Simon Kelner: After all the euphoria, back to the harsh realities

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The Independent Online

Welcome to the first day of the rest of your lives. It's a little bit weird, isn't it? No need to plan meticulously your evening's viewing, making sure you don't miss the rhythmic gymnastics. No need to spend half the night in front of the computer in a vain quest to get tickets for the Olympic Stadium.

No need to hear that awful moniker Team GB. And no need to wrap yourself in a Union flag for a while. For two weeks, Britain has enjoyed a glorious diversion, but it has been much more than that: the Olympic Games has been nothing short of a phenomenon.

It has made us think that sport really matters. And in taking pride in the outstanding performances of our athletes, in revelling in the fact that we have put on a show that has impressed the world, in believing that we can be unified as a people, and find identity as a nation, through sporting achievement, we have bought into the idea that all this running and jumping and screaming actually amounts to something.

Perhaps it will. Perhaps we will take our cue from the volunteer army, and become much more helpful and public-spirited individuals. And perhaps London 2012 will be the catalyst for an era of communal effort, when people see the benefit of pulling together. But somehow I doubt it. In no time, the political opportunism of announcing a greater investment in sport in schools will be seen as just that, and when the question of selling off playing fields comes up in the future, the same old financial imperatives will hold sway.

That's not to say that we will be unaffected by this past fortnight. We have learnt a lot about ourselves, and the message that Britons come in all shades, and from all backgrounds, is a positive one. Our two greatest Olympic heroes – a mixed race woman and a man who migrated here from Somalia – present a picture of modern Britain that we should all get behind. This fits in with the image Danny Boyle painted all those moons ago of a polyglot country that was vibrant, and chaotic.

He was wrong, however, on the last count. Anyone who went to an Olympic event can't fail to have been impressed by its organisation, or by the efficiency of the transport system, or by the flawless presentation. I have never thought we were very good at the service industry thing but this Games showed that we can do it. Everywhere, people were made to feel welcome and that nothing was too much trouble. The hoteliers and restaurateurs of Great Britain would do well to take note.

We will have to see how the legacy pans out, but for a magnificent two weeks we have lived in a bubble where all notion of impartiality has been suspended. Today real life starts up again.

And, in language Bradley Wiggins would recognise, we face a long, hard climb.