Monday, 30 July 2012

From London, with love

Right, well, here we are in the first week proper of the Olympics, with warnings echoing in our ears of how this is the moment when it all hots up in terms of traffic.

Indeed, there I was on my bus this morning, getting lost in the sheer gloriousness of Beethoven’s Third, when cutting right beyond the safety of my earphones came the voice of Bloody Boris once again.

It seems to be a sort of game of Russian Roulette, whereby you have no way of knowing whether the bus you hop aboard will, during the course of your own journey, spew out the recorded message from the mop-topped, whiffy-waffy one.

And it came after I had been briefly – well, for about three hours – won over to the London 2012 spirit.

The opening ceremony on Friday night was a revelation; an extraordinary piece of theatre. After the national cringe that came with Bo Jo and the bus in Beijing, it was, first and foremost, a massive relief.

Danny Boyle’s piece was fittingly quirky; something close to a masterpiece of what one commentator called, ‘progressive patriotism’ – and was as far as it was possible to be from the opening to the Chinese Games four years ago; an almost anarchic antidote to that regimented spectacle.

The segment devoted to the NHS was like a wet dream for many left-wingers – understandably, given the lies of the current prime minister about its safety; lies revealed in it’s current dismantling for private profit.

It was a fabulous reminder of how much this institution is cherished, but it was not the start of a revolution – particularly as it sat in the midst of the continuing corporatist orgy and debacle.

Only this lunchtime, sitting outside a small cafĂ© having a coffee, I watched as a member of Locog’s brand police snooped into the windows of every business in the vicinity, checking to make sure that nobody had dared to use the ‘O’ word in an effort to unfairly gain business from McDonalds or Visa.

And then there is the whole issue of empty seats. While this is apparently not just down to corporate tickets not being used, but to ‘Olympic family’ tickets being unused, together with many that were sent to agencies in other countries for sale and which remain unsold, it is causing further annoyance.

But back to the opening: if the reaction from some on the left was a tad OTT, the reaction from some on the right was an absolute hoot.

Never mind the evening’s reminder of the utter stupidity of Aiden Burley – who, other than a total imbecile, would walk into such an obvious row so soon after the last one, when it emerged that he'd hired the costumes for a Nazi-themed stag do? Career suicide or what?

Because whatever the likes of David Cameron and Bo Jo may really think, they cannot do other than laud Boyle’s extravaganza, as they desperately try to use the entire Olympic experience to sell Brand Britain and boost the economy.

Various people have brilliantly dissected the right-wing objections. One complained at a lack of Shakespeare – presumably either having missed Sir Ken Branagh doing a bit of Prospero while dressed as Isambard Kingdom Brunel (another lefty icon) or not being able to recognise the speech or not hearing the BBC commentator tell the world that that was what it was.

There really is no excuse for such stupidity.

And as for James Bond and Her Maj – yeah, on a par with Lenin.

By the way, it seems that I was not the only one watching that segment and going; ‘No, it can’t be; not really; no: OH MY GOD – IT IS!’

Who, really, could not have been tickled? The corgis, incidentally, were Monty (13) and Holly (nine) – never let it be said that this blog isn't educational!

The opening rural idyll – a pastoral, complete with maypole, village cricket, herded geese and Elgar’s Nimrod – would have delighted the likes of John Betjemen, JRR Tolkein and John Major, lefties all.

I’m not going to attempt to claim that Parry’s setting of Blake’s Jerusalem is anything other than a bit early socialism – but it has long ago reached the levels of being beyond obvious political tribalism to a point of frequently topping (or almost) polls for an alternative to our dirge of a national anthem.

It was a gorgeous segment – and the Industrial Revolution part that followed was as stunning as it was unexpected and shocking in its quite open reminder that the pastoral was destroyed by what made the country into an global power; those 'dark, satanic mills'.

The forging of the Olympic rings was superb too.

And there, in the mix that followed, were Chelsea Pensioners, Yellow Submarines, Jarrow Marchers and Suffragettes – icons of left-wing nonsense, the lot of them.

I lagged a bit after, to the point of missing many of the pop culture references. The idea of using children’s literature alongside Great Ormond Street and the NHS was inspired.

There is an absolute inevitability that not all of the music will have pleased all of the viewers all of the time. But given how much these small islands have contributed to global pop/rock ‘n’ roll over the last decades, it’s hardly inappropriate.

And of course this couldn’t go past without a mention of Rowan Atkinson’s appearance with Sir Simon Rattle – a segment that invoked Les Dawson and Morecambe and Wise; like the brief Bond film, a reminder that we have a sense of humour and can poke fun at ourselves.

Add to that the quite moving choice of people to carry the Olympic flag, the 7/7 memorial and the lighting of the cauldron – which defied all odds to the extent that bookies have returned stakes made on just who would do it – and you had something that managed to combine patriotism, quirkiness, humour and humanity.

Sadly, this was something that went completely over some people’s heads.

Just yesterday, columnist Jan Moir proved to have none of the above qualities as she described the winner of the women’s road race, Marianne Vos, as “some bitch from Holland” in the Daily Mail.

But then, Moir has lots of form. And no, I’m not providing the link here, because I’m not going to help drive the Mail’s traffic.

Just to briefly continue the theme: my mother is what I would describe as a pretty right-wing conservative Conservative, who dislikes immigration in general and detests what the Daily Mail tells her is 'PC'. And discussing the opening ceremony with her, she loved it and thinks it's utter nonsense to describe it as 'lefty'. Which says something about the people who have declared it thus.

We got home to Hackney on Friday evening shortly before the evening ceremonies began, to find around 1,000 people (or more) crowding into the park directly behind us to watch it all on the big screen.

It was noisy. As you’d expect. And as you accept for such an occasion.

My Olympic irritation was not helped over the weekend, though, by having it playing all Saturday (until 10pm), so loudly that I could hear and understand the commentary when inside, with all doors and windows firmly shut. Yet as neighbours on the top floor of our block said, nobody was there watching.

And it was a pattern that was repeated yesterday, albeit with the sound at least slightly reduced.

There have already been some great sporting moments – but by god, this is going to be a long two weeks.

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