August 31, 2011 § Leave a comment
His masseur, Everald Edwards, is waiting by the side of the track. Bolt stretches for a moment and then flops onto the massage couch, swapping patois with NJ — who has shadowed him since he woke up — and smiling at the cameras as his shoes and socks are removed and his muscles are caressed with warming oils. He warms up with a series of 60-metre shuffles down the track and stretches again until finally he is ready for work. He sits on the track, removes his socks and trainers, and NJ hands him his (size 13) racing shoes — brilliant white spikes with a black stripe, gold trimming and golden brown soles.
Gregory Little, an assistant coach at Racers Track Club, is standing by with a clipboard and stopwatch. He has four other athletes scattered around the track but all eyes are on Bolt as he jogs to the 150-metre mark, settles into a crouch and opens the throttle. It is the first time I’ve seen Bolt live and I’m reminded of a thoroughbred racehorse — such grace and power and cadence — as he moves through the gears and crosses the line in 16.8 seconds. Then he takes off his shirt, walks back down the track and does it again.
Ricky Simms, the 37-year-old director of the Pace Sports Management agency, based in Teddington, London, watches from the sideline. Nine years ago, Simms was at a Golden League meeting in Monaco, when a buzz went around about a 15-year-old Jamaican who had just won the 200 metres at the World Junior Championships in Kingston. “Everyone was talking about him,” Simms recalls. “It was ‘Wow! You want to see this kid. He’s just amazing.’”
A year later, they had their first meeting, over dinner in Paris, and in 2004, when Bolt turned professional, Simms was chosen as his “Jerry Maguire” — his dedicated sports agent. The relationship got off to the perfect start in March that year when Bolt broke the world junior record for the 200 metres. There were five months to go until the Athens Olympics and Bolt moved his training base to Teddington for the summer. “Our initial role with him was performance and anything to do with his athletics,” Simms explains. “I remember thinking, ‘We have to impress this kid from Jamaica and make sure that he is treated well and has good lanes.’ So I went to his room [one night before a race] and said, ‘Look, you’re in lane four, here are the guys [outside of you],’ and he said, ‘What are you talking about?’ I said, ‘I’m just giving you your lane draw.’ He said, ‘What do I want to know that for?’ It didn’t matter to him.
“And he would never be in his room. He would always be in the hotel lobby, talking to people. He was like, ‘Let’s play a video game. Let’s hang out.’ Also, he didn’t really change his time zones. He would stay up very late playing video games and then sleep all day. There was an innocence about it that he had.”
August 30, 2011 § Leave a comment
There’s a spoof clip on YouTube — “Usain Bolt celebrates early… very early” — that captures it brilliantly. He is being interviewed after the Olympic final, reviewing the race…
Spoof interviewer: “In-cred-ible! World record time, gold medal, you made it look easy. Usain, walk us through the replay.”
Spoof Bolt: “Yay mon. That’s the Chinese guy in the starting position, that’s the white guy in his starting position, that’s me in my starting pose, then I hear the gun. And this is where I realised I was going to win the race.” Cue Bolt high-fiving with another Jamaican in the adjoining lane.
Spoof interviewer: “But didn’t you just leave the starting blocks?”
Spoof Bolt: “That’s right. I got embarrassingly far ahead right here so I decided to back track a bit.” Cue Bolt running backwards.
“I remember this,” Bolt smiles as I show him the clip on my laptop. “The first time I saw it I was like, ‘Oh my God! Are you serious? It was funny, though. It’s kinda good.” Did it make him laugh or cry? “It was funny, it was good. Crazy people. They put the craziest things on YouTube,” he laughs. It captured his spirit pretty well — the funny, relaxed guy who makes it look easy. Is it really that easy? “Well, the running part is easy for me. If I train hard and I work hard, then the running part for me is the easier part because all I have to do now is go there and execute what I have learnt over the past couple of months from my coach… Outside of the running part, I go to the gym, I do work-outs, track work. I’ve got to do so many different things to make that, the running part, look easy.”
