London 2012…Welcome to the maddest Country on Earth!

United Kingdom

United Kingdom (Photo credit: stumayhew)

What the hell was that? There were times, watching the opening ceremony to the London Olympic Games, when it was hard to escape the impression that the whole thing had been sponsored by the manufacturers of LSD, or mescaline, or some other potent psychotropic. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mean to carp or denigrate. I loved it. But it was completely and utterly mad.

What must the rest of the world have thought, looking on? At times the whole thing seemed designed to confirm the long-held suspicion that we British are not merely endearing eccentrics, but an entire nation of howling-at-the-moon lunatics.

Not for us the pomp and bombast of Beijing. No, we chose to celebrate the opening of the Olympic Games with hundreds of sick children in hospital beds. Apparently this was some sort of political point about the NHS — presumably because of the continuing British delusion that nowhere else has free state-funded healthcare — but never mind the politics. This was the opening of the Olympic Games, and we suddenly had a thousand or so miraculously recovered children jumping up and down on their beds.

And then monsters came onto the stage to chase them. Monsters. We were celebrating the Olympic Games by declaring to the world that we are nation that delights in terrifying the wits out of small children. But not to worry, Mary Poppins, or rather a small taskforce of Mary Poppinses, all inversely parachuting up with their flying umbrellas, was at hand to save the day.

And this was one of the less bizarre sequences of the evening. Before that, we had Her Maj the Queen doing her panto turn with Daniel Craig, and joining in the pretence that she’d parachuted in to the stadium, dress flying and all. Did anyone get a glimpse of the royal panties? Phil the Greek, wisely, stayed out of this.

And then Sir Simon Rattle and the London Symphony Orchestra were wheeled out to play straight man to Mr Bean. Take that, Johnny Foreigner, with your fireworks and marching bands. We think the whole thing’s a laugh, and we intend to enjoy it.

LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 27:  The Olympic rings ...

(Image credit: Getty Images via @daylife)

It was all a bit of a disaster for Mitt Romney, who had managed what no one else had in the run-up to the games, and united Britons in support of them, by questioning our enthusiasm. After Boris Johnson responded by whipping up a crowd to chant against him, Mr Romney’s staff attacked the London mayor as “eccentric” and “odd”.

You think Boris is eccentric, mate? Wait till you see the opening ceremony. Take that you long-faced old bore.

It wasn’t just the outside world. There were questions about how the ceremony would reflect Britain’s fallen status in the world, but there is one regard in which we still hit above our weight, and it was one of the reasons we got the games: London. Britain may not be a major power, but it is host to a city that is. London is one of very few true world cities, and home to people from every corner of the planet.

What did they make of it, these guests of ours who spend their time wondering about their strange hosts, who never talk unless they’re drunk? They must have watched the ceremony and thought, oh, that explains it. They really are mad.

I thought it was telling that Danny Boyle reserved one of the longest spells in his giant mash-up of British popular music for the Sex Pistols — in a jubilee year, though he didn’t have the balls to make it God Save the Queen — complete with pogo-ing punk puppets, and a reprise with The Prodigy’s anthem Firestarter. Because this was an opening ceremony that celebrated the anarchic side of the British.

Yes, we had the cliche of top-hatted, mutton-chopped black-clad Victorian industrial barons — though they appeared to be doing some sort of robot dance. But the ceremony seemed to owe far more to another side of the Brits, the nation that produced the most successful pirates in history, officially licensed them to attack Spanish ships, and made one of them Governor of Jamaica. The nation of Christopher Marlowe, Lord Byron, Richard Burton, Russell Brand — men who sneer at authority and revel in raising Cain.

We could as well have had a sequence to celebrate the pub, with revellers swaying drunkenly and sloshing beer across the stage.

That whole strange sequence in which Britain’s countryside suddenly sprouted horrid smoke-belching industrial chimmneys had words from Shakespeare, read out by a gurning Ken Branagh, but made me think of another English writer, Charles Dickens, who is often seem by those who do not read him as one of the top-hatted brigade, but who exulted in British eccentricity, much as Danny Boyle seemed to be doing.

Oddly, Boyle seemed to be suggesting that the Industrial Revolution had ruined a once idyllic Britain, which seems a strange message to give out at a show supposedly celebrating the country — and strangely out of tune with the reality of modern Britain, where heavy industry is all but dead, but which still boasts stunning unspoilt countryside, and where cricket is still played on the village green.

But it was hard not to love an opening ceremony that paused to honour Professor Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the all too often unsung inventor of the world-wide web. Take that, Mark Zuckerberg, you wouldn’t have made a cent without TimBL.

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