I am finding that getting old doesn’t actually have a lot to recommend it, by and large. What’s more, it’s not just the physical battles engendered by a lifetime of bodily abuse, though it has to be said that those are challenging enough.
There are other aspects of ageing which are just as problematical as trying to cope with bits of one’s body that no longer bend or stretch or function the way that they used to. These are often personality traits or behavioural tics that whilst considered amusing enough back in the day have now become entrenched and calcified. For want of a better expression, this might be referred to as the Victor Meldrew paradigm.
Thus far, I have managed to avoid mentioning the word ‘Olympics’ in this blog. That I need to say this reminds me of the old jazz buffs’ joke about the definition of a gentleman being a man who can play the banjo – but doesn’t. So, it might reasonably be asked why someone like me, who is generally well-disposed towards a number of top-line sports – football, cricket, baseball – is so negative about the London Olympics.
There are quite a few reasons, actually. One of the main issues would be that I find so many of the Olympic ‘disciplines’ unutterably tedious to watch – diving, fencing, archery, gymnastics, boxing, weightlifting – to name but six. I have no interest in any of these sports generally, so why, during the Olympics, am I supposed to fill my day with endless hours of the BBC’s coverage of such events? Then, there are the politics and corporate skullduggery going on behind the scenes, but I can (reluctantly) accept that without the likes of Microsoft and the Coca-Cola Corporation and suchlike, the Games probably wouldn’t be viable at all. It’s the way of the modern world and whilst I may not like it, I just have to shrug my shoulders and deal with it. Then again, I (happily) don’t live in London and won’t have to contend with an artificially inflated level of Council Tax for the rest of my lifetime in order to pay for the inconvenience and hassle and the Limo Lanes.
Watching paint dry – the latest Olympic ‘discipline’
So, having little interest in the Games as a whole, I just cherry-picked the bits I wanted to watch – specifically, the football and Usain Bolt – and ignored the rest. Elsewhere in the house, the Partner was gung-ho for it all from the Opening Ceremony onwards, whilst the Princess slowly became an enthusiast as well. I was doing pretty well, reining in my cynicism and disdain as the BBC milked the popular mood and ran the emotional gamut from A to B. Somewhere along the line, everyone seemed to have forgotten that about a year ago, there were areas of London just a few discus throws from the Olympic Stadium that were going up in flames. Instead, we were invited to join in this media-orchestrated Hallmark Cards Love-In which insisted that everyone in London was suddenly being nice to one another. In the broadsheets, I caught a passing glimpse (and then avoided) articles by heavyweight columnists who were suddenly writing about ‘the Olympic effect’ and how we had ‘learned to like ourselves a little more’. People even began to talk openly of ‘the mood of the nation.’ Oh dear.
“I love everyone and I want to give all my cash to Boris Johnson”
Anyway, I was feeling quite pleased with myself, having avoided pretty much everything except the few events that did interest me – and, incidentally, all the gushing drivel from the BBC presenters. Then along came the final day of the whole thing and we accepted an invitation to go and have dinner with friends – the only friends we have who have openly espoused the Olympics. They had actually been to London to attend the Archery at Lord’s Cricket Ground and the Synchronised Shove Ha’penny or something similar at some other venue. Fortunately, having not seen them for some time we had plenty of other stuff to discuss, but the TV in their flat was relentlessly glued to Olympic coverage and I realised to my horror that dinner had been timed to ensure that we were all fed and watered in time for everyone to sit down and watch the Closing Ceremony.
I had heard much about Danny Boyle’s choreographed opening ceremony and the largely positive response it received. Expecting something similar, I suppose I just thought ‘How bad can it be?’ and sat back in the hope that it wouldn’t be too long and that conversation could then resume or that we could then go home.
What I got was unmitigated Hell. If anyone ever asks me – and they probably won’t – how I envisage Hell, I can now simply refer them to the three hours that ensued. This was Hell made flesh and some of the participants – Russell Brand, Liam Gallagher, Brian May – are among its minor demons as far as I am concerned. Of course, you can talk about the scale of the operation, the logistics of cramming thousands of athletes into the stadium during the course of two Elbow songs, the brilliant lighting and pyrotechnics and the willingness of the biddable audience to get on board with the constipated spectacle. However, no amount of discussion could make any sense out of what unfolded.
