Games Without Frontiers

Out there, the big summer of sport is just hotting up, but at Hawkwood our sports season is at its climax. In the Race to the Sky, Jo and Jairo’s climbing bean selections are ahead neck and neck, or rather, apical shoot and apical shoot. It will literally go to the wire: that is, the top wire of the glasshouse apex. Following their progress day by day has been pretty exciting.

Then on Wednesday, the third annual Horticultural Games took place. Their were some outstanding performances, with Nicole shredding the women’s world record for Salad Tossing, and John coming from nowhere to win the Potato & Knife (a plant-based alternative to Egg & Spoon). In the overall team competition, the Vines lifted the flower pot trophy, despite stiff competition from the Fruit, the Vegetables, and the Salad team, who held on to their Tug of Peace title with nonviolent determination. At the end of the day, as they say, it was the Big Team of OrganicLea that won: coop members, volunteer workers and course participants, coming together to celebrate midsummer – one of the two most important days in the Gardening Calendar.

Next to this very particular playfulness, professional sport seems seriously abstracted. Yet most games began this way: as seasonal, local recreation that often demonstrated and developed skills and strengths that were useful to the society. Athletics is based on Greek military training; early bike racers came from the massed ranks of cycle porters and couriers; and village football was a veiled rehearsal for rioting.

A while ago that beautiful magazine The Land envisaged a future where the Olympics had mutated into the “Global Village Games”, with international scything and squash growing contests replacing the current “pointless acts of physical prowess”. Soon, the Lea Valley will be polarised: on the lower banks, a unique territory of natural regeneration and surviving manufacturing industry has been flattened into a placeless setting for two weeks of corporate–dominated athletic spectacle. It will be busy and vibrant. The security forces will see it is safe, whatever the cost.

Upstream, you might still find that sense of gentle liberty; of stewarded wildness and ad hoc leisure pursuits, that characterise England’s waterways and commons. Chuck a right and you might find a glasshouse where everyone’s beans touch the stars, and cyclists load their trailers with land race tomatoes.

If you ask me there’s no contest.

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