And that’s hard? “That’s the hard part. That’s when everything goes downhill.” Has that been difficult since Beijing? The constant demands on his time? “No. It’s part of the thing. Before everything came about, my coach sat down and talked to me. He said, ‘Listen. If you really blow up [run well], this is what is going to happen. There is going to be a lot of pressure, people are going to always want a piece of you. After I dominated in Beijing, he said it again. And he kept saying it.”
Because that’s the price of fame? “Yeah, pretty much.” And he doesn’t mind paying it? “No, I don’t,” he laughs. A gentle mist caresses the hills above Kingston. It is 6.15am at the University of the West Indies and three television crews and a handful of journalists and photographers have come to Bolt’s training ground. The morning is warm and gloriously tranquil, but the silence is soon broken by the roar of a black BMW, speeding down the Old Hope Road from the fashionable suburb of Norbrook.
The security guard recognises the driver immediately and there’s a flurry of panic as he pulls back the gate and the cameras race for position. Bolt steers the car across the gravel and greets the reporters with a smile: “Hi everybody.” He’s wearing bright-yellow kit with big Puma labels and is so enamoured by the buzz as he steps from the car that he leaves the door open and the engine running.
August 29, 2011 § Leave a comment
Maybe you’re already a fan of the 1990 film, or maybe you were too busy watching something else. Either way, you can now experience this “ timeless romance about the power of love” afresh, as Ghost rises from the dead once more, reanimated as a stage musical with lots of schmaltzy songs and enough cheese to feed Switzerland for a year.
The story concerns two young lovers, Sam and Molly, who move into a New York apartment together. Molly is an artist, sculptor and potter, and wears dungarees, while Sam is a Wall Street trader and all-round beefcake. To show off the fact that he is a beefcake, he wears a tight vest a lot — the first of many clichés. In fact, on the night I saw him, he seemed to get in quite a tangle trying to put his shirt on, which suggested that this particular pumped-up gym bunny may not be the sharpest whiz-kid on Wall Street. And when a mysterious surplus of $ 10m turns up in his bank account, you very much doubt he’s earned it himself by a brilliant use of mezzanine debt to finance a leveraged corporate buyout. Or whatever.
In fact, you can spot the bad guy of the piece considerably earlier than you can in a Famous Five novel — and he’s not even a funny foreign-looking fellow. Soon, the bad guy is arranging for Sam to be mugged in order to get hold of some security codes, but the mugger he employs is a vicious Puerto Rican hoodlum called Willie Lopez ( and a funny foreign-looking fellow — I was getting worried they had quite died out).
The mugging goes horribly wrong and Sam is killed. But that’s not the end. Sam arises from his own corpse as a ghost, and the musical itself stretches away into eternity — well, nearly three hours, anyway. Sam cannot be heard or seen by his distraught and bereaved beloved, so how can he communicate his love to her from beyond the grave? At the heart of this melodramatic story is the old idea that ghosts are the souls of those who linger on earth because they have unfinished business here. With Molly in terrible danger, how can Sam the ghost save her from the villains?
can also play the guitar and do a pleasing Elvis impression, while Levy handles the notoriously Freudian pottery scene without bursting into giggles at the recollection of the French and Saunders parody.
Just when you’re preparing for a weepie, the afterlife turns out to be a kind of limp comedy featuring an ageing tap dancer in a loud check suit. The mixed tone here is confusing. Then Sam latches onto a bogus psychic called Oda Mae Brown. In a nice twist, the spurious spiritualist discovers that, in fact, she has the gift after all and can hear Sam loud and clear. Thereafter, it’s up to her to foil the baddies. As Oda Mae, has an absolute blast and is very soon established as the colourful heart of the show. She also has by far the best song, a stomping bit of disco triumphalism in the I Will Survive mould, called I’m Outta Here! “ I’m outta here, I’m off to the Bahamas / I’m outta here, gonna pack my pink pyjamas!”
Apart from this glorious set piece, the music of Dave Stewart and Glen Ballard is serviceable, but hardly memorable. There’s a touch of funk, a bit of 1980s-style power ballad, some metal. The only other high point musically is a nice, soft, melancholy pop song, Suspend My Disbelief, sung by Molly, which is rather moving.
