A really funny thing has happened. Practically every single British columnist is writing the same column. I read Blake Morrison in The Guardian yesterday morning and I had to check the date. I thought: I’ve read this before.
In fact I had not, but it was the same thing Jonathan Freedland wrote a few days ago, expressing the same sentiments that Simon Hoggart did (only without Hoggart’s excellent jokes), saying the same thing that every single pundit has on television and radio. I think I even wrote a version of it myself, somewhere on this blog. The identical sentiments have been everywhere on Twitter. A vast, joyful consensus has broken out, joined with gusto by everyone except for Charles Moore, Richard Littlejohn and one cross fellow on Newsnight.
Here is how it goes:
Everything was clearly going to be a disaster. Waste of public money, Zil lanes, traffic chaos, corporate greed, idiot copyright rules. Strikes! Strikes! Heathrow queues, lost bus drivers, creaking old London, Boris bumbling; oh the shame.
Bugger off Mitt Romney. Hurrah for Danny Boyle. Danny Boyle is a LEGEND. Everyone loves Danny Boyle. Sheep! Industrial Revolution! Isambard Kingdom Brunel! And did those feet, in ancient time?
Dancing nurses, Mary Poppins, the NHS. We love the NHS. Will any of the rest of the world understand? My God, we really did invent the internet. (We did not, of course, Tim Berners-Lee did that, and gave it away, but by this stage a huge national We had taken hold.) This is us, reflected back at ourselves. Suddenly, we really are all in it together. We turn out to be a nation oddly at ease with ourselves. Who knew?
JAMES BOND!! THE QUEEN!!!!!! James Bond and the Queen!!! Bloody hell.
Small reality check. Slow start. Oh, no, Cav. Never mind. Stiff upper lip. But then: THE ROWERS, THE ROWERS. Suddenly the word Eton can be spoken without shame, as the course at Eton Dorney is packed with delirious crowds.
And then the mighty Wiggo, and the shooting, and more rowers, and the three-day-event, and the cyclists, the cyclists. Hoy-tastic.
Super Saturday! Jessica Ennis, go go go. ANDY MURRAY!!! A nation at last takes the young Scot to its heart. First show-jumping gold for sixty years; first dressage gold ever. The smile of Nicola Adams beams round the world. Mo Farah soars to glory; Tom Daley fulfils his youthful promise.
The sceptics are converted and take it all back. We might be grumbly and used to being a bit crap, but, amazingly, it turns out we are quite good at quite a lot of things. Dear old Blighty gathered her dusty old skirts, kicked up her heels, and put on a show. The BBC was magnificent. The sun even shone. The crowds, THE CROWDS; lifting the athletes over the line. But sporting too, not just blind with jingoism.
Everything will go back to normal on Monday, but for two weeks, we caught a dream of glory.
Copyright: Absolutely Everyone.
Of course, it’s not absolutely everyone. In great British tradition, there are the grumblers, as there should be. Matthew Parris told Radio Four this morning that it’s very difficult to be a wet blanket, but that he would continue to be one. And quite right too. There probably will be a bit of a national hangover; there should be questions about all that money spent and what it shall achieve. There are many people out there who have not at all been entranced, who have no interest in sport, who care not a jot for gold medals. Someone must speak for them.
An awful lot of ghastly jargon-words like legacy and inclusivity have been floating about. Despite the warning spoof of Hugh Bonneville in Twenty Twelve, everyone has been talking about Britain ‘delivering’. (I generally think of delivering as something a man on a moped does with a pizza, but that may be just me.) People are bending over backwards to insist that these games will have inspired the young people, will transform school sports, may change Britons’ very idea of themselves.
Some of this might happen. Hurrah if it does. I wonder though if it’s asking too much of a sporting event. The happy columns are lovely; the idea of national possibility is tempting. There is something wonderfully hopeful and profound and significant in the fact that one of our greatest double Olympians came here as a refugee from Somalia. When Mo Farah was asked if he regretted not running under the Somali colours, he looked amazed. ‘This is my country,’ he said; the union flag is his flag.
But really, I wonder if it comes down to something much more plain. Asking too much significance of a festival of physical prowess can cause it to buckle under its own weight.
I think: what really happened is that for two weeks, an awful lot of people were really, really happy. That’s not nothing. For two weeks, instead of the daily diet of civil war and economic decline and Eurocrash, we saw good news. Smiling people who had worked their arses off won things. Underdogs were clasped to the national bosom. Joyful crowds screamed their heads off. Dark horses, literal and metaphorical, sprung surprises. The national anthem was played in celebration, as athletes whose names were previously unknown stood tall, with a tear in their eye.
In my idiotically soppy way, I kept thinking of all those mothers and fathers who must have been so proud. The British medallists, many of whom were very young indeed, were not only really good at what they do, but also unbelievably polite and gracious. I lost count of the times they gave all the credit away – to their coaches, their team, their families, even to the Lottery who paid for them. ‘May I just thank?’ they kept saying. How very well brought up they are, I thought, with my great-aunt hat on.
The joy has not been unconfined; it has not spread to every corner of these islands. But I’m not sure I remember a moment when so much sheer pleasure was given to so many by so few.
It’s nearly the end now. The dear Olympics; I shall miss you when you are gone. I did not expect to get quite so excited, or see so much drama and excellence, or to feel so proud of people I had never even heard of before.
As I write this, the marathon is going on. The streets of London are absolutely packed with a roaring, whistling, whooping sea of spectators. Flags are being waved; all nationalities are being clapped and cheered. The sun is shining. The volunteers, who have been one of the great successes of these games, endlessly smiling and helpful, are lining the route. The noise of jubilee is so mighty that the men calling the race have to raise their voices to be heard.
The BBC commentator has perhaps the best last word. He says, with a smile in his voice: ‘The number one, running its personal best every day, is the great British public.’
Red the Mare:
PS. In all this list of achievement, there are too many names I have not space to mention. If you are anything like me, you may be affronted that your personal favourites were not mentioned. No Brownlee brothers? No Rebecca Addington? No Grainger or King or Ainslie or Campbell or McKeever? And what about the brilliant soldiers, who stepped into the breach when G4S failed, and have been uniformly fabulous? Or the techies and sound people, the camera operators and grips, the builders and architects? There there were so many people involved in these games who deserve credit that one tiny blog cannot contain them all. They need an entire book.