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It’s been emotional (Olympics, part 1)

A photo of Vinny Jones from Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels

I have scanned the memory banks but I honestly can’t think of a month in which I have ever been in such a heightened state of emotion.

It started with my older son getting ‘Achiever of the Term’ award at school, but it really took hold with the opening night of the Olympics a week later.

It really hasn’t take much to set me off with tears this month. As my wife will testify, no doubt to her surprise.

I intend to make several posts as I look back on the Olympic/Paralympic summer which, as I write, is about halfway through in this intervening week between one and the other.

However, the common thread through all I write about will be the fact that it doesn’t take very long for me to dwell on these thoughts and for a lump to form in my throat or a tear to well in my eye.

I may not have the intestinal fortitude of Big Chris, but nevertheless… it has been and continues to be emotional.

I want to focus in this first post on something that I’ve never known to really interest me before: the opening ceremony.

A photo of the steel, firework Olympic rings from the London opening ceremony

I must admit that I thought the opening ceremony was excellent.

I thought the design of the torch was fantastic and inspiring and the choice of seven young athletes, just too young for these current games, was a great way to finally light the torch.

It was great to see the presentation include a sense of humour with James Bond, our Queen parachuting in and Mr Bean on the keyboard.

But I mention all this today, because along with that sense of humour, I was really interested to see and hear the ‘story’ that we told about ourselves, as the nation of Britain.

In the Olympic ceremony, we portrayed ourselves as a rural, green and pleasant land significantly advanced through the industrial revolution and then today through the digital revolution. I was interested and delighted to see that we portrayed ourselves as a nation with Christian heritage;  a number of hymns were used throughout the ceremony to good effect.

We showed ourselves touched with grief and sorrow; the pause and silence for the two world wars and then also the victims of the 7/7 bombings.

We showed ourselves to be able to laugh at ourselves, but also resolute in caring through the NHS for the weak, the frail, the young… and, of course, with talents in the arts – our huge reservoir of children’s stories and world influencing and world famous music and musicians.

As the host nation, I’m conscious that some of the elements of the story we told would not have made sense to the watching world. I’d be interested to hear from friends around the world to hear what they made of it. However, for Britain, the story we told of ourselves is vital.

I’ve heard a lot of people in these last two weeks say that the Olympics has made them proud to be British again. While I’m sure all the gold medals and the way in which the games were organised and passed off were a big part of that, I think the Opening Ceremony was crucial in telling a story of ourselves again.

I think we’d grown very cynical of ourselves, tired of our history, perhaps even ashamed of it. Anderson & Foley write that stories have such power to engage us because human existence is a narrative. We live our lives in time and narrative, not disconnected actions or isolated events, but something where one leads to another, a web of stories gets weaved into one story.

It has proved to me, once again, that post-modern Britain telling itself that we don’t need an over-arching narrative, a story, to construct our lives around is plain wrong. We’ve been living that lie for a while now in this country and it’s only when something like this comes in, brushes away the cobwebs, pressure jets the dust from our souls and refreshes our vision that we are able to realise that actually we really do need a story.

Perhaps the key thing was that we needed, given our somewhat chequered past, a way to reframe it in such a way that it could be something to build on. It needed to be re-weaved into a narrative, a way of understanding ourselves that gave us new hope and inspiration.

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