Archive | July, 2012

Shortcutting… The Medal Count

31 Jul

How to present the Olympic Games ‘Medal Count‘? It is a conundrum that must be tackled by every country separately. Because, of course, every country wants to twist it to make their own result seem as good as possible. How can such straightforward facts be twisted?, one might ask. Well, the trick lies in the ranking. For there are two ways to rank countries: by total number of medals, or total number of gold medals followed by silver followed by bronze. I think the latter is the standard way, yet I remember seeing four years ago during the Beijing Olympics that the USA ranked medal hauls by the former method: total number of medals. Putting them above China. Coincidence? I think not. I know if I was in charge, that’s what I’d do. Unfortunately, team GB is doing pretty badly in both, so any sort of twisting wouldn’t have much effect, but interestingly we rank countries with the giving-gold-the-highest-weighting method, even though if we did it the other way we’d be doing better. I reckon the powers that be have taken a gamble here and bet that, come the finals of rowing, cycling and sailing events, we’ll manage to score a few golds, enough that the gold-weighting method is more beneficial to us. It’s all part of a cunning plan. But for now, we may console ourselves with the knowledge that we are doing the best out of the countries that haven’t won any golds. An almost-famous ranking that is somehow very British. We’re good at coming fourth too.

So, is there anything else to learn from the Medal Count? While leaders China and the USA are fairly predictable, both countries having been good at everything for quite a long time now, looking just beneath these two makes for more interesting speculation. Last Olympics, we had Russia in third place, Great Britain in fourth (Woo! Almost on the podium!) , and Germany in fifth. This year, as things stand, we have France in third, South Korea in fourth, and North Korea in fifth. Then again, things are all pretty neck and neck so far. We’ve only had four days, after all. The top twenty are all within three golds of each other, which, given the number of events remaining, means that there’s everything to play for (to come third, that is). I’ll keep you updated (on my views and speculation – of course you’ll be avidly watching the rankings without my help).

But anyway, it’s not the winning that counts but the taking part, right? We’re all winners really…

Keep shortcutting,

Zoe

Shortcutting… Artistic Gymnastics

30 Jul

Today, I was lucky enough to attend the thrill- and scandal-filled Mens’ Artistic Gymnastics Final at the O2 (or should I say ‘North Greenwich’ – O2 are not a London 2012 sponsor and therefore may not be mentioned in conjunction with the Olympics) Arena. Scandal-filled because after a surprise finish of GBR coming second, Ukraine coming third, and Japan, who had been coming second till the last round, not making the podium, an ‘inquiry’ was launched by the Japanese, one gymnast’s score was re-evaluated, and Japan took the silver medal after all. Obviously, the home crowd were furious at this result, but I must defend the Japanese – it wasn’t there fault. As far as I could tell, points were added up wrongly or something. It may seem a bit off to complain, but the scoring did seem a little strange. Also, until that last round, us Brits were all praying to beat the Ukrainians and take bronze so we can’t feel too cheated. Although spare a thought for the poor Ukrainians, who were unceremoniously swept off the podium.

Anyway, scandals aside, I have learnt a little about the sport. For starters, there were six different events (for women it’s slightly different – I’ll come to that later): Pommel Horse, Rings, Vault, Parallel Bars, Horizontal Bar, and Floor. Apparently scores tend to be slightly higher for Vault, so do not be fooled if a team who have vaulted seem to be doing the best. Gymnasts are awarded points for execution, out of a possible 10, and for difficulty, the score of which is limitless. I think the highest score I saw was about 16.500, and the lowest 14.00, aside from the Japanese guy who got inquired about. Essentially, they have to put in as many twists and rolls and so on as possible, and try to perform them as neatly and aligned-ly as possible. To the untrained eye it isn’t always obvious why one routine scores higher than another, but it seems to me that the better the landing, the higher the score. If they land cat-like on two feet that’s 15.500 at least. If they stumble everywhere they can expect something below 15.000. According to the little introduction show ‘The Art of Gymnastics‘, gymnasts must combine agility, grace, strength, skill and balance (or something along those lines), which, apparently, ain’t all that easy.

