Olympics mascots

Today marks another landmark for London 2012. Yes sports fans, the new Olympics mascots have been unveiled!

The mascots are a pair of mono-eyeballed spanners called Wenlock and Mandeville, with arms like pincers and a flashing “W” and “M” indented in their skulls, supposedly representing London’s taxi lights. As representations of London go, this seems rather arbitrary. Why not give them a hat that looks like Marble Arch or a knob in the shape of St. Paul’s Cathedral?

Everything nowadays needs a back story. You see this in The X Factor and Britain’s Got Talent, where a no-hoper of epic proportions is seen hugging various members of their family, who all declare they are “so proud” (Of what precisely? National humiliation?). And so it happens that Wenlock and Mandeville have a back story.

Maybe they were left on the roadside as children, bought up in an orphanage and forced through a comprehensive schooling system and teased by the nasty children calling them “Cyclops”.

Perhaps before their reincarnation they were real life children with a disfigurement, as doctors quarrelled over the best remedy, before suggesting to the parents: “I think we need to turn your children into metal, give them a creepy CCTV-stare and just in case they don’t look mental enough, we’ll add a mock taxi light to the top of their head in case they forget their name. It’s the best chance for them to have a normal life, Mrs. Wenlock”.

The real back story is far less interesting. They are made of leftover steel from the construction of the last girder of the Olympic Stadium, a needlessly specific item; it must have been difficult for the impatient designers to wait for the stadium to be finished before they could even produce a prototype. I wouldn’t be surprised if they cheated a little. They probably borrowed some steel from the merchants down the road and passed it off as genuine leftover steel girder. Who’d know?

At least a modicum of intelligent thought has gone in to the design, unlike some of the previous Olympics mascots. Munich 1972 featured Fritz, a multi-coloured dog available in wood and felt (because you can never have enough felt dogs – in fact London 2012 will be a failure without them), while Montreal went with a black beaver called Amik. It’s unrecorded whether spectators sang “Show us your beaver” at the mascot, although the giggling schoolchild in me hopes they did.

Los Angeles 1984 went for a big white eagle wearing the dressage of Uncle Sam, all red, blue and white stripes, a ridiculous hat and a bow tie traditionally seen in barbershop quartets. The Yanks do a fine line in understatement. It looked like something from a KFC advert.

Cobi the dog, of Barcelona 1992, highlights what can happen when you let prissy art students have their way. Cobi is a minimalist canine made from light brown plastic with black lines for eyes and a small mouth, making it as commercial as a DIY circumcision kit.

Atlanta 1996 gave the world such a strange mascot that it was called ‘Izzy’, as in “what is it?” Created entirely by computer – an Olympics first – and featuring a mouth in its chest, eyeballs on top of its head and pointless red cufflinks, it represents a bold step in to the digital world. But it’s rubbish. It looks like what Lindsay Lohan might desperately dress up as to win public favour in a shameful new reality show.

Sydney 2000 got greedy, using three different mascots. Native creatures Syd the platypus, Millie the echidna and Olly the kookaburra all showed how much the Aussies care about their animals, even if Australian animals seem hell-bent on poisoning the population and scaring tourists away.

Athens 2004 – in a time before the IMF came calling and money was still being frittered away willingly – featured Phevos and Athena, two pale gingerbread men come to life. Beijing 2008 was even greedier than the Aussies, producing five mascots, including a panda reimagined in Japanese anime and a Tibetan antelope (though it is unrecorded whether the Tibetan antelope will be allowed its freedom after the games). So what does all of this tell us about Britain’s mascots?

It may be a thinly coded warning to the world that we mean industrial business and that we are revving up our engines to become an economic powerhouse once more. Then again, it could just be the product of a bored apprentice given the task of making an interesting, child-friendly and marketable product made from steel, failing miserably. I know what my money is on.

Ipswich Beer Festival

Never one to pass up an opportunity to get pissed, I agreed to attend the Ipswich Beer Festival last year. In testament to how hammered I became, I still get odd flashbacks. Only now am I able to recall enough to tell any kind of lucid story.

