With the moment of truth nearly upon us, the great danger of the London Olympics is not, I think, that they’ll be a failure, just an anticlimax. They won’t be disastrous, just a bit naff. Brits will win medals. The Tube will probably cope. But from the smallest things upwards, the London Games give the overwhelming impression of being run by people with no taste, no imagination, and no idea how to have fun.
For centuries, the people of Timbuktu have sought guidance from their Sufi saints. They took pride in the mausoleums of these medieval Muslim holy men, who spread their faith around the world from a city built on the profits of gold, salt and slaves. When I visited six years ago, a teenager showed me around, pointing out the shrines. As we stood by a monument to peace built in 1995 to mark the end of the last Tuareg uprising, with guns embedded in its concrete, I handed him a few coins.
I have just finished running — with a thousand like-minded souls from around the world — down a half-mile of medieval city streets while being pursued by a half-dozen half-ton wild Spanish fighting bulls. They were accompanied by an equal number of three-quarter-ton galloping oxen, but we didn’t worry about them: they know the course as well as anyone and keep the bulls in a herd. This is good, because when fighting bulls are on their own they become the beast of solitary splendour and ferocity you may see in bullrings across Spain, France, Portugal, Mexico and much of Latin America.
For Americans who can’t stand Barack Obama but don’t want to vote for Mitt Romney, November’s presidential elections look bleak. There are other candidates, however, none more obvious than Gary Johnson, the former governor of New Mexico and the Libertarian party nominee. A greying triathlete who once climbed Mount Everest, he may not have a realistic chance of reaching the White House. But he is a politician to be reckoned with, especially since so many Americans are grumbling about the Washington status quo.
This summer, like so many others in the past decade, belongs to Roger Federer. By reclaiming the men’s singles title at Wimbledon, after giving Andy Murray a set start, the peerless Swiss revealed what true greatness looks like in sporting togs. Seven times a Wimbledon champion, 17 times a winner of Grand Slam events: his record compels not so much admiration as awe, and it will surprise nobody if, next month, he retains the Olympic title he won four years ago.
Milton Friedman would have been 100 later this month. As well as being one of the great economists, if not the greatest economist, of the 20th century, he was also what the Americans call a public intellectual. He was a regular on PBS, the American equivalent of the BBC, writing and presenting Free To Choose, a ten-part series that aired in the late 1970s. He also wrote a column for Newsweek for an astonishing 18 years.
The guards would not let me walk round the Olympic park. ‘We’re in lockdown because of a security alert,’ one explained. The rain fell. The overbearing policing intimidated. ‘London is going to host the Paralympics and the paramilitary Olympics,’ I muttered with unpatriotic grumpiness, as I retreated to the bright lights and piped music of Stratford’s new Westfield centre, only to find another lockdown in progress.