Dear Neville,

In response to how far away from the Olympics you should be, my answer is that you should be as close as you can be physically, but in another World psychologically.

My suggestion is that you spend your time in one or more of the dozens of nursing homes for older people which surround the Olympic Park.

In this country we’ve privatised our care of older people in the same way that we’ve privatised the Olympics. Like the Olympics, in care homes you’ll find people from all over the world – working there because people whose cultural heritage is English won’t work for such poor wages, doing such thankless work.

The Olympics is about celebrating the body beautiful; it’s so much easier to look at healthy bodies – including healthy disabled bodies – than having to think about our elders who are no longer considered part of our society because they are physically and / or mentally unable to look after themselves any more.

For thee hours observe what goes on: talk to the staff and the elders they are looking after. Their lives are rich, they will have rich stories to tell – far richer than the story of someone beating a world record and winning a medal.

There is a crisis in care for older people in this country; billions of pounds is needed to create a system which works; money which politicians will happily spend on the Olympics.

Apparently interest in reviving the Olympic Games was first shown by the Greek poet and newspaper editor Panagiotis Soutsos in his poem ‘Dialogue of the Dead’ in 1833.

Rather than spend three hours with those in their prime, spend it with those who are close to death and the people who care for them.

Best wishes,



Hello Neville

Below please find some half-formed thoughts for your project – a response to your call for alternative olympic options, your ‘furthest away’ project.  As you will see I haven’t taken this literally, as in distance of miles, as where I am suggesting is a relatively short distance from ‘the park’ but this was a conceptual journey I took one morning as I pondered your suggestion and your reasons …

inclusivity/exclusivity – who should Neville be with?
a zoo – which/where?
cheetah – the fastest mammal on earth (name derived from chita, hindi word for spotted one); average speed 75 km/hr (46.6 mph), top speed 112 km/hr (69.6mph – roughly our motorway speed)
(although peregrin falcons are actually faster at 200mph)
HYPERLINK “,858,AR.html” \t “_blank”,858,AR.html
cheetah facts travel to Whipsnade Zoo (or whichever Zoo you choose but this seems to be the main one for cheetahs in the UK) at 46.6mph, occasionally bursting to 69.6mph for short periods; try and run as fast as possible on arrival (record your speed); spend next three hours (can be longer/shorter, over a period of days or whatever you consider most appropriate to your research of the animals/own concerns but needs to be a specifically chosen time period and documented as such, with timings noted etc) observing the cheetah’s movement; what do you learn, what do you think; record visually and textually your own reactions (and those of the cheetahs to you if they start to notice your presence as you stay observing over time); document own movements as well as those of the cheetahs (instinctive as well as receptive) … their awareness of you, yours of them, their total unawareness of the olympics, your total immersion (at the time) in the cheetahs as opposed to immersion in all things olympic

… the fastest mammals on earth observed and documented in captivity …
in preparation, find out all your can about these mammals; practice running fast (train perhaps?); what you think you need/consider essential and what they need (have) to survive; anything and everything you think relevant and that might enhance your experience of the cheetahs … how are they a part and apart from their environment – and you?  (‘you’re a part of it’)
a shared world, a human world?
conservation and captivity, commercialisation and conservation, measures of control and why perhaps we need to conserve them in the first place?
why are we ‘conserving’ the games, whose benefit first and foremost?
speed of cheetahs and speed of athletes … what are we playing at???


