I’m not much for the Olympics. I like that it’s here; all great cities need reminding how great they are, and the chaos and complexity of the London Games will shake things up and show us where the next round of public infrastructure’s needed. But the whole bread-and-circuses aspect isn’t really me.
But what I think is irrelevant. Because Danny Boyle’s opening ceremony last night was brilliant beyond belief.
And if one thing marked it out, it was just how different it felt from Beijing’s histrionics four years ago… and by extension, how different *we* are from China.
London basically grabbed Beijing by the scruff of the neck, slapped it around the face for three hours, then rubbed its nose into the ground.
Beijing’s theatrics – costing ten times more – were fantastical rather than fantastic, bravado rather than bravery. London showed the world not what Britain wants to be seen as, but what it actually is. And was better than the soulless Chinese Olympics, by a factor of about