Extremists aside, the British are often reluctant to bang on about patriotism in polite company. We may have the reputation of being a bunch of rabid football supporters who will sing until they are hoarse about the superiority of the England team to anyone who will listen (more out of hope than judgement, to be honest), a reputation repeated everywhere from Wales to Scotland, Northern Ireland to Cornwall, but when it comes to uniting as a nation and admitting we’re amazing, well, that’s just not the done thing.
I’m going to let the comedian David Mitchell explain it, because it’s fiddly. This is our default position with regard to patriotism in general:
However, since the London Games has started there’s been a definite change. We’ve started becoming proud of ourselves; walking taller, acting in an exciteable fashion and generally displaying emotion in public in a most unseemly fashion. And we don’t care! It’s most unlike us, and rather liberating (so long as everything goes back to normal once it’s all over).
Here are a few examples of this delightful deviation from the Eeyore-ish norm:
The Opening Ceremony
Well, this was the catalyst. There has been some debate as to whether people from other countries would understand what Danny Boyle was trying to do with his Industrial Attack On Hobbiton theme, but I can tell you from the inside that the majority of Brits watching simply did not care about that. This was a view of the nation that came from the ground up. Yes there was engineering and invention and achievement and Tim Berners-Lee and pomp and ceremony, but there were also nurses and miners and authors and pop stars (and a massive Voldemort). It wasn’t a celebration of civic heroes and their heroic achievements, it was a celebration of British people from all walks of life, the things they do for work and the things they do for fun. And because it has chimed so strongly with the British public, it has had a phenomenal effect on our enjoyment of the games.
And the reason I know this is because of…
The United Kingdom of Twitter
Twitter is a uniquely tailored internet experience. What I see and what you see are entirely different things, unless you decided to follow all the people I follow, and only those people, which would be mad. I follow somewhere in the region of 900 people on Twitter, and in the weeks leading up to the opening ceremony, I would say most of them were either indifferent to the games or too wrapped up in their own lives to pass comment. Very, very few people were saying anything positive at all, and a lot of people felt the expense was too much, given the state of global finances and recent benefit cuts. Now? Entirely different story. Normally my Twitter feed reads like a marble rolling along across the surface of a patchwork quilt, a different subject per person per tweet forever. As of right now that quilt is a one-color, officially-branded Olympic duvet set, with the rings and everything. Every gold medal, every fall, every notable performance and tear-stained victory, is being repeatedly recorded on Twitter by people who are usually too riddled with snark to do anything but come up with 140-character one-liners. Myself included.
Golden Postboxes (see above)
This is a new thing. It seems whenever Britain wins a gold medal (in either the Olympics or Paralympics), a postbox in the area the medallist is from, is painted gold in tribute to their achievement. You’ll probably already know that British postboxes are always red, so this is quite a departure. And, rather than rolling their eyes and tutting (a default position for anything of this sort normally) people are LOVING it.
The other day, Boris Johnson, the mayor of London, took a trip on a zip wire that did not end triumphantly for him. This has set internet wags on a quest, to take the image of a stricken Boris, hanging loosely in mid-air, and get creative with Photoshop. This has been the affectionate result:
Oh and by the way, ignore whatever Piers Morgan has to say about athletes singing or not singing the national anthem. That’s not how the British measure patriotism anyway. The Queen pretending to be in a Bond movie? That’s more like it.
Fraser McAlpine is British, this explains a lot.