Lovely project.
Haven’t able to quite formulate my ideas into a coherent whole but here are a couple of thoughts:Emotional, philosophical and ideological distance seem to me to be the greatest possible.The rhetoric of the olympics is one of total inclusivity but I have never been convinced by this. However it’s difficult to argue against rhetoric especially when it is as entrenched as in this case. What it means though is that I find it hard to think of a destination that the weavers of rhetoric could not claim was included.The other thought that I have had is that the olympics, sport, sporting events are all about lines: lanes, tracks distances, it’s very linear.Of course the logo is an exception but I’ve always thought that the logo was lying to us.Anyway, to my not entirely formed ideas.I think that the greatest distance is expressed by doing something different, “wrong”, other, at the epicentre. It’s the flower down the barrel of the gun in Hungary or the standing in front of the tank in Tiananmen Square. So what about a circle, or circles (5 interlocking ones?!) of people right at the middle of the olympic village knitting squares for a blanket. No competition, totally collaborative, creating something which will be anonymous and will form a crucial but equal part of a whole. No prize, no credit but a tiny thing without which the final finished product could not function.Secondly, a Quaker Meeting, again right at the heart of the village. A circle of people sitting in silence, speaking when they are moved to do so, acting according to their inner sense of what’s right, no rules, no leader, no referee, and no winner.There. Thank you for the opportunity to think about this in such depth.Oh, one more even less formed thought. If the olympic village is not an option what about a rural Welsh chapel. Don’t know why that feels appropriate. Just does.All best and thanks again.
Hi Neville,
This is in personal capacity in between various family tasks!I’d suggest meeting members of the Tibetan community in the UK for a cup of tea.  This time last year protesters highlighted the situation in Tibet during the torch relay but in Beijing itself voices of dissent were absent. I think the chat with the Tibetans would highlight a sense of humanity behind the headlines, would be a starting point for thinking about protest and unheard voices at the 2012 Olympics (local and global), and in contrast to the event itself would be simple and cost effective (a tube ride and a walk).My daughter Ella (age 9) suggested either scuba diving to the bottom of the ocean (because the Olympics are not underwater and the Olympians are not cheered on by fish) or visit her bed (because it’s quiet and cosy).Some great other ideas on your site.
All the bestTom

Hi Neville,

I have had a few thoughts about your project, as follows:

1: Distance in time and space measures the gap between success and failure, especially in the Olympic context, where fractions of fractions of seconds or barely perceptible differences in stride can decide between medallists and those whose names will not be heard again.

2: Because of this situation – that less than a tenth of a second can, for an athlete, decide between global success and lucrative sponsorship deals, or nothing – the distance between the achievement of Olympic ideals and being considered merely an ‘also ran’, a ‘failure’, is miniscule.

3: The ‘greatest distance’ between Olympic failure and success can therefore be a question not of thousands of miles, but of hairs’ breadths. Perhaps the nature of these distances, where physically negligible distances measure out vast social chasms would be worth exploring.

4: Perhaps this might involve measuring the distances between winning and losing Olympic performances in real, everyday places, to heighten awareness of the tiny judgements deciding participants’ fates. Perhaps you might visit those who narrowly failed in selection for national teams, or sportsmen who missed their big breaks by seconds or millimetres.

5: Perhaps this ‘winner takes all’ culture could be examined elsewhere. Might we try to determine and measure the precise difference between a hugely valuable and a worthless artwork, or that between a prizewinning and overlooked book. Perhaps you could track down the boxer who may have never quite got the match he needed to put himself in the running for titles, or the songwriter whose recordings were *almost* released by several different record labels, but never quite achieved release.

6: Perhaps, in the end, these times and distances, the length of a flea or the duration of a blink, also determine other kinds of success and failure.

7: Others who might be found could include: the inventor who is a few months ahead of the curve and loses the rights to his invention before its real value becomes clear; the scientist who answers the question neither media nor corporation is yet interested in having answered; the novelist whose book fell just outside the shortlist of a major prize; the jobseeker who always comes second on the shortlist of candidates.

8: The greatest distance? That between the success and achievement celebrated in the Olympics is all too often a question of negligible differences rather than great gulfs between the abilities of the participants, yet the rewards are not proportionally distributed. In this, at least, might it be said that the Olympics accurately reflect the values of the cultures that stage them?

I hope this is of some use in your new project: I’ll be fascinated to see how it develops in July!

Best wishes,



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