Oxford to London in 2 hours and 15 minutes

August 19, 2009

The fastest man in the world just got faster. At the Olympic Stadium in Berlin, Usain Bolt broke the tape in the final of the World Championships 100 metres in 9.58 seconds, shaving 0.11 seconds of his winning time in Beijing.

The Jamaican believes he can go faster still, perhaps as low as 9.4 if he keeps improving and avoids his favourite snack of chicken nuggets. Is he right? Can man boldly go faster and faster? In 1912 the 100 metre record stood at 10.6 seconds, so in less than a century athletes have chipped more than a second off the fastest time. But sport scientists and researchers in human performance suggest athletes, particularly in speed events, have begun to plateau out and in less than 20 years they will have hit the limits of their potential in most events.

In 20 years it is likely that the urban sprawl of London will have swallowed up Oxford. So it was prescient of executives at Oxford Airport to this week rebrand their airport London Oxford. Although the airport, which serves mostly businesspeople and private charters, is more than 60 miles from the centre of London, the benefits of being on the doorstep of the capitol and conveniently placed for both London and Birmingham were widely promoted in press reports.

The move has naturally excited a lot of interest (which is probably mission accomplished if you work in the airport’s marketing department) and got people ‘webchatting’ about their journeys flying to international airports which turned out to be a long way from their intended destination. By and large, people’s personal experience tends to shape their attitudes to the debate about whether Oxford should be included in the next edition of the A-Z of London.

For instance, if you have ever flown from the UK to Vienna airport and looked up from your in-flight magazine to find you have actually landed in Bratislava in a different country, you will probably regard the controversy as small beer. 

And as the airport website highlights, the crucial issue is not proximity to London but travel time. Trains take under an hour, driving time to the M25 is approximately 45 minutes and if your name is Usain Bolt and you are capable of sustaining a top speed of 28mph you can be in the West End in about 2 hours and 15 minutes. I am, of course, allowing for no headwind and a congestion-free sprint down the M4.

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Stephen Fry for Olympic gold

August 11, 2009

It was the standing joke at the Beijing Olympics: Britain is only successful at ‘sitting down’ sports, such as cycling, rowing and sailing. In the immediate rosy glow of success, there was indignation in the UK press about such jibes. Leaving aside for a moment that the joke was peddled, primarily, by Australians miffed that Britain had bested them in the medal table, it was felt to be an injustice to British swimmers, such as Rebecca Adlington, (although I suppose Australians of a querulous nature might suggest that swimming is actually a ‘laying down’ sport) and other medal winners.

But now it seems the Australians may be correct that Britons are inclined to recline. The communications watchdog Ofcom reports that people in Britain would rather go without holidays and eating out than cut back on spending on television and broadband access. They are also cleaved to their mobiles, preferring to economise on gym membership and sports, clothing, DIY, books and newspapers before their mobile phones. The only things considered more important than TV, the internet and mobile telephony among those polled were food and toiletries.

We are also as a nation, the report claims, spending more time in front of our computer screens and TVs. Britons spent an average of 225 minutes a day watching TV last year (up slightly on the previous figure) and internet usage rose sharply to 25 minutes each day.

The report also noted an increase (from 40 to 46 per cent) in people aged 25 to 34 who have a social networking profile on sites such as Facebook. But while there has been an invasion of ‘oldies’, the percentage of 15 to 24-year olds with a profile has dropped for the first time (from 55 to 50 per cent).

And there is our hope for 2012. We older Britons need to slide from our sofas in front of the TV to our seats in front of the computer and register with Facebook. By doing so we will crowd out youngsters whose only option will be to go and do the only thing their uncool parents are not i.e. sport. Unless of course we can make ‘tweeting’ an Olympic event, in which case I predict Stephen Fry for a gold medal.


Austen powers offer enduring appeal

August 4, 2009

David Cameron has gone for something trashy, the Pope we might now expect to be dipping into something from the Harry Potter back catalogue and Nicolas Sarkozy will no doubt be packing the latest issue of Runners’ World in his designer luggage.

If you haven’t already decided on you summer reading list, let me mark your card. Harpenden author Juliet Archer has given a modern makeover to the Jane Austen classic Emma, called The Importance of Being Emma. Juliet, who describes herself as having “a 19th century mind stuck in a 21st century body”, says her imitation of Austen is intended as the highest form of flattery.

“Jane Austen’s enduring appeal lies in her classic love stories and great characters – easily recognisable in any period and setting. I have a theory that most of today’s romantic fiction has been inspired – consciously or unconsciously – by a Jane Austen novel. I’ve just been much lazier than most authors and not bothered to change the names!”

Modernising Austen has given Juliet the opportunity to redress some of the limitations of her heroine’s style – in her six novels Austen apparently never wrote a scene without a woman present – and fill out some of the male characters. It is also allowing her to spice up the storylines. In updating Persuasion in a soon-to-be published book, Persuade Me, Juliet has not put Wentworth into the navy but gives him hunk appeal by comparing him to James Bond.

Juliet admits that she may upset some ‘purists’ by tampering with the Austen legacy but says there should be enough space on shop bookshelves for two JAs. She says she has also won several converts for her Emma redux among people who were originally skeptical, including the manager of Hitchin Waterstone’s who arranged for her to have a slot at the 2009 Hitchin Festival last month.

“I could never be Jane Austen and am not trying to be, but I’m having great fun re-interpreting her novels in a modern setting.”