A little research has told me that in the womens’ version, there are only four events: Vault, Balance Beam, Floor and Uneven Bars (a personal favourite). I’m guessing the reason for this difference is to do with men being generally stronger (the Rings seem to require insane upper body strength and all the men have arms like tree trunks), whereas women are traditionally more graceful and better-balanced. Anyway, whether you watch mens’ or womens’ artistic gymnastics, it is undeniably a very beautiful sport which requires immense skill (indeed, Plato thought that all philosophers should have a mastery of gymnastics). My only slight quibble with it is the element of subjectivity, but I suppose all art is subjective (and with a fell swoop, I lose Plato’s support).

Get ready to roll!

Keep shortcutting,
Zoe

Shortcutting… The Opening Ceremony

28 Jul

The Olympic Games are here! Finally, after four years of building momentum (or seven if you look back to when London first won the bid), it is time for all our fave athletes to be higher, faster and stronger here in Great Britain. And last night was the grand introduction, where London (or more specifically Danny Boyle) had to try and impress the whole world. Now, following in the footsteps of the Chinese and Beijing’s incredible Opening Ceremony four years ago is hardly a challenge to be taken lightly. But it is clear now that Boyle and co decided to take a different tack. Where Beijing’s motto seemed to be ‘blow them away’, London’s was more ‘be British, very British (while showing off as many of Britain’s contributions to the world as possible)’. There was a bit of spectacle, from rising chimneys to towering Voldemorts to an absolutely stunning torch cleverly made up of metal cones carried by each team (I was wondering what those were for), but on the whole the aim was more about making people smile.

The ceremony started with a short history of Britain. First, we had people dressed in old-fashioned attire playing cricket and the like (and a Shakespeare reading from Sir Kenneth Branagh), until the Industrial Revolution came and wrecked the ‘green and pleasant land’ and replaced it with a rather more sooty, metal atmosphere. Then there was a little war memorial bit too, which felt slightly odd but fair enough.

After Pandemonium – the scary, industrial section – came a brilliant clip of James Bond (i.e. Daniel Craig) meeting the Queen, which culminated in them both supposedly jumping out of a helicopter and parachuting into the Olympic Stadium. Fantastic. Fan. Tastic. I absolutely bow down (or curtsey?) to the Queen for being game for this, and it was my favourite bit of the ceremony. Only in Britain.

Next up, we payed tribute to the Great Ormond Street Hospital (GOSH) and the NHS, which involved dancing children and nurses and lighting up beds and things, and then references to children’s literature, where a reign of terror from Voldy, Cruella de Vil and Captain Hook was ended by a flock of Mary Poppins figures saving the day.

Then came a performance of Chariots of Fire, with talented musician Rowan Atkinson (a.k.a. Mr. Bean) at hand to ensure things didn’t get too serious. This too made me laugh, although somehow a known comedian being funny can never be as hilarious as a known monarch being funny.

Then we gave thanks to Tim Berners Lee (yes, just to remind you, we invented the Internet – beat that!), in a slightly weird form involving a love story of sorts between ‘Frankie’ and ‘June’, and we were shown a montage of some of the best British t.v. shows and songs accompanied by some kick-ass dancing. And Tim himself was there too, a proud symbol of his (slightly cheesy) motto – this is for everyone.

Next up, Emeli Sande gave us a rendition of Abide With Me, accompanied by some low-key dancing, which, my programme tells me, was choreographed and principally performed by one Akram Khan. This was nice, although bloody hell that song’s long!

Then it was time for the athletes welcome. Who knew there were so many friggin’ countries, eh? A special award goes to the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia for having the longest name (I think), which took up three lines on the sign. I must admit I didn’t recognize that many athletes, but one really good thing this year was that every country has female athletes, which is a massive step forward in terms of gender equality.

This post is getting a bit long so I’m going to summarize the rest: basically, there was a bit more cool stuff, Seb Coe and Jacques Rogge gave speeches, and then finally the Olympic torch reached the park. The identity of the mystery torch-bearer was… drum roll please… the future generation of sport, in the form of seven young athletes, as nominated by some of our renowned veterans. No doubt their names will become famous soon enough, but for now all I can say that might mean anything to you is that having been driven by speedboat by David Beckham to the stadium, Steven Redgrave, rower extraordinaire, ran the torch into the stadium. As I’ve already mentioned, the torch was awesome. If you didn’t watch the ceremony, look it up. It’s kinda like a bunch of long-stemmed tulips on fire, but that definition doesn’t do it justice.

