July 27 seems a long time ago now, but it was a mere 17 days. Around lunchtime on that Friday, after hearing yet another “…only hours to go” story, I’d pretty much had a bellyful of the Olympic Games: the traffic chaos; the “what if it rains?” kvetching.
And then. And then. Danny Boyle made it all alright. In three hours he scooped up everything great about Britain and put it all into one beautiful, lovely package. A package that should be given to anyone wanting to become a British citizen with the words,”If this makes you swell with emotion, and then you can explain why at least half of it does then you should be British.”
Defining the so-called “Olympic Spirit” is not simple, but I think at least part of it is being allowed to be unabashedly patriotic (not jingoistic or nationalist), revelling in the achievements of your own country’s athletes and competitors while also marvelling at the feats of others. However wonderful it was to see Mo Farrah do what he did (‘very’, since I’m mentioning), it was just as wonderful to witness Bolt or Phelps or Rudisha’s triumphs and be awestruck at the way these people pushed themselves to, and often beyond, their own physical and mental limits. And it was just as amazing to see those who had no chance of victory, for whom just being there was the achievement, for whom just getting the chance to call themselves an Olympian was enough. That’s what a feel good factor means. And why the pampered ranks of the Premier League had better be careful. How much preening bellendery will people accept so soon after watching so many for whom getting paid 50k a week to bellyache at referees? Sadly more than they ought, but less than before, I hope. And if seeing all this going on in our country has inspired kids to think, “I want to do that”, then it can only be a good thing.
It couldn’t all be perfect though. The closing of the games had the unmistakable air of anti-climax about it. Every chord that Boyle managed to strike euphoniously, Kim Gavin managed discordance. There were good parts: the stadium set up with the seat “pixels”, Pet Shop Boys, Muse, Lennon on the screen, not to mention using Freddie to work the crowd, The Who, Eric Idle’s rendition of Always Look On The Bright Side of Life. But too much was at the low-rent end of the spectrum. The cliche of having set design by Damian Hirst. Me? I’d have gone for Grayson Perry. Beginning with Stomp gave the thing an unfortunate vibe of below par Royal Variety Performance, while whoever thought giving Russell Brand one, let alone the two execrable songs he got should be ceremonially garrotted. And of course the Spice Girls. and Annie Lennox. It seemed the line up lacked the wit and imagination that Boyle had delivered in spades. There was the also unneeded, though unintentionally hilarious, picture of Boris and Moonface utterly failing to get down with the kids in a display of catastrophic dad dancing. If the theme was cheese, then it most certainly delivered it on an epically smelly scale.
At least the athletes enjoyed it.