Olympic power, poncho recycling and the last word on that ceremony

As the train approached its stop last night, I walked to the back of the carriage to be a vital few seconds closer to the station exit. I leapt onto the platform, vaulted the steps two at a time, sprinted home and raced up more stairs in the hope of catching Hannah Miley of Scotland and Great Britain in the final of the women’s 400 metre individual medley swimming.
Before yesterday, I had barely heard of Hannah Miley. I could easily have confused her with a character in a Disney teen movie. But she had been identified in the morning as one of Britain’s main medal hopes of the day.
That’s the power of the Olympics. Or, depending on your point of view, to paraphrase the New Radicals, maybe I’ve been brainwashed too.
I made it just in time to root for Miley. Unfortunately, she finished fifth.
That’s as close as I got to Olympic action on the first day. Away from the Olympic bubble, life in London seemed seemed remarkably unaffected by the Games. In parts of the north and southeast of the city, stations were not crowded, trains were not busy.
My first visit to the Olympic Park is later today but this blog’s northwest London correspondent was there yesterday and gave it a general thumbs-up. The landscaping, complete with wild flowers, was declared a success, the atmosphere was friendly and there was plenty of space. Attempts to hype up the mood in the basketball arena — kiss cams, bongo cams and incitations to do the macarena — were, however, not appreciated.
The organisers like to stress that these are green Games and this apparently extends to having poncho recycling bins on the site.
One thing that struck me about the park, also highlighted in some media reports, is that the Olympic flame can’t be seen outside the stadium. That seems a shame, especially as the cauldron was one of the outstanding elements of the opening ceremony.
And finally, about that ceremony. I wasn’t there (my only connection was that from my living room I could hear the fireworks booming) but my impression was that it sprang from a monster brainstorming session, quite possibly involving large amounts of drugs, in which someone yelled the word “Britain” and people shouted back whatever came into their heads.
With a bit more time to reflect, I can appreciate the energy, invention and amazing technical skill that went into the spectacle.
The British media and public seem overwhelmingly to have loved it, with a Conservative MP pretty much the only dissenting voice.
The verdict from this blog’s worldwide network of correspondents was, in that time-honoured journalistic phrase, mixed. A Perthshire correspondent used the word “hideous” at one point and reported that her six-and-half year-old son had gone off to bed in disgust after watching the first 20 minutes. Her four and three-quarter year-old daughter was, however, “loving it”.
A dispatch on Facebook from the United States declared: “Someday, someone is going to have to explain London’s Opening Ceremony to me. The best thing about it was the kids choirs at the beginning. From the nation that gave the world the Magna Carta, Parliament, Shakespeare, the Beatles, and my mother, the best they could do was celebrate the National Health Service?”
A north London source declared the ceremony “bonkers”. I am pretty sure this was meant as a compliment.
But the last word goes to the blog’s chief Scotland correspondent (who also reported an impressive 37,000 crowd in Glasgow the other day for Spain v Japan in the men’s football). Well known for having his finger on the pulse of the popular mood, he pronounced the ceremony amazing: “Queen and James Bond, Mr Bean and Gregory’s Girl? What’s not to love?”

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