I had never been to a beer festival before, although this may be in some small way because I can’t stand the taste of beer. The limits of my alcohol experimentation have reached a strong continental lager and a pitcher of Sex on the Beach, not the barrels of ale on rickety tables which filled Ipswich’s bustling town hall. I expected the place to be full of geeks and I wasn’t disappointed.

Half the people were wearing t-shirts from obscure beer festivals, stopping people wearing other obscure t-shirts to discuss the CAMRA meeting in Uttoxeter earlier that month. The other half were wasted, bulging out of their shirts, saying things like “jolly good” as they supped another 1/2 pint of 8% Skull Splitter – a beer so potent it was threatened with withdrawal by alcohol watchdog Portman Group. Surely this is unnecessary. You wouldn’t drink a pint of Skull Splitter and then complain to the barman it was a “bit much”. It would be like taking a pill called Death Spiral and complaining that you feel a bit giddy.

Indeed, one of the numerous pubs me and my friend visited before the festival had Skull Splitter on tap, although it had risen to 9%, presumably because nobody drinks the stuff, leaving it to ferment ever further. I’ll probably visit The Dove Inn in a few years time and see it advertised at 26%.

Incidentally, after the festival, my companion and I ended up back in The Dove Inn, chatting up a very attractive barmaid. We both fancied her, but we were so drunk that the only thing we could offer her of any note was a visit to the local Pizza Express before it closed. This didn’t wash well. Nevertheless, the next day, my friend’s Dad asked how we got on the night before. “Yeah, not too bad” we replied. But he came back with the killer: “I didn’t have the heart to tell you she’s a lesbian”.

CAMRA organises these events, an acronym which stands for the Campaign for Real Ale, a body which has lobbied for “Real Ale, Pubs & Drinkers since 1971”. Membership costs £20 and you receive a monthly newsletter as well as discounted tickets for all CAMRA events. The only purpose of CAMRA is to meet every few weeks and get drunk, like an adult version of Fresher’s Week but with membership cards.

To help the novice drinker, all the beverages are colour-coded, with blue ales labelled “session bitters”. In other words, “you could drink this all day and still hail a taxi home without falling in the road”. My first warning from my friend’s Dad – as experienced as you could possibly be in such matters – was to avoid the black ales, which although simply labelled “strong” in the programme, should be read as “drink more than one of me and you are advised to make your way to Conference Room D immediately, where a team of paramedics will try their best to save your liver”.

It wasn’t long before I was regretting starting on ale. I soon cannily swapped to the substantially smaller cider table, which had a choice of around four drinks, all of them at least 6%. Either my faculties were not in working order, or I simply thought “do I even need any dignity when I leave this place tonight?”

Towards the end of the evening, the hall began to empty and the barrels were being removed at record pace. Session bitters had begun to run dry, leaving the thirsty masses no option but to tilt towards the heavy stuff. The aftermath looked like something from a science-fiction film, in which a city is trampled by a horde of aliens. Only a scruffy looking man sweeping the floor in blue overalls, muttering “it used to be so nice around here” would have completed the apocalyptic picture.

My favourite portion of the evening is always the walking home. Knowing that you can be sick in someone’s garden (and not in plain sight of the ordinary public) or piss against any lamppost (for much the same reason) is enough to make the long walk tolerable. By that point in the evening, everyone is so smashed, the slightest thing sets everyone off laughing uncontrollably. The following morning, one of the most common questions I ask is “what the hell were we all laughing about?” to which everyone replies “no idea, maybe it was a funnily shaped tree”.

The following day I watched Ipswich Town – my adopted second team – get thrashed by Newcastle Utd live on the BBC. The only proof I was there, other than a brief recollection of tumbling through a turnstile, is the recording on my Mum’s Sky Plus, which shows me shouting rather aggressively at Roy Keane, discussing his ineptitude – although not in such polite language.