The Olympics: day 3 report… and also day 1?

Privatisation is brilliant: it frees business from the yoke of an oppressive state, and brings nothing but benefits.

That’s why I’ve waited 7 long, isolated weeks for a phone line to be installed. Well, I say installed; I really mean activated

You see, I just moved into a nice new apartment, with Bosch appliances and marble bathrooms and every mod con – I didn’t know dolphins were so clever: all of this was porpoise-built (I’m so sorry). My apartment even came with working phone lines that just needed a man to flick the “on” switch, but that, apparently, takes 2 months.

Is this a modern nation or not? Can we make our minds up, please? Because a lot of the time it feels like a shonky banana-republic, governed by a clique of nepotistic fuckwits, going steadily broke while the elite creams off billions, and incapable of providing any kind of infrastructure or security for the suffering proles. If I woke up tomorrow and found the country had been part-exchanged for Turkmenistan, it wouldn’t surprise me.

But at least I’ve got a phone line now, something Germany provides as a same-day service. The switch-flicking bloke was here at 7:30am, and once I was awake I decided to turn on the news. It’s a busy time in international affairs:

  • Election-fever is building in the USA, where Mitt Romney is going with gusto for the Bush’s record of “most gaffe-prone Republican
  • Almost 20,000 people have been killed in Syria
  • And here at home some people are going to run around in a field. A few of them will throw things too. If we’re lucky, someone might jump over an obstacle.

Guess which one had the most news coverage.

Meanwhile in the real world, economic ineptitude, fraud and corruption – well, what would you call it? – is costing every man, woman and child in Britain over £26,000 and removing our democratic rights. Do you care? No you don’t, you just like to look at the shiny-shiny baubles and hope reality goes away.

Tonight is the shiniest of the baubles the Olympics have to offer: the opening ceremony. After 3 full days of Olympic sport we’re finally, by twisting logic into the shape of a pretzel, at Olympic Day One.

Lots of people will be watching The Games, but the thing they’ll remember is the opening ceremony. Let’s face it, the 4×400 metres relay semi-final in London will be indistinguishable from the one that happened in Toronto, unless there’s a kerfuffle involving doping, or a scheduling mix-up brings the runners into the path of the javelin final (it’s all very funny until someone loses an eye… then it’s hilarious). The thing that will make London 2012 memorable, if it is at all, will be the spectacle, idiocy, cock-ups or unmitigated disaster of the opening party.

The Official London Olympic Dogging Site.

The warm-up was confusing, to say the least: a minor-but-inoffensive musical act I instantly forgot, performing outside what appeared to be Bag End, or perhaps the Official Olympic Dogging Site.

It was all looking a bit pathetic and twee, and I was looking forward to having hours of material to take the piss out of in a typically cynical blog.

The ceremony-proper was starting to cement this view to begin with. A bunch of cod-Victorians in stovepipe hats pranced around to the sound of drums that could have been a carbon copy of Beijing 2008. And then in traipsed national charisma-vaccuum Kenneth Branagh to bark some Shakespeare at us in his curiously woody voice. For a moment it was like slipping into a heroin coma in the bosom of Nick Griffin.

But then it all kicked off, and as Danny Boyle took us through the history of Britain from bucolic paradise to dark, Satanic mills, the level of spectacle and inventiveness reached truly epic levels.

This wasn’t what Britain does best: what Britain does best is low ambitions, dismally realised. This was what China does best, and it seemed utterly perplexing to see a ceremony that was original, enthusiastic, exciting, honest, patriotic and thrilling. Literally no part of it disappointed me, except in that I was looking forward to hating it.

Around the time the smoking chimneys resolved gloriously into fiery Olympic rings, I wished Branagh’s Isambard Kingdom Brunel had been replaced by another “Great Briton” – I wanted to see Samuel Johnson, so I could shove his famous aphorism “patriotism is the last resort of the scoundrel right into his fat face. I was starting to feel like wrapping myself in a Union Jack, albeit one with muted colours and a threadbare cloth.

