The Olympics strike back

Image of Robert Shrimsley

Take heed you grouches, you glass half-emptyers, for these are the last days. After years of hugely enjoyable naysaying, Olympic moaners (and I was proud to put myself in this camp) have less than a week until we are swept away in an orgy of enthusiasm. It’s been a great ride; we’ve been treated to threats of public transport chaos and weather gloom; we’ve been outraged by spiralling costs, Olympic priority lanes and missiles on people’s roofs. But the time has come to get with the programme. The birth pains have been exquisite but they will soon melt away in a golden glow of boosterism as the country flicks a switch and moves seamlessly from cynicism to zeal. After a bracing period of irritation, we are set to become thoroughly gruntled. Britain is about to get out its inner sea shanty and sing along to the Olympic tune.

The Olympics truly are for everyone and you can’t say they didn’t cater for killjoys. There have been some delicate feints to cheer the miserablist tendency. Just think of the staged release of information; the use of a complex ticketing system to fill the less popular events (it worked on me, I’ve got bloody badminton tickets); the warnings of an apocalyptic meltdown of the transport system, which will suddenly seem blissful when it turns out to be only marginally more hopeless than usual. Even the first glimpse of the opening ceremony – and surely if there is anything we can count on to underwhelm, it ought to be the opening ceremony – appeared designed to trick the cynics before the rug is pulled out from under us when the big day comes.

There will remain some doughty souls who are able to stay miserable all the way through. Some will have left the country, lest they get caught up in the fun of it all and let the mask of irritation slip. Others, especially in northern regions, will point out that the Games has done nothing for them and that it’s all a costly London plot which hasn’t even bothered to include them in the transport chaos. Scots are known to be particularly angry that they are facing no disruption as a result of the Games. It is further proof, if any were needed, of the perennial English conspiracy.

Of course, there will remain moments of irritation. As you sit in a traffic jam watching an endless convoy of VIPs sweep down the priority lane you may reflect that when we decided to welcome the Olympic family to our city no one explained that it would be bringing all of its in-laws as well. But these will be momentary spurts of gloom. Suddenly London will feel like a buzzing, happening (though possibly rather damp) city, determined to get into the spirit of things. The unbridled enthusiasm of the jubilee, in the most appalling weather conditions, bodes ill for those looking forward to widespread furore. Deep down, even sceptics know that now it is upon us, we have to make the best of it; that our children want to take part and that the only sane stance is to give in and enjoy the madness.

You, too, must become enthused about sailing, rowing, equestrianism, cycling and all those other sitting-down sports at which Team GB excels. Overnight everyone will be an expert on the difference between skiffs, Lasers and keelboats. Ordinarily sane adults will be overheard opining on the role of the Derny bike in Keirin races; we will worry about the gear ratio and momentarily disregard the inherent silliness of three-lap sprints, in which the first two laps are completed at a pace just fast enough to stop the riders falling over. You must pepper your conversation with phrases like “reverse hecht” and “triple salko plus pike”, and voice outrage that Sir Stanley Matthews has been excluded from the soccer team. “I know he’s dead, but he’s the face of English soccer.”

So make the most of these last halcyon days. Demand heads roll over the security shambles; rail at the restrictive sponsorship rules; and grumble at the cost of it all. Grouch, gripe and be miserable, for next week we celebrate. It’s going to be great. Don’t you just hate that?

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