As I was vaguely watching the Olympics ® on the television my mind wandered back to the Incredible String Band. Perhaps yours did too. It was Usain Bolt that did it.
I have not been to the Olympics ® in person, although the better half has. Her trainer is working as one of the volunteers and got her a pass. She ended the day drinking alcohol-free cocktails with a number of trainers. (Is there a collective noun for trainers? I must ask daughter two, who once gave me a t-shirt devoted to collective nouns; how well she knows me.) Presumably in the Olympic Park ® an alcohol-free cocktail necessarily comprises a tasty and health-giving melange of Coca-Cola ®, Coca-Cola ® and Coca-Cola ® – with ice. Maybe there’s a palm frond carved out of a Visa ® card which you have to take out first in case it cuts your mouth.
I on the other hand had been told to expect an invitation to a reception with the same Coca-Cola ® company, where in their official box we could expect to gorge ourselves on Coca-Cola ® with perhaps a McDonald’s ® Happy Meal ™ and maybe catch some of the action through a window or something. However the intermediary who told me to expect this invitation had overreached himself and it never came. I sadly put my blazer away for another four years and returned to the television.
I think the better half got the Gold ™ on that occasion.
Anyway, I had been watching the Men’s 100 Metres (or possibly 200 Metres) Final ™ with half an eye, and the Incredible String Band’s first album came to mind, and specifically the photograph on the cover. There is something notoriously strange about Clive Palmer, on the left. If you know about the Incredible String Band you will know what it is. The three band members had been left alone in the offices of their record company and Clive Palmer (banjo and vocals) had taken the opportunity to half-inch a number of LPs.
(LPs or long-playing records were the medium for the transmission of recorded music before CDs or downloads were invented. They were round, flat (if you were lucky), made of plastic not unlike a Visa Card ® and twelve inches in diameter, excluding the packaging. This was of course square, so that a packaged LP presented itself to the world with the shape and area, but not depth, of a modern pizza in its box.)
Suddenly record company executives burst upon the scene, announcing that the boys were to be photographed then and there for the cover of what was not then called the Incredible String Band’s first album; by that stage it wasn’t even their only album – it was just a collection of songs and some guy’s crazy idea.
Clive Palmer, so the story (which, incidentally, I believe has been denied) goes, not wanting to relinquish his ill-gotten gains, but wanting even less to be caught in flagrante delicto on (as we now know though he then didn’t) the CCTV of posterity, shoved them under his shirt, where, if the denials are to be disbelieved, they are clearly visible.
This, I should explain, in the English cover. You will look in vain for concealed LPs on the American version, which has been adopted on some CD reissues, even in this country.
Why on earth should I think of Clive Palmer at this moment of sporting history? Usain Bolt had won his race and was doing a sort of mime. Possibly this was because it had not yet been possible to dispatch a television reporter to him, located as he was on what I understand is called the “track and field”, so that he could deliver his message that he was the greatest athlete ever and a legend. This happened soon afterwards.
When he had done with his mime I realised what it was. Look carefully. Usain Bolt appeared to have just won his sprint while concealing a handful of LPs under his shirt!
Unlike with Clive Palmer they probably weren’t stolen LPs; they may have been provided by the athletics governing body in his country, which is Jamaica. Possibly the record company in question is an official Olympic ® sponsor, in which case they would have been provided at no cost.
Excitedly I considered the implications. My original working theory was that Usain Bolt and Clive Palmer were one and the same. Certainly they had never to my knowledge been seen together on the same photo opportunity. That theory had to be abandoned straight away, for one very obvious reason. Usain Bolt has two legs, both in fine fettle, but Clive Palmer has only one. The second is artificial and hollow. There is a story, also denied, that the hollow bit was at one stage used to smuggle drugs from North Africa to Europe. Whether it is true or not this second leg is clearly not up to the rigours of modern athletics.
I made two lists separated by a line of the characteristics of the two men.
Usain Bolt is often described as the fastest man on the planet. There seems to me to be a misconception here. Speed is a combination of distance and time. The distance can be lengthened or shortened and a different calculation of speed is then appropriate. Bolt didn’t even qualify for the 10,000 Metres ™, which the great Mo Farah won, and it is possible to imagine, Zeno-like, races for less than 100 Metres ™ which Bolt might not have won. His height might have been a fatal disadvantage in a 5 Metres dash. On the other hand he probably would have won the 150 Metres, had it existed, which it didn’t.
Non-existent races, in case you were wondering, do not qualify for trade mark protection, even with the special treatment that the Olympics ® gets.
Clive Palmer is by no means the fastest banjo player on the planet. That’ll be some American. On the other hand he does have a second string to his bow, as it were, his plangent vocal rendition of Edwardian music hall songs. Usain Bolt just runs short distances very fast and does not so far as I know have any such second string, unless it’s his mime.
Bolt is extraordinarily ambitious. I have read Palmer’s biography. Decades go past without much happening. I think that it’s fair to assume that he is not tormented by peaks unclimbed.
Palmer is a nice man. I met him briefly once. He greeted me warmly and we chatted. To be fair I think that he thought I was someone else. Bolt, again, has his mime.
I don’t know what conclusion to draw, unless it’s this. Let us salute our Olympians ®, but for God’s sake don’t let us forget Clive Palmer!