My games callup came as no surprise. It arrived direct from London, bypassing the local association.
“At last,” I said down the phone line.
“So you've OKed my application to make dog walking an Olympic sport.”
“Not exactly - much as we love dogs,” said Sebastian Lord, the official. They'd done a Google search of my medical and dental records. Could I confirm that I suffer from corns?
And was I long overdue for a dental checkup? Yes again, but I had phoned for an appointment . . . with my bank manager.
“Please hold fire and get on a plane forthwith,” said Sebastian. “First class, of course.”
The line crackled. Rain getting into the fibre-optics, he explained. Poor old Britain is slogging through its wettest summer since record-keeping began in 1766.
(Wow, I thought, that's more than 240 years - time spans in the UK, like distances in Oz, are mind-blowing.)
Games officials were sweating blood, Sebastian continued. If the downpours keep up, the 100-metre sprinters will be wearing gumboots.
Organisers have pinned their hopes on July 15, St Swithin's Day, which, according to folklore, sets the weather pattern for the next month or more.
“St Swithin's Day if thou dost rain
For forty days it will remain
St Swithin's Day if thou be fair
For forty days 'twill rain nae mair.”
They're so classy, these Brits. Fancy being able to quote poetry off the top of your head. I only know the one about the young man from Khartoum, who took a . . . oh, never mind.
Last Sunday dawned fine - and then the rainstorms rolled in, said Sebastian. I detected the unmistakable timbre of a stiff upper lip quivering.
Meteorology wasn't delivering the goods, he added, so officials were resorting to the tried and nearly-true: folk remedies. Dust off those spells and incantations.
The local Tesco supermarket was not well-stocked with eye of newt, much less toe of frog. Ancient tomes had been consulted for appropriate rhymes.
“When windows won't open, and the salt clogs the shaker,
The weather will favour the umbrella maker!” Hmm, thanks, but they could have figured that one out for themselves.
“When sounds travel far and wide,
A stormy day will betide.”
They probably meant the sound of thunder, said Sebastian.
“We didn't come down in the last shower . . . oh my giddy aunt, here comes another shower!”
He needed a minute to compose himself.
“Cats and dogs eat grass before a rain.”
Bulldust, I interrupted. My fleabag pooch eats grass regardless of the barometer. It's the border collie in her pining for a flock of sheep.
Here's where you feature, said Sebastian.
“A coming storm your shooting corns presage,
And aches will throb, your hollow tooth will rage.”
So I was perfectly attuned to the weather. There's more, he said.
“A cow with its tail to the west makes the weather best,
A cow with its tail to the east makes the weather least.”
You're a Kiwi, he said. Who better to deal with cows?
When I arrived, I would be whisked to the Home Counties to induce the beasts of the field to point their tails west.
Worth a try, I said. “First class, was it?”
Indeed, Sebastian confirmed, and could I bring the backup plan - a package from the Yellow Pages people containing 100,000 credit card-sized “magnifiers” to point at any cracks in the clouds, focusing the rays to flood the stadium with sunshine?
So I'm off tomorrow. I've parked my cynicism about the great five-ringed circus.
Honestly, London must claim the gold medal for Olympics cost blowouts.
The original estimate of £2.4 billion (NZ$4.7b) has ballooned to £13b, and a Sky Sports investigation included the public transport upgrade to catapult the price tag to £24b.
Enough dosh to rebuild Christchurch twice over. Utter madness.
Historically, Olympic Games run 179 per cent over budget - or nearly three times the amount everyone signs up for - so London has pulverised the world record.
According to a Reuters UK poll, 23 out of 27 economists believe the London games will not bring long-term benefits. Sound familiar? Sports tournament promoters, and puffed-up politicians, certainly have a playful way with money - as you do when it's not yours.
First class, eh? Sleeper seat. Wide-screen TV. Personal masseuse. Spa . . . that'll do wonders for my corns. I wonder if they have their wine list online?
PS: A final word on the characters of Nelson. We have done Tonkie a disservice. He was almost deaf, hence the “machinegun” voice, writes a nephew, Ken Wright.
He says Ted Tonkin owned a Vauxhall Victor that he kept in mint condition by covering it with sacks and corrugated iron sheets at his (garage-less) property in Tasman St.
He worked for the Nelson City Council electricity department until his retirement, giving rise to a unique memorial - outside his old home, near the Halifax St corner, is a transformer on the footpath that bears the words "Tonkins Substation".
“He certainly had a kind and generous heart,” says Ken.
- © Fairfax NZ News