London Olympics

Olympic Tower Bridge


Danny Boyle has done his country proud. I was very moved and impressed by his creation for the Olympics. I absolutely loved the intro as they flew over the country and along canals until they reached London and the Thames. The wink and nod they gave to Eastenders cracked me up.  Then the country anthems sung by British children. Oh! He killed me with that.  Each one a touching tribute to England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Jerusalem and The Flower of Scotland are my favorites and when I hear them I get a lump in my throat.  However, I was surprised when other Yanks didn’t share my enthusiasm.  There was great attention to detail in incorporating the best the Brits have offered the world.  I don’t think people realize how much we have all been affected by their culture and innovations.  There was a lot of symbolism and a myriad of cultural references that may have gone over the heads of those not familiar with British life.  Boyle wove a celebratory fabric made up history, humor, literature, trends and fads, music, inventions and showed the world what Brits are most proud of. Even so these triumphs and treasures were shown with hallmark understatedness and humility despite the spectacle.

20120725 Olympic opening ceremony rehearsal DSC_3438.jpg

Powder Photography/flickr

The ceremony began in a bucolic scene, the English countryside which was put in context by American commentators as an illustration of early British life however the English, Scottish and Welsh countrysides remain still and offer some of the most stunning views in the world. Countryside is as much a part of being british as tea and crumpets and has been the muse of writers for centuries: picnicking in, cycling past, walking along daffodils in and meandering through on a Sunday afternoon, pastoral scenes continue to entrance.  No matter the size of the city, in no time one can be back in the gloriously green. One can gaze at fields of lavender and rapeseed or watch lambs suckling in open fields in the spring.  It is a celebrated part of British life and no wonder that Boyle made it the beginning point of his ceremony. Of course it has also been the scene of strongholds and skirmishes between clans and countries too. The iconic hill is reminiscent of Glastonbury’s Tor, a mystical, spiritual area of England that again is engrained in the psyche of the British people and has been inhabited for many hundreds of years.


Nick J Webb/flickr

Another point that seemed to confuse was the pause of the workers as they gazed at poppy flowers.  While Americans celebrate Veteran’s Day, Remembrance Day in the UK is another part of the culture. Every November, on the 11th day and at the 11th hour, everyone stops to pause for a minute of silence. Heads are bowed, lights are turned off, traffic stops. The UK comes to a halt to remember those who have died in war and to commemorate the end of the Great War, the war to end all wars as termed by H G Wells, famous English author.  No matter the size of city, town or village, there will be a monument to the fallen soldiers of the Great War (first world war), which devastated the UK due to the staggering number of men who perished. British traditions are steeped in history and there is great feeling behind what they do, for a reason.

Poppy Wreaths at The Cenotaph, London. Credit: 1 hr photo/flickr

Do people realize that the industrial revolution, which propelled us all out of fields and into cities and allowed life as we know it today, started in England?  British discoveries lead to the first cast iron bridge which lead to larger steel bridges and sky scrappers!  While most saw it as gritty, and no one does gritty like Boyle, the industrial revolution was highlighted in the Olympics for this reason. Do people also realize that the one invention that has propelled us farther still and changed life as we know it, the world-wide web, was created by a Brit named Sir Tim Berners-Lee.  A fellow blogger pointed out that he typed out “this is for everyone” which I somehow missed.  He was singled out during the ceremony, as he sat there humbly.  A man who deserves a Nobel price for bringing the whole world together and allowing us to have information at our fingertips, and, never asking for anything in return, as most would!  Everyone’s lives have been changed by these two things alone and that is why they were brought to the worlds attention.  I found the forging of and the lighting up of the Olympic rings to be very moving indeed.  What people from the UK have given to the world is a lot. Other British inventions as the Geordie in my life never tires of reminding me are: Subways, Telephone, phonograph, Electric Light (Joseph Swan, not Thomas Edison as is largely believed and yes Dave, he is a Geordie), Jet Planes, Steam Locomotive, Television, Electric Motor, Vitamins, Raincoat, Cement, Lawnmower and Vacuums! Get the picture? And this is not including discoveries in medicine, architecture, science, physics, etc.  Most of what we know as useful in our everyday life came from England. Now do you see what I mean when I say the Brits are understated in their showing off accomplishments?

