Who exactly are the British?
It’s a very tricky question to answer, but it’s really important that we give it a shot because we seem to be locked into a bit of a national mental breakdown, and it’s important when you have a crisis of confidence to stop and take stock of yourself before continuing. Incidentally, this isn’t a nationalistic rant about how bloody awful ‘Johnny Foreigner’ is or a jingoistic rally cry. It’s not even going to be a mean spirited jibe at The Olympics. I promise.
I was all set to be cynical about the Olympics; I live in London so it was almost pre programmed in me. The threat of strikes, the special bus lanes, the constant presence of the bloody torch, the inability to get tickets, and the stories of the marketing thugs going around ordering shops to take down their bunting or change the long standing name of businesses like ‘Olympic Cafe’ all served to add to the trepidation. I am performing at The Edinburgh Fringe, so I also resented the national focus on sport at the expense of the arts, it felt like school all over again. So I was ready to hate it, I was sitting in grid locked traffic trying to get out of London a few hours before it kicked off, staring at the empty Olympic traffic lane with hatred in my heart.
It can be very tiring being cynical, I find myself constantly exhausted by the number of things that I’m prone to be cynical about. This means that as a knee jerk response to most events or opinions I am the master of the ill considered reaction. I can then quickly perform a U-Turn and be incredibly positive. A while later I tend to modify my reaction and end up with a well considered and quite reasonable opinion.
So let me just say here and now: I am absolutely loving the Olympics. I don’t like sport, I don’t like dancing, I don’t like drumming, Mike Oldfield isn’t my thing, gangs of young people out on the town fill me with fear and suspicion, flag waving and processions make me nervous and I was under the impression that Londoners had agreed a few weeks ago that when Sir Paul McCartney gets wheeled out again we cut the power and go home. Despite all of those things I thoroughly enjoyed the opening ceremony and the subsequent events.
The ceremony wasn’t without its faults, I associate Mike Oldfield’s ‘Tubular Bells’ with the horror film ‘The Exorcist’ and as it played over the celebration of The NHS and Great Ormand Street all I could picture was Linda Blair, in a state of some disrepair, writhing around in a bed, spewing green vomit, screaming obscenities. I don’t think Boyle was actually being satirical but I was amazed that nobody made the connection in the run up and suggested changing the soundtrack.
Also, the technology piece seemed to boil the internet down to a tool for young people to orchestrate sexual encounters and then celebrate them by inviting gangs of strangers into their parent’s houses to wreck the place. It would have been lovely if when the house lifted up to reveal Tim Berners-Lee he was crying and screamed at the top of his voice ‘That’s not what it was meant for! What have I done!?’ Then Mark Zuckerberg could have come out and repeatedly slapped Tim in the face whilst all the young people danced around to Dizzee Rascal. That would have been better.
Aside from those small quibbles I thought the rest of it was excellent. My criticisms may be slightly cynical, as I said that is my natural tendency, but where would a celebration of Britishness be without room for a dollop of cynicism. It’s one of the things we are best at.
We can be a nation of moaners but the stiff upper lip remains a feature of our national character. I’m going to be a little bit un-British here and say that we have been put through the ringer a bit in the last few years. Britain has had a tough time. Aside from the shock waves of the global economic crisis, the Hutton enquiry, ASBOs, MPs expenses, last summer’s riots, the culture of petty fines promoted by local councils, the apparent erosion of the social contract, banker’s bonuses, and the Leveson enquiry, have all served to seriously affect our notion of ourselves, our national psychology and our standard of living. We aren’t who we thought we were and it’s made us frustrated and unhappy. It’s vitally important to be reminded of your better points when you are in a moment of crisis and The Olympics have served to do just that.
There were some who thought that the ceremony to open the Olympics was ‘overly parochial’ and slightly too full of in jokes and obscure references to be fully enjoyed by the rest of the world. That may be true, but I think there was enough spectacle and entertainment in there for everyone to enjoy and the ceremony served as a much needed reminder to Britain to take stock of ourselves and celebrate that we are a nation of fair play, sportsmanship, art, literature, industry, diversity, inclusiveness, and above all else, when we set our minds to it we can throw one hell of a party.
If you think I’m being overly sentimental, I possibly am but that’s my reaction to my own cynicism in the lead up to the event. I haven’t had time to reflect and balance my opinion, but when I do I dare say that I will still be positive, because if nothing else for the first time in my life I understand why people like sport so much.
Garrett Millerick: Sensible Answers to Stupid Questions’ is at The Edinburgh Festival Fringe 1-27 August (not 15), 23.00, The Underbelly, Bristo SqTagged in: Arts, Edinburgh Fringe, olympics
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