Sunday, August 05, 2012

Forgive us if we get a little Churchillian

"Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves that, if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, 'This was their finest hour.' " - Winston Churchill, House of Commons, June 18, 1940
In the time it took for my companion to visit and return from the pub toilet yesterday evening, Great Britain had added another gold medal - the second of three won within the space of an hour. 

We had only called in for a quick pint to refresh a bike ride on a warm Paris evening. Well, I'd called in for a quick pint, but that's not the point: while we were in there we witnessed scenes of unprecedented jubilation not seen since Chelsea's unlikely Champion's League Final victory, on another Saturday evening in May.

In an hour we witnessed all five-feet-five-inches of Jessica Ennis complete the heptathalon with a storming 800-metre run in two minutes 8.65secs, winning the gold medal by a massive 306-point margin; and then, while my friend was taking care of business, Greg Rutherford was delivering a 8.31-metre long jump.

And then came Mo: Mo Farah, who came to Britain from Somalia at the age of eight to escape civil war in his homeland, to devote himself to becoming the first Briton to win the longest Olympic track discipline, the 10,000 metres. It was a genuinely tear-jerking victory. At the end of a day when the tear ducts of many in Britain were getting a very handsome workout indeed.

Those three medals, earned in front of the full 80,000 crowd at the Olympic Stadium, might have been enough to satisfy, but they followed three British gold medals picked up earlier in the day thanks to the women's and men's rowing at Eton Dorney, and another stunning cycling performance, with the women's pursuit team setting a new world record in the Velodrome. Even the departure of Team GB's football team - a quarter-final defeat at the feet of penalties (sound familiar?) - didn't dampen the euphoria of the day.

For a country that prides itself on self-depreciation, that regards The Great Escape as a success story (even though it all ended in abject failure), and which revels in the foreign view that we are a nation collectively lacking self-esteem, these last few days have been days in which it's been OK to be proud to be British.

It's something we've lost the art of. Perhaps we didn't even have it. Whereas Americans have got national pride down pat (a chant of "U-S-A, U-S-A!" can break out spontaneously for the most trivial of events), we Brits can't wave a union flag without feeling ever so slightly gauche.

Britain is, "Like shy party guests who drop their guard and find themselves having an unexpectedly good time," to quote the Sunday Times' James Gillespie today. I would emphasise the "unexpectedly". And he's right. Seb Coe might have slightly pompously branded London 2012 "the People's Games" (surely that was Beijing?), but it does feel like Britain is pitching in to have a good time.

Political correctness has confused national pride with jingoism, that by waving the flag of union is some sort of anachronistic throwback to an imperial past and the shame of colonial abuse. Or worse, that it is a nationalistic symbol at odds with the country's multi-cultural present.

Those who can't help getting their knickers in a twist about this sort of thing are welcome to carry on experiencing discomfort in their lower regions. While they do, the rest of us will be getting on with celebrating an incredible eight days, eight days when the national pastime of moaning about one thing or another has been put on hold, and the eyes of the world have been on London like never before.

And while we're at it, let's celebrate the fact that, the stadium that had played host to "leftie, multi-cultural crap" (A. Burley MP, Cons) in the Olympic opening ceremony just over a week before, last night witnessed a Yorkshire lass of mixed ethnicity, a ginger bloke from Milton Keynes, and a former Somali emigrĂ© who calls Feltham home, winning gold medals on the most amazing sporting Saturday night ever.  

But most of all, let's celebrate the fact that Britain is having a good time. The country may be knee-deep in recession, and heading for a third dip in the economic mire, but there seems to be - from this side of the English Channel, at least, the smile of enjoyment on the nation's visage. 

It is still only Day 9 of London 2012. By the same stage in Beijing, Britain had just seven gold medals. Today it has 16, the best British performance in 104 years. Even if Team GB doesn't pick up another piece of gold, silver or bronze between now and August 14, I doubt you'll be able to wipe the smile off British faces. After which, we'll return to our cynicism, our unemployment, our class divisions, our transport chaos and all the other things that seem to make Britain happiest when it is moaning about them.

1 comment:

  1. Great piece. Yesterday was really an amazing day in sports.