Another huge contribution to the world has been literature and Boyle highlighted Shakespeare, J M Barrie and J K Rowling. Who can forget A.A. Milne, writer of Winnie the Poo, children’s poetry and Beatrix Potter? As well as Dylan Thomas, Rabbie Burns, Lord Byron, William Wordsworth, Shelley, Keats, Jane Austen, The Bronte Sisters… Again, a few mentioned, hundreds just as esteemed, not but an indication of what British literature has done for the world.

Then we had a taste of British humor with the Queen getting in the act and agreeing to be filmed for her grand entry into the Olympic stadium.  She was heard commenting today “I hope it made them laugh.”  The Brits have a wicked sense of humor which is quick and often times self-deprecating. I loved the Rowan Atkinson segments and the royal parachute jump. It really showed that Brits aren’t usually about pomp and circumstance and don’t take themselves seriously most of the time.

Then politically, Boyle highlighted the first Women’s Movement which allowed women to work and vote, rights that were forbidden not so long ago. Humanitarily, Britain created a nationalized health system recognizing long ago that health care is a basic human right and that lives should be treated and not left to private companies and insurance companies to decide if they will be greedy or benevolent. Funnily enough the rest of the world agreed with them save one country. Cheers to them for celebrating and recognizing this.  I wonder if this piece wasn’t meant as a reminder to those previous colonies who have gone astray, wink wink.

United Kingdom

United Kingdom (Photo credit: stumayhew)

Brits have every right to be proud of the opening ceremony.  They have had  mountains more accomplishments than were shown and this was just a tasting, a reminder that they have been and continue to be one of the first and still greatest societies ever!  Sure they could have beaten the drums louder, the Scots know how to do that, but that is not their way. Brits know where they have been. They know their own history as well as ours!  For a small country they have succeeded against all odds on many occasions.  I’ve no doubt this will be an Olympics to remember!



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24 responses to “London Olympics

  1. I was really surprised by the slagging, actually. I thought the ceremony was incredibly moving. A totally proper U.K. homage. Not every ceremony has to be Beijing, and this was perfect for what it was.

  2. purpleowltree1234

    I didn’t watch the opening ceremony, but all I’ve heard before this post is people being disappointed. It’s refreshing to hear the other side to it all, and your explanations certainly open my eyes to more about Britain. 🙂 What an amazing country. What incredible accomplishments. Thank you so much for sharing this!

    • aww thanks, you’re welcome! I think it really is an amazing country, small and powerful in a lot of ways. Yeah the disappointment really confuses me as at the very least there were some really powerful images. Hope you get to see it 🙂

  3. Dana, I can’t believe you picked all that up. As a fan of this amazing event, I really appreciate this enlightenment from somebody that pays whole lot of attention to details :). I hope you continue to fill us in on all the things that might be missed by us mere mortal viewers 🙂
    The bicycle with wings was really cool!

    • I have been trying all day to find a picture of the lone cyclist with wings that was so beautiful as it flew through the sky! Not sure if it’s enlightenment but thanks for your appreciation! I tried to step off my soap box before I outwore my welcome but could have gone into much more detail which probably would have bored you lol Did you see the cycling today? It was lovely to see them winding around all the iconic sights! Strange race though. Grateful for the read as always 🙂

      • If I’m every diagnosed for cancer, I’m putting on some pair of fake wings, take my bicycle, and attempt to jump across the the Grand Canyon, London style!!
        Me bored? I did not watch the cycling event today. I’ve been on family vacation all week and I’m banned from watching TV & working while kids are awake 😦 I did catch the result highlight and I am really bummed that Cavendish and his team did not win 😦
        I need to get you hooked on Tour de France 🙂

      • It was weird and I find it hard to believe that a Tour de France winner comes in 103rd. The British team said other countries didn’t “help them out” and I don’t know what the etiquette is but they held the lead for 5 hours, no idea what happened after that and the guy who won was a dopper before this so who knows?

      • It was weird and I find it hard to believe that a Tour de France winner comes in 103rd. The British team said other countries didn’t “help them out” and I don’t know what the etiquette is but they held the lead for 5 hours, no idea what happened after that and the guy who won was a dopper before this so who knows?
        Grand Canyon London style, love it!

