The opening ceremony for the London 2012 Olympic games was spectacular, an amazingly well-kept secret, flawless (as far as I could tell) in its execution, creative, quirky, funny, moving, inclusive, probably sometimes bemusing to overseas viewers. I was absorbed by every minute of it and I heartily agreed with Danny Boyle’s choice of things to love and admire about this country.
But I realised I couldn’t concur with those who said it made them ‘proud to be British’. It’s just not a sensation I recognise because although I have lived here since I was 18 months old, I was born in Montreal to a Canadian mother and a British father who had lived in Montreal for nearly 20 years. And after all this time, despite having been educated, worked, married, and brought up a family here, I don’t feel as though I ‘come’ from this country, and I still see myself as an outsider.
It turns out that when the chips are down and a competitor is wearing that red and white flag with its bold and beautiful maple leaf, it’s Canada that I want to win.
On BBC2 Newsnight the lovely Corrie Corfield read a passage about the Olympic games from Thucydides. Startled to hear Ancient Greek suddenly coming to life (in translation) on television in 2012, I was reminded of a favourite Ode by Horace (Book III xxx) Exegi monumentum aere perennius -‘I have built a monument that will last longer than bronze’ – he’s confident that his words by themselves will outlive even the physical object which they may be written on.
I love it when words reach down through the centuries. My daughter was suddenly intrigued by ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ when she was about ten years old and it was so moving to witness Shakespeare talking directly to another new generation.
Words are fragile, and for them to last from the 1st Century BC, or the 16th Century AD seems almost impossible, certainly highly improbable. It’s more like an accident that they should survive until the era of mass publication and mass readership. So, now that everyone’s a writer and thousands of new blogs are started each day, will anyone be excited to read our generation’s words in 500 or 2,000 years?
Non omnis moriar wrote Horace in the same poem ‘I shall not wholly die’, and sure enough here he is again.
Sometimes it’s not fine. Some weeks your ambitions are thwarted and seem to get further away. Things that you can’t prevent or fix happen to people you love. Emails arrive with news of let-downs and expectations undelivered.
Sometimes the sky is grey all day, every day and it just won’t stop raining, even in July.
Sometimes everything’s fine, and sometimes it just isn’t.
For one night only
Queuing for five hours to see Bruce Springsteen in Manchester, UK. Standing for another four in the stadium. The wettest June day for 10 years. Connecting with a family from St Helen’s behind us. We exchanged a shared experience, but not names.
The ‘system’ breaks down and suddenly we have wristbands. Admittance to The Promised Land, the ‘pit’, the separate section in front of the stage cordoned off for two or three thousand people. Unexpectedly luck happens, the star dust falls our way. pace the die-hard fans on backstreets.com; you will have other chances, because perhaps you have the money and time to go to every gig in Western Europe and line up before dawn. For us this is once in a lifetime.
Springsteen has been the soundtrack to my life since 1977 and now I stand a few rows back (maybe ten – these things matter) and watch, marvel, dance, reach up into the darkening blue sky beyond the lights, sing, feel the rain on my face in Thunder Road. ‘…and you’re thinking that maybe we ain’t that young anymore…’ You and me both sir, but you and your music dissolve away the years in the chilly northern drizzle.