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A Referendum







Wonderland Olympics

         Today’s question for consideration is as follows: how much can we learn from the dos and don’ts of organising the Olympic Games by studying the works of Lewis Carroll?
         I ask this only because for weeks now I have had a newspaper cutting knocking around on my desk which reads as follows:
        “A panel of MPs earlier this week ridiculed the original budget of £2.37bn as ‘Alice in Wonderland’ costings and condemned the delay in publishing updated figures. Mr Swire said: ‘The chancellor ought to be spending his time sorting out the mess he has made of the Olympics budget.’ ”
        Every time I come across it, I nod my head in agreement like a sheep, and then I think, guiltily, that I am in fact assuming without reflection that money matters in Lewis Carroll ARE crazy and do shoot upwards like Alice’s neck out of control. But I never went back to the source material to check if Mr Swire knew what he was talking about.
        Well, I have now.
        Yesterday I forced myself to re-read “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” and I have made an inventory of the passages relevant to the planning of a modern Olympiad. Here they are:
        1. In the first few pages Alice takes various unknown substances (left by unknown hands) which increase and decrease her size and shape to a fabulous degree. I know of no more graphic description of the effect of performance-enhancing drugs in the whole of Victorian literature.
        2. Alice is so worried about the effect of these substances on her that she tests her memory to see how affected it has been.
         “Let me see: four times five is twelve, and four times six is thirteen, and four times seven is – oh dear! I shall never get to twenty at that rate! However, the Multiplication Table doesn’t signify: let’s try Geography. London is the capital of Paris, and Paris is the capital of Rome, and Rome – no, that’s all wrong, I’m certain! . . .”
        A fair reflection of the kind of mathematics behind the 2012 Olympic budget?
        I think so.
        3. After Alice and her fellow animals are nearly drowned in a flood of her tears, they discuss the best way to get dry – and suddenly we are right into athletics!
         “What I was going to say,” said the Dodo in an offended tone, ”was, that the best thing to get us dry would be a Caucus-race. . . . ”
         First it marked out a race-course, in a sort of circle, (“the exact shape doesn’t matter,” it said) and then all the party were placed along the course, here and there. There was no “One, two, three and away”, but they began running when they liked and left off when they liked, so that it was not easy to know when the race was over.”
         4. After that satirical look at athletics, there is nothing really for the next hundred pages, unless you include the scene in the croquet game in which the playing cards are busy repainting a bush with white roses red, because the wrong-coloured bush was planted and they are for the chop if it is not changed. An allegory of Olympic cock-ups, cover-ups and scapegoats? Could well be.
         But forget about all that, because on page 132, I spotted the following crucial last sentence of Chapter IX.
         “That’s enough about lessons,” the Gryphon interrupted in a very decided tone: “tell her something about the games now.”
         5. The games! Alas, it leads only to a dissertation on the rules of the lobster quadrille, a dance of such complexity that it might, but only just might, be a parallel with the way the IOC allocates the games to different cities.
         And that’s it.
         It’s not a lot, is it?
         I fear that Mr Swire (or whoever it was) had not done his research properly when he compared the Games budget to Alice in Wonderland.
         Unless perhaps he meant to refer to the loony logic of “Alice Through the Looking Glass”?
         Some other time, perhaps.

The Independent Tues June 5 07


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© Caroline Kington