As I write this, it’s the last day of the London 2012 Olympics and I’ve just come back from a walk around the Houses of Parliament. We live close to the Thames so it’s a good way to combine exercise with sightseeing but we were stymied by the thousands of beaming, excited tourists from all over the world taking happy snaps. London is heaving with visitors high on the adrenaline of the Olympics and I smiled back at them, happy to share in the joy for one last day.
But a few weeks ago I’d have sworn black and blue it was going to be like having my wisdom teeth reinserted. Let me take you back:
Samuel Johnson once wrote ‘when one is tired of London one is tired of life’. Well, if that’s true I think most of London’s eight million inhabitants were ready for collective suicide in mid-July. The British summer had proved to be an extremely damp squib, unhappily raining day in and day out when the sun was supposed to be shining. There seemed to be no end in sight to the concrete skies and tense misery infecting every soul in the city. A pall was cast over the Olympics – the traffic would be chaos, industrial strikes would bring the city to its knees and the whole event was going to be mixed into the same depressing muck Mother Nature was ladling onto our groaning plates. Then the opening ceremony happened.
In a few hours of brilliant theatrical production, the hopes of a city and a nation had been delivered, and just on time. Danny Boyle’s rapier sharp direction showed the world what Britain truly is – driven, clever and very, very funny. I watched the whole thing, enthralled, sitting in a bar in Waterloo with fourteen Aussie friends getting sloshed on good red and even better cocktails. We cheered everything.
This is not to say I have betrayed my Australian roots. I watched with heartfelt dismay at the close run defeats of my great nation in the pool – the scene of so many triumphs in years past. But I also cheered our little-reported successes. Despite the media’s insistence (in Britain and down under), I don’t think Australia has had a bad Olympics. Seven gold, 16 silver, 12 bronze. Nothing to sniff at. Considering the past, it was a disappointing Games sure; but not a bad one. Our athletes fought hard, acquitted themselves well in the face of defeat and savoured the successes that came their way. Perhaps that’s the point. I grew up in the 1980s and remember when any Aussie gold was a miracle, so it’s foolish to assume we could just turn up and win. A medal is an honour and it has been heartening to see Team GB savouring the success that has eluded them for so long. The Aussies will be very hungry in Rio 2016, bring it on!
But back to London – the Olympics has shown this city in its best light – a rare event. So much of London is so utterly drenched in its past that visitors (and a few residents) don’t see the modern city or its inhabitants for what they truly are. London is a never ending battle, a raucous party that’s always changing and rarely taking prisoners. The Olympics is a fitting event for it. Winners and losers; tears of joy and bitterness. To have it all on my doorstep has been a privilege that I will never forget.
Thank you to our friend Gerald Lee who gave us permission to use his amazing photos of the Olympics.