I wear two hats when I write this blog of mine. First and foremost, I manage a small charity in a small Scottish town called Dumfries. Ours is a front door that opens onto the darker corners of the crumbling world that is Britain 2015. We hand out 5000 emergency food parcels a year in a town that is home to 50,000 souls. Then, as you can see from all of the book covers above, I am also a thriller writer. If you enjoy the blog, you might just enjoy the books. The link below takes you to the whole library in the Kindle store. They can be had for a couple of quid each.

Thursday, August 9, 2012


We are living in the time of the medal table. It seems to be omnipresent. Examined, and pored over, and predicted and basked in the glow of. And of course we are third! I heard an analyst preeningly stating that in terms of medals per head of population we are absolutely the best. Well, that’s the thing with all those millions and millions of pesky Chinamen, always has been. Lots and lots of ‘em. So all those golds don’t really count it seems.
The medal tables of the modern Olympics tend to tell the story of which countries were vying to be the top dog of the day. And over the last hundred and twenty years this has basically meant which country is pumping cash and resources into trying to keep up with America.

With hindsight, when we put on the Games in 1908, the writing was already on the wall. Sure, a quarter of the world was painted red and the Empire was more or less at its height. So nobody would have been particularly surprised when we the hosts topped the medal table. We absolutely murdered the Americans with 56 golds to their 23. Sure the steelmills of Pittsburgh and cotton mills of West Virginia were already taking us to the cleaners, but we could still look down our noses at the upstart colonial types across the pond because when it came to Gold medals we did them 56-23. And when it came to square miles of Empire they were a complete joke. We topped most things back then. Nobody could have seen how many of the young men who stood on those podiums would be end up hanging on the barbed wire of the trenches just a few years later.

In ‘Chariots of Fire’ we were thrilled to see our heroic amateurs of Empire putting one over the all conquering Yanks whilst Vangelis came up with the soundtrack which is now tannoyed out in the Olympic stadium when medals are hung around necks. The carnage of the Western Front had turned us into flat broke underdogs. And the film told no lies. By 1924 we had taken the road from top dog to underdog in a big way. Without the lads who were wiped out in the trenches we got absolutely smashed by the barnstorming Yanks. They beat us 45 – 9. Ouch.

In 36 Hitler made his big pitch on home turf of Berlin and like us in 1908, he pushed the Americans back into second place. The strutting Austrian corporal romped home with a 33-24 over the Americans. And like the Brits of 08 he must have felt that such a pile of medals was evidence that his Thousand Year Reich was going to run its full course. Thankfully having his nose rubbed in it by Jesse Owens was just a sneak preview of having that very same nose rubbed in it at Stalingrad. Maybe there’s a message coming through here. Lots of medals can give you a sense of invincibility and end up in millions of dead guys? Maybe.


Hitler’s mayhem shut down the Games for a while and by the time bombed out London put the Games on again in 1948 everything had changed. The big World War winner was once again America and they topped the table by a country mile. Second on the list was Sweden who kind of proved that staying neutral in a World War is a smart play. Switzerland rubber stamped this idea by coming ninth. And Britain? After all, the first time we hosted the Games we came top of the pile and then we went on to win two world wars. It must have meant something? Nope. We limped in twelfth with three golds. At least we had enough young guys who were alive and kicking to raise a team. Russia and Germany don’t even appear on the list.

And so came the Olympics of the Cold War where the Americans and the Soviet Union threw the kitchen sink at each other. There were 10 Olympiads between 56 and 92 and the Soviets topped the table six times whilst boycotting the event once. This must have made them think that the big dreams of Lenin and Stalin were well and truly on track. In Montreal in 1976 they topped the table with 49 golds. But it was even better than that. The USA wasn’t even second! Second on the list were the steroid pumped East Germans with 40 golds. The States limped home with 34. The Soviet Block countries stormed to a grand total of 120 golds. Jim Morrison’s statement in the ‘The End’ that ‘The West is the Best’ seemed like a sad pipedream. The men in the Kremlin must have felt pretty good about life back then. All the weapons they had poured into Vietnam had resulted in Uncle Sam’s greatest humiliation on the roof of the Saigon Embassy in 75 and New York was sliding into a state of apocalyptic anarchy. So what did the hard faced guys in the fur hats do? They only went and invaded Afghanistan didn’t they! I mean, talk about failing to learn the lessons of history on two counts or what. Number one, never launch a big war on the back of topping the Olympic medal table. Two, never invade Afghanistan. Well the might of the Red Army was duly bled dry in the dry hills of Central Asia. Just like the Brits on the Somme. Just like the Germans on the steppes of Russia.


So business as usual was restored as the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave saw off yet another Empire. In 96 they were top dogs again beating the Russians by 44 to 26. The Brits by this stage were more or less a busted flush limping home 36th will just the one gold to our name. Thank god for Steve Redgrave. No wonder we knighted him. 2000 was much the same and the NeoCons in Washington took this as yet more evidence that Uncle Sam would be top dog forever and ever Amen. So did they learn a lesson or two from history? Course they didn’t. They only went and invaded Iraq and Afghanistan didn’t they? And now? Well, now there is another wannabe Empire on the block and it is now the Yanks and Chinese who are scrapping for top dog status.

History might have a lesson or two for us here. Tell you what, if China manage to mirror their achievement in 2008 and come top again I wouldn’t much fancy my chances if I lived in Taiwan.

What is really quite extraordinary is the fact that we Brits have managed to drag ourselves up from the nadir of 1996 to sit third in the table. It goes to prove that chucking money at the thing can pay off. In the last four years we have piled £26 million into our cyclists and by Christ have they ever come good. £27 million on rowing wasn’t a bad idea either. The Medal Table of today is something of a national relief. We don’t seem to be losers any more. Not only have we proved that we are still capable of doing something right, but we have won a few kilos of metal to boot. Our politicians are doing their best to bask in the reflected glory and the Union Jack is appearing in front gardens up and down the land. There is nothing like a taste of victory to make us all feel better about ourselves. The message from the great and the good is that we need to use this feel good factor to re-launch ourselves as a world player.

A few minutes with the history books might well prove to be time well spent. Thankfully our utterly exhausted army is in no way, shape or form in a fit state to invade anywhere though it would be rather nice if Cameron dispatched the SAS to Jersey, The Isle of Man, the Cayman Islands and the British Virgin Islands and shut down all the tax havens. Not very likely though.

Instead our great leaders will attempt to convince us that being third on the medal list is evidence that things are OK. Never mind the fact that one in five of our young people is on the dole. Never mind that the economy is sliding into the mire. Never mind that every year sees us slip down the league table for literacy and numeracy. Never mind that every year sees us climb the league table for addictions, grinding poverty and teenage pregnancy. Never mind any of that. We came third! Things can’t be that bad! Well sorry guys, but they can. Medal tables almost always lie. Just ask Mr Asquith, Herr Hitler and Comrade Brezhnev.

Basically we’ve done our doe. We’ve stuck £10 billion on the credit card and splashed it out on a two week party. And it has been quite a party. And we all know how things are after a great party. It’s a trashed house and a sore head and a drained out bank account.

Third is nice but the cracks under the paper just get wider and wider.          

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