      • If the race played out with traditional cycling etiquette and not-so-much jealousy, Mark Cavendish would have won the Gold by at least 4 bike distance. Almost everybody in the cycling community will agree with that.
        I thought it was absolutely dispicable of other teams to screw the British team in such blatantly obvious selfish way. The fastest person did not win the Gold today, it was the bitter jealousy that won Gold 😦
        Now is here my biggest dilema…how do I really go in to details of all the how’s, why’s, rules, & etiquette without completely taking over your awesome blog? Think this might be another one of those topics thats gotta be taken off topic…lol. Oh and you still gotta finish telling me of your airport story…lol

  4. Dave

    As always, exceptionally written madam 🙂 No mention of bubbles though 😉 I have to say for me the journey of the Thames was fascinating and when it panned up and stopped in the title sequence of Eastenders, I could only smile at the huge cheer from the stadium. I for one, was exceptionally proud and I defy anyone of English decent not to be moved by a rendition of Jerusalem as flawless at that 🙂

    • As we discussed, Jerusalem gets me every time and I did the same, I screamed out EASTENDERS!! and sure enough they played the music!! Can’t imagine what it is like for you being from that part of London, you must be chuffed!

  5. Jon

    The highlight for me was revealing, from under a floating house, a middle-aged man sitting at a keyboard. This man was Tim Berners-Lee the invented of HTML and the World Wide Web an the words “this is for everyone” written across the crowd…

    I also thought the use of a short excerpt from Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon over a montage of great Olympic moments was very moving.

    Fantastically well written post..

    • Thank you Jon, yes I agree fully. Berners-Lee has changed our world forever and given us the greatest gift of connecting the whole world. He deserves a Nobel prize if you ask me. It was more hip and edgy than other stodgey ceremonies and I think Boyle had a lot of courage to do it as he did. Thanks so much for reading my post!

  6. As we watched the opening ceremonies I was entertained but admittedly confused by some of what was going on…like the pausing and staring…thank you for summarizing the event so well and explaining the details. Both the ceremonies and this post were very impressive! It would have been nice having you as a tv commentator during the event 🙂

    • Having lived in the UK for several years, I like to think of myself of a translator of sorts 🙂 Thanks for the generous compliments 🙂

  7. Excellent read, nice that you picked up more than just a taste for shandy in your years in England! it’s a shame Boyle didn’t include the Canals somewhere in the ceremony, for a time their impact on the industrial revolution was greater than that of the steam engine (perfected by another Geordie),
    I’ll keep my views on US “Sports” Commentators to myself, but it would have made a lot more sense to people watching in the US if they’d employed a British presenter for the evening (Sir Trevor McDonald perhaps), someone who actually knew what it was about, and also knew when to shut up!
    Flower of Scotland will always be the one for me, but having lived in England most of my life Jerusalem comes a very close second (if you get the chance to watch “Last Night of the Proms” you’ll get the idea).
    Don’t want to turn this into a rant, but having read a lot of negative comments about the ceremony (all from people in the US) I personally think the reason those people weren’t appreciative shows a basic flaw in education here in the USA, seems to be that if it didn’t happen in the US, wasn’t done by an American or didn’t involve the US Marines storming a beach then it didn’t happen at all, worse still there seems to be a “behind the scenes” re-wrinting of some parts of history in American schools.
    Rant over, now I’ll get back to watching the commercials cos every now and then they interrupt them with some Olympic events

    • He showed the canals in the opening sequence. You just wanted to point out Geordies again! I totally agree about having British commentators, would have been nice or BBC America should have shown the games as they would show other countries as well lol.

  8. I love England and I also cried when they sang Jerusalem (always do) and I am a freqent visitor to Glastonbury Tor (the thorn unfortuantley was chopped down and despite efforts to save it, the tree succombed. Do you all know the legend of Joseph of Aramahtea planting a piece of Christ’s crown of thorns there (but not on top of the Tor, nearby on Wearyall Hill) and how it bloomed at Christmas and a blooming branch was traditionally presented to the Monarch?) Anyway if you read my review on facebook, you’ll know how I responded to the rest…not because I don’t love the country or did not understand the symbolism…I d hope some of their athletes get medals this time!! And that the Queen has a long time before she needs to sit through a long evening event again…my Dad was 4 years older than Elizabeth and I know what an energy issue that can be. (Especially after parachuting from a helicopter! LOL)

    • I don’t know the legend but thanks for the information. Really interesting history there. You’re right, I don’t know how the Queen does it. I still wish she sat in her gilded chair during the Jubilee, I was tired for her! I guess it’s her way of showing respect to her subjects!

  9. Anonymous

    Dana, as insightful as ever…thank goodness we have allies like you x

  10. Reblogged this on A Serene Scribe and commented:

    My old draft published-this was the finished product-sorry about the confusion!

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