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Olympic openings

So, sport has now begun. I’m good at becoming obsessively interested in things so generally try and avoid the Olympics, but my inability to meld calendars with reality means that this year I’m going to Edinburgh on the day of the closing ceremony, thus avoiding London in one of the two weeks between the two segments of sporting endeavour and potential travel destruction. I was saved from interaction with the Olympics during Beijing’s curatorship by my first trip to the Edinburgh Festival and an obsession with jamming myself into as many small, damp rooms as possible before running again between venues in the rain. This time it seems that I only have the joys of work and the 10+ button presses it takes to turn on my TV and related equipment to dissuade me from consuming sport that I have generally no interest in or understanding of.

On Saturday morning I found myself cheering on a lady in a hat during the 10m Air Rifle shooting. I didn’t realise that such a thing existed as a sport.

This evening I spent my time watching some gymnastics, having learned a tiny amount about it from the most recent Thomyk podcast, although my flaky internet connection and a need to finish writing some stuff has wrenched me away. This is my writing procrastination.

Anyways, the opening ceremony. As I know a few people performing in it and possess a grudging respect for the greatness of Danny Boyle, I loaded up with bourbon (to counter any over-patriotism) and a bucket of ice (to cool the bourbon), and sat back to enjoy. It was rather good. The opening switch from rural idyll to spark drenched industrial wasteland was brilliant (even if I did miss buddy Michael carrying his roll of grass); the NHS bit was mad in a lovely way; the childhood literature swayed too much in the Potter era for my bitter and twisted mind to accept; the Bond bit made me look very carefully at my paused screen and try and work out if it was an impersonator or if the Queen really walked like that; Mr Bean was funny; Trevor Nelson was a bell-end; the music bit sort of passed my by, although I do know all about Mr Rascal thanks to seeing him support the Red Hot Chili Peppers last month (he’s quite good); I didn’t see the NeXT cube by St Tim Berners-Lee and shed my first tear of the ceremony when I realised I’d missed it; I liked the Arctic Monkeys; I liked Mike Oldfield; I liked the British team’s uniform’s corrosion proof armits; I like the American team’s berets; and after all that I think I understood the inclusion of Paul McCartney.

About half an hour into the ceremony I tweeted “I imagine that the rest of the world who are watching this have no clue what is going on”.

The ceremony was packed full of bits of cultural reference that barely make their way outside of our shores: the shipping forecast, the NHS, Beth Jordache, Isembard Kingdom Brunel, Maypoles, Dizzee Rascal, Tiger Feet. While we may like to think that the Olympic opening ceremony was just for us, it was transmitted (with primetime advertising protecting delays by NBC, the official ruiners of the Olympics in the USA) to people all over the world. The people of Saudi Arabia caught a glimpse of a lesbian kiss, the people of the USA were exposed to bed bouncing socialist healthcare and the people of North Korea (even if they’re showing it on state TV and claiming their team has won every medal due to Kim Il-Sung inventing the sports) saw a medley involving Freddie Mercury. They all probably had no idea what was going on, with the massively choreographed but occasional ramshackle-feeling display being tailored to a very specifically British palate.

In the end there were four touchstones for the world, growing in touchstone-ness as they went along: Mike Oldfield, Voldemort, Mr Bean and Paul McCartney. After you’ve shown the world the Arctic Monkeys covering a Beatles song and an ‘everyone joins together to light the cauldron’ flame ignition, all we’ve got left so as to leave the people with something that they have a vague understanding of is a husk of a man with wig-like hair singing a song that almost everyone on the Earth knows.

We had a mention of sea conditions around the British Isles, let them have a Beatle. Just remember that it could have been Ringo singing With A Little Help From My Friends. Actually…

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