All cynicism aside, Danny Boyle’s opening ceremony was an undisputed triumph and managed, against the odds, to make me proud to be British.

Perhaps this was because it only focussed on the things of which Britain can be justifiably proud: our music, our inventiveness, our self-deprecation – and our habit of occasionally fighing just wars to break up the dull predictability of colonial slaughters and illegal oil invasions.

There were truly touching moments: the beautiful performance of Abide With Me by Emeli Sande made my eyes go a bit runny; and the national anthem by the mixed choir of hearing impaired and non-impaired children was wonderful, even though the pyjamas made me think they were all up past their bedtime.

Not being in the stadium, I couldn’t tell if the filmed clips were just to give the poor stage-hands time to set up the next wonder. But they didn’t feel like filler: they felt like part of a whole, part of a genuinely heartfelt celebration of what Britain thinks it is.

We saw Bond meeting the Queen, at which point I was hedging my bets whether he’d kill her or fuck her – those are his traditional choices when confronted with a woman, so it was a fair assumption she’d end up dead or pregnant.

Following this was montage which managed to include sly clips of the first televised lesbian kiss and Desmond’s, which delighted all decent people who abhor racism and homophobia (unlike idiotic part-time Nazi Aiden Burley MP, who felt moved to call the ceremony a “celebration of socialism”, thus proving that there is always room on the right for the Tories to move even further out of touch).

And then came the piece-de-resistance: the celebration of the NHS. I hope Cameron and his butchers were following Twitter, because it would have been a truly sobering moment for them to see how much love there is for the greatest achievement of post-war Britain. When we switched to an aerial view of the NHS logo formed by torch-carrying nurses, my heart swelled so much it nearly burst – which is a good reason to be grateful for free universal health care.

Of course it wasn’t perfect. There was a gaping hole in the shape of the TARDIS, and during the celebration of Britain’s stupendous musical heritage it all started to sound like a Jive Bunny track at a mobile disco.

And it all got unavoidably dull when the actual athletes paraded in – but then it led to one of the perfect moments that Sir Danny Boyle (as he will undoubtedly be in double-quick time) had planned throughout the evening – David Bowie’s Heroes blasting out as Team GB entered the stadium, and the whole place erupted.

Seconds later the drab parade ended, and The Arctic Monkeys started their brief, punchy gig, pounding out a song that celebrates “dreams of naughtiness”. A brave choice for such a traditionally staid event, and I was once again delighted that the British are so damned contrary. I had dreaded an opening ceremony of polite Elgar and pitiful backwards glances at a perfect 50s world that never existed except in the pages of the Daily Mail (which will, of course, hate the whole thing, adding an extra frisson of glee to the event).

But no: we got a proper British ceremony that said “fuck you world”: we like dreams of naughtiness, we like a drink, we like chaos, we like grimecore and Mr Bean taking the piss… and we like to play Beatles covers while radioactive flying monkeys roller-skate around the place. Yes, Macca buggered up Hey Jude, but we got some Pink Floyd, so who cares?

It made me forget fraud and corruption, just for a few hours. It made me forgive BT for their heroic ineptness. It made me forget that I wanted to hate the Olympics. For a moment, I got it. For a moment I understood why sport matters. Will it last? Of course not, but tonight I’m with you all in loving this shit.

I declare these Games open… God bless all who jump in them.

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One thought on “The Olympics: day 3 report… and also day 1?

  1. I’m not sure that I wanted to hate the opening ceremony, but I certainly wasn’t expecting to like it. Although in a way it did make me proud to be British, I couldn’t help but comment (in my head) about the irony of displaying the NHS as important when many conservatives are doing their best to privatise it, also, thoughout the dance routine I kept thinking of all the bad things in each era (like child labour, poverty ect). Maybe I’m too cynical and over-thought the whole thing but still, it wasn’t a bad British party 😀

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