You'll have had your tea tray

UNLIKE the boring Summer Olympics, where it's all medals, medals, medals, the Winter Olympics is a time for celebrating the underdog. And for peeing into a bottle every time you put your helmet on, if you're a Russian underdog.

Now if you're a Winter Olympics obsessive like me you'll already know about the Nigerian women's “two man” bobsleigh team, who go into action this week and are already shaping up to be one of the underdog sensations of this year's games. The women in question are US-based athletes Akuoma Omeoga and Moriam Seun Adigun, the first Nigerians to take part in the Winter Olympics and the first team from any African country to enter the bobsleigh. They'll be joined on the ice by compatriot Simidele Adeagbo, who'll compete in the skeleton. That's the one where you go headlong down the run on a tea tray. I can't wait. Awon omobirin ti o dara!, as they probably don't say in Yoruban.

But don't think the Nigerian women will hog all the underdog glory. In memory of Eddie the Eagle let's take time to salute 20-year-old Fatih Arda Ipcioglu, the first Turk to enter the ski-jumping competition. His career best to date is 59th at the 2016 Junior World Championships. Still, the only way is up, right? OK, so that's not strictly true where ski jumping is concerned, but you know what I mean.

I'll also be keeping an eye on the alpine skiing to see how Lebanon's Natacha Mohbat, Eritrea's Shannon Abeda and Malta's Elise Pellegrin are getting on, and on the cross-country skiing, where super-buff Tongan Pita Taufatofua is making his Olympic bow. He'd never seen snow until two years ago, though he brings with him a celebrity of sorts having already competed in the taekwondo event in the 2016 Summer Olympics. When he appeared at the opening ceremony wearing a grass skirt and glistening with baby oil from the waist up, footage of him went viral. Can't imagine why.

One of the best bits of the Winter Olympics is the snowboarding and, while there are no obvious underdogs here, we have the outlandish nicknames to occupy us instead. We all know about The Flying Tomato of course – that's red-haired American Shaun White, who's kind of the Cristiano Ronaldo of the snowboarding scene – but there are others. Like American Arielle Gold, who's known as Relly Belly, Italy's Aaron March, who goes by the name of The Painter (he likes to paint, apparently) or the Canadian pair of Zoe Bergermann and Kevin Hills, who are known as Carney Joe and Kskills respectively. But my favourite is extravagantly-bearded and entirely ego-free Finnish snowboarder Roope Tonteri. He likes to be called Thunder.

Medals? Who cares.

Woman's Meekly

WOMEN'S rights are advancing in the Middle East. Admittedly not as speedily as the cars some women are now allowed to drive in Saudia Arabia but hey, it's a start. More good news: The Economist, a right-leaning weekly for people who fly often and first class, reports on a new women's magazine in the Middle East called Beituki.

Now the bad news. The title translates as “Your Home”, which tells you this isn't a DIY instruction manual for throwing off the hairy hand of the patriarchy. Neither does the identity of the organisation publishing the magazine: al-Qaeda. Among the titbits of advice Beituki offers are this – “Make your house a paradise on earth. Prepare the food your husband loves, prepare his bed after that and do what he wants” – and this: “Don't dabble in his work. Can you imagine all the bloodshed and bones he sees every day? Your fussing only increases the pressure.”

Nice. Probably not coming to an RS McColl near you any time soon.

Uncool Britannia

“IF you can remember the Swinging Sixties, you weren't there,” they used to say. To which I'd add: “And if you can remember Cool Britannia then bad luck – you were there and every day you relive the trauma of having to travel home from Glasgow on a train packed with Spice Girls fans.” Or is that just me?

For those members of Generation Z who weren't there but want to know what it was their parents (or grandparents?) bought into in the late 1990s, here it is in handy bullet points: Tony Blair at the Q Awards, Noel Gallagher at Downing Street, Liam Gallagher and Patsy Kensit on the cover of Vanity Fair, Ginger Spice on the cover of everything, Union Jacks, more Union Jacks. In short, Cool Britannia described a London-centric moment of cultural rebirth tied in large part to us getting rid of a Tory government and electing a Labour one. Looking back, the best you can say is that a genuine sense of optimism did lie at the root of it. But as a national branding exercise it always seemed cheesy and trite – which is why when I read about the Cool Britannia Festival I thought it was a joke.

But a joke it is not. For three days in August this event will take over Knebworth Park in Hertfordshire and wheel out an array of bands whose CDs you only ever see in charity shops these days. Ocean Colour Scene? Yup. Toploader? Yup. Embrace? Yup. Dodgy? Most certainly. There's also something called Britpop Classical, which gives everyone a chance to sit down and listen to an orchestra playing string and brass versions of Britpop classics.

One person I can't imagine attending the festival is Stryker McGuire, the veteran American journalist whose 1996 article for Newsweek helped kick-start the whole Cool Britannia thing. Returning to the subject in 2009, ahead of Barack Obama's first visit to the UK, he wrote that optimism is now “a thing of the past”. Fast forward a decade or so and here's former music journalist John Harris, writing in The New Statesman about Cool Britannia as viewed through the prism of Brexit. “How far away it all seems … if Britain ever had any hope of being recast as a 'young country', that is surely now a forlorn hope. Brexit, as the writer Anthony Barnett recently pointed out, amounts to 'government of the old, by the old, for the old'.”

Still, if people want to forget their ills and wallow in nostalgia while they listen to an orchestra play Barbie Girl by Aqua, so be it. But I can't help being reminded of that line from Pulp's 1995 hit Sorted For E's And Wizz: “Is this the way they say the future's meant to feel – or just 20,000 people standing in a field?”

Quincy says ...

STICKING with music, 84-year-old recording legend Quincy Jones tells New York Magazine: “All I've ever done is tell the truth.” And then he tells the magazine one or two other things which, given that previous statement, we'll have take as bona fide. Like: Michael Jackson was greedy and stole tunes from other artists. Like: The Beatles “were the worst musicians in the world … Paul was the worst bass player I ever heard. And Ringo? Don’t even talk about it”. Like Chicago mobster Sam Giancana killed John F Kennedy and Ed Sheeran's Divide album is “great”. Like when he visits Dublin, his friend Bono makes him stay in his castle because Ireland is so racist. Like Oprah “doesn't have the chops” to run for President. Like someone who did, Donald Trump, is “limited mentally – a megalomaniac, narcissistic. I can’t stand him. I used to date Ivanka, you know”. Like he used to date Ivanka.

Hang on, he used to date Ivanka? “Yes, sir. Twelve years ago. Tommy Hilfiger, who was working with my daughter Kidada, said 'Ivanka wants to have dinner with you'. I said 'No problem' … She had the most beautiful legs I ever saw in my life. Wrong father, though.”

It's a good read. Better than al-Qaeda's Beituki at any rate.