Monday, 13 August 2012

Now that it's over 1

The voices against the Olympics in my cultural neck of the woods were loud in their disdain. After all, the Games were being held in the middle of a double-dip recession, in the term of a Tory Prime Minister, in the city of a Tory Mayor, the lot organised organised by a toffish Tory gold medal winner of thirty years ago. That was enough in itself: if the Games were a success the glory would redound to the Tories. Some of these people are friends, and I am of their political persuasion, but I still didn't feel like them. I'm not sure why.

They, as well as another group of people, the everything about the UK is crap group, looked at the usual things - cost, disruption, legacy, likely botches, real botches, commercialisation, branding, corporate greed, problematic private financing and the sheer misery and assumed incompetence of all native enterprises - and groaned.


Then the Opening Ceremony happened and it all looked different. The Danny Boyle- Frank Cottrell Boyce  show began as awkward pastoral then steamed into history with a good-natured, spectacular, lyrical and funny paean to the best instincts of the British people, who saw themselves in it and - rarely enough in their lives, especially at such a time - felt good. Even the critics felt good. That was partly because they saw it as a celebration of values counter to those of the average Tory, but partly because they recognised it as in some way true, beautiful and vulnerably human. I'll not forget the children bouncing on their beds while real nurses danced with them. It was a triumph: a version of history that knew it was incomplete, that laughed at itself but articulated a form of trust that is not only required but is, in very many cases, deserved.

The Opening was not an aswer to the objections: it was simply an alternative way of approaching the next fortnight. The focus was not going to be on drugs, on cheating, on national pomp, on individual egotism, but on the promise of people acting as we know they can, straining every nerve and sinew to compete, seeing competition not as gloating but as drama: work and reward; the perfecting of the imperfect; the accommodation of both success and failure within a common human frame.

I thought the Heatherwick nest of flames was beautiful and apt. That's it at the top.


I have work to do and am always worried when a full programme of some external sort takes me away from the desk, so I entered the Games slowly. I'd be working at the computer but every so often I'd switch to the BBC screen, which was a little hard to follow at first, but quickly became a regular, brief recourse. Our children went to the real thing: here I was, in Olympic terms, at no place but in several places at once, in thr modern on/off condition of isolation that comprises mass viewing. So I never did meet the good-natured volunteers, feel the surge of proximal emotion, hear the Mexican wave of sound, or find myself hugging the stranger next to me.

As the Games wore on C and I would spend evenings together on the sofa watching this or that event. We had our physical selves, our trust in each other, but we did not constitute a crowd. On the other hand we had no need to be self-conscious either, as one might be watching it with visitors or even friends. The sight of Denise Lewis dancing deliriously in a formal studio, or Steve Cramm rising from his seat while commenting were open intimate moments when neither was conscious of being observed: they weren't 'presenting', they were the closest we got to being inside things. Other people's unselfconscious and unfettered delight can be deeply moving. It enacts a moment of liberation. The rest was our own excitement.

For all the talk of branding I didn't spot a single example in all my watching. Maybe it was there but I was too engaged in watching what was really happening. It was like being seized by the moment, over and over again. One could forgive the breathless patriotism of the unseen commentariat, the cruelty of the post-failure interviews, the endless by-now hollow ritual of 'How did it feel? Unbelievable!' because I too was willing the GB team to triumph, because failure though terrible is dramatically gripping, and because, while all attempts at getting exhausted people to explain how they feel seem to me an extraordinarily crude and crass intrusion into a perfect personal moment, it was still good to see winners in their moment of astonishment.

I am letting the series on Brevities hang fire until I finish this. Maybe one more post, maybe two, while it's fresh inthe memory. One tiny thought on a possibe British variation on the How do you feel? Unbelievable! formula:

- And how did it feel winning? Was it unbelievable?
- I'd say, on the whole, it was agreeable.

Proper hype is counter-hype. Any fule kno that.


MichaelsRamblings said...

I'd say, on the whole, this piece is agreeable.

Carol Peters said...

