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Monday, August 13, 2012

Isles Of Wonder

This is not the normal Cranky Pants offering. Mostly because my pants are anything but cranky. In fact my pants are filled with joy, pride, optimism and verve and are covered in in Union Flags.

And the reason for this new found joy? Well its the Olympics of course. After 16 wonderful, exciting drama filled days they drew to a close on Sunday and whilst I'm currently suffering from the mother of all Olympic hangovers, I can't help but suspect that in some infinitesimal way I'm a better person for them. And I would put money on the fact I'm not the only one.

Like a lot of people whilst I wasn't opposed or especially skeptical about the Games but I was certainly apathetic. I liked the idea, but I'm not 'into athletics' so I wasn't so fussed. I vaguely rolled my eyes at news of mounting costs, because whilst the Games cost an obscene amount of money to host, its worth bearing in mind that a significant proportion of this goes back into the British economy through the jobs it provides, particularly in construction, an area of the economy incredibly hard hit by the recent economic downturn.

It was definitely a slow burn run up. The timing helped. The Queen's Jubilee (and last year's Royal Wedding) got the Union Flags out and then the Euros got us into the mood for some international sport. There were some wobbles along the way, culminating in the G4S fiasco and Mitt Romney telling the press that he basically thought it might all go a bit Pete Tong.

When the eve (or the unearthly hour of the morning in my case) of the Opening Ceremony came around people in general seemed to have warmed up to the idea of the Games (though there were still plenty of doomsayers to be found), though I suspect many people tuned into to see just how bad it might be. And then there it was.

Danny Boyle's opening ceremony, his love letter to Britain. It was wacky, confusing (especially for those people who don't know who Isambard Kingdom Brunel was), a bit chaotic and absolutely wonderful. It started with 'Our green and pleasant land' set to the tune of Jerusalem, Danny Boy, Flower of Scotland and Bread of Heaven sung by the Four Nations choirs. I can't lie I was a sobbing mass of snot and tears before they hit the second verse. From there it highlighted the History of our wonderful isles from the Industrial revolution, through women's suffrage, the Windrush and the wars. It was a powerful, emotive and utterly gutteral experience set to the sound of Underworld's I will Kiss You featuring the amazing Dame Evelyn Glennie (who was clearly channeling her inner Gaga with her look), the sound of the drums, the enormous smoke stacks forging the giant Olympic rings, it left me breatheless.

And set the tone for the entire games. Fun, informal, dramatic and utterly British they showed us all at our very, very best. Our athletes showed what could be achieved when sufficient time and funding is given to them with a medal haul that we barely imagined two weeks earlier. The athletes played as a team and we got behind that Team. And this was what the games really did for us. It made us a team. The medals helped, of course, but it was the feeling of a collective identity and common goal that really made the games. Even here in Malaysia I felt like I was part of that Team, that it was something we all shared. For the first time I really understood the power of sport. How it can bring us together and unite us behind a common goal. And you know what, I LOVED being British. I loved it. I'll miss it a lot when the next big sporting event rolls around that will no doubt divide us back up into our respective smaller nations. And I hate that it will no doubt be the football, where we don't have a decent team between the four of us.

The Games gave us so much not least in that it brought to the fore games other than Football. It gave us real role models. One's that we can all identify with. It showed us that you don't need to be earning 200k a week to be a sporting great. It introduced sports that some of us had never heard of (the Omnium anyone?) and brought them front and centre. I know I certainly wasn't the only one who found myself watching Kayaking or Women's weightlifting on a Wednesday afternoon. The athletes themselves ran, cycled, swam, jumped, rode, danced, tweeted, smiled and cried their way through the games and into all our hearts. The whole thing was one massive two week group hug and now its over, I'm feeling the cold.

Like the Opener, the Closing ceremony once again showed its unique Britishness. Parts of it were crap and left me wondering at just what they were thinking (the Supermodels? Really?) but other parts were brilliant and random and quirky. Plus they had the Spice Girls on top of glittery Black Cabs. It was a great big party, but brought with it a melancholy that the one thing that made us collectively happy probably since the end of the Second World War was coming to an end. I know I wasn't the only shouting "No Boris, don't let them have it' when he handed over the flag to Brazil (whilst hoping against hope that Boris didn't set it on fire on the Olympic Flame). It ended with Take That. With Gary Barlow, embodying the very spirit of the Olympic ideal, albeit in a different arena, showing strength, control and emotional fortitude in the saddest circumstances imaginable.

So thank you Lord Coe for your sterling work it making it happen. Thank you John Major for being the reason we have lottery funding in the first place. Thank you Tony Blair and Gordon Brown for bidding, thank you Boris for being a bumbling buffoon, but an amiable and entertaining one. You've been hugely supportive as Mayor of London, plus you gave us "Boris dangles from a zip wire' and "Boris dances to the Spice Girls' both worth their weight in Mars Bars. Thank you to the people of London for your patience in the face of what must have been massively inconvenient for many of you, Thank you David Cameron for extending the lottery funding through to Rio (though I still think you are a buttock faced pillock and we need to talk about your attitude to sport in schools), thank you to the Post Box painters of Yorkshire who were kept incredibly busy, thank you to the volunteers, the Gamesmakers who worked incredibly hard and were, by all accounts wonderful ambassadors for our country. Thank you to all the athletes who were incredible. Who showed us what hard work and determination looks like. Who showed us what sporting success looks like, who taught us what real sportsmanship looked like and conducted themselves with good humour, discipline and were justly rewarded. And lastly, but by no means least, thank YOU. My fellow Brit, my compatriot, my team member. We showed how much better we can be when we stand together and forget how much we like to complain, if only for a fortnight.

I'll be back, no doubt, in full on Cranky Pants mode but until then...

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