There was only one place on earth to be last week as the athlete Usain Bolt bolted his way to triumph at the Olympic Games. And it wasn’t Beijing.|On the other side of the world, the entire island of Jamaica was cheering and toasting and singing and dancing ... and I was there, slap, bang in the middle of it all joining in the celebrations even though 24 hours earlier I’d never even heard of the fella.
The truth is — dare I say this? — I hadn’t even been watching the Olympic Games.
Sport has never been my forte since I came last in the egg and spoon race aged five, the sack race aged six and, indeed, every other race or game I competed in thereafter for the rest of my life.
That dreaded phrase ‘It’s not the winning, but the taking part that counts’ was actually coined for me by my underwhelmed mum and dad as they consoled me on school sports days year-in, year-out, throughout my entire childhood for being a first-class butter-fingered loser.
Fortunately, my kids didn’t take after me and have both grown up as skillful — and occasionally even successful — sportsmen. But the one downside is that, like most boys of their age, they also love watching it continually on TV. So one of the attractions of going away without them was the rare opportunity to completely escape from the World of Sport.
And last week was just that — my one week’s holiday of the year away from the boys and subsequently the one week of the year I didn’t have to watch sport on TV.
Consequently, unlike the rest of the world and his wife, I hadn’t been scrutinising the Olympic scoreboards on a daily basis. And I certainly hadn’t seen the triumphant gold medals and world record races that had catapulted Usain Bolt out of obscurity and onto the front pages of every newspaper, making him a household name everywhere and a national hero in Jamaica, on a par with Bob Marley.
But none of that seemed to matter on the beach at Runaway Bay as the corks popped, the rum punch flowed and the reggae bands played loudly and incessantly into the night. It was an excuse for some easy skankin’ and I had no intention of being the only party-pooper on the island.
Not that you need an excuse in Jamaica. From the moment we got off the plane it felt like one big party. At immigration, for example, where you are usually greeted with suspicious sidelong glances and silent scrutiny by men in suits with walkie-talkies, here we were met by an all-singing all-dancing all-smiling dude with dreadlocks whilst Montego Bay, by Amazulu, played noisily over the tannoy.
Then, in the coach on the way to the hotel, instead of pointing out landmarks and advising us about currency, the driver used his mike to serenade us with soul songs from the Sixties, tell a few jokes and occasionally yell greeting to friends passing by on the street below.
What followed was seven days of bliss. Not just from the sun and the spectacular scenery but from the atmosphere of celebration and pride which was apparent wherever we went.
It was like a shot in the arm, and enough to see me through the next 51 weeks of school runs and packed lunches and PTA meetings and homeworks ... and, of course, the new season of interminable sports programmes on TV.
Yeah mon. Jamaica me Irie.