Can the Brits beat synchronised sewing at the Olympics?

2012-07-23 21:30

Being in the UK on the eve of the 2012 London Olympics feels a lot like being in South Africa in the run up to the 2010 football World Cup.

Doom, gloom and a general spirit of “Let the Blame Games Begin” have dominated the national conversation.

Government bungling, a last-minute security scandal, threatened strikes and skepticism about Britain’s chances of winning enough medals to avoid host-humiliation sent the country into a downward spiral of national navel-gazing.

Add the shocking weather that has kept the population in a state of damp misery since April, and the result has been what even London’s bouncy mayor Boris Johnson called “a necessary pre-curtain-up moment of psychological depression.”

But most of all, there is a deep seated terror that the London opening ceremony will leave Britain looking like a mentally unstable Care-in-the-Community case compared with its predecessor, the Beijing Olympics.

National supplies of embarrassment are being stockpiled for this event.

“Well, it won’t be Beijing” you hear people say as local TV stations screen clips from the 2008 Olympics opening ceremony featuring awesome human towers of synchronized, robotic-looking Chinese people.

Well of course it won’t be Beijing. For a start, the Brits weren’t hand reared by crazed party apparatchiks on the collective fear of falling out of line and synchronized sewing.

This is scant consolation to the Brits right now. Instead they cringe and point to their country’s less than dazzling ‘host prequel’ at the Beijing closing ceremony in 2008, which consisted of a London double decker bus full of ‘cheeky’ Brit stereotypes and David Beckham kicking a football.

Details of the London games’ opening ceremony have been kept under wraps, but according to an article in last Sunday’s Observer, the artistic director, Danny Boyle, is planning a “narrative about the British Isles based on the themes of Shakespeare’s last play (The Tempest) … featuring a parade of emblems of national history and culture, from cricketers, farmers and 70 live sheep to striking miners, suffragettes and a cloudburst of real rain.”

Whether 70 live sheep can deliver the performance punch of 700 live Chinese acrobats making a human skyscraper, is the kind of gamble the Brits probably staked their knock-about comedy reputation on.

Still, I believe many Brits will have taken exception to plans for a “cloudburst of real rain”.

C’mon guys, that’s not funny.

Real rain has been falling here almost non-stop for three months. Britain has experienced floods and mudslides. People have swum out of their bedrooms. The news that special effects geeks are making more of it for the opening ceremony seems cruel and unusual.

Yet in the last few days, the public mood here has started to swing towards cautious optimism.

Last Thursday Brits woke up to an eerie silence – the rain had stopped – and a strange sight brought people out on the streets. The sun was shining.

Olympics torch bearers who have pounded wetly through the UK, started to smile as their tracksuits dried out and eased their fungal rashes.

Sun-warmed crowds came out to cheer them on. Athletes du monde arrived and caused celebrity stirs in suburban shopping malls.

I told you it would be all right, said Boris Johnson, with a politician’s smirk at media “negativity”.

As the flame bearers entered the capital, led at one stage by the singer Paloma Faith who sort of hobbled along in red patent platform heels (suck it up, Beijing!), the mayor burst into a ray of bitchy wit and poetry.

“The radiance of the flame will spread through the city and dispel any last clouds of dankness and anxiety that may hover over some parts of the media.”

By Saturday the weather was officially hot. Union Jack bunting, still fluttering in many windows from the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, was re-purposed to Olympics host country patriotism.

By Sunday afternoon, when super-cyclist Bradley Wiggins raced through the streets of Paris to become the first Brit to win the Tour de France, the nation pronounced itself cured.

Britons, confirmed Monday’s headlines, had finally “got behind” the Olympics. Just in time. Just like South Africans.

“We’re crap, it’s the government’s fault,” had turned into “we rock the world and we cry in the beer ads.”

With days to go, the only Brits who weren’t showing appropriate Olympics esprit were the country’s cabinet ministers. Not since they’d been ordered to use public transport instead of official government cars to get to Olympics events.

Apparently they’re furious about the “no special treatment” ruling, especially as they’re expected to entertain government guests and act as ambassadors.

“I’d rather sit at home and watch it on television” said one peeved politician who preferred to remain anonymous.

The Brits loved it. The possibility of bumping into a rumpled, strap-hanging minister on a rowdy tube en route to an Olympics venue, seemed to seal the nation’s recovery and restore national morale.

At last, a good British joke.

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