Matthew Warchus’s direction and staging are always lively, with banks of bright lights and a bigstage energy evoking the feel of Wall Street in the early 1990s, and some terrific illusions and conjuring tricks from Paul Kieve. Sam passes through a solid door right before our eyes — but later, he has to learn how to move things around, like a poltergeist.
You can get in quite a muddle trying to work out the science of all this. He can walk through doors because he is immaterial. Okay. So presumably he doesn’t fall through the floor as well because he isn’t subject to the force of gravity? The great question, though, is why his clothes don’t fall off him? If he’s immaterial, there is nothing to prevent them just dropping to the floor. All very worrying. In fact, if the principles of electromagnetic attraction and repulsion are to be properly observed here, Fleeshman ought to play the part of the ghost entirely naked — which would satisfy the demands of both Coulomb’s law and the hen parties from Essex. And how often can a musical do that?
August 24, 2011 § Leave a comment
The US Army is to fit military vehicles in Afghanistan with armored chimneys to protect troops inside from roadside bombs.
As the blast wave, travelling at speeds of up to 1,000mph, escapes from the top of the chimney, it also produces a downward thrust that helps to prevent the vehicle overturning.
George Tunis, founder of the American company Hardwire, which is developing the structural blast chimneys, said: “We’re using the [blast] against itself. Like in jujitsu or aikido, we’re using the energy of the attack itself to defeat the attack.”
Tests using dummies showed that the chimneys reduced the force felt inside the vehicle by 30%, a reduction that would allow the crew to survive.
Military officials believe the chimneys could enable the return of more agile but less well-protected vehicles, which had to be removed from the frontline because of the threat posed by improvised explosive devices.
Chris Yunker, who is in charge of testing new vehicles for the US marines, said: “When they do the blast testing on this rigid cabin, we’re seeing pretty good results. I tell people, ‘ I don’t care if it’s bubble gum on the window that makes the thing work. If it works, we’re interested in it’.”
Improvised devices have claimed the lives of 230 of the 379 British troops killed in Afghanistan. Forty of those deaths have been of soldiers travelling in Snatch vehicles.
When coalition forces strengthened the armour on their vehicles, the Taliban responded with bigger devices.
August 23, 2011 § Leave a comment
Anthony Toth is so obsessed with perfectly recreating a vintage Pan Am first-class cabin in his garage that he once traveled to Thailand for—wait for it—original Pan Am branded headphones. And his obsession goes much deeper than that.
Anthony began his obsession with Pan Am as a child, when he and his parents frequently flew to Europe to visit family. Pan Am’s service seems decadent and almost silly today, when Southwest and JetBlue achieve success with a budget mentality, but to Anthony, Pan Am was the epitome of class and style.
Pan Am was once synonymous with international jet-setting, with upper-deck dining rooms and flight attendants decked out in crisp blue uniforms, high heels and white gloves. First-class travelers were served out of silver-plated martini pitchers. A parade of linen-covered food carts made its way down the aisle at dinnertime.
Anthony saved things like the cardboard linings on food trays and recorded his trips with multiple rolls of film and extensive tape recordings of the radio selection on board. “This consumed my world,” said Tosh. As an adult, he works for United Airlines, and two years ago bought a home with an oversized garage in which he could build a faithful replica of Pan Am’s first-class cabin. The project has taken him, in total, 20 years.
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Construction required multiple visits out to a spot in Death Valley where airplane carcasses are dumped, but the details of his project are unnervingly precise: The replica isn’t open to the public, but if you visit (Tosh hosts executive meetings sometimes, appropriately enough), you’ll be offered drink service and given a perfectly-crafted souvenir boarding pass designed to match those used by the airline in the late ’70s and early ’80s. He’s got authentic Pan Am swizzle sticks and glasses. The overhead compartments are original Pan Am construction. Hell, he’s even got sealed packages of salted almonds (we have no evidence regarding the taste of 30-year-old almonds, but they’re probably not for eating anyway).
