IN THE YEAR leading up to the Olympics, BBC2 screened a typically deadpan British comedy series called Twenty Twelve. Set in the offices of a fictionalized version of Locog, the organizing committee for London 2012, the show anticipated and satirized the incompetence and mayhem we all knew would be the hallmark of the London Olympics. We watched episodes as we packed escape kits and prepared to flee to the countryside. We considered stealing the Team GB canoes to row out to France, Spain, Ireland — anywhere we couldn’t be caught up in the Games, couldn’t be blamed when it all went wrong.
We surprised ourselves by turning out in droves to see the Torch on its route around Britain. But when some of the first American and Australian athletes to arrive were put onto buses that promptly got lost in London (perhaps for as long as four hours) we knew our fears were being confirmed. Safe in our seaside hideouts, we tutted, sighed, and returned to our mugs of tea. In Twenty Twelve, a fictional driver had taken fictional athletes to Stratford-upon-Avon (of Shakespeare fame) instead of Stratford, East London (the Olympic Village). Life, we reasoned, did not have to try too hard to imitate art; we can’t, as the saying goes, organize a drinking session in a brewery.
What community we could muster came from taking shared umbrage at visiting politicians who dared offer their two cents where they weren’t wanted, where we hadn’t offered tuppence for their thoughts. Mitt Romney mused about “a few things that were disconcerting: the stories about the private security firm not having enough people, [the] supposed strike of the immigration and customs officials.” We worried he might be right, but we alone had the right to criticize the preparations: these were our Games, and that was part of our fear. What if it all went wrong, as it usually does?
As the hockey opened with a blunder worthy of a sitcom, the South Korean flag shown to introduce the North Korean team, we suspected the farce had only just begun.
Just before the opening ceremony, the Royal Mail announces a reward for British athletes who win gold medals. For every gold won, Royal Mail will print a limited edition set of stamps, ready for 9 a.m. the morning after the triumph.
On August 1, Helen Glover and Heather Stanning win the women’s coxless pair rowing and Bradley Wiggins wins the men’s time trial cycling. I consider going out to buy the respective stamps. Through the rest of the Games, I could collect the set, what would probably amount to 5-10 presentational envelopes showing the smiling mugs of the successful athletes. I have a mild case of Olympic fever: it’s been five days hoping for a gold, and the rush that comes with “us” winning not just one, but two, leaves me a little loopy.
I don’t get round to it, though. I am busy running errands.
As Luke Campbell wins Team GB its 28th and penultimate gold, I wonder whether I could even have afforded the complete 29. What cost enthusiasm?
I sate in the open sun,
And from the rubbish gathered up a stone,
And pocketed the relic, in the guise
Of an enthusiast....