I’ve never been much for patriotism, an archaic and rather silly concept typically only the preserve of racist pensioners and people from America. What’s there to be proud of? Centuries of reckless colonialism and slavery, ITV2, an undemocratic monarchy, shit food, shitter weather, Piers Morgan, town after town of concrete skyrise and piss-stained asphalt… Being British is embarrassing. Doug Stanhope put it best when said that nationalism “does nothing but teach you how to hate people that you never met and take pride in accomplishments you had no part in whatsoever”. (See also: this Mitchell & Webb sketch.)
So how did I, a grumpy non-patriot and emphatic small-r republican, find myself last week bellowing our country’s ludicrous monarch-doting national anthem at the top of my voice, union flag draped over my torso like an EDL recruitment officer, alongside 80,000 other people? And in the name of sports as well! Not since Kevin Keegan resigned as manager of Newcastle United in 1997 have I irrationally devoted deep emotional capital to factors entirely beyond my control. #neverforget
London 2012 has surprised me in more ways than one. It all started, appropriately enough, at the beginning: watching Danny Boyle’s mostly brilliant opening ceremony at a pub about a mile away from the Olympic park. I found myself quickly swept up in the spirit of things, lubricated by good company and alcohol and the pub’s boisterous atmosphere and sense of occasion. We all cheered noisily when Team GB paraded out, we cheered when Lord Coe talked about how great we all we were, and we ran outside when the fireworks began and saw them for ourselves. What a start!
And so it continued, defying the expectations of a perpetually pessimistic populace and almost making the crass commercialism, the forcibly evicted East Londoners and the nauseatingly distasteful £9billion price tag seem worth it. There was a lot to be angry about the Olympics, but now they were here, it seemed the sensible thing to just enjoy it.
Even I, placed last in three consecutive 1500m sports day finals aged 13-16, felt those primitive tribalistic impulses that have somehow held fast into our age of enlightenment surging through my veins as the GB gold rush accelerated through both the Olympics and Paralympics. Unlike last year’s royal wedding or this year’s jubilee, these were no pageants for the wealthy and spoilt, celebrating spurious and intangible achievements. Here, we were cheering bona fide, rock solid achievements.
And though I had no part in these accomplishments whatsoever (I bought a lottery ticket on my sixteenth birthday, so there’s a chance a fraction of that may have funded the mens coxless four), I couldn’t help but feel some affinity for these incredible superhumans, whose post-event interviews invariably showed them to be recognisably lovely people, the kind found everywhere in this odd little country of ours. I know people like Laura Trott and Nicola Adams and Bradley Wiggins and David Weir. They’re not the gilded, spoilt millionaires that clog up our football stadiums every weekend; they’re just ordinary Brits with extraordinary talents and ruthless work ethics, and in spite of myself I can’t help but feel overcome with a peculiar sense of pride.
So I’ve somehow managed to reconcile my uneasy relationship with the whole idea of patriotism, as the picture above should powerfully illustrate. You won’t see me voting for UKIP any time soon, but when you’re faced with, as Lord Coe perfectly put it in his Paralympics closing ceremony speech, “the best of mankind“, it’s bloody hard to argue for anything else.