Well, how did that go, then? Sunday night was the closing ceremony for the London Olympics. If you don't mind I'd like to have a bit of a recap on what has gone on in the last couple of weeks or so. As I said in my previous entry, I had misgivings about the way things would work out and that an unseemly element of Britishness would raise its head. I needn't have been so pessimistic, and I think we did pretty well.
The opening ceremony was quite a delight. Britishness was well to the fore, just as it should have been. But it was a look at Britishness that I really hadn't expected. I was dreading the references to Empire, military ugliness and an overstated and misplaced position in the world. There was none of that. Instead it portrayed a potted history and how these islands, this land, had changed with the times. It celebrated British culture, in literature, music, art and theatre, even in our wonderful NHS. It flagged up the good things that we have led the world in, and highlighted our sporting tradition of fair play - very appropriate in the circumstances. It was wild and whacky, weird and wonderful, and incredibly British. And there was Glastonbury Tor to illustrate the festival side of the whole venture. I just hope that people around the world without the essential background knowledge still got it. The best moment for me was the entry of the British team, with David Bowie's 'Heroes' playing in the background. If it's your party and your record player, is there anything wrong with playing your music in all the right places?
I remember seeing the Olympic Park, on the television, for the first time - the stadium, swimming pool (I flatly refuse to call it the aquatic centre, that's where you buy goldfish), velodrome and other purpose-built sporting venues - and thinking that it was an incredible testament to the Polish construction industry. That was something to be proud of in itself. It was also obvious, even from that very early stage, that the athletes would be very well provided for. And of course, not all the venues were in the park. Lord's cricket ground was being used for archery, Greenwich Palace for the equestrian events, Weymouth for the sailing, tennis at Wimbledon, and various grounds around the country for football. The Games were going beyond those simple boundaries, involving more people and places and spreading the love. I loved the fact that the organising committee approached a school and asked to borrow its rowing lake! But Eton Dorney turned out to be the place for a big slice of British success, emotion and outpouring.
Which neatly brings me to the sport itself. Not all of it would have been familiar to British audiences. There is no tradition of handball here, water polo is a bit of a puzzle, we don't seem to play ping-pong that competitively and volleyball seems to have largely passed us by. But the crowds still turned out in their thousands, tens of thousands, to support whatever was going on. Of course, they really got behind any British competitors taking part, and we have always loved an underdog, so they were well-backed too, but in general they supported the event itself, no matter who was standing, sitting, riding or lying in front of them. Fair play well to the fore, again.
I have some favourite moments, things I will probably always remember from these Games. I think the most emotional and memorable of them all will be Ruta Meilutyte, a fifteen-year-old swimmer from Lithuania (though living in Plymouth, so perhaps we can claim her just a bit) seizing the 100m breaststroke gold medal and being in total shock at what she had done. I have to confess to welling up watching when she received her medal. She blubbed and had to hold it together through, it seemed to me, the entire 73 verses of the Lithuanian national anthem. Her unbridled joy, bewilderment and pride were incredibly moving.
British athletes shone in much of what they did, though it could never be a complete triumph. Jessica Ennis, the British heptathlete, had been the poster image in the lead-up to the Games, and she came proudly through for Britain. I have never before seen a British athlete put their stamp on an event in the way that Mo Farah did in the men's 5000 metres to win gold, even more remarkable given that he had also won the 10000 only a week before. Unprecidented for a Brit.
If nothing else, it seems these Olympics dragged millions of kids away from their computer games and motivated them instead to watch endless hours of sport on television! And that's, in part, what the whole thing was about. The Games motto was 'Inspire a generation', and that could well be what happens. Though there's a long way to go before we'll know for sure.
It all came to an end on Sunday evening. The last drops of sweat were squeezed out of the athletes, the last anthem was stood up for and the flame was put out. There was an element of ceremony, but it was really a party; one that again showed our slightly warped sense of humour and that we can be absurd as well as formal.
I think we did it all pretty well. The 2000 Games in Sydney is the benchmark for me, no-one can do it better than that, but in these austere and straightened times, we came fairly close.
Next it's the Paralympics - bring it on.