‘The aggregation of marginal gains’ is the key to success, according to Dave Brailsford, the extraordinarily successful cycling coach to Team GB. You could say that’s been the motto of this Olympic Games. Not massive injections of dosh (or drugs, for that matter). But a heady cocktail of supreme physical effort and tactical nous. Brailsford recognises it’s the little things that can make the difference when mere fractions of a second are all that’s between gold and nothing. We discovered that his cyclists sleep on specially chosen mattresses and wear heated hot pants (yes, I do mean hot pants). Cyclists, he reckons, need to sleep well before a race. They also need to protect their thigh muscles from cooling down and tightening up in those vital waiting minutes between the race warm-up and the starting gun.
Saturday night’s Profile, the Radio 4 magazine slot produced by Lucy Ash and presented this week by Ruth Alexander, gave us just what we needed to know after what has been an incredible (sorry, but this week only superlatives will do) fortnight. We were given the back story, the human story, some kind of explanation for those astonishing bursts of speed in the Velodrome. The secret to Sir Chris Hoy’s majestic thighs: hot pants.
We also needed to hear that there’s no reason why we should not go on being brilliant. It’s all down to that attention to detail, and the willingness to prepare totally, not just for the sake of being on top but because doing something to the very best of your ability is something we could all aspire to. But there was a return to business as usual on the Today programme on Monday when Jim Naughtie interviewed Peter Hitchens, that arch cynic, banging on about the cost of the Olympics, the legacy, the false image of ‘modern Britain’ displayed in the Opening and Closing Ceremonies.
He’s as out of touch as the bankers. As Suggs told us in an interview before the Closing Ceremony, one great thing about London 2012 has been the way it has shown us that the enormous changes of the past 60-plus years are just part of our ongoing island story. There’s nothing new about migration, immigration, integration. It’s been going on here for centuries. We are multicultural. We are multifaith. We are British. It does take a while for everything to settle down, but given time what’s essentially British will come back up to the surface.
Hitchens would no doubt pooh-pooh the existence of the BBC’s Asian Network as a waste of licence-payers’ money. Actually, without it the BBC could not really call itself the ‘British’ Broadcasting Corporation. Last week the radio station remembered the exodus of Asians from Uganda 40 years ago, expelled by Idi Amin after being accused of ‘milking the economy’ and failing ‘to integrate’. (It was his quickfire solution to the desperate state of the Ugandan economy — seize the livelihoods of the most successful racial group.) Rupal Rajani, who was herself part of that exodus, aged just two, hosted a series of programmes on the network and also on BBC Radio Leicester, which broadcasts to the city where almost a third of the 30,000 homeless migrants eventually settled, changing the sounds, the cooking smells, the character of that city.
For Asian Network Reports Rajani went back for the first time to the town where she was born. It was not an easy experience. Uganda, she discovered, is as alien to her now as Britain once was to her family. Her words from Kakira tell the story of migration and its impact: ‘Identity… I’ve always battled with it in England because I never felt I belonged there… I was hoping here to find that sense of belonging again.’ But of course it’s too late. She knows no Swahili, can’t recognise the place, has no clear memories to connect with.
On Friday she broadcast live from Belgrave Road, the heart of the Asian community in Leicester, and talked to Philip French, who has been organising an exhibition of mementoes from the exodus. He told us that the city burghers had been so concerned in 1972 that Amin’s expulsion would lead to an influx of unwanted migrants they paid for an advert in the Argos newspaper in Kampala, warning its readers that Leicester was full up, there was no room for more people, don’t come here. The ad backfired big time.
Rajani’s programmes filled in the back story to those images of shivering young Asian children staring out from coach windows as they were driven from Stansted airport at dead of night to army ‘holding’ camps. We discovered what happened next. Some flourished, perhaps because they arrived as a group, en famille, and were extraordinarily grateful even for the most basic accommodation they were given. Others have not got over the violence in Uganda, the separation from family, and the casual racism of 1970s Britain. In between all this we heard tracks from Bollywood films, the amazingly fused music of Nitin Sawhney, the Kenyan Boys’ Choir. On the Asian Network, it’s like being in the Olympic Park every day.