And finally, Sir Paul McCartney gave us a rendition of Hey Jude which had everyone nah nah nah nah-nah-nah nahing very emotionally.

So there you go. Good job Danny boy, good job.

Keep shortcutting,

Zoe

P.S. Just to warn you, I’m a lil bit obsessed with the Olympics so it’ll probably be coming up in a few more posts…

Shortcutting… Jet-lag

27 Jul

Sorry the blogging’s been a bit lax recently, but you’ll be glad to hear that I’m back home and fully revitalised so I can now return to my frequent hilarious posts once more.

So anyhoo, as you may have gathered from the title of this post, the fact that ‘I’m back home’, and putting two and two together, there is a time difference between Greece and England which results in fatigue. Thankfully, staying in Europe guarantees nothing too severe: between fair Athens and dear London is a mere two hour difference, which is pretty manageable. However, I have experienced more severe jet-lag in my time, and I want you to know that you’ll get through it my friend!

The first thing to be said on the matter is that there is definitely a better way round: it is much better forcing your eyes open when you’re tired until it is finally late enough for you to collapse into bed with dignity than it is lying there forcing your eyes shut when you’re full of beans and just itching to paint the town red. So when you go West, e.g. to the US, it’s the good way, and when you go East, e.g. to China, it’s the bad way (I suppose these examples depend on where you are – I’m talking from England). That’s one thing to take into account. Also, if you want to go somewhere exotic but want to avoid jet-lag, then do some research and there are possibilities: for the English, for example, South Africa is a twelve-hour flight but zero-hour jet-lag away.

If you are jet-lagged, the best way to deal with it is to force yourself to stay awake when you should be, and keep a book handy when it’s bed time.

Good luck!

Keep shortcutting,
Zoe

Shortcutting… Adverts

23 Jul

In order to recover from the heat of the day, I’ve been spending a lot of time chilling in an air-conditioned room watching television. And one of the few channels with programmes in English only ever seems to advertise its own programmes, so that I pretty much know them off by heart. In fact, I’ve found this to be a recurrent problem with today’s t.v.: not enough adverts man! Of course, in this day and age, there’s often the opportunity to fast-forward adverts, but for those times when you just gotta sit it out, I’ve found some fun games to make the adverts pass a bit faster:

1) Name that advert. Simple but enjoyable: first person to name what the advert’s for gets a point, bonus points if you haven’t seen the advert before.

2) Synchro. Say the words of the advert at exactly the same time as they are said during the advert (only works for constantly repeated ones).

3) Lookalikes. Think of a person who looks like each person in the advert and start calling them by that name: ‘oh look, it’s Jennifer again’. (Not so much a game as a source of mild amusement.)

4) Drinking game. Choose an advert and take a drink (preferably alcoholic) every time it comes on.

5) Back story. Make up a back-story for every advert, the more complex the better.

I’m sure there are countless other ways to make adverts more bearable so do share any good ones you have (or bad ones).

Keep shortcutting,
Zoe

Shortcutting… Cocktails

21 Jul

Let’s face it: During the day, holidays are tough. There’s sand – ew, sun – phew, and other assorted hardships to contest with. So what better way to relax and forget your troubles than alcohol. Alcohol is, of course, the go-to sorrow-drowner for any self-respecting person, but holidays have their own special breed of it: the cocktail. Cocktails essentially use sweet, fruity juices and the like to disguise hardcore spirits, most frequently vodka, rum, gin, and tequila, so that before you know it, you’re on the floor, miniature umbrella resting gently on your face. Okay, I exaggerate, but they do sneak up on you, these things. Here are a couple I have tried and enjoyed:

The Mojito
Contains: White rum, lime juice, mint leaves, sugar, soda water
Feedback: The strength of this one can change it wildly but it’s pretty straightforward, with nothing fruity to distract from it. The predominant taste (except alcohol) is lime. Good if you’re not into fruit.

The Pina Colada
Contains: White rum, cream of coconut, pineapple juice
Feedback: This one is somehow very summery, probably because of the pineapple, but don’t have it unless you like coconut! The great thing about it is that they have it everywhere so if unsure you can always turn to it for a reliable drink.

