Putting to one side for a minute, the running, jumping and general dashing about that is the sporting element of the Olympics, what the Olympics has really done for us is put the G back into GBR. Nowhere is this more evident than in endless search for Olympic themed merch. The sheer preponderance of Team GB t-shirts on the streets, worn entirely without irony, is evidence that we are getting over the general embarrassment of who we are. I went to John Lewis to stock up. With apologies to Wordsworth, the following poem popped into my head as I went round the shop.
I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats through Oxford Street’s JL,
When all at once I saw a cloud,
a host of Olympic Merchandise,
On the fifth floor, by the TVs
Fluttering t-shirts for Team GB.
As tourists and British citizens alike swarmed around the stock, three things struck me:
– John Lewis themselves were genuinely struggling to keep up with demand. There was one lady who was refolding t-shirts so fast that you could scarcely see her fingers move. It was only the clacking of her t-shirt folding board that gave any indication at all that the t-shirts weren’t magically folding themselves (the link shows you how Sheldon from the Big Bang Theory does it, but slower http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Twh-oF6VHUo)
– a startlingly high proportion of people purchasing stuff were British. The tourists I heard weren’t actually that keen on all the ziggy-zaggy writing and symbols of all the sports: what everyone seemed to be buying was the clothes;
– all the sporting attire was in fairly stark contrast to the physiques of the people buying them. If the Olympics are going to inspire a generation, I couldn’t help but feel it had better inspire it pretty blooming quickly, before we all had a cardiac.
I couldn’t go to Monday’s celebration parade. Earlier in the summer our flat was broken into, and in doing so the burglar trod make-up and hair dye into the carpet. The landlords insisted the carpet was replaced, and the only day we could do it was on 10 September, so the robber robbed us of one of the greatest days to be in central London. But no matter. We watched it on the telly. And in any case, we were there for the Opening of the Games. We were there when Danny Boyle pretended to throw the Queen out of a helicopter. We saw both Olympic and Paralympic sport in the flesh. We gave directions to a Ghanian Olympic Coach who got lost on the District Line. I gave suggestions to a young American gentleman who had won a competition to see women’s beach volleyball, but had apparently not thought to look at a guide book or the Internet for things to see and do in London before he landed. I was mistaken for a Paralympian marathon runner by a Gamesmaker (I explained I had a bad back, but it wasn’t the same thing). So the posters really were right: we did all make the Games.
We watched the Games too. In pubs and at home I have bellowed in the hope that we would score some Olympic Gold, and by jove, by golly, we did. This wet little island has produced more Olympians per square inch than almost any where else (Jamaica did it better, but they’ve got sunshine on their side). Yorkshire alone would have hit the Olympic medal table. Yorkshire. Our land is now sprinkled with golden post boxes, and a newfound understanding that we are not nearly so rubbish as we are used to thinking. When the eyes of the world turned on us, they found us determined, organised, helpful and most of all, witty. There is much to be proud of.
Even during the Olympics, everyone was talking about the legacy. Can we hold on to this good will and pride, even in the context of the worst recession in decades? I think so. We just have to corporately decide to do it. We have shown the world how Great we can be. We are all in the habit now. We just have to keep it up. Remarkably few of us have even taken down the bunting. So we’re halfway there already.
In an earlier post, I told how I had staged my own Olympic Torch relay. I did it to be tongue in cheek, but there is something in those values so powerful that you can’t monkey around with them too much without them rubbing off on you. Living the Olympic Way has a great deal to recommend it. I think more than anything what appealed to us in this Jubilympic summer is the consistent excellence, the ability of athletes, organisers and volunteers to give their all to a higher purpose. We fielded our brightest and best, and they performed. A female rowing team were asked about their achievement, and they said they had decided that in their training and everything they did, they would be gold standard. It doesn’t need to be unnecessarily serious, but if we were all bold enough to try to be gold standard all the time, I can’t help but think this green sceptred isle would be a lot nicer. And that would be a legacy really worth having.