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.
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 (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!