« Previous | Main | Next »

Pride versus Prejudice

Post categories:

Hamid Ismailov Hamid Ismailov | 12:30 UK time, Saturday, 28 July 2012

While writing my piece about the Opening Ceremony of the London Olympics I have to strike the right balance.

Fireworks during the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games

"We are very good here at building up great expectations, which for shorthand could be called 'Murray wins Wimbledon'..."

If I have learnt a single thing whilst living on this Island of Wonder for the last 18 years - it is this maxim.

I have to strike the balance between still being a freaky foreigner, an obscure Uzbek and slowly turning into a rooted Brit. A balance between what excited me in the ceremony and what annoyed me, between my politeness and sarcasm, between the feeling of involvement and reservedness, between pride and prejudice, sense and sensibility...

Have I started to quote someone?

If you were sitting somewhere in Addis-Ababa, Jakarta, San Paolo or Astana, in front of the TV screen (like myself in London), sometimes baffled with what was happening at the Olympic stadium, shall I try to make sense of that majestic and quirky show as I understood it?

You may be asking why me, isn't it a bit patronising (and you would be right)?

There's a single excuse for that: for the last 18 years I have been writing a never-ending book which I called 'What a burden to be an Englishman' or 'A-Z to Englishness for freaky foreigners like myself'.

So here are 12 points we need to understand the Opening Ceremony:

1. Great Expectations
I don't know what was on your TV screen, but here we were exposed to two hours of a build-up, where the most common words were 'wonderful', 'terrific', 'exciting', all in regards of a forthcoming ceremony and our British sportsmen. We are very good here at building up great expectations, which for shorthand could be called 'Murray wins Wimbledon'...

2. Island of Wonder
I have noticed that all we were talking about during the build up (and in fact throughout the whole Opening Ceremony) was just ourselves - Brits and nobody else. Danny Boyle - the artistic director of the ceremony said himself on my screen about the 'international perspective' of his show, in fact we were celebrating ourselves, not giving a damn about anyone 'overseas' and Danny boldly embodied it in the form of the island within the stadium. But we are a small world in itself, aren't we?

3. Weather is above all

I should have ended with this bit, as we do in our news programmes, saving the most beautiful and artistic weather-girls for the very end as a dessert to sweeten up the misery of what they are talking about. But Danny Boyle started his show with the Maritime Weather Forecast and I bet it was wrong... It started to lazily rain...

4. Really?

It's one of they key English words, to which the usual answer is: No. I thought about it when I had noticed that the show was an interplay between the island built in the stadium and virtual reality of my screen or rather the screens on every side of the stadium. The song about Danny boy which started in the stadium was echoed in Belfast, Edinburgh and Cardiff, striking the right balance between Englishness and Britishness.

5. TT or MMM

We love acronyms. I made up those for 'Teddy-bear Tradition' and 'Muffin & Marmite Moments' which are about different love - love to HH or History and Heritage. To unite those two loves we have our immortal Shakespeare. Thatched houses, geese wandering around. But we are too pragmatic to leave him alone in that idyll. To strike the right balance between the word and act there must be Brunel reading him and urging out the wild forces of the Industrial Revolution.

6. Witchcraft and handicraft

It's the same opposition as Shakespeare vs Brunel, but on the common level. Danny Boyle played this archetype fully through thousands of drums led by what seemed to be a witchy soloist lady. Phallic chimneys came out of the earth and Pandemonium ended with what appeared to be five hand-made steel rings which united into the Olympic symbol over the stadium to pour a golden rain. It's worth becoming a poem of William Blake in itself, right?

7. Organised chaos (a real Englishman would have added 'or Chaotic organisation')

Scenes of Industrial Revolution were mixed up with Sergeant Pepper, suffragettes, immigrants, First World War and some other elements which even the knowledgeable presenters were not able to comment upon. Sometimes overly-prescriptive discipline and order gets to us and to strike the balance we go berserk or a bit anarchic. Boyle made this statement from the very beginning when the pneumatic clouds and balloons all of a sudden started to explode.

8. In an ideal world

We are sceptical about everything apart from our sense of humour. Even our Loyalty to Royalty falls victim of taking the mickey out of our Queen. Bond, James Bond, brought the Queen in the helicopter to the stadium (while instead of missiles positioned on the roofs of estates bottles of champagne fired) and parachuted her to the Royal Lodge. To strike the right balance with the baffling first part of the show, the second became much lighter and funnier.

9. Yes, but...

We never forget the public purpose, the public service. Duty and charity are one of the greatest characteristics of this island. The choir 'Chaos' of deaf children singing 'God Save the Queen', servicemen raising the flag, thousands of volunteers taking part in the event - all were about it.

10. Come on...

Ok, ok, sometimes we are over the top. Usually it's to do with the NHS. I told you about our love for acronyms. We excessively adore our National Health Service. I would even say it's a kind of national disease. Many of our soaps: 'Holby City', 'Casualty' and some others are set up in hospitals. We love the NHS as our single vulnerable child. If there are dark forces in this life they threaten not us, but the NHS. However brave dancing nurses, as it was shown by Danny Boyle, will always prevail. May the force be with them...

11. Those sticking out celebs

We love our fair play, therefore we took the Olympic flame throughout the maze of our country to every street and cul-de-sac, and gave the chance to carry the torch to thousands and thousands of our compatriots, but to strike the right balance we also love to put J.K. Rowling on a hill in the middle of the stadium to read her 'Harry Potter' or Sir Tim Bernes-Lee to type on his Internet to entertain us.

12. Exetera

Rowan Atkinson's comic creation Mr Bean at London 2012 Opening Ceremony

Rowan Atkinson's comic creation Mr Bean made an appearance as a keyboard player at the London 2012 Opening Ceremony

As a matter of fact it should be Et cetera, but we do everything in our own way. We think this word comes from our Exeter. The bit I loved most of all was the 'Chariots of Fire' theme conducted by Sir Simon Rattle and with solo by Mr Bean. If you are not genius like W. Shakespeare or J.K. Rowling and you are sticking out like a sore thumb - you become Mr Bean. We are rather a nation of common sense, common purpose, common people - therefore our rock, cinema and dance are the best in the world. The rest is exetera...

I mentioned the book which I have been writing for so many years. The show which Danny Boyle put for the opening ceremony of the Olympics reminded me of a scene from my Barnet market:

You know, I've got a friend. A very decent person. Extremely nice character. She lives up in Watford. She sells fish in our local market. When several years ago I used to buy another mackerel and some frozen prawns, she would have met me with the warmest exclamation and laughter: 'Hi, luv! The same mackerel and a pound of prawns in weight?'

At that time I used to drive my first Ford Fiesta and my son studied at the next local school. A couple of years on I started to buy four heads of silver trout and another pound of skate knobs. She would have laughed and greeted: "How are you, my dear. Your trout and usual knobs?"

At that time my car was a Ford Escort and my son moved to the church school. Now I buy red mullet and uncooked king-size prawns and I noticed that she says with a smile: "How are you this morning, Sir? Red mullet and a handful of king size?"

I bet, that weighing my regular fish she knows somehow, that I'm driving not less than a Volkswagen Passat and my son goes to the Habs Boys school...

I didn't mention a parallel move from the ex-council house to a semi-detached town house and then to a detached Victorian House, while shifting from 'The Sun' through 'The Guardian' to 'Daily Telegraph' because as a bloody foreigner, who mixes everything up, I still live in my two storey town house and read the 'Metro' in the tube...

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.