I like to consider myself a bone-deep cynic in the finest traditions of this nation. Grumbling is the badge of all my tribe; a positive, life-affirming species of grumble, rich with undertones of bloody-minded satisfaction.
On the day-to-day level, this attitude to life is Britain's primary social glue. When the bus keeps us waiting, when the weather favours us with another bipolar lurch in either direction, when politicians predictably fail to whelm, complete strangers can exchange heartfelt shrugs, tuts and eye-rolls of resignation, garnished with wry amusement. The finest example of this national genius I've ever witnessed was on a rickety local train pulling out of Cardiff Central station. All the lights suddenly failed for no apparent reason, and the instant reaction of all the passengers - instant, before anyone could even moan - was a loud, sarcastic cheer. Hurrah! Go us! We're shit and it's brilliant!
This is why I've found recent developments so disturbing. My natural equilibrium has been thrown off entirely and I don't know how to cope. This is a shameful admission, especially from a chronic depressive like myself, but lately I've found myself feeling... proud to be British. Unironically proud to be British. I have come over dangerously warm and fluffy, and feel I could (the horror, the horror) erupt into a genuine smile at any moment. Worst of all, for this lifelong doughy geek and amateur cave troll, these unusual feelings have been brought about by... by... a sporting event.
How did this come to pass? I should have recognised the warning signs at the opening ceremony, nine days ago. In the preceding weeks, I had built up a soothing froth of righteous indignation and joyless carping over the compromised nature of the 2012 Olympic games. The monolithic corporatism, the security fiasco, the brand police... It was all looking very promising indeed. I sat down that Friday evening to watch the ceremony, fully expecting to fail to be knocked off my feet.
But, as we all know, it was brilliant. A vision. A vision of galloping, chortling insanity, perhaps, but no less extraordinary for that. I thought back to the 2008 ceremony in Beijing, China's coming-out to the world as a great power, and felt the first unseemly stirrings of national pride. Not for us the projection of pure, perfect power and regimentation, each serried rank reeking of insecurity. This was the pageant of a country that has had centuries to cool on the windowsill of history, fizzing with eccentricity, verve and a winning self-depreciation. Countless others have written more accomplished and detailed encomiums to Danny Boyle's achievement than I could; even Melanie Phillips was won over, a sure sign that normal rules have been suspended.
Nevertheless, a day or two later and the danger seemed to have passed. The empty seat problem furnished an excellent excuse to tut and the British medal toll was modest in the early going. Our sceptred isle appeared to be settling back into its usual state of genial near-catastrophe, like some rococo clockwork mechanism occasionally sending a stray gear flying. The Boris-on-a-zipwire incident, now celebrated in story and song, was just what the doctor ordered. God was in his heaven, the Queen on her throne and all seemed well.
Then, disaster. On Friday, Katherine Grainger and Anna Watkins scooped up a much-deserved gold in the Women's Double Sculls and I happened to be watching BBC One when they were giving one of their celebratory interviews. In the normal run of things, a heartwarming tale of triumph over adversity is guaranteed to have me towelling vomit off the curtain rail, but this was... lovely. There is no other word. These remarkable women were all you could hope for as athletic ambassadors: determined, modest, eloquent and, above all, brimming over with unadulterated and infectious happiness. I couldn't deny it this time. I was being seduced.
You all know what happened next. Saturday followed, as it generally does, and with it came a staggering, orgasmic avalanche of British sporting success. Six gold medals in a single day, the last three knocked home in the space of an hour, in the same stadium. Resistance was futile, for here, amid all the high-flown nonsense about the international fellowship of man and the Olympic spirit was something real, something untouchable. As Jessica Ennis, Mo Farah and Greg Rutherford humbled the world, the feelings of millions, mine included, were summed up on Twitter by the film critic Peter Bradshaw: "Bloody hell. We're so ... successful. Was this what it was like being British in the 19th Century?"
If I had a kernel of doubt left in me, it was destroyed for good when Ennis spoke to the cameras just minutes after her heptathlon triumph. What a truly astonishing human being. I scarcely felt part of the same species, looking at that magnificent package of coiled strength and pure willpower. And that smile... every sarcastic retort, every possible bathetic dampener that might have reached my lips simply melted away. O cruel, needless misunderstanding! O stubborn, self-willed exile from the loving breast! Two gin-scented tears trickled down the sides of my nose. But it was all right, everything was all right, the struggle was finished. I had won the victory over myself. I loved Great Britain.
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