As a country, we love a good moan. Along with queuing, it’s our national pastime – although, admittedly, recently there’s been an awful lot to moan about.
Our footy team got knocked out the Euros (predictably), the economy is still in decline and it hasn’t stopped raining for the past four months. Add to that the impending juggernaut of the Olympics rolling ever closer and we had a lot to gripe about.
But the Olympics was our favourite topic… With LOCOG acting like the Gestapo wherever a perceived infraction of their trademarks was spotted – be it a baker hanging up bagels in the style of the Olympic hoops or a pub advertising the event on a chalkboard, they were there, finger wagging.
Then there was the estimated overspend of £4 billion, a figure that seemed out of kilter with the austerity age we’re repeatedly told we’re in. G4S completely ballsed up the security and we had to get the army in to sort it out and the already fragile transport system in London being stretched to its weakest point. Plenty of good moaning fodder, then.
So there seemed to be a resigned air about the opening ceremony but also an undertone of “well if nothing else, it’s something we can complain about”. £27 million for a three hour show seemed an incredible waste of money in the same week that we’d be told the economy had shrunk by 0.7%. Even Madonna and getmein.com don’t charge that much.
We’d begun to expect the spectacular, the set up of an English countryside was widely known but much credit has to be given to the volunteers for their “keep the secret” campaign. Very few spoilers were given, despite 7000 people being involved and two test audiences. That’s an incredible secret to keep, in this age of social media and camera phones.
And spectacular it was. The initial sniping on Twitter lasted about two minutes as the audience engaged with Danny Boyle’s Isle of Wonder, Bradley Wiggins fresh from his Tour De France triumph ringing the opening bell, Kenneth Branagh reading from The Tempest, the countryside giving way to towering chimneys and the industrial age.
It became clear early on that this was a show for Britain, this was a love letter about our country, the rest of the world might have found aspects absurd but the 26 million of us who watched – we loved it.
It had its poignant moments, when it paused to remember those who are no longer with us, and was genuinely humorous when James Bond and The Queen parachuted into the stadium. Beckham on a speedboat brought the glamour, Mr Bean the ridiculous slapstick and the NHS the dignity – and a massive two fingers up to the Government as nurses danced around in an tribute to our beleaguered health service.
Musically it was pitch perfect – Underworld was responsible for the score and it flowed through the ages, incorporating theme tunes, the Shipping Forecast, Mods, Rockers, Pop, Dizzee Rascal bringing some eastend Grime, and the Pet Shop Boys some West End Girls.
This was OUR house party.
And then the most clandestine element, the lighting of the flame. Hotly tipped to be Steve Redgrave, he did make an appearance but ultimately the responsibility was handed to seven young athletes who had been nominated by various members of the sporting elite. It was a beautiful sight and the most fitting tribute to an occasion that is about the talent.
Because that’s what has been lost in amongst the moaning – the actual reason behind the games. It’s about talent, hard work, young men and women who are so dedicated to their sport, so disciplined and focused that they have been working towards it their entire lives.
Birthday parties are missed, social lives forgotten, getting up at 6am to train before school, begging companies for important sponsorship deals – it would be so easy for them to jib it off and be “normal” but they don’t. They have a dream and the next two weeks is where this can be made for them.
After the ceremony last night there is a phrase being echoed around the country, “proud to be British”. And we’ve a lot to be proud of. Our NHS is worth fighting for, or literary greats still illuminate the imagination of the world, and our musical heritage is so laughable rich that we barely scratched the surface of it last night. Oh, and we invented the INTERNET so that people like me can bore people like you about my opinions.
And we’ve got some remarkable athletes to be proud of – Jessica Ennis is the world Heptathlon champion, cyclist Chris Hoy and his thighs of steel, the swimmer Rebecca Adlington, Louis Smith on the Pummel Horse and more locally the gymnast Beth Tweddle, swimmers Fran Halsall and Michael Rock, and in the boxing Thomas Stalker and Natasha Jonas – the latter making history as one of the first female Olympic boxers.
So for the next two weeks lets forgo the moaning. Let’s be proud to be British, proud of our history, culture and heritage and proud to support those sportsmen and women who have been training for this moment their whole lives. The opening ceremony was the shot of the adrenaline a lethargic country needed and long may it continue (or at least for the next few weeks eh?).