Wednesday, August 08, 2012


I feel British again. Like many people, I had come to regard Britishness as an anachronism. In a post-colonial, post-industrial era, its totems seemed irrelevent and I retreated into an identity that was one part English (more specifically, southern English), one part European and one part world citizen. However, Danny Boyle has changed all that.

When I started watching the Olympic opening ceremony, I expected to be embarrassed. Last year's unveiling of the Countdown Clock in Trafalgar Square was an awkward, uncomfortable ramshackle affair that was as British as a man making love with his socks on. I squirmed at the awfulness of it.

But the opening ceremony was a triumph. It may have baffled 99% of the world, including most people under 25 in Britain, but Danny Boyle's vision was pitch perfect in its reinvention of Britishness for the 21st century.

I've read a lot about how the ceremony appealed to people on both the right and left, but for me the real acid test was my mother. She watched it with a group of people in their 80s, most of whom read the Daily Mail and think that there are too many 'coloureds' in Britain. What would they make of what Aidan Burley described as "multicultural crap"?

They loved it.

If I could have changed anything, I would have got rid of the Arctic Monkeys and had fewer people expressing things through the medium of contemporary dance, but the rest of the evening was a box of delights. I particularly enjoyed the spectacle of Dizzee Rascal singing 'Bonkers' to the Queen. It was also a wise move on Danny Boyle's part to give David Beckham a non-speaking role.

As for the Olympics itself, I'm completely impervious to sporting triumphs and feel quite indifferent to the growing tally of gold medals. I certainly don't feel proud to be British - I've never understood national pride. However, I suppose I would say that I'm quite happy to be living here. I can't imagine being anywhere else.

So as part of my celebration of Britishness, I thought I'd share some photos that I found in books during the last few weeks.

First, we have England:

On the back, someone has written 'Shaz'z 18th, January 1987'. There may be an 80s revival at the moment, but I haven't seen anyone who has had the courage to revive this look. Why would a teenage girl willingly make herself look 35?

Next, we celebrate the musical traditions of Wales:

The man on the right seems to be suffering from a moment of existential angst, which is not a good thing when you live in a small town.

On the subject of Wales, I found this Welsh version of Ladybird's 'Peter and Jane' series today. Jane is predictably Siân, but for some reason Peter has become Gareth and the dog is Carlo:

I studied Welsh at university and managed to achieved a record result for the lowest exam score in the subject.

Third, Scotland the brave:

This proud father looks slightly pregnant himself, rather like the famous 1970s poster and the haunted expression suggests that he isn't entirely at ease.

Finally, a celebration of family life:

This cover is from 'The Family Chord Songbook'. I'm sure that if Danny Boyle had had the time, he would have included some organ action.

Perhaps there'll be a spot at the closing ceremony, in between the bare knuckle fighting and the 'best-kept village' competition.


Martin said...

I think the two girls in the first phot were in the film, 'Rita, Sue and Bob Too!'

David said...

There was an organ, wasn't there - as played by Mr Bean?

Kid said...

The Scottish guy's obviously embarrassed that his wean has more hair than him.

Anonymous said...

I so agree about the Arctic Monkeys and the interminable contemporary dance, but like you, I started to watch as a sceptic and watched, impressed, until almost the end...But I do hate it when we go in for triumphalism - I'm not in favour of a victory parade in London after the end of the Olympics. Now that WILL be embarassing........... AnnaC

Camilla said...

I loved the opening ceremony, it was very, very well done. When Her Majesty turned around and it REALLY WAS HER, I think my scream might have woken up the village. :P Huge props to her for playing along!

There were a few parts that sailed over my head (the NHS stuff, for example - I learned more about that in the commentary on Twitter afterwards), but I enjoyed it all anyway and felt a bit of reflected Commonwealth pride. :D


Little Nell said...

Well I'd never seen the Arctic Monkeys before and I found myself being impressed. Most of the ceremony was fantastic, but I do agree that some portions were a wee bit long.

Steerforth said...

Martin - You're absolutely right! They're dead ringers.

David - At the risk of sounding pedantic, it was a synthesizer - no match for a Hammond in full bossa nova mode.

Kid - The baby does have a fine head of hair for one so young.

