It's not that I'm suddenly getting sucked into the hype – for that I lack live TV – but it's the first weekend of the Olympics and some words are in order. I managed to watch the opening ceremony yesterday, one day later but in all its high-definition glory and uninterrupted by commercial breaks. My thanks go out to the BBC and to the license fee payers (who, as a reward for their financial sacrifice, get to watch live TV).
I can't remember watching an opening ceremony before. I might have, as a kid, but it didn't leave a lasting memory. This one might pass into oblivion as well, but that would be a shame. It was a remarkable show. The British are known to be quirky and to have their very own, rather different humor. It showed. If I had to give the ceremony a leitmotif in two sentences, it would be: This is who we are. Get on with it. (If I had to do it in one, I would replace the full stop with a semicolon.)
Some parts were odder than others. The hospital beds and the actual nurses and doctors dancing about in a celebration of the National Health Service – who came up with that? The NHS is a national treasure, much like the Queen, but what is it doing in an Olympic opening ceremony? Who in the world could connect with this? You might not, so I will enlighten you.
The NHS is the best health service I have encountered. Once you've registered with a local general practitioner, she'll see you and help you when something is wrong, within days in my experience. I don't remember ever showing my insurance card and I've certainly never paid a penny. Substantial sums are deducted from my salary every month, but when it matters, it's peace of mind. When you have to see a doctor, that's priceless.
With a wild mashup of the last few decades of popular culture, in movie and music, the show bit of the ceremony ended and the pageant of the nations started. I started ironing shirts and pants at this point, knowing that the parade would go on for hours and not offer the same density of visual excitement as the first part. Some things caught my attention nevertheless.
Never mind the chests, bare and oily, of many Pacific Islanders and the colorful kit of most Africans, the award for most outstanding dress must go to the Czech. They helped the British make fun of themselves – a national pastime and one of the overarching themes of the ceremony – by waltzing into the stadium in Wellingtons.
Much has been made of the fact that, for the first time ever, no team excludes women on the base of their gender. What was even more striking was that the majority of the teams were led by female competitors, though none waved the flag like Hoy the Hulk, with one hand and no effort. But even Chris Hoy couldn't top the Kenyan flag bearer, a white dude in front of an all-black team.