The Olympics: day 2 report

I used to get my hair cut by a woman who believed in ghosts.

Like many chats with lunatics, it began on the margins of rationality and then started sprinting towards the horizon of common-sense like a demented cheetah. After a gentle beginning with palm readers she moved on to soothsayers, leprechauns and levitation.

You need to stamp on this kind of bullshit early on. I know that now. But at the time I didn’t, so I left it until she went so far as to claim – insanely – that a ghost had placed a jar of Marmite inside her hot water bottle.

She actually said that to me. I didn’t nod off and have a dream about a Python sketch, or take LSD with Vic Reeves. I was wide awake, as sober as a judge, and swear on the Beano that I heard her say spirits were jamming condiments in her hot water bottle.

Seemingly the dead have little better to do than play confusing practical jokes on the terminally befuddled.

She found the whole experience of being haunted, well, haunting, and it unsettled her to the extent that, as far as I could see, most of her brain had fallen out. But it wasn’t easy for me either, because I had to remain quiet, and that’s goes against the grain when people bullshit me. I’ve been known to follow such idiots down the street, pointing right at their gormless little faces and repeating “you’re a buffoon” over and over, while they shove copies of The Watchtower through doors and walk away from me at speed.

(OK, yeah, I know that makes me the crazy person. And I’m aware that it’s a waste of my time: nudging somebody in the general direction of reality is pointless when all they want to do is leap back into the pool of ignorance and swim for the safety of their own island of imbecility).

But in this case it wasn’t easy for me to tell her that she was – at best – several hours brisk walk away from sanity. She had scissors, you see, and they were less than an inch from my head. So I let the whole “haunting” thing pass, and made up my mind to find a new barber.

I also don’t believe in the Flying Spaghetti Monster, or that there’s a type of bird made from porcelain, or that there’s a garden chair orbiting Mars. Any of those things might be true, I guess, but it’s impossible to prove something doesn’t exist; only that something does. In the absence of any form of proof, a sane person would be on safe ground to assume things that sound nuts are actually nuts.

So I’ve never believed in ghosts…

… until today.

Because today I experienced something that defies rational explanation. I found myself witnessing a series of whispy apparitions whose white forms drifted aimlessly amongst the living. Eerie, slow-moving and oddly familiar, they passed by leaving a trail of traumatised witnesses, and it was all shown on live television. There they stalked, hollow-eyed and clammy, lurching from place to place lit only by a single guttering flame…

Joanna Lumley and Bruce Forsyth were transporting the Olympic Torch.

Jesus, Mary and the Little Brown Donkey.

Think about that for a moment. Think about what it says about this country. It’s only a couple of days before the opening ceremony, and we’re parading the best of British to a rapt television audience of literally billions. It’s a chance to boast all that our proud nation can offer.

There are nearly 60 million Britons, a conglomeration of a hundred races and cultures, the seat of Shakespeare and Keats and Lennon. We’re an educated, healthy, sophisticated, mature and stable democracy. We’re the 7th… 8th… 9th (and falling) biggest economy on earth. We should be able to do great things.

Lumley and Forsyth. God’s holy trousers. Why not Chegwin? Why not Mallet? That’s the Four Horsemen the Shite-ocalypse right there.

We boast our prowess to the world by trundling out a 109 year old song-and-dance man who can barely put together a full sentence. There he is, like a pickled gonad, slid into a gaudy white tracksuit and made to gurn at the camera until his carer comes to spoon warm pap into him. I’m surprised he didn’t claim the nurses had stolen his teeth.

And look everyone! Here come the stars of a sitcom that was briefly funny a generation ago, cancelled a long time after it ceased to be, yet keeps being puked back onto our screens in ever-more depressing regurgitations, like an aging heron vomming up a half-digested turbot in front of its startled and disappointed young.

Are we really admitting that for 20 years, not a single British person has done anything of cultural worth? Is that it? Forsyth and Lumley are the proud signifiers of our nation’s creative outpourings?