The Strawberry Daiquiri
Contains: White rum, lime juice, sugar, strawberry
Feedback: This one’s a particular favourite, and tends not to be too strong, which, depending on your aims, may or may not be a good thing. You can get different types of Daiquiri but I’ve only tried the strawberry version so do let me know if you have more daiquiri experience.

The Sex on the Beach
Contains: Vodka, peach schnapps, orange juice, cranberry juice (or other juices)

Feedback: I remember feeling slightly awkward ordering my first one, as though it was all some big practical joke and I was actually asking for something very different from a cocktail, but never fear, it is a certified cocktail (an International Bartenders Association Official Cocktail in case you were wondering). Again, this one’s pretty fruity, which I like, but don’t drink it too fast!

The Harvey Wallbanger
Contains: Vodka, Galliano, orange juice

Feedback: Okay, not going to lie – I don’t actually like this one, but it’s a friend’s favourite so I thought I’d include it. As I can’t say much for the taste (in fairness, I think the one I tried happened to be very strong), I will just say this – it’s a very nice, bright yellow colour.

The Alabama Slammer
Contains: Vodka, amaretto, Southern Comfort, grenadine and orange juice

Feedback: This is the only one on my list which isn’t IBA certified, and as such doesn’t have an official recipe, but I had to include it because it’s just so damn good (with these ingredients anyway). You probably won’t find it in many places but the grenadine makes it really nice and sweet, and the three types of alcohol ensure a spinning head at the end. Woop!

One tequila, two tequila, three tequila, floor…

Keep shortcutting,
Zoe

Here's a pic of my Alabama Slammer and my friend's lovely yellow Harvey Wallbanger

Here’s a pic of my Alabama Slammer and my friend’s lovely yellow Harvey Wallbanger

Shortcutting… Cockroaches

20 Jul

This week I switched my day of rest from Friday to Thursday. I have a good reason for this. Yesterday, I was incapable of blogging, due to a terrifying encounter with a horrifying beast. I was walking calmly across my hotel room floor when a dark, menacing shape flashed past in the corner of my eye. Full of apprehension, I slowly turned in its direction. And almost screamed. It was a cockroach.

Cockroaches are terrifying. Before this week, I considered myself to be brave and unsqueamish. I am not scared of spiders. I only flinch ever so slightly at the hum of a mosquito. I do have a great dislike of worms, but I put that down a to a traumatic childhood experience (I saw a boy get covered in worms on t.v.). But the cockroach is something else. For other insects, I am willing to concede that the expression ‘it’s more scared of you than you are of it’ holds true. But I genuinely believe the cockroach doesn’t give a damn. As my friends reassuringly told me (I was panicking online) as I tried to trap and squish the thing, cockroaches can’t die. They survive nuclear explosions for heaven’s sake. My foot is not going to stop them. (Before you judge me, I normally really try not to kill insects, but I saw this as self-defence.)

So anyway, what did I do? First I tried trapping it under the bin (see, I am humane!), which fortunately wasn’t too full of rubbish, but it crawled out. ‘Hah’ it said, ‘think you can stop me with a bin?’ It then, like the sneaky little ninja it is, kept darting between cupboards etc. and hiding from me so I had to be totally alert in order to keep track of where it was. After waiting for some time with a shoe in hand, heart pumping, hands shaking, breath shallow, the perfect opportunity came, and I threw a shoe right on top of it. Bingo. I then trod on the shoe a few times, hoping to squash it. At this point, I confess, I enlisted help. Said help was someone less squeamish than me, who had the guts to lift up the shoe (at this point I was terrified that the cockroach was playing mind games and wasn’t actually under the shoe) and there it was. Dead. Or so I thought. Just as I was rejoicing my victory, I saw a leg twitch. Things go a bit blurry at this point but I imagine I either jumped, screamed, or fainted.

Anyway, to make a long story short, we eventually got the wriggling corpse into the discarded binbag, tied it up super tightly, and took it as far away from the room as possible. It was still difficult to get to sleep.

So I hope you understand why I was unable to blog yesterday. I hope you are never bugged by one of these horrible things.

Keep shortcutting,
Zoe