The highlight of our summer has undoubtedly been the Olympic Games, for which we came down from our hill, kennelled our border terrier and travelled to London. We can say we were there and that we bought the T-shirts.
We had tickets for boxing, men's hockey and beach volleyball. The Elder family would not claim to be world experts on any of these sports, but oddly enough, we always seemed to find ourselves sitting in front of people who were.
The hockey was very different to the game I played at school. The only break in the action is for penalty corners now, so the fitness levels of the players is incredible. However, every time there was a penalty corner, all the defenders stopped to put on protective gloves and face masks in case they got hit. To one who didn't even play with shin pads, this seemed a bit soft.
At every venue, the organisers had made a huge effort to put on a good show for the crowd. The pre-match entertainment provided at the beach volleyball (a scantily-clad dance troupe) did rather knock that at the boxing (an interview with Barry McGuigan) into a cocked hat.
However, at the boxing, we probably had a lot more influence over the results. This involved yelling wildly every time the British boxer threw a punch (even if they didn't actually connect), as well as giving informal coaching advice from our seats. The phrase "Come on Anthony, hit him", was I think particularly useful in this regard.
I'm not saying it was a partisan audience but the biggest cheer in the earlier bouts was for the introduction of a British referee, to shouts of "Come on the ref". As it was, the British boxer managed to get a draw against the current world champion and was awarded the fight after a show of hands by the judges, to the deafening, foot-stamping approval of the crowd. I think we did our bit.
As far as settings go, the beach volleyball was jaw-droppingly magnificent. We sat facing Horse Guards, with Whitehall and the London Eye behind it. We could see Nelson on his column to our left, Big Ben and Westminster Abbey to our right, while below us people were playing volleyball in a giant sandpit. The surreal nature of the event was underlined when the Benny Hill theme tune was played periodically for no apparent reason.
We had heard that initially there had been a problem with local grey squirrels burying nuts in the sand – very hazardous for barefoot athletes. But by the time we attended, this issue had been dealt with. Surprisingly, locally sourced squirrel burgers were not available at the venue's food outlets – a missed opportunity I think.
Our hockey session was the first of the day and we were advised to arrive at the Olympic Park at 7am to allow time to get through security. In the end there was very little queuing and the whole thing was very efficient. I did find myself reflecting on how absurdly chuffed I felt to have got up at 5.45am, travelled to Stratford and be sitting in a stand watching Australia play Argentina at hockey at 8.30am. However, this general feeling of goodwill and euphoria seemed to have gripped everybody we encountered.
Virtually everyone in the Olympic Park was dressed in their national colours or carrying a flag. This all felt perfectly natural when sitting in front of a big screen with thousands of other people of all nationalities. It was only when I visited the supermarket at home that it seemed odd to open my bag at the checkout and bring out four Union Jacks when searching for my credit card.
As many people have remarked, the volunteers, soldiers and staff at the Olympics were unfailingly helpful, cheerful and polite and I thought the volunteers in some of the less glamourous locations around the tube stations deserved particular praise. However, I was even more impressed by the heroic London Underground staff, who stopped the trains and climbed down onto the tracks to recover Archie's shoe after he lost it in a collision with his father. We were just debating between potential new nicknames of "Hopalong" and "Shoeless" Arch Elder, when the shoe was retrieved and further embarrassment was averted.
Still glowing from the Olympics, we came home to further excitement. There was an unusual squawking in the trees, identified by a local wildlife expert as belonging to a parrot. Could this be a hitherto undiscovered native Redesdale parrot species? Would this qualify for extra points for Higher Level Stewardship purposes? Alas, no. The expert view is that this parrot is an escaped pet.
We have subsequently been contacted by someone who had lost their parrot a year ago, hoping that theirs was not an ex-parrot and had not ceased to be. However, it has proved harder to catch the bird than simply shaking a packet of budgie seed at it. The parrot remains at large.
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