Yesterday I posted an idle tweet musing that I was going to miss the Paralympic Games – and I will; the Paralympics seem to have been a roaring success, there has been some extraordinary competition, and an enormous wave of goodwill towards what has for many years been a poorly-reported cousin of the bigger, brasher, sexier Olympics.
Anyway, a friend on Twitter replied to that tweet and we chatted for a while about stuff, and then she said something that made me think. She said that now we can finally take down the bunting.
It’s been a strange Summer, really. Summer in Britain is usually a slow time. There’s a brief respite from football, Parliament is having its Long Break. The Press used to call this ‘the Silly Season’ because there’s not a lot of news about. Mostly the biggest stories involve the weather and Wimbledon.
Not this year, though.
We kicked off with the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee at the beginning of June. The centrepiece of this was a bank holiday weekend featuring a Pageant on the Thames, street parties across the country, and a Diamond Jubilee Concert – the highpoint of which was, for me anyway, Grace Jones singing Slave To The Rhythm while twirling a hula-hoop. The weather was awful, but it didn’t seem to matter very much.
Immediately afterward the Euro 2012 football championships began in Poland and Ukraine. In terms of international football, England always travels more in hope than expectation, and so it proved this time, but coming so close on the heels of the Jubilee it seemed to me that the wall-to-wall football and the outside possibility that England might do quite well continued the holiday mood.
Then we had Wimbledon, and Andy Murray’s close call with the Men’s Championship.
Then there came the Olympics. Once the Euros were over, the media could concentrate on seriously pushing the Games. There were many stories surrounding security, and the Torch Relay – which began a little slowly – built up a head of steam.
The Opening Ceremony, as I’ve noted elsewhere, was a triumph, and it kicked off a genuine festival of sport and achievement. The weather even picked up, hesitantly.
The Games themselves were, in terms of sport and national pride and general good feeling anyway, a roaring success. Team GB – a title I’ve been suspicious of since the team returned from Beijing in 2008 and the medallists were trooped out in front of the cameras while everyone else was just quietly ushered away in the background – started out a little slowly, medals-wise, and I’ve been wondering whether there would have been quite so much Olympic Love if we hadn’t done well, but the team picked up a very good medal haul, which is how some people gauge the success of these things. Andy Murray even picked up the tennis gold medal, which was no mean feat considering the month or so he’d just had.
My own personal high point was the men’s 800 metre final, one of the most extraordinary races I think I’ve ever seen. Kenya’s David Rudisha was a more than worthy champion, but every other runner in that race either broke a national record or their own personal best. Britain’s Andrew Osagie finished eighth and last, but his time was so good that at any other Olympics he would have got a medal, and he became the fourth fastest Briton in history at the distance. It was that good a race.
Okay, the Closing Ceremony wasn’t so great, but it wasn’t bad, and we went into the post-Games period with a bit of a glow about us.
The Paralympics have, traditionally anyway, always flown a bit under the radar, overshadowed by their flashier sibling, but I’ve been very pleased to see their profile rising over the past few years. These Paralympics have been the best-attended ever, I think, the first time I’ve had a sense that they’ve been treated as a ‘proper’ Olympics. Again, there has been extraordinary endeavour,. The wheelchair basketball was a joy to watch, and it was a privilege to see the races of the nearly-superhuman David Weir. Channel Four’s coverage wasn’t wall-to-wall the way the BBC covered the Olympics, but there were many good things about it. And the sight of a stadium full of people booing George Osborne and Teresa May was not without its attractions.
I’m writing this on the final day of the Games. The very last events haven’t taken place, so I can’t tell you where exactly we came in the medal table. Certainly in the top three. I also hear good things in advance of tonight’s Closing Ceremony. You’ll know that I had my doubts about both sets of Olympics, but they really have been exemplary, a proper celebration of sport and human endurance and skill.
And so that’s it. It’s a very warm, sunny day today, but in a lot of ways our Summer will end this evening. It’s been a much better Summer than I expected, back in those chilly rainy days in June when I was telling overseas friends not to come to the Olympics because the entire country was under water. But what do we do now?
Certainly there’s going to be less to talk about. The political Conference Season kicks off in the next week or so, but won’t get the viewership of the Olympics or the Jubilee events. Certainly it’s important, but much of it only matters to politics wonks. The football’s started again, but to be honest I could care less if I could be bothered to try. X-Factor is on. The nights are drawing in. Hallowe’en is coming. There’s Christmas to look forward to. The long, cold, empty, wet nights of Autumn and Winter.
The bunting will be coming down, and the country will look like a living room after the Christmas tree has gone and the decorations have been put away, and it will probably feel that way too. Less colourful, less full of life.
The contrast between this time last year has been enormous. Then, the nation was engaged in a collective navel-gazing exercise over the causes of the recent riots, and I’m not sure anyone has yet satisfactorily explained them. Now, we feel kind of good about ourselves and those strange, twitchy, neurotic post-riot days have receded from collective memory – I’ve barely seen them mentioned for months.
I’m not sure where we go from here. The warm glow of this Summer won’t last for ever, but I wonder whether mentally we’ll settle for the flat mediocrity of Autumn and Winter, whether we’ll be satisfied to sit in that empty living room.