I'd say, on the whole, I'm pleased to have missed the whole thing.

George S said...

I loved it, Carol.

Tim Love said...

I went to see "the Federer of Badminton", and to the Volleyball. They say in the press that the foreign sports-people in the minority sports were delighted by the support the UK crowds gave them. That I witnessed, and it didn't surprise me. The emotion and popularity of the olympic flame events did surprise me though. As a way to engage non-Londoners it seemed to work fine, fusing the Olympics with the community and individuals.

I was most awed by the men's triathlon winner doing the 10k faster than a specialist UK 10k finalist.

I'm not that well versed in pop, but to me one feature of the UK scene is that some of our world-renowned groups produce gloomy, thoughtful music. I was happy to see a Pink Floyd dirge performed, but there was no RadioHead (on the plus side no Yes either)

James H said...

I must admit to feeling hugely, hugely cynical about the antis. Hugely: the certainty that some of them have that whatever opinion pops into their heads must - because it's theirs - be the majority view and straight out of the core heartlands of good old British common sense.

And then finding themselves entirely out of kilter with vast numbers of people, swivelling so very obviously - using the intellectual get-out that their "inner cynic" had been outflanked by events. Which I read to say, "I'm far too sophisticated to just change my mind like a normal person. Something more complex, more nuanced must have taken place.."

And of course, the snobbery and the ignorance. The worst part of that for me was seeing writers who I know enjoy too much wine, what they call "a naughty little spliff" and the occasional white line taking pot shots at footballers, of whose lives they know nothing, and talking about role models.

Of course, taking it all this seriously isn't British, old boy. But finding that people who make so much noise about despising tabloids take such tabloid views of huge numbers of their fellow citizens - sheeple, you see, engaging in government-enforced jollity - I doubt I'll feel the same way about them again.

Thoroughly enjoyed the Games themselves, watched on a union-jacked TV with Pride the Lion sitting on our laps..

Writearound said...

I became drawn into the Olympics too George and found myself having those moments of total emotional immersion in the outcome to the extent that I felt almost exhausted as if every muscle fibre in my legs were twitching in vicarious sympathy with the likes of Mo Farrah holding off the challenge in the 5,000 metres to gain the double.
I have to say that David Rudisha's 800 metres was for me was the moment to cherish ... and his gracious and dignified interviews afterwards eclipsed for me the bouncy, Mohammed Ali type Usain Bolt ones. Rudisha ran with such easy grace and elegance that he encapsulated for me the beauty of the human body performing at the very peak of its ability.
And as for the handball I am now having withdrawal symptoms from a sport I didn't even know existed three weeks ago.

Carolyn Yohn said...

It is wonderful to know not everyone is a cynic. I didn't watch much of the Olympics myself, but I definitely looked up clips from a couple events. Some of these athletes have amazing histories, and to see them persevere in their sport brings tears to my eyes. In the indifferent/depressed political and economic climate, I am so glad to see real people pushing themselves to do something they are passionate about. Very inspiring.

George S said...

Delighted you can witness to the generosity of attitude. My essential feeling about Britain, very much including England, is that under most conditions it is a kindly country. Exceptions exist of course, and often in high places, but the exceptions are generally bigger and nastier elsewhere.

James, yes, generally agreed. More to say on this later.

Andrea yes, exactly that, though I am predisposedto sport and have always the distinction between egghead and rugger-bugger overstated.

And yes, Carolyn too. I want to write about what I myself found inspiring, what it might mean to be 'inspired' , and about what it is exactly we are inspired by.

Gwil W said...

I didn't see any London Olympics. As also with Peking. I think they lost me 12 years ago wherever it was.

Gwil W said...

George, You are right to say England is a kindly country. I always notice that it is so when I visit from abroad. The people are kinder and gentler somehow.

George S said...

Less tension in the air, generally, I think Gwilym.

Dafydd John said...

That's an interesting comment George, but one that I don't perhaps fully understand.

My experience from travelling is that people are equally friendly or unfriendly wherever they are.

George S said...

Presumably because we have different experiences, Dafydd.