Some things you may not realise about Britain (if you are from abroad, watching the Olympic opening ceremony, or a particular type of Tory)

2012 Summer Olympics opening ceremony (5)

So, the Olympic opening ceremony was too multicultural was it?  That ceremony which included athletes from all over the world, all together in one stadium, was too multicultural?  Its laughable.  Even a second contemplating it is too much.  Its a complaint by someone so privileged they have nothing else to complain about.  So lets not.

Lets instead consider this:  I didn’t notice any multiculturalism in the ceremony before the athletes came out.

I didn’t notice a mixed race family

I didn’t notice the lesbian kiss

I didn’t realise there was anything particularly urban about grime.

I didn’t realise that there was anything multicultural about showing the Windrush

Why?  Because all of these things are part of the culture I lived in and grew up with.  I went to school and church with second or third generation West Indian immigrants.  I have a number of LGBTI friends and co-workers.  Grime music makes me think more of the very middle class Cabaret act Frisky and Mannish than it does a rioting underclass of graffiti daubing asbos.

There is no need to complain about multiculturalism in the Olympic opening ceremony, because the ceremony was not showing multiculturalism.  It was showing one culture – the culture than anyone growing up  in Britain considers their own. It isn’t a mythical culture that may have existed 100 years ago – or in the minds of people isolated from the Britain most of us live in by public school education and cushy political or journalistic jobs. Its the real culture, the one down the road, at school and at work.

And this is Britain.  My Britain.  It is truly something remarkable about Britain that so much from so many places has become part of who we are.  It is literally remarkable.  I have many immigrant friends, and they are not shy to remark about it.  We don’t throw out other cultures, we embrace them – and offer them a cup of tea and a chicken tikka masala.

Why I want do is point out the things in the opening ceremony which I think have been missed in all the complaining about a posh man wanting to draw attention to himself.  The things which others might have missed about who, exactly, we are:

We are proud of the NHS.  I have heard people say ‘but other countries have free healthcare – sometimes better than ours’ and this is true.  We are not especially proud of free healthcare, because we consider it something normal, a bit like air and water.  We are horrified at the barbaric ways of those countries who refuse to treat people without a credit card imprint.  No, we are not proud of free healthcare.  we are proud of the NHS.  We are proud of why the NHS was created.  We are proud of the people who work in the NHS.  The opening ceremony wasn’t about doctors, it wasn’t about healing.  It was about Great Ormond Street,  It was about nurses (we are proud of inventing nursing) and it was about caring.

We have a dark side.  Voldemort.  The Queen of Hearts.  Captain Hook.  The Child Catcher.  All dark, all warped, all terrifying.  And Mary Poppins?  Perhaps Poppins is the darkest of them all.  You’ve seen the Disney Poppins,  the Americanized Poppins.  You probably haven’t read the (frankly pagan) books.  There wasn’t just a green and pleasant land, there were also dark satanic mills.  We have a pride in who we are (as misplaced as it might or might not be), but we are not especially proud of how we got there.

Our music and entertainment industries are not dead.  Yes we created the Beatles and Stones, but we haven’t stopped.  We may not be the america of world culture, but we are a cultural influence which punches above our weight.  But there were also jokes meant just for us:  the theme tune to Eastenders, the theme tune to the Archers – we take pride in the fact that some of Britishness only the British can truly understand – and laugh at.

Did I mention that we laugh at ourselves?  What other nation would have their head of state parachute into the stadium?  We can do pomp and circumstance, but Danny Boyle wisely chose to leave that at the jubilee and give us Mr Bean and bicycling doves.  Its weird. Unexpected.  Self demeaning. And so very very right.

When you are a child, you worry so much about growing up.  As a teenager, you spend your life trying to prove you are an adult.  As an adult, you spend more and more time trying to prove you know what you’re doing (because deep down, you know that you don’t)  It is only with old age that you begin to revel in yourself – using senility or eccentricity or things being different in your way to excuse your behaviour.  Britain isn’t a world power any more.  we are a small nation.  Some things we do wrong.  Some things we do right.  We still have some influence.  And we are showing our age.  The opening ceremony was about saying ‘we don’t care, this is what we’re like’

And I liked it.  It entertained me.  I think it entertained our nation.  And if anyone else got some of the jokes, and felt they had a bit of fun, thats good too.

Meanwhile, I – someone to whom sport is about a foreign as our royal family – and my  wife Adelina, born in Romania and soon to get her British Citizenship. was sandwiched between the El Salvator and Chinese delegations at the Olympic shooting yesterday, and saw the first medals of the olympics going to China and Poland.  In Woolwich.  Just down the road from where I use to go swimming, to the cinema, and to the best birthday parties (the ones in the Woolwich branch of McDonalds).

That is multiculturalism.  I kinda like it.

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