For a fortnight, along with much of the rest of Britain, I lost my snark. I watched the Olympics (and shut out as many of the c*** Oily MPs as I could) and was overtaken by a sense of awe. Firstly at Danny Boyle's opening spectacular, thumbing his nose at his LOCOG paymasters and creating a vision of Britishness that connected with far more than just the flag waving jingoist few that many feared it might, then at the feats of the sportswomen and men taking part in the games themselves.
Awe is entirely the right word. I can barely comprehend the commitment and dedication the athletes and competitors showed in order to compete. Gruelling ritualistic training. Nutritional control. Hours and hours of repetition, drills, practice. For some, reaching the games was its own reward. To be able to compete with the sporting elite as an equal in front of a crowd - and what a crowd - made the pain worthwhile. For others, nothing less than victory would do: you could see them crumpled and spent in defeat, husks of women or men, a hollowness in their eyes even when holding on to their silver or bronze medal.
I can't pick out a single moment as the greatest. It seems to cheapen the effort of all the other participants. But there were moments of greatness, lasting greatness, where people pushed themselves to the limit and saw those limits crumble. Redefining moments. Londoners, known for surliness, became friendly and welcoming; British sportswomen and men, known for defeat, became champions; emblems of aggression - that damned, sullied, right-wing hijacked union jack - became benign.
Danny Boyle's opening borrowed from Shakespeare's The Tempest (not Prospero, but Caliban - slave, illegitimate, unmagical, human), "be not afeard, the isle is full of noises" but for a fortnight at least, Paulina in The Winter's Tale seemed more appropriate to me. Revealing the living breathing Hermione (disguised as a statue) to her husband who believes her to have been dead for 16 years, she prepares Leontes, "It is required you do awake your faith." Likewise, grey old Britain was revealed as vibrant and hopeful - but only as far as sporting achievement is concerned.
Monday hit hard. The news bulletins returned to murder, war and crises; tax dodging and backhanded contracts; recession still holding us vice-like; our Government still self-interested, venal and toxic; big corporations and bankers still holding all the strings and us still seeming like puppets tied to our puppet masters. We have no faith that any of them at all know how to get us out of this mess.
For a fortnight, we saw nothing but good - and there is hope - and I don't just mean the Paralympics (which I await with an unexpected eagerness). If we work together, if we share our common good, if we celebrate the achievements of others and work together to help others achieve, if we believe we can be better and work hard to be better, then we can make a Great Britain out of this selfish, self-serving mess. However, it is required we do awake our faith.
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