We grumbled about the expense, G4S and the sponsors, but I am delighted to be proved wrong about the Olympics
?Years ago I was with a group having a drink in the Earl of Onslow pub in West Clandon, Surrey, when in walked the Earl of Onslow (now, sadly, deceased. He was a strange man in some ways, but he was very funny and he bought his round.) The family house and land are in the village.
Anyhow, we could not have been much more surprised if we’d been in the King’s Head and Charles II had appeared with Nell Gwyn and a couple of spaniels. One thing Onslow said was that every decade or so, someone tries to reform the House of Lords (he was one of the elected peerage, if that makes sense) and it always fails. So everyone sits back and says, “you know, it actually works quite well”. Which it does.
Then a few years later, they try again. It’s happened this week. It’s absurd that we are one of two countries in the world that has a non-elected upper house. On the other hand, the US Senate is one of the most dysfunctional legislatures in the free world. I don’t think Nick Clegg should be too worried.
?May I be allowed to join those who are delighted to be proved wrong about the Olympics? We grumbled about the expense, the G4S security screw-up, the ghastly sponsors (“proud to accept only Visa” says a little placard on the food vans. What next? “Sorry, we have self-esteem issues with MasterCard …”)
Anyhow, following Boris Johnson’s lead, here are 10 things I have really liked about the Olympics.
1 London has been such a great place. Normally it is a morose, grumpy city, but for two weeks it’s been warm, friendly, and buzzing. And I like helping foreign visitors round; it’s easy, and they’re very grateful. “I’m afraid that due to three separate signal failures, it’s impossible to reach the Olympic Park except by rickshaw.” “Why, thank you, sir”.
2 The sheer efficiency and energy of all the helpers, including those soldiers denied leave. Yes, there is the occasional familiar sound of a British person given a uniform – even a red and purple nylon uniform – relishing the chance to order other people around. But for the most part, all the helpers are incredibly engaging and helpful.
3 The BBC’s coverage. Eat the crunchy cinders of humiliation, Sky. For a fraction of what they charge for their service we can get every single moment of the action, even BMX and kayaking. Yes, they still have their standard lines for when British athletes fail – “she needs a great performance now” means “she doesn’t have a prayer”. “He’s going to give it everything he’s got” equals “he doesn’t have a prayer.”
But overall it’s been superb. And if you agree that it’s too Britcentric, you haven’t seen the American coverage. It must come as a surprise for their viewers to discover that any other countries are taking part.
4 The Aussies are spitting tacks at their poor results. In public they’re being laidback – “for us, silver is the new gold,” said one of their reporters. In private, I know from Australian friends, they are in a rug-biting rage. And to be more or less level with New Zealand: the pain just goes on throbbing. As Gore Vidal nearly said, “it is not enough to win; Australia has to lose.” Let’s call them “the plucky island nation” – that’ll rile them even more.
5 President Hollande came over early, at the point where GB were doing worse than France. He said that we were “rolling out the red carpet for French medal winners”, a sarky rejoinder to Cameron’s silly remark about unfurling the red carpet for rich French tax avoiders. Didn’t quite work out like that, did it Frankie? M. Hollande increasingly reminds me of Jacques Tati’s M. Hulot, calmly spreading chaos everywhere he goes. Yet Hulot always retained a certain poise and dignity, a trick which seems to evade the president.
6 They have provided 150,000 condoms for 10,800 athletes in the Olympic village. Since one condom is enough for a couple that is around two dozen per pair over 17 days. Quite a party.
7 The beach volleyball in Whitehall is terrific fun, with lots of music and dancing and everyone having a marvellous, even joyful time. We saw the men’s match between Holland and Switzerland, supporting Switzerland because we have friends there. But we didn’t know which of their four official languages to use. “Come on, you Cantona Helvetica!” doesn’t have a ring.I was also delighted to learn that you aren’t obliged to eat McDonald’s. A hog roast bap, admittedly at £7, contained a mountain of delectable moist meat, with a tangy apple sauce and two big chunks of crispy crackling. Luscious.
8 The keirin cycling. Apparently keirin is a Japanese sport devised entirely for gambling. The riders are led, before he peels away, by an elderly man in a motorised bike, which looks very sweet.
9 Joanna Rowsell, the gold-winning track cyclist, who proudly took off her helmet to reveal that she has alopecia. “I’m bald – deal with it!” was a brave and heartening gesture.
10 The two women from Saudi Arabia and Palestine who ran in hijabs. They lost their heats, but were cheered as if they had won.
?But I don’t get this “inspiring a generation” stuff. We should recognise that most schoolchildren don’t like taking part in sport. As a member of my year’s fifth XV at my (state) school I prayed for rain every Thursday afternoon. I could run a bit and if I had had a strict training regime, a tough diet, and given up all other activities I might have been bidding for bronze in the all-Leicestershire schools 100 yards (under-15s), which is not exactly Olympic glory. So I was, like 99% of my generation, inspired to watch TV and listen to pop records instead.