Britishness, Altius, Fortius: Olympic Clogging #1

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Photo by Matt Lancashire, used under a Creative Commons 2.0 license

{Photo by Matt Lancashire, used under a Creative Commons 2.0 License}

Queues at Heathrow, gridlocked streets, security concerns, an organizing committee filled with rich white men, the apotheosis of sponsors, public anger at a certain Republican Presidential candidate and, of course, the bloody weather.

To say that the build-up to the London Olympics has been beset by worry would be something of an understatement. But something has happened here in the last few days.

First of all, the sun came out. After a period of almost uninterrupted rain since the middle of April, the weather—Britons’ favorite topic of conversation—has improved in time for the arrival of the Olympic torch.

Anyone who has been to London in the summertime will know that on those rare occasions when the sun does shine, the city transforms. Smiles widen, moods lighten and the streets buzz as office workers spill out onto the pavements outside the city’s pubs.

With the already cosmopolitan post-work crowd of central London mingling with visitors in their national colors, with flags draped over their shoulders, the atmosphere before the opening ceremony was pretty special. Reactions to Slumdog Millionaire director Danny Boyle's interpretation have spanned the spectrum. In America, most of it has been focused on the parade's particularly British idiosyncrasies: the battle royale between a 100-foot Voldemort and a fleet of Mary Poppins, while the fates of dancing hospitalized children hung in the balance; the Queen parachuting in, along with James Bond; the time-traveling escapades of texting teenagers; and no, we Brits don’t know what that baby was about either  But Londoners do have a different perspective. The reaction here has been overwhelmingly positive. There’s a mixture of pride and relief that the spectacle was able to show off what we’ve given to the world—the Industrial Revolution, pop music, the internet, Mr Bean—with humor and a sense of joy.

But there were dissenting voices, not least the Conservative Member of Parliament Aidan Burley. He became the second politician to attract the ire of the commentariat in two days when he tweeted: “Thank God the athletes have arrived! Now we can move on from leftie multi-cultural crap.”

He wasn’t the only villain of the piece. When the German athletes entered the stadium BBC TV coverage cut to an elderly gentleman who appeared to be greeting the team in a style reminiscent of the 1936 Berlin Olympics.

There was also some grumbling about the cost of the evening. Even with the help of more than 10,000 volunteers, the bill was $42 million for three hours’ entertainment—and this, remember, in a country with a shrinking economy and a government that is cutting public services in an effort to hack away at a budget deficit. But it was less than a third of the cost of the same gig four years ago in Beijing ($157 million) and, with 27 million people watching at home in the UK alone, it looks like pretty good value.

Fans of Liverpool FC were also quick to point out that it was $12.5 million cheaper than Andy Carroll—a striker who, since his $55 million transfer from Newcastle United last year has scored six goals in 42 Premiership games. Sport has a knack of putting things in perspective.

It might not have been to everyone’s tastes, but London has welcomed the world with history, comedy, irreverence and, above all, "Britishness." Now, let the Games begin.

Edwin Smith is a journalist and gentleman pedant residing in London. He tweets at @EdwinSmith.

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