I was a fool to think that I could get away without penning some sort of account of the Olympics. It’s happening in my country, it’s a big deal and it’s affecting even a cynical old curmudgeon like me.
Let’s start, and almost end, with the Opening Ceremony. It was lights, it was dancing, music, spectacle and magic. It was also bloody massive but, significantly, it was very good too. Designed and choreographed by the ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ film director, Danny Boyle, it presented the UK as a land of working people, of grassroots innovation and of social conscience. One set piece revolved around National Health Service (NHS) hospital beds and involved children being cared for by dancing nurses and doctors. Apart from a couple of famous faces, plus the Queen who very gamely allowed herself to be filmed welcoming James Bond to Buckingham Palace, it was all about ‘us’. And about time too.
Usually these ‘welcome to Britain’ extravaganzas involve not much more than a snapshot of the royal family through the ages, saintly pictures of Princess Diana and a tactless invitation to use our marvellous financial services and indulge in our fabulous country sports. This picture represents about 1% of the population. True it is the top 1% but it’s 1% nevertheless. A display representing the NHS on the other hand gives you a glimpse into what is valuable to every person in this country and that includes our Prime Minister David Cameron who used public health services whenever his late son, Ivan, was ill.
Cameron, to his credit, declared himself well pleased with the ceremony. But some members of his government, as well as strident voices in the right wing press, called it a load of ‘leftie’ nonsense. They wanted kings and queens and hunting and they didn’t get it, and so they threw a strop. The other criticism the right levelled at the ceremony was that ‘foreigners wouldn’t understand it’. As usual, underestimating ‘foreigners’ I am sure that the few who really didn’t understand it, would have had the wit to ask some questions.
But now the ceremony is over and we’re into the Olympics proper. Contrary to government predictions business is not booming in London but then in the middle of a world-wide downturn that was always a bit of a long shot. What is happening however is that the news, in all media, has been hijacked by sport. If it’s lucky, Syria comes in at second place to the endless views of the medal table we are presented with all day and every night. I can tell you that China is still at the top and we, the UK, have yet to win gold. No amount of staring at the medal table will change this. What is going on in the rest of the world, I have no idea. Once Mitt Romney had moved on to Israel in his upset-the-foreigners world tour, even America and Americans disappeared. In fact New York could be right now under attack from a mega force of giant blue and green spiders from the planet Dfpvz 5 and we wouldn’t know about it. I can tell you that some South African lad called Chad has just won a swimming gold however.
Up in my attic, in the depths of an old mouse gnawed box, there is a copy of the London Olympic Programme for 1948. One of my ancestors – who, I don’t know – went to those games and was clearly impressed enough to buy a souvenir. Whoever it was, must have been poor – all my family were – but money was found for a programme.
Looking at it now, I wonder what events he or she went to see and what he or she felt about it. It was just after the Second World War and Britain was in the grip of an austerity drive that makes what we’re doing now look like a joke. People back then were cold and tired and thin and they lived in a world devoid of colour, taste or warmth. But they had defeated the Nazis, and they were free AND they were about to be given a gift by the State so marvellous we still talk about it and celebrate it to this day. In 1948, as Danny Boyle knows only too well, the National Health Service was born guaranteeing free medical care to everyone in the country, regardless of their circumstances, from cradle to grave. And in spite of some erosion of the ‘free’ care (we now pay for eye tests and dental treatment) we can still all, in the main, get treated for our illnesses when we need to.
And if that’s ‘leftie nonsense’ then just slap me smartly and call me Karl Marx. Thank you, Danny Boyle, I love you!