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Unusual image

14 February 2014


IN OUR representations of what God looks like, we may have moved on from the old-man-with-white-beard template; but I am not sure that we are ready to embrace an image of the Omnipotent that looks like Bob Crow. Yet, if the logic of Audrey Gillan's script for From Fact to Fiction: God's bidding (Saturday, Radio 4) was to be followed through, then the implication is unavoidable: that the Lord works his ways even through the leader of the RMT union.

That we were as listeners prepared to accept such a notion speaks to the charm of Gillan's script. From Fact to Fiction is a strand that offers writers the chance to dramatise a topical issue in a fiction with which they might engage directly or obliquely. This week, the story was the Pope's auctioning of his Harley-Davidson motorcycle in Paris.

In the drama, a mother and daughter attempt a trip to Paris to bid for the motorbike, spotting a chance to make money for their charity. Through the agency of Crow and the London Tube strike, the ladies' quest is frustrated: but it all comes good in the end.

Public declarations that God might work in such mysterious ways are to be made with circumspection. There was a time when the concert pianist John Lill would make claims about his spiritual inspiration that earned him a certain amount of derision. So, as he explained in Music Matters (Radio 3, Saturday), he does not talk about this any more; suffice to say that, when performing, he often feels his hands moving in ways that he is not controlling. He feels a spiritual force - although not one that can be attributed to any "man-made religion".

What Lill experiences might be identified with the term "flow" - that loss of self through intense engagement with an activity. Next on Music Matters came a researcher into performance psychology, Professor Jaydeep Bhattacharya, whose team at Goldsmiths College have been studying flow.

It is not a phenomenon exclusive to pianists - sportspeople, for instance, talk of being "in the zone". Where there is a perfect match between a person's skill and the difficulty of the task that that person is performing, he or she can experience this highly pleasurable state, which is so motivating that it makes up for the hours of practising.

No doubt there will be many a skier, ice-skater, and bobsleigh competitor experiencing "flow" over the coming days in Sochi. For the rest of us, all we can do is watch, admire, and wonder at the vast expense of it all. In The Road to Sochi (World Service, Tuesday of last week), Robin Lustig talked to politicians, businessmen, and environmentalists about where the estimated $US30 billion have gone, and why this is the most expensive games ever.

Reports of corruption are legion. But, as a Chatham House expert suggested, this is the common currency of political discourse in Russia. Of more importance might be the long-term environmental sustainability of the infrastructure created. One hotel owner in Sochi said that Russia did things either much better or much worse than other countries. It remains to be seen into which category these games will fall.

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