It was probably late March when I started to notice the first real signs of change. Everywhere I looked people’s moods were starting to lighten. Faces I hadn’t seen smile for maybe six months were beginning to crack. There was optimism in the air. Collective minds looking forward instead of backward. On this old island of ours it could mean only one thing. The one national obsession that unites us all. Yes ladies and gentlemen, it finally felt like we would all make it to summer.
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And yet here I am, as August turns into September, still hanging on. Optimism long since given out. What happened? At Easter we could see it; the elastic stretch of daylight became visible, winter scarves replaced by the first tentative sunglasses. The early threat of barbecues on supermarket shelves fuelled by the nascent aroma of lighter fluid and cherished memories of glorious April 2007. We held our breath and waited. And waited.
The Grand National came and went. So did Wimbledon. And The Open Championship. Glastonbury. In fact the whole festival season passed by in a blur of pacamacs and pre-millennial guitar angst. Oh there was still cider but it didn’t taste the same. There was the odd jaunty tune but our heart wasn’t in it.
All the plans we had. Lounging outside, glass in hand, watching the sun set at 10 o’clock. Weekends in the sublime British countryside, long walks and longer cricket matches. Instead football’s back and we didn’t even notice it had gone. Vaughan out, Scolari in. The green green grass of home is nowadays even growing rice and the rain in the sky means lights on at 7. The sunshine that powers us has fled, leaving rechargeable batteries at dangerously low levels ahead of two seasons of high energy usage. A nation feels cheated and we’re all cynics and whingers once more. Our laughter stolen from the air with all the audacity of Ocean’s Eleven.
It’s not just the weather, but boy if it isn’t symptomatic. The Government is desperately unpopular. Whether you’re left, right or bouncing between the two like old skool computer Pong, there’s really nothing they can do to please you just now. The economy has ground to a halt with 0% inflation, increased public borrowing and job insecurity a John Wayne figure looming on the horizon. Banks are losing money. Banks! It was only last year we railed about which was making the most obscene profit but now it seems their cashflow and cojones are shrinking with equal alacrity. Oil prices hit a record high. All the diesel car owners, smug about the money they were saving thanks to studiously gathered mpg data for so many decades, are sweating it all out again at £1.20 a litre. Houses that were scandalously pricing out key public sector workers not so long ago and yet still being snapped up are now only slightly older than the For Sale signs standing patiently to attention outside them, waiting for a brave lender to finally agree the valuation and a first time mortgage of more than 75%. Suggesting a game of Monopoly to an estate agent is a national sick joke. Food prices keep climbing and the great local, organic revolution retreats a little as prosperous, ethical conviction gives way to fearful self-preservation. Just at the wrong time.
Then, in the middle of the nadir of it all, we had two weeks to forget ourselves. The orienteering committee set the compass to East and we all looked to Beijing. OK so we admit, when we first paid attention it was with the attitude of a sneering voyeur seeking out the world’s failures. Someone mentioned 35 medals, someone else 41. Derision. And that was just for “Team GB”, the self-important moniker of losers if ever there was one. We also secretly hoped the soiree hosts would be embarrassed. Before the Opening Ceremony we tried to make it happen. They’re blocking the BBC website! They’re arresting our radical students! Free Tibet! And then they unblocked it and quietly sent the students home. So the thing about the sweet little girl singing was a dreadful PR move, granted. Is that all we got? Is it really so bad to bus in schoolkids to fill empty seats and cheer a lot? I wish we’d do that at British venues. Didn’t someone order smog?
Alright, so maybe we didn’t really know the sports or the people in them but by the end my word we were experts. We might not be able to tell our yngling from our finn or our madison from our keirin but we cheered for Ben Ainslie, for Chris Hoy and for Rebecca Adlington. We even called out in agony when a grown woman fell off a BMX bike. Twelve years ago we left Atlanta with just one piece of gold in our pocket courtesy of Sirs Steve and Matt, this time we brought back 19 spanning the alphabet of sport from Nicole Cooke to James DeGale. Aside from the anomaly of 1908 in London where most of the competitors were British, it was our best ever. For a while we were, well, proud.
And so to London 2012, with a launchpad of positivity put in place by outstanding achievement. We’re all loving the Olympics. Except… except it’s over now. We’re struggling with a £9.5 billion budget of our money and they tell us it won’t be as good as China. And the England football team played the other week and is it just me or did Capello’s lot look exactly like McLaren’s? Just like Brown instead of Blair. Did someone say recession? I think it’s raining again. A two week break from the summer of discontent just ended.