I’m experiencing an odd emotional state, at present. I’m, well, I’m proud. To be British. Not simply because we did so amazingly well in the Olympics; it’s because we’re doing so well at embracing our success. We’re happy, as a nation, to be a nation. It’s not something we’re used to, but we’ve gone at it, taken the opportunity to be great, claimed our country as ours. Everyone here belongs to the country, and the country belongs to all of us. Those few athletes who are our representatives, they’ve shown us something of themselves -determination, brilliance – and something of ourselves.
There’s something of our arrogant character coming through, of course; the character that conquered a significant portion of the world on the basis of a heartfelt belief that being British is simply better than being anything else. We’ve been ashamed of the Empire, and rightly so, since it was broken up, handed back and we were told to say sorry (which we have generally done with all the good grace of a teenage boy caught shoplifting), but now we’ve had a long time to deal with that loss of power and the resultant blow to the national psyche perhaps we can finally enjoy being us.
Because, mainly, we’re great. From the second the opening ceremony kicked off, we were reminded of our strengths. Innovation. Compassion. Humour. Inclusiveness. Bravado. All have their ugly mirrors in Britain, but for the duration of the Games we – seemingly by common agreement – decided that they’re not us. Not the real us. The real us stood on that podium, choking back tears, humming a song we don’t like or grinning foolishly as medal after medal was awarded to ‘just a small island… [that] doesn’t make things that people in the rest of the world want to buy’*. Negativity, usually our stock-in-trade, was greeted with disappointed voices raised against it. Get back to the Britain before the Opening Ceremony! You’re not wanted here, snarkiness! Just look at the change in tone on this very blog for evidence (though I still hate Sebastian Coe and stand by my pre-Games post).
Still. Now the Closing Ceremony has poured cold water on the dreaming mind of a nation, it will all come rushing back. There’s no changing a character as fundamentally cynical as that of Great Britain, and there’s no stopping the twin black holes – Cowell and the FA – drawing us all back to their event horizon. But maybe, ah, can we hope? Maybe something of this other Britain, teasingly revealed like a winning number on a Lottery scratchcard, can stick around. Maybe we will interest ourselves in those athletes who dedicate themselves quietly to quirky, enjoyable sports. Maybe we will accept that we are who we are, and that character is a good one. A positive one. A strong one. For our purposes, the best in the world.
*Thanks, Mitt. Also thank you for giving us someone to unite around giving the finger to.