Are you too knackered to read today’s post? Well now you don’t have to! Watch my private security guard SS as he reads this post with the most delightful British accent, to give you the real feel of what it’s like here in London. If you prefer to take in this blog in silence, by all means scroll down and read on!
Did you watch the Olympic opening ceremonies, all five hours of them, on Friday night? If you did you almost certainly saw them from the same vantage point as me, from the comfort of a couch – perhaps, also like me, with a glass of something nice to sip in your hand. Of course my couch was probably closer to the stadium than yours, since I am in London after all. What was your favorite part? Was it the Queen saying ‘Good Evening Mr. Bond’ and pretending to parachute out of the helicopter? Was it the stupendously staged lighting of the Olympic cauldron, following lots of sneak peeks of dishy David Beckham driving the torch down the Thames in a speed boat? I bet it wasn’t the NHS (that’s the National Health Service, in case you didn’t know) creepy hospital bed bit that I’m absolutely certain will cause nightmares in the children who participated in it – or the zombie-dancing pre-industrial serfs. The impression I came away with was that these opening ceremonies had more mood swings than a bipolar psychopath in mid-menopause. They went from awful to awesome and back to awful again (and then back to awesome) so many times that at the end of the night I didn’t quite know what to think. But I loved Mr. Bean. I loved him very much.
Mr. Bean, aka Rowan Atkinson, is quite possibly the British personality most universally recognized around the world. His character is silly and simple enough for children to love, while appealing to adults with his irony and naughtiness. And in my book he came along just in time, an hour or so into these most perplexing of opening ceremonies. When I heard someone announce that the London Symphony was about to play Chariots of Fire, I had two thoughts. The first was to wonder why the British would choose to perform a song composed by a Greek. The second was really more of a groan than a thought. Please, not that tired old thing again. But then along came Mr. Bean and it was all good. If you missed it I’m sorry for you. I’ve tried to find a youtube video of the Mr. Bean part of the ceremonies but the IOC has an army of cyber police out there yanking down any and all Olympic content within about three minutes of it being posted. Mr. Bean made these opening ceremonies memorable in a good way, and in a very British way. See, as much as they all have the reputation for stiff upper lips and snobbiness, the British have humor down to a fine art. I only wish there had been a little Monty Python in some of the opening scenes of Maypole dancing. Even Kenneth Brannagh, whom I adore, couldn’t pull that opening act out of the fire for me.
Some of the Brits, such as the nice journalist sitting beside me here in the media center, were quite touched by Danny Boyle’s (remember Trainspotting and Slumdog Millionaire? Those are his films) tribute to the historic roots of the working class in Britain – from pre-industrial peasants to revolutionary miners. I can appreciate the spirit of Boyle’s intent, and I admire his balls-in-the-wind courage to do something for his people without being sucked into trying to outdo Hollywood. But the dancing pilgrims just reminded me of Amish people, I’m afraid.
On the other hand, there were some fabulous dancers, music and special effects, including a really cool house that kept changing appearance through the use of projection during the British pop music piece. Then on the other, other hand, there were those hospital beds. See what I mean? It went from great to grim so many times I couldn’t keep score fast enough to know whether I loved more than I loathed. One thing is absolutely certain. They need to figure out how to get 5,000 athletes into a stadium faster than that. I could swear they were walking more and more slowly as they went down the alphabet. The Zimbabweans were positively plodding by the time they came in. Hazel, the female BBC commentator, didn’t help matters by saying, after about 45 minutes of athlete parading, “they’re only on the G’s” and then about ten minutes later saying, “they’re still on the G’s.”
The low point of the opening ceremonies for me was seeing that Brazil really did give Rodrigo the flag to wave around. Does no one recall that he was DISQUALIFIED FROM THE 2008 OLYMPICS FOR DOPING? I thought the flag bearer is supposed to be the ultimate ambassador for the team – not only someone who has distinguished his or herself in competition, but also for upholding the ideals of fair play and obeying the rules. I guess I’m just old fashioned.
Two whole days of edge-of-your-seat Eventing Dressage have now passed since those very thought-provoking opening ceremonies, and now we are poised to watch 74 of the world’s finest horses and riders rip around a very hilly cross country course. I made my four mile hike around it this morning. I’m going to go out on a limb (so unlike me, I know) and venture that this Olympic Three Day Event is going to be all about time penalties. Sue Benson’s course is drop dead gorgeous and very well thought out. The hills are all in the middle, with good, flat galloping stretches over the early and late parts of the course where they should be. But this is not the toughest of courses, at least not for those with four star experience. Speaking of which, there was a last minute twist in the plot today when Japanese newcomer (some would even say ‘unknown’) Yoshiaki Oiwa pulled off the best test of the dressage and sits first on a score of 38.1. Take that, all you traditional eventing titans from GB, GER, NZ and AUS! The Japanese team is not in bad form either, sitting sixth – eight points ahead of the Americans.
I must leave you now to patronize a pub. It’s a criminal offense in Britain to not visit at least one pub a day, so I have to get to at least four to get up to quota for the number of days I’ve been here. While at the pub(s) I will be boning up on my Brit speak. I would have thought I’d have a leg up, what with a British dad (and you might correctly deduce from that fact British grandparents too), but I’m still finding myself staring in incomprehension at people who I know are speaking the same language I am, and yet I can’t make out a thing they are saying to me. Let me give you an example of the kind of lingo they bandy about around here:
“I’m well chuffed to see that the hob is in good nick.”
Know what that means? It means, “I’m glad the stove works.”
White on the left, red on the right, London in the middle