Of course not, it’s just that everything about this country runs screaming away from risk. And that’s why we’d rather flog off our national assets than take the chance on thinking up some proper business plans. These ancient, creakingly safe quasi-celebs are the cautious route, and a marker of the utter, crumbling collapse of our national spine.

The Olympic opening ceremony is still 48 hours away, and it’s already looking like a deeply depressing fortnight.

Draw parallels with America. Their equivalent would be pushing the corpse of Bob Hope up Pennsylvania Avenue; and making the few surviving, decrepit stars of Taxi hobble down the street on Zimmer frames. But I don’t imagine they’d do it. Being a proper nation with a modicum of pride, the Yanks would actually try to look to the future.

Or at least look to the present.

Or at least to the moderately recent past.

But we’re looking back entire lifetimes. My lady-friend was literally not born when Edina first stumbled into her kitchen, and probably thinks Bruce Forsyth is some kind of art-installation or maybe a medical experiment gone terribly, terribly wrong.

Forsyth was old when we last hosted the games in 1948. To my certain knowledge he hasn’t uttered a single intelligible noise since his jaw muscles ossified in the bitter winter of 1874. He’s what the Picture of Dorian Grey would look like if Dorian Grey was actually a scrotum.

And the last time Absolutely Fabulous was actually absolutely fabulous was when Jennifer Saunders fell over for the first time, in the opening episode, which was 21 pissing years ago. Every episode since then has been somewhere on a continuum between Absolutely Average and Absolutely Contemptible. It was cancelled in 1996, which in case you can’t do the maths is… hold on… no, I can’t do the maths either, but I’m sure it’s a very long time ago.

But like the ghost who hid the Marmite, it simply won’t die, remains utterly unbelievable, and is only slightly more fun than being stabbed in the head with scissors.


52 thoughts on “The Olympics: day 2 report

  1. But how can you not love an opening ceremony that somehow combines David Bowie, the Pet Shop Boys, Mary Poppins, the NHS and the Industrial Revolution? Not to mention “Jerusalem”? I loved every nutty bit of it (as a Canadian living in NY.)

  2. “Their equivalent would be pushing the corpse of Bob Hope up Pennsylvania Avenue.”

    I used to live in Burbank. We named the AIRPORT after this guy. I grew up on the east coast, where you named airports as they are intended to be named: after corrupt politicians or people who started decent-sized wars. Out here? Freakin Bob Hope and JOHN WAYNE. I still remember my mom looking up at John Wayne airport and saying, “It’s like naming City Hall after Donald Duck.”

    I can’t laugh. I live in Anaheim now, and it’s probably in the works.

    In summary: we’re nuts, too. 🙂 And you guys are often nuts in a more appealing way.

    1. We have a John Lennon airport – but I can’t find it in my heart to complain about that. Thanks for the effusive praise, I deserve every syllable :o)

  3. Enjoyed your post. As a Yank viewer of the opening ceremonies via RAI’s coverage here in Italy — where the booth announcers just rambled on and on like it was radio play-x-play, covering up the natural sound for the entire telecast — I was thoroughly impressed by all of the intricate choreography down on the floor and up in the air involving what appeared to be a cast of at least a couple of thousand (ala Cecil B. DeMille), double that for the behind-the-scenes crew. Admittedly, I got lost lost when the teenybopper sitcom storyline took over. I guess you have to be a Britt to understand that. And, how come Kenneth Branaugh — dressed as and impersonating Isambard Kingdom Brunel, the father of the I-Revolution — never lit up the stogie? His (Brunel’s) smokestacks were puffing away. While they were reaching into the bag of past successes, missing was a nod to Faulty Towers. Now that was slap-stick comedy. Way more ab-fab and drop-dead funny than AbFab. I’ll keep reading as you keep writing.

    1. Thanks, my colonial friend. I have to say, I still think the best sitcom ever is one of yours – Arrested Development. I think I blogged about it once.

  4. I watched the Ceremonies from Spain and the Spanish commentators had me laughing the entire time. They didn’t understand why they had Mr. Bean fake playing Chariots of Fire, wondering aloud, “What is he doing here?” and ended it with a “Well that’s typical British humor for you.”