Anna - Yes, triumphalism of any kind is repugnant. I think the 'Team GB' athletes should use Jack Hawkins as their role model for dignity and humility: a stiff upper lip and a faint, barely perceptible glimmer of emotion.

Camilla - Yes, top marks to the Queen. She managed to enter the spirit of the occasion without losing her dignity. Because of that, most people forgave the Queen for looking so bored during the ceremony!

Nell - I just feel that the Arctic Monkeys are overrated - no better than a lot of other guitar bands from the last 25 years.

The bit that went on too long was the parade with the athletes. They should have installed a travelator to whizz them on a bit.

Roget said...

Now come come!How can a parade recognising the wonderful sporting achievments of Team GB possibly be "triumphalist"? It will celebrate their effort, commitment and achievment - aren't these legitimate reasons to applaud them?For goodness sake! The Falklands Victory parade was triumphalist. Team GB and the spectators who will cheer them are not delighting in the defeat of other teams or nations. They'll just be saying "Well done! We're proud of you!"

Roget said...

Now come come!How can a parade recognising the wonderful sporting achievments of Team GB possibly be "triumphalist"? It will celebrate their effort, commitment and achievment - aren't these legitimate reasons to applaud them?For goodness sake! The Falklands Victory parade was triumphalist. Team GB and the spectators who will cheer them are not delighting in the defeat of other teams or nations. They'll just be saying "Well done! We're proud of you!"

Roget said...

Here is a list of items I would press you on, Steerforth if space permitted and I could be arsed:-
1/Like most people, I have come to regard Britain as an anachronism..
2/...its totems seemed irrelevent.
3/ British as a man making love with his socks on...
4/...including most people under 25 in Britain...
5/It was also a wise give DB a non-speaking role.
6/I certainly don't feel proud to be British...
7/I've never understood national pride...

Steerforth said...

Thank you Roger - I was hoping you'd take the bait. If only we were able to discuss these issues face to face, I'd see that beneath your tough, northern veneer, you were quietly acknowledging the strength of my arguments ;)

Re: national pride, although there are many things I love about this country and its achievements (and the ceremony reminded me that in addition to the usual suspects, from the industrial revolution to the internet, 'we' had invented many of the sports too), they're counterbalanced by things that I feel embarrassed or ashamed about. My love isn't blind.

As for the sport, I'll openly admit that I'm more excited about the probe that's just landed on Mars. I'm very happy for the athletes who have won gold medals and also for the fans who care about these things, but the whole thing leaves me cold.

It's probably sour grapes because I was so useless at rounders.

peezedtee said...

Mostly I just found the opening ceremony rather baffling, but I "got" enough of it to see that its heart was more or less in the right place. I could have done without the awful pop music, which sounded to me much more American than British. I am quite astonished by the extent to which the country has suddenly come together. I wonder if it will last?

Steerforth said...

Yes, it was a bit pop-heavy, but I suppose they wanted to keep the punters happy.

I particularly liked the NHS tribute. Those Americans who are getting their knickers in a twist about Obama's healthcare reforms should take note.

Canadian Chickadee said...

I think it's good to be proud to be British, but I also think that a really great country allows you to choose whether (or not) you want to express your patriotism.

As for the opening ceremony, I loved it -- but I do have to agree with my daughter who said, "they needed more corgis!!"

The Queen, by allowing herself to be part of the parachute scheme, proved what a game girl she is. Flashes of the young woman who was a driver during WWII and learned to do repairs to her assigned vehicle. She's always so dignified it's hard to tell, but I'll bet she had a blast.

Rule, Britannia!

Donna said...

Yes, I agree entirely. Watching the opening ceremonies, and especially the nod to children's literature, I felt kinda proud to be British too, even if it's ancestral, and I live in a colony.

Steerforth said...

Chickadee - I've always been a bit uncomfortable with patriotism. There are many things about Britain that make me proud - the creativity, tolerance and rich history, but these are counterbalanced by other things that make me embarrassed. Still, at least I'm not French ;)

Donna - That's an interesting point. I wonder how many 'British' people there are outside Britain - most of Australia and New Zealand, a lot of Canada and part of the USA, not to mention those remote colonies that have been frozen in time, like Tristan Da Cunha.