Hell. Note kitchen sinks being parachuted in…..
And, my, how it unfolded…and just when you thought it had finished unfolding, it unfolded a bit more. Apart from the ceremonial bit at the end where Sebastian Coe thanked everyone for their efforts and support and the faux-sombre dousing of the Olympic pilot light before the fireworks started, the whole deranged smørgåsbord seemed to be built around British pop music of the last 50 years. Having said that, everything still seemed to be locked into the 1960’s and 1970’s – thus, we got Ray Davies and The Who for real plus creepy necrophiliac footage of John Lennon and Freddie Mercury and The Kaiser Chiefs playing a respectably feisty version of ‘Pinball Wizard’, though, as far as I know, pinball is not an Olympic sport – yet.
There were those whose music was played – notably The Beatles and David Bowie – who were conspicuous by their absence and those whose music never featured at all – most glaringly, The Rolling Stones. I was, however, pleased that rumours of an appearance by New Order proved unfounded; the last thing the happy-clappy throng needed was being serenaded by a load of miserable Mancs. There was no reggae either; instead we got a token rapper and some dhol drummers to remind us of how multi-cultural we are.
There was some surrealism as well – some of it may even have been intentional. The Pet Shop Boys (well it was supposed to be them and they were possibly singing ‘West End Girls’) were whisked round the stadium in a dayglo rickshaw whilst dressed like a Salvador Dali vision of the functionaries of the Spanish Inquisition. Then for some unknown reason, we got a weird piece of video of the late Freddie Mercury doing a bit of rabble-rousing. This was merely a prelude to the full-on horror of the remains of Queen singing the loathsomely fascist ‘We will rock you’ – preceded by 2 or 3 minutes of ghastly guitar shredding from Brian May, whose grey curls now look like some kind of ‘Elephant Man’-type fungal growth. More necrophilia came along via that weird video of John Lennon singing ‘Imagine‘ whilst Yoko does the dusting in the background. ‘”Imagine there’s no countries…” sang John…….sorry John, but then there’d be no Olympics. “Imagine no possessions….” Err, right, John – better not tell the sponsors about that one.
The most stage-managed piece of lunacy came courtesy of Eric Idle who seemed to be dressed as a ‘Star Wars’ stormtrooper, affected to be fired out of a cannon and then treated us all to a rousing singalong of ‘Always look on the bright side of life’, which was about as normal as things got – ironic that after all these years, it should be Monty Python making a stand for normalcy. After the Spice Girls had stood on top of some modified black cabs and done a couple of predictably shouty Spice Girl things about how we should take them seriously and not just ogle their legs and their tits in those micro-dresses they wear, things meandered on a bit and I have to confess to dozing through pipe bands, Annie Lennox doing her boring diva thing in a shipwreck, the band of the Grenadier Guards and some ballet dancers doing expressive dance – by this point it really was chuck in everything including the kitchen sink. What woke me up were the opening chords of The Who’s ‘Baba O’Riley’ and there was a moment of dislocation as I adjusted to the fact that this was the real deal and not a Kaiser Chiefs karaoke.
The Spice Girls. On top of taxis. In dodgy costumes. They’re really serious about their art, y’know.
The Who played a medley of about three songs, concluding with a thunderous rendition of ‘My Generation’ – an interesting choice for the final piece of diced carrot in this musical minestrone, considering its lyrics tell the tale of young outsiders taking lots of drugs as a way of distancing themselves from society.
And then it was finally over. I was grumpy and tired, an otherwise pleasant evening had been hijacked and I felt as though I’d been beaten up by the Teletubbies. What manner of impression this ceremony created in the minds of anyone watching from Uzbekistan, Ecuador or Tanzania is open to speculation. Personally, if I knew little about London and had watched that broadcast, I would have formed the inescapable conclusion that the whole city is essentially an open-plan lunatic asylum and would have shelved any plans to visit any time soon. And so, the Olympic torch moves on to Rio de Janeiro – and as far as I am concerned, not a moment too soon .