Perception of who we are

30 Jul

We stayed up to watch the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games on Friday. I had been concerned that the ceremony would be a bit tacky, but was pleasantly surprised. The effects and the staging were generally very good, and contained much that was quirky and British. That the Queen agreed to appear in the bit of James Bond film was quite startling! Rowan Atkinson for once amused me as Mr Bean, playing the boring one-note synthesizer bit from ‘Chariots of Fire’.

The ceremony started with the singing of William Blake’s ‘Jerusalem’, the verses interspersed with snatches of songs from the other constituent countries, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. It has always amazed me that no-one actually seems to listen to the words of Blake’s poem/lyric. This is the greatest revolutionary song in the English language, yet it is sung at their conference by the Conservative party and at Women’s Institute meetings. These are hardly the kind of institutions which want to shake society to its foundations.

Then there was the imagery of the visual content. Dark satanic mills replaced the bucolic British countryside, introduced to the strains of Elgar’s ‘Nimrod’. Kenny Brannagh spoke lines from Shakespeare while dressed as IK Brunel. There were suffragettes marching and a longish bit about the introduction of nursing and the NHS (That’s the National Health Service to you), with children bouncing round on beds. Mike Oldfield appeared doing bits from his first and best record, ‘Tubular Bells’ and Paul McCartney finished the revelries off with a rendition of ‘Hey Jude’. I won’t dwell on the embarrassment of the Arctic Monkeys bit. Overall, I liked the quirkiness of the effort and the stress on individuality. The Beijing celebrations were magnificent, but it did rather remind me of a Leni Riefenstahl film of the Nuremburg Rallies.

My daughter in law, on her first visit over here two months ago, on her return to China gave her impressions of what Britain and its peoples were like. It was very interesting reading. Now to the point, I would like to know what viewers from other countries thought of the ceremony and what it says about our ideas of what it is like being British.

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