I was surprised.
I mean, I wasn’t going to watch them at all. I have been guilty of Olympic cynicism in recent weeks — not helped by media coverage of the Games being predominantly negative. To be fair, if even half of the stuff regarding the overzealous branding nonsense is true, then yes, that is ridiculous and should be shouted about, but it’s easy to get caught up in and neglect to focus on the things that the Olympics are supposed to be about.
I don’t like sports as a general rule. They go on too long and the ones that are on telly are usually undertaken by people who are being paid far too much to, essentially, do what kids do on lunch break at school. But the Olympics regularly manages to capture my attention in a way that no other event — certainly not anything football-related — ever manages to do.
I attribute this fact at least partially to the number of Olympic-style computer games I played as a child – Summer Games, Winter Games, Decathlon, World Games, Track and Field, Olympic Gold, Arena – the list goes on. Most of them were responsible for the destruction of at least one joystick, and Arena did its damnedest to mangle the Atari ST keyboard with its inexplicably joystick-phobic control scheme. But they helped me to understand a wide variety of the weird and wonderful events that make up the Olympics — events which you tend not to see on television under normal circumstances. I attribute my knowledge of the fact that “skeet shooting” is a thing that exists to having played Summer Games, for example.
I remember the first Olympics I actually made an effort to watch — though not specifically what year it was, unfortunately. I want to say Barcelona 1992, but I might be making that up. Anyway, I was staying at my grandparents’ house with my parents (and my grandparents, obviously) and the Games just happened to start while we were there. I decided that I was going to Make An Effort to watch them. (Actually, thinking about it, I’m pretty sure it was 1992, because I vividly remember Queen singing “BAAARCELOOOOONA, such a beautiful horizon” at the start of every broadcast.) So I did. I made an effort to watch some of the “traditional” track and field events as well as some of the weird shit. It was quite entertaining, though I can’t remember the names of any of the athletes I saw or any of the medals that were won. I would be a crap sports fan.
But back to today and the opening ceremonies. I was ready to dismiss the whole thing after the faintly cringeworthy beginning section (particularly the gratuitous and unnecessary insertion of the Eastenders “dum, dum, dumdumdumdum dum”), but the “industrial revolution” section hooked me back in with men in top hats and an excellent soundtrack. It then lost me a bit with a distressingly awful “age of social media” section with gratuitously-overlaid “LOOK THIS IS FACEBOOK BUT IT ISN’T” fake status updates and a poorly-mixed (but otherwise solidly-selected) playlist of excellent British music. By this point, I was oddly hooked, so I didn’t even mind the interminably tedious parade of athletes.
Oh, also, there was a bit where James Bond skydived (skydove?) out of a helicopter with The Queen. (Okay, the skydiving bit clearly wasn’t The Queen. But the VT involving her and Daniel Craig was pretty neat.) And there was a lengthy tribute to the NHS, which the current government is doing its best to either get rid of or privatise. This was then followed by an army of Mary Poppinses battling a giant Voldemort. Yes, that happened. I think.
So yes, on the whole, the Olympics opening ceremony was what people tend to refer to as a “triumph”, shaky bits (and yes, I include Paul McCartney in that description) aside. There were some impressive visuals, an excellent soundtrack (helpfully listed over on The Telegraph) and a few cringeworthy bits. And also some mindblowingly bizarre sections. (The whole “tribute to children’s literature” bit was mildly terrifying and will likely give more than a few people some horrendous nightmares this evening.)
Well done, then, London. I don’t know if I’ll be watching any of the Games themselves, but having sat through that lot this evening I kind of feel a bit obliged to now…