Now here's a riddle for the holiday weekend: what's on time, on budget and in Britain? The answer, improbable, but correct, is the 2012 London Olympics. Yet still the nay-sayers persist, grumbling away about how the site will never be complete in time, how the costs have already spiralled out of control, and how the city – their city – will be a nightmare for the duration.
They were on top form earlier this week when Anish Kapoor's 115m tower was presented as the winner of the Mayor's contest to find an architectural symbol for the Olympic Park. I admit that I'm not immediately entranced by the design. Like much contemporary British art, in any form, it is just that bit too complicated to be elegant. And the lattice girders may, as Kapoor says, be a tribute to the Eiffel Tower, but at the time of writing it seems on the hubristic side to equate the two.
With any luck, though, it will look much better when it is built for real than it looks as a scale model, and we will all take to it, just as we have taken to the London Eye and, after much agonising over its purpose, to the Dome. I'm also gratified that another gigantic commission has not been handed to Antony Gormley. I don't have anything particular against his work except its ubiquity. So good luck to Kapoor, and to Lakshmi Mittal who has pledged the metal. At least the Orbit – not necessarily its final name – is original and moderately entertaining.
The controversy surrounding the tower had one beneficial effect: it deflected attention from the latest group of privileged Londoners trying to keep any Olympic event as far as possible from their backyard. The good folk of St John's Wood (average property price, I would hazard, well into the new 5 per cent stamp-duty bracket) are objecting to plans to hold the week-long archery competition at Lord's.
It's not the prospect of stray arrows flying over their garden walls they fear, nor the subdued pings and thuds that will supplant the familiar sound of leather against willow. No, they are objecting to what they say are the organisers' plans for loud music to accompany the contest. Even in the unlikely event that world-class archers would happily compete against a background of loud music, you have to ask whether it's reasonable for a group of residents to try to have a highly atmospheric and history-laden venue ruled out essentially for their own convenience. This is one week out of one summer; their proximity to Lord's is for a lifetime.
Meanwhile Greenwich Park has finally been approved as a venue for equestrian events, after a stormy five-hour meeting and a long protest campaign by local residents, fearful that trees would be felled and horses' hooves would mash up the ground. Lord Coe said he made no apologies for wanting to use the park – may he continue to have the courage of his convictions. The Olympics give London an opportunity to show off, and to share, its glorious green spaces and architectural ensembles. Let the privilegentsia huff and puff with more or less gentility. They can move out for the summer if they feel that strongly, and leave the rest of us to enjoy the global party.
We're losing our age-old sense of the seasons
Time was when you would not have been able to find a newspaper today; Maundy Thursday was the traditional printers' holiday and on Good Friday all the shops were shut. I chose this engraving in the fairly confident expectation that it would be one of the few religious images to appear in this, or any other, daily paper on what used to be the most solemn and sacred day of the year.
That Britain is now an increasingly secular country, with Easter Sunday the only remaining exception to shops trading seven days a week, does not preoccupy me hugely – though the luxury of the seventh day of rest makes for a pleasantly relaxing interlude in countries where it is still observed. What does give me pause is the way our brand of secularism has evicted so much else, leaving the passage of the seasons almost unmarked.
Our Continental neighbours seem to have done better, so far, at combining tradition, sacred and secular, with modernity. In much of France, Germany and Italy, the church bells will toll today; the hours between 12 and 3pm will be quiet. You would have been unlikely to find Easter eggs in their shops until a couple of weeks ago. And while hot cross buns are now a year-round supermarket staple here, and even simnel cake has gone commercial, Easter cakes have only just gone on sale in France and Italy.
At home, we will sit down tonight to white fish, followed by hot cross buns. How many others, I wonder, will be doing the same?
Who says radio's future has to be digital?
Having begun my career in broadcasting, I'm infuriatingly fussy about sound. To other people's frustration, I twiddle knobs endlessly in an effort to banish the slightest crackle or distortion. Digital should have been made for me.
But ever since the "digital switch-over" loomed, I have scoured shops for a digital set I could live with – not just audially, but aesthetically. There are miniature radios all over our flat, and a tuner is part of the (ancient) hi-fi in the sitting room. Until it pegged out, my favourite was a small blue flask-shaped item, with a little rope for an aerial, a Philippe Starck promotion handed out by the French government on some occasion. My new favourite is small, slim and vertical, with a solid base that makes it hard to knock over, but easily carried around.
Alas, each digital radio looks like an old-fashioned wireless by comparison: big, boxy and unamenable to being moved. And it now turns out that the particular digital system they are foisting on us is being phased out as obsolete by technical pioneers, such as Finland.
The benefits of digital television are obvious, give or take the two-second delay and the odd hiccup in transmission. But for radio these are fatal flaws. If an imperfect signal transmitted via an ugly box is the digital future, please let me stay in the AM/FM past.
* Justin King, CEO of Sainsbury's, had time to sign a joint letter supporting the Conservatives' policy on National Insurance, so maybe he could also heed a customer. For several months now, Mr King, those super-convenient wheeled baskets have vanished from your stores. Each time I ask for one, I get a different excuse. If you don't bring them back sharpish, I'm off to Tesco.Reuse content