I am not a big sports fan but I have always enjoyed the Olympics. Sometimes I watch the opening ceremony and sometimes I don’t. Sometimes they are very spectacular sometimes they are easily forgotten. But this year the Olympics are happening in my country and, like many of my country folk I am a bit caught up in the excitement and the magic. So of course I was going to watch the opening ceremony. We all knew it would be difficult to compete with what they did in Beijing, but I was curious to see if we could come close. And if it was a disaster at least we could all have a moan about it in the way we Brits often do.
There was nothing to prepare me for what actually happened. Danny Boyle’s show took a left field, left wing view of my country. He held up the things that I am proud of and which are so often ignored. For the first time in years I felt a real sense of pride in my country. The Opening Ceremony was brilliant. It was witty, it was imaginative, it was musical, it was informative, it was dazzling to the eye, it was amateur in the best sense of the word, it was human, it was ours, it was spectacular. It was, in my humble opinion the best Olympic opening ceremony I have ever seen.
Why? Because it wasn’t the jingoistic crap that often passes for history or patriotism. It was for the people and about the people. While Americans are still debating Obamacare and the pros and cons of making sure that all people can get access to health care without going bankrupt, Danny Boyle held up the NHS as one of the greatest things the UK has achieved. And while there was a reflective section remembering those who had suffered and died in wars and violence, he did not attempt to define our nation by the wars we have won and the people’s we have subdued.
The Britain that Boyle presented to the world was one that I like. It is a place of irony and contradictions, a place where we like The Queen and The Sex Pistols. We are not defined by Victorian stereotypes, the industrial revolution may have given us progress but it came at a price. Our people were agrarian and pagan and the move to the rigidity of industrial capitalism and hypocritical Victorian morality hurt us. But we came through it.
Last night’s ceremony celebrated our true strengths and the better things we have given to the world through innovation in music, television, the arts and technology. It celebrated our diversity and aspirations to inclusiveness. And it looked forward as much as it looked back.
If there are still people out there who think we are a rather cold and dour race, they may have to think again. I think last night showed that we like a party as much as our southern neighbours!
Finally I found the Olympic cauldron and it’s lighting to be particularly moving and symbolic. This was not only London’s night, this was a night where the hopes and dreams of over two hundred nations came together in peace and then burned all the more brightly as one.
(Pictures from BBC)