    1. Sometimes – but quite rarely – the British can be persuaded to mock themselves. I know, it’s news to the world.

  5. First – you’re freaking hilarious! Second – I watched the opening ceremony last night and loved it! Maybe it’s because I’m American, and we don’t have quite the history you have at your disposal to recount, but I loved the nostalgia and the whimsy and the truly British flair of it all! And Mr. Bean! Who doesn’t love Mr. Bean? It’s okay, be a proud Brit. 🙂

    1. Thank you, although with typical British self-deprication I’d like to say that literally every single person in England is at least as hilarious as me and Mr Bean.

  6. Not being British, none of it seemed out of the ordinary to me. But I burst into laughter multiple times reading your post (and did not a small amount of Googling references). Perhaps they were going with the idea of honoring “lifetime of achievement” types?

    1. Honestly, none of it was out of the ordinary. Just a normal Friday night down at the local pub. You just sent cameras to film it this time.

      1. I did send those cameras, along with my personal arsenal of Olympic film crews. 😉

        I loved the Opening Ceremonies and was impressed by the amazing volunteers. Congrats to you guys for not disappointing as hosts!

  7. You had me laughing out loud. I do like Joanna Lumley, though, and never got tired of AbFab, probably because it was always a rare treat, rather than jammed down my throat. I agree about Arrested Development, although I think it went off the rails into much-less-funny in the 3rd season. Still, it was a high point.

    Congrats on being FP!

    Signing off with a ghost of a smile.

  8. Well, yeah, the opening ceremonies felt a teeny tiny bit fusty to me. But I bought it. Aside from the frenetically-filmed and edited Corgis (which left me speechless in a bad way), I think you Brits did swell. I appreciated how “real” the volunteers and performers were, especially as compared with Beijing.

    Hilarious post. Congrats!

  9. oh i do so love finding writing such as yours to crack me the hell up at the end of a long day. love your style, i’ll look forward to future posts. kick ass.

  10. I live in west London which is going to be in gridlock for most of the next month thanks to the Olympics so I’m definitely not a fan! I’ve seen some coverage of the torch relay and had the same thought about the celebs that were roped in – what the hell were they doing there?! More bathchairs of steam than chariots of fire. And that’s apart from the embarrassing moments like Paloma Faith in high heels. I felt obliged to take a look the day it came to Greenford and got a blurry shot of the torch for the blog. I think a lot of people would have been shocked at the circus that preceded it because you just don’t see it on the TV coverage. Two of the sponsors, representing sugar laden drinks and mobile phones, were very much in evidence but representatives of the bank were nowhere to be seen. Greenford has hit hard times and I couldn’t help wondering if it just wasn’t worth their while. At least it was an “ordinary” person carrying the torch at that point. The opening ceremony has left me feeling bitter and twisted, especially as the money spent telling everyone about our industrial heritage could have been spent on saving it (it really does need saving!). I had been planning to avoid the whole thing as far as possible but your post made me laugh (dammit) so I’ll have to have some contact with it now. This is all your fault. Well done on being Freshly Pressed, I have no doubt that it will keep happening so that your inbox is constantly choked with notifications.

  11. laughed out loud! too hysterical. I am going to get a kick out of you, fella. yours is a truly original and bent perspective. Congrats on being freshly pressed, you are freshly appreciated as well.

  12. I loved the Opening Ceremony. Being a Beatles and Harry Potter nut, the presence of McCartney and J.K.Rowling was enough to please me 🙂
    Hilarious post 🙂 Congrats on Freshly Pressed !

  13. “you’re a buffoon” over and over…I love it! I will add this to my habit of answering the door naked when religious fanatics come knocking! Great work! I’m a fan!

      1. I saw a stage version of it in the Cayman Islands, it was dreadful – the actresses had Canadian accents, can you imagine how ridiculous it sounded when they said they were going to pop into Harvey Nicks?

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