BBC BLOGS - Chris Jackson's Blog

Archives for July 2012

High on life - the Olympic adrenaline rush reaches beyond London

Chris Jackson | 16:20 UK time, Monday, 30 July 2012

Opening ceremony - London 2012 - olympic rings forged above the stadium

I have been on a real high all weekend and I'm showing no signs of coming down any time soon. I am writing this blog entry as I take the bus to work.

As we bumble along, to my right a field with cows grazing, above a blue sky with fluffy white clouds. Incredibly a bird falls to the ground. It's a kestrel swooping down on its prey by the roadside, undisturbed by the traffic.

As we head towards Newcastle an urban landscape unfolds. High rises, factories, the odd chimney, a gathering crescendo of the hustle and bustle of the city.

Danny Boyle

Danny Boyle

It dawns on me that this is my very own version of Danny Boyle's Olympics opening ceremony extravaganza.

It reinforces for me just how great that orchestrated vision of Great Britain was.

The uplift in national pride has been palpable in conversations, faces, glances, body language in people I have met, seen and brushed past ever since Friday night.

I don't think I'm prone to soft and squidgy sentimentality but soaking up that spectacle in the Olympic stadium left me a little doe-eyed.

It was our party and we invited the World. As Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the world wide web might say: "This is for everyone."

Unlike the Americans who fly their flag in every town, city, suburb and garden we Brits are more reserved in our patriotism, but we have been given licence to be unashamedly proud of being from these isles.

I am.

Opening Ceremony London 2012 Olympics. Industrial scene

Industrial revolution

What vision of our country did we present to the world? A quirky, eccentric, self deprecating, mega-mix of cultural influences borne out of our unique development from rural idyll through the turmoil of industrialisation to political upheaval and ultra-modernisation.

Some questioned whether this would be intelligible to foreign viewers.

I have had personal reports from as far as the US, Norway and Australia, and it appears their home network commentators mostly talked all through the event.

Perhaps they felt they needed to add their own footnotes to the ever changing weave of the historical tapestry that was being rolled out to the globe. But that is precisely what I loved about it.

Boyle's production showed a nation so confident and comfortable in its skin that it didn't feel the need to explain itself to anyone. It hadn't been focus grouped to death so as not to offend anyone.

Opening Ceremony London 2012 Olympics. NHS scene

NHS scene

A subersively brief lesbian kiss was beamed into homes of nations where it might even be punishable.

To the ultimate free market of the US it brazenly proclaimed that health care doesn't have to be survival of the financially fittest.

It wasn't as sanitised or as formal as the Beijing games - as magnificent as it was four years ago. We had organised chaos.

A reflection of our sometimes dark past was revealed as satanic mills trashed the tranquil rural scene. Simultaneously ugly and exciting it was a roller-coaster ride through the highs and lows of our past - it even included the Jarrow marchers - and culminated in the forging of the Olympic rings.

The show itself reflected the inherently rebellious nature of British citizenry - something which those of any political persuasions could surely acknowledge.

I'm not sure any other country would dare stage such a warts and all account of itself. That in itself is something to be proud of.

When I mentioned this on Facebook I got a terse response: "Warts and all? Yeah, that slave trade montage was brilliant." My reply: you can't get all 2,000 years of history into an hour or two and even though we once embraced slavery we later led the world in abolishing it.

Exterior shot of Olympic Stadium and fireworks during opening ceremony.

Opening Ceremony fireworks

Having recorded the ceremony I have watched it back a couple of times and it only improves with foresight and anticipation.

As a TV producer I marvelled at the beautiful craft that went into staging it.

As a colleague of mine put it: "it was like watching a live film." There will have been broadcast professionals all over the globe watching in awe.

Unlike the opener of the China games which revelled in the mass uniformity of its spectacle, with the London version we got loads of close-ups. It was about individuals and participation; the back story of NHS staff actually being participants in their scene, the construction workers forming a guard of honour for the arriving flame, the thousands of volunteers who joined forces to stage the mesmerising show.

There were all shapes and sizes, all ages, all abilities, disabilities, backgrounds - all had a place. Perhaps not a vision of how Britain is, but how it could yet be.

Caught up in that euphoria I downloaded the soundtrack and as I type these final paragraphs my ears are being swamped with the haunting whistling tune that punctuated Dame Evelyn Glennie's pulsating rythyms of that night.

The hairs are rising again on the back of my neck.

In a year of ever greater austerity I have found it is actually possible to get high on life once more. With more troubled times forecast all I now need to do is plug myself into my mp3 player and hop on the bus to work.

Thanks Danny!

Digging the dirt even before Inside Out returns.

Chris Jackson | 00:10 UK time, Monday, 23 July 2012

A coin from the reign of Edward I unearthed in Coquetdale

You don't get a medal for devoting more than a quarter of a century of your life to the BBC, you get a bit of extra time off. It was during this bonus holiday that I was part of a team that unearthed the coin pictured above.

It's about as close as I'll get to a silver medal.

The coin had lain underground for some 700 years until I and a handful of others started digging around an archaeological site in Coquetdale, Northumberland.

I decided to use my extra few weeks away from work to start a fresh hobby. As you'll see from earlier blog posts of mine, my last project was to produce a history documentary and I finally decided I should get hands-on and do some actual archaeology.

As the presenter of Inside Out I'm used to digging the dirt on our investigations, but this is real dirt and real digging.

There are lots of community archaeology groups where enthusiastic amateurs carry out digs under the guidance of professionals.

Chris Jackson on an archaeological dig in Northumberland

Chris Jackson with trowel in excavation site

I had no idea that I'd be let loose with a trowel quite so soon after joining. There is a real thrill at the thought that each scrape could reveal a hidden treasure. But there is an awful lot of scraping!

The Coquetdale Community Archaeology group has been excavating an old fulling mill and this month we returned to see if we could take previous years' work even deeper.

As we unearth more and more stones, walls emerge and so do some mysterious lines and structures, changes in soil colouration. I leave it to the experts to see if they can made head or tail from it.

Every now and then we come across something a bit more tangible.

A potential piece of medieval pottery

My first "find"

After endless small stones and pebbles coming out of the ground before me I caught sight of something very different.

A fragment of medieval pottery. From the curvature it was clearly a section where the pot wall met the base.

My imagination started to fill in the rest and of course you start to wonder who might have handled it centuries before I did?

This was my first ever "find" and whilst it was being bagged, numbered and filed, I was still in the afterglow of feeling connected with the past in an incredibly unique way.

Emotions can run away with you though. That high was soon replaced by serious "find envy", when a fellow volunteer only feet away from me let out a yelp as he unearthed something shiny and round.

What he'd found was a silver coin from the reign of Edward I. That much was evident as soon as the mud was cleared away because the coin was in fantastic condition.

With a bit of investigation it was narrowed down to having been minted in Durham between 1280 and 1281.

Such a great discovery helps date that part of the site and it fits in perfectly with the general feeling that this was a fulling mill from this particular period.

Sadly this dig came right at the end of my leave and now I am back in the office preparing for the next series of Inside Out which starts in October.

Arachaeology site in the glorious hills of Coquetdale

Digging in Coquetdale

As I look out over the urban skyline I ponder one of the best things about my new found hobby.

Archaeology gets you outdoors into some spectacular scenery and you can't do much better than digging amongst the sheep in Coquetdale.

As much as I love my job, it's hard to beat getting your hands dirty amongst the clarts, even in a British summer!

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