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The Coolest Place on Earth

Posted: 14/08/2012 07:14

I had no intention of watching the thing, but it was the polite thing to do.

We were visiting friends in Oxford; they'd scheduled their annual garden party for July 28th, not sussing that that the sporting event of the year would ruffle their delicately considered arrangements somewhat. Many London invitees would be unable to attend because of an inconsiderately scheduled bike race. Luckily, I deejay every year, so El Boyfo and I arrived the night before to assist with preparations and to enjoy a long weekend of civilised merriment.

It was with some relief that I left town; not that I was fleeing the Olympics brouhaha - the sudden omnipresence of Boris Johnson's voice on the buses maybe- but the party had a 'Diamond, Silver, Gold Jubilee' theme: after deciding to attend as- wait for it- 'The Africanisation of Queen Elizabeth 1st ' and to style El Boyfo into a 'Knave of Hearts,' I'd spent a rigorous fortnight designing, sourcing beads and fabric, cutting patterns and pinning, making jewellery and hand stitching. The later was hell on mind-numbing earth. More than anything, I was ready to relax and enjoy some good company, certainly not watch the goggle box for three hours.

As we readied to leave town, El Boyfo began dropping hints; I expressed resolute impatience with them. I wasn't venturing to Robert and Tristram's gaff to watch TV- we don't have one, why watch it at our friends' house when we hadn't seen them for an aeon? To my mild disgruntlement, we arrived in Oxford, exchanged 'Les bises,' and sat down to Tristram's famous sweet corn chowder and home baked black olive bread, only to have Robert in inimitably gracious fashion suggest watching the thing. My protestation became rudderless when confronted with his game bonhomie; I couldn't very well say "Hell No!" much as I wanted to.

So social courtesy prevailed; I grimaced in good humour, joining the huddled masses around the television: El Boyfo, Robert, Tristram and Tristram's parents. Tristram wasn't especially keen either. I coughed a grudging mutter about "My friend David" being involved, adding a " So I ought to really." Secretly I took comfort in knowing I'd be able to discreetly tweet any harrumphs without upsetting the conviviality around the telly. As it turns out there were no harrumphs, just a question or two. "Who had Branagh come as?" "Is that the child catcher or Noel Fielding?" But actually, the minute the thing started it went straight to my tear ducts. It was as if Boyle knew I'd be watching: a children's choir always reduces me to instant mush. I instantly felt thrilled for the little soloist whose voice heralded the beginning of London 2012, and tweeted as much.

By now columnists, bloggers and reviewers have gone over the occasion with fine-toothed combs. A word that I may have missed in those reviews, one that was pervasive in my mind that night was 'Cool.' I struggled to summon another nation on earth that could flaunt such uber-cool credentials to an international audience, with understandable pride. Left wing? Multicultural? How about just great: Shakespeare, Tolkien, Brunel, NHS, West Indian immigration, 'The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Bond, 'Tubular Bells,' Punk, Liverpudlian lesbianism, the worldwide web, Bean, Beckham, Rowling, and Dizzee Rascal. Blimey!

I even felt a surge of (gulp) pride, feeling that if I regarded the UK positively, it's a pretty cool place. I was a total bitch on sticks about the Jubilee, but the fact that the monarch could be persuaded to participate in a royal send up in front of the biggest television audience the nation has had for years soared beyond the cool charts. From stereotypically quaint green pleasantness, via a Mordor-esque industrial revolution and the forging of the five great rings, Danny Boyle - on the nation's behalf - demonstrated that the Olympics couldn't have found a better host nation/city.

For years I've been awed by this country. As nations go, despite the presence of some barely veiled fascist rags, a couple of supremacist parties, stop and search, inevitably frightful politicos, an endangered national health service and an unfortunate incidence of narrow minded citizens, it is easily the best of a bad bunch. It keeps struggling with, but not writing off, its multicultural experiment; allowing the world in while legislating tolerances that the rest of the world baulks at.

I became very aware of the company in which I was viewing the ceremony: Robert a first generation Black Briton of Jamaican descent via Birmingham, ex-RAF, former barrister and distinguished photographer, his partner Tristram, Oxford don and celebrated zoologist from London via Yorkshire; Tristram's mother Joan, a children's author of Welsh descent via England, her husband Vivian, an erstwhile marine biologist and epidemiologist of English parentage, my partner a Scottish teaching assistant and yogi from the Gareloch, and me, a singer, songwriter and essayist of Guyanese and Nigerian descent via Croydon. I warmed to Danny Boyle's cavalcade because his portrayal of the nation resounded palpably in our gathering that night.

Of course we've had Powell, slavery, Section 28, UKIP and Anne Widdecombe, but this wasn't their night. It was an occasion to celebrate a nation's finest, not its embarrassments. This is why it seemed to me imbecilic that anyone would refer to it as multicultural hogwash or left wing tripe. The levellers of such accusations are sulking for a UK of their dreams where there are no foreigners, no alternative lifestyles and no state support. But it is a UK that doesn't and cannot exist. It has as many faults as any nation, over which endless arguments will and do rage, but actually, despite itself- and its weather- it is arguably the coolest place on earth.

 

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