Olympic closing ceremony: Cynicism's comeback gig

For the last fortnight, the nation has been uncharacteristically enthusiastic and, well, nice. But the Olympic closing ceremony saw us getting back to our snarky selves...
  • @willydean

There's a constant hum in Britain. It reverberates in every football stadium, it punctuates every delay announcement at every train station. It underlines the weary air of the school staff room or the outside smoking areas of pubs. It's the ticking tock of cynicism.

Culturally and democratically we're often the better for it – it's the stuff that fuels everything from The Queen is Dead to great investigative journalism – but during the last two weeks that hum has been silent. And it has felt pretty wonderful.

So how long could this glow last?

As someone who bought two London 2012 T-shirts and resembled a Tiny Tears doll every time that shot of Gemma Gibbons mouthing "thank you, Mum" flashed on the TV screen, I lasted about an hour. It was nice while it lasted.

Given the logistics of transforming the Olympic Stadium into a concert arena just hours after the exploits of Mo Farah, it was always going to be near impossible for Kim Gavin and his team to top Danny Boyle's opener. But having Russell Brand sing "I Am the Walrus" through a megaphone was an alarmingly good motif for several moments of head-in-hands incredulity.

It wasn't that the likes of Kate Bush, Pink Floyd and David Bowie weren't there in person, it was the tease (the Bowie montage and the opening chords of "Wish You Were Here") that made you think they were going to turn up, only for Naomi Campbell and the Ed Sheeran Session Players to appear. The repeated songs couldn't be helped due to the overrun of the athletes' arrival, but did we really need more from serial jamboree-botherer Annie Lennox or Emeli Sande, the only player besides William Shakespeare and The Beatles to feature prominently in both ceremonies?

The mid-section, which culminated with Brand, Fatboy Slim and a double dose of Jesse J, felt like Britain dropping the baton on the finish line after two relayed weeks of excellence – the quick-fire jukebox, what we feared the opening ceremony would be like. But Boyle's masterpiece and the memories of Rudisha, Felix, Bolt, Farah and hundreds more meant that Sunday night could have featured Mark E Smith juggling beer bottles and the wonders of London 2012 would persist for decades. After all, Sydney – often cited as the best Games ever – was closed by Savage Garden and a Michael Hutchence-less INXS.

But there were Boyle-worthy moments, too: athletes from the two Koreas, from the US and Iran, from Israel and the Palestinian territories standing under John Lennon as he begged the world to "be as one" took some beating. Eric Idle leading the stadium in "Always Look On The Bright of Life" was wonderfully silly, the pulsating lights circling the banks of seats gorgeous, as was the extinguishing of Thomas Heatherwick's cauldron and Ray Davies' "Waterloo Sunset" over London 2012. Cynicism may have made a brief guest appearance in this joyous fortnight. But, as a nation that runs on the stuff, perhaps that's only apt.