American who sounds like a computerised voice reading out lists of athletes. The British chap, in particular, clearly struggled with French pronunciation, as whenever he had a French athlete to name, a recording of said name by someone else would be played in while he left a gap in his speech!

Having seen morning sessions from Olympics and world championships on TV before, they had sometimes seemed a little flat in terms of crowd atmosphere, and I was a touch worried this would be like that. No fear of that, however: the crowd was not only at capacity, as far as I could tell, but also full of noise and anticipation, throughout the whole four hours or so I was in there.

So, what do I remember the most?

The way the crowd would always go wild over one of two things – a British athlete being announced, or someone who was plumb last in one of the races by quite a long way, who would always be cheered home to the rafters.

Yes, it was nice to have a lot of British interest, and to be a part of that happy, generous, flag-waving crowd screaming and shouting in support of them. I saw Dai Greene in his 400m hurdles heat, Christine Ohuruogu in her 400m flat heat, and various others – including the first two events of the heptathlon, with Jessica Ennis. Yes, for the start of it at least, I can say “I was there” for her gold medal-winning performance. I was part of that noise she credited with inspiring her as she walked out into the stadium on that first morning.

But it was another British athlete who sticks most in the memory of the home efforts for me. Katarina Johnson-Thompson, of whom I doubt many people in the stadium had heard before Friday (I certainly hadn’t, anyway), only 19 years old and also competing in the heptathlon. Towards the end of the session, with no more races on the track, the full attention of the crowd was on the heptathlon high jump.

Jessica Ennis in the high jump.

Ennis had been the focus, being cheered to the rafters as she cleared 1 metre 86, but it was Johnson-Thompson who actually stayed in the contest for longer. She got up to 1.89, and as she got ready to do her jump at this height, everyone was watching her. The stadium PA was pumping out I Love Rock and Roll by Joan Jett, everyone was clapping in rhythm, and I caught a glimpse of a close-up of Johnson-Thompson on the big screen. She was focusing ready for her jump, but as she glanced around her at the crowd – cheering, clapping, roaring for her, an unknown 19-year-old at her home Olympics – she broke into a small, slightly stunned smile. A sort of “I cannot believe this is happening to me.”

It was endearing and infectious, and she cleared the height and we all roared in delight.

As I say, though, it was those finishing last who also caught my attention. In the men’s 3000m steeplechase heats, poor old Stuart Stokes, who if athletes were powered by cheers alone would surely have won his heat. But he ran around in last position, despite the frantic shouts of the small child in front of me to “Come on STOKES!!!” every time he plodded along the back straight.

In the women’s 400m heats, two of the runners who’d had the honour and the pride of being their countries’ flag bearers at the opening ceremony – Zamzam Mohamed Farah of Somalia, and Maziah Mahusin of Brunei – finished miles behind their competitors. Seconds in a sport of tenths. Mahusin even managed to set a national record while finishing some seven seconds behind her nearest rival, and when it was announced as a record for her country she got another loud cheer from an approving audience.

They were the best their countries had, and they had come and done their best.

It ought to have felt patronising, I suppose, and written down like that I fear it does, but it never felt like that in the stadium. It never felt like we were taking the piss, and I genuinely don’t believe anybody in those stands intended to be doing that. We wanted to cheer them because they had come and they had tried. They had done the best they can do.

Bang! A steeplechase heat starts on the back straight.

There was another such runner in the steeplechase heats, an Ethiopian called Birhan Getahun, who I think must have been injured as he was so far behind. Nonetheless, he tried to complete the course, and was being similarly roared on into the final straight, before there was a collective gasp from the crowd as he collapsed at the final hurdle. He staggered to his feet, was cheered again by a crowd clearly hoping for a Derek Redmond moment, but then fell again and had to be carried from the track.

It was, as I say, a wonderful morning, and I am so pleased I was there. Even the (heavy!) rain shower didn’t put anyone off, and I did rather enjoy the stadium PA putting out Rihanna’s Umbrella while that was happening, quickly followed by Sun is Shining by Bob Marley when the clouds passed. I thought it was rather good thinking on behalf of whoever chose the music, but it turns out of course that they have very carefully-programmed playlists for all eventualities.

When I came out, a little after two, it was clear that the Olympic Park was so much busier, and it wasn’t quite as pleasant to be in as before now that it was thronged with people. I headed off into the centre of London to be a bit of a tourist for the afternoon. This caused my only real upset of the day when I dutifully obeyed the constantly-tannoyed instructions to please used West Ham tube station instead of Stratford to help ease congestion. This I dutifully did, but what they don’t tell you is that West Ham station is half a bloody hour’s walk away!

I got cross about this – purely internally – as I thought this unexpectedly-long walk would mean I’d lost my booked slot on the London Eye, which I’d decided to go on having never done so before. I got into that mood and manner those who know me will be familiar with when my carefully-laid plans go awry – silent, stompy and with a thunderous frown on my face. However, as it turned out the fast track ticket I’d booked for the Eye was fully flexible, so I could go on any time I wanted.

An attempt at an arty shot of the London Eye, after my ride on it.

Then it was back across London for a ride on the new cable car that goes across the river from the Royal Docks to the O2 (or the “North Greenwich Arena” was it is for the Olympics), which I’d first read about on the BBC News website a couple of months ago and been quite intrigued by. You get great views, but it is slightly nerve-wracking to be gently swaying high above the Thames, especially if – like me – you start thinking about what would happen if the cable broke and you went plummeting down into the water!

The O2, and Canary Wharf, from the cable car.

Such concerns aside, I had a fine old time in London, and am so, so glad I bought a ticket last year. I don’t usually enjoy going to the capital – I find it too crowded, grimy, miserable and generally soulless. It’s like being in some science-fiction dystopia, a bleak world full of bleak lives.

But on Friday I enjoyed it. On Friday, it felt like a happy, welcoming city. It won’t last, of course, but it was nice to be a part of it.