The one concession he’s made to the modern age? A flat-screen TV in place of the old-school projection Pan Am used. Everything else (save the stewardesses) is either original Pan Am or a custom-made replica. He’s hoping to open his obsessive ode to Pan Am as a museum, but he seems perfectly content to just hang out in first class
August 20, 2011 § 1 Comment
Iron Maiden SECC, Glasgow
“Scream for me Glasgow!” roared Bruce Dickinson as Iron Maiden began the final British leg of their biggest world tour. “I can’t hear you! Scream for me Scotland!” Pure pantomime, but the rowdy, all-ages crowd loved it.
Still selling out arenas after more than three decades of slumps, splits and comebacks, Iron Maiden have pulled off a striking transformation in recent years, graduating from perennial Spinal Tap-style jokes to much-loved national treasures, earning a Grammy this year.
With more than 80 million album sales to their credit, Iron Maiden’s commercial profile is stronger now than at any time since their mid-1980s heyday. Last year, The Final Frontier topped the charts in 40 countries. During the accompanying 18-month tour,the band have played to two million people across the globe.
Dickinson, right, who turns 53 the day after the band play their London finale next month, remains a remarkably lithe and energetic frontman. Dressed in combat trousers and a ripped sleeveless vest, he was in full Bruce Willis mode, throwing ninja-style action poses as he sprinted along the stage’s upper level, belting out high notes at lung-bursting volume.
Another key to Iron Maiden’s enduring appeal lies in how they cling to their roots in rock’s pre-digital steam age, steadfastly refusing to update their timeless punk-metal formula. Apocalyptic anthems such as Two Minutes to Midnight and The Evil that Men Do may have been written decades before Brave New World and El Dorado, but they all blurred into the same sustained heavy-artillery blast of operatic bellowing and baroque triple-guitar squealing.
Their carnival-like live shows still draw on a 1970s hinterland of pulp science-fiction and schlock-horror movies. Almost uniquely among modern bands, they shun giant video screens in favour of hand-painted backdrops depicting diabolical monsters and dystopian urban vistas. Even a vast hydraulic replica of the band’s skull-faced mascot, Eddie, had something of the fairground ghost train about it.
After many months on the road, Iron Maiden sounded slick, huge and unstoppable. The sensory assault of thunderous guitars and lurid visuals left no time to be bored, never mind critical.
They may be stranded in a perpetual Groundhog Day of 1970s adolescent male obsessions, but these last action heroes of British heavy metal still muster a terrific blockbuster spectacle. Touring to Aug 6. http://www.iron maiden.com
August 20, 2011 § Leave a comment
This week QSA and St Joseph’s Hospice in East London hosted a strategy meeting examining what is meant by a “good death” and how to tackle some of the barriers to achieving it.
Heather Richardson, the clinical director of the hospice, said: “As a society we are . . . dependent on professionals to tell us what to do rather than having the right information to make our own choices.”
Mr Powell said the scheme aims to debunk some of the myths of funerals. “You don’t legally need a funeral director; you can do it yourself. You could use an estate car rather than a hearse; a morning cremation is cheaper than an afternoon; a cardboard coffin can be bought for less than £100 and you can bring your own flowers.”
You can also shop around. Mr Ogston added: “People simply pick up the phonebook and choose a funeral director at random, when they could ring around and get the same for £1,000 less.”
Where people die without relatives, local authorities offer what used to be called pauper’s burials. Some councils, such as Hounslow in West London, offer a £1,000 all-in deal, and in Nottingham the basic funeral comes with a choice of coffins, a hearse, flowers and a following car at a discount rate.
In May, Mr Ogston and mentor Anne-Marie Brenkle were paying their first visit to Alan and his mother Irene, 89 , when she died.
Alan said: “She must have heard their voices and felt that they were good people and then just let herself go. It was so peaceful. I am so glad they were there. If I had been alone, I would have jumped off the veranda. I had been with her for 61 years and looked after her at home when she became ill as I didn’t want her in hospital.”
When he applied for a funeral grant, the call centre promised that Alan would receive a decision within ten days. After eight weeks it admitted his application was lost and that he would need to submit afresh.
“The total bill was £1,500 and I paid £700 deposit and hope the Social Fund will pay £1,200,” he said. “But I am full of anxiety. The funeral director has been very good but I am expecting a call from him saying it’s been a while now.” The good news is that the Social Fund came through at the 11th hour and paid the £1,200 this week.