The last firework has fizzed; London 2012 is over. It is only right there should be a sense of deflation after such a large event. This summer has been all-consuming for the UK, and Londoners in particular. The Queen's Diamond Jubilee, Wimbledon, the Olympics, and finally, the Paralympics have left the capital choking proudly in a red, white and blue fug.
The Olympics were a wonderful spectacle, a once in a lifetime extravaganza which brought together nations, not to mention Londoners. A modern-day blitz, if you like, without the bomb craters. The effect of the Olympics was extraordinary. But we were punch drunk on pomp and spectacle. We were caught up in the fabulous moment, and enjoyed it with gusto.
Cynicism and reserve - two qualities the British are usually lauded for - were put on hold for a short while, shoved to the back of the broom cupboard like naughty stepchildren and told to keep quiet until the festivities were over. And perhaps that was a good thing.
There was a certain mob mentality when it came to the Games. In the run-up to the opening ceremony on 27 July, Olympic naysayers and enthusiasts were in equal numbers, usually both at extreme ends of the scale. There was no room for ambivalence or indifference: you either had to love it or hate it. Facebook timelines became filled with cries of "Sod the Olympics" or "If I see anyone slagging off the Olympics or being unpatriotic I'm going to punch them". Each and every one a devastating suicide note to common sense.
Yet as Jerusalem rang out in the first few minutes of the ceremony, naysayers seemed to shrink into the background, joining the stiff upper lip in among the winter coats and Christmas decorations and other things we didn't want to see right now, thank you very much. And, for their part, the majority of zealots cooled their rage and attitudes became more inclusive. We loved everything: the stadium, the athletes, the events. Everything. All of it. And quite right too. No amount of sponsorship scandals or people barking at us which way to walk could dampen our ardour for the Games, and nor should it have.
Now that we've felt this buzz, this surge of positivity, we want more. Like a drug that's kept us going all summer, many are keen to keep the feeling alive - to get one more hit before winter kicks in, as if 'going back to normal' involved skulking back to Dickensian London for a bowl of gruel for dinner in place of a heavily sponsored, Olympic-endorsed burger and fries. Like a lover has just given them their marching orders, Olympic thrillseekers sit, lank-haired and staring into space, shovelling ice cream into their faces and wondering how they can ever taste that high again. Did we really have nothing to look forward to before the Olympics came along and sprinkled fairy dust over everything? Is Olympic hysteria as good as it's going to get?
"We should learn to smile more," say the social commentators. "Let's be nicer to each other!" they cry, as if pre-Olympic London had been a labyrinth of mean streets with a murder on every corner. "We should realise the value of volunteering," says another, but while this is an important part of the legacy, volunteer roles to be involved in the Games were hugely over-subscribed; perhaps we grasped that value already. Previous attempts by the government and its predecessors to highlight volunteering have failed due to lacklustre campaigns and, it may be that some of the volunteering opportunities are, sadly, not as desirable as being involved in the world's biggest sport event.
The Olympics, apparently, has had the fortunate side effect of making us more human. But we didn't need fixing. We weren't devoid of compassion or community spirit; we were just looking for a way to show it. As inspirational, magical and exciting as the Olympic and Paralympic games have been, we mustn't be afraid of reality or returning to normal.
As the comedown kicks in, the end of London 2012 and our return to 'business as usual' needn't mean that we've learned nothing from our Olympic experience. We don't have to be miserable that we're no longer an Olympic city. Euphoric highs don't begin and end with five rings. We have a lot to celebrate, having pulled off the Games in the midst of a worldwide recession and welcoming the world with open arms. But the Olympics didn't create our bonhomie out of nowhere; it was already in place. Without it, the Games wouldn't have been half the success. While positivity and empathy are admirable traits, our sense of snark and gallows humour are also a huge part of who we are. We love a good old moan and to roll our eyes at the ridiculous. We have been willingly engulfed in an Olympic-sized wave of good feeling for the last few weeks and have been on our best behaviour. Now, let's get back being our razor-sharp selves.
London always knew how to smile; you just had to press the right buttons. While it may have been nice to have a cynicism-free summer, I'm looking forward to its return. We can find joy in it if we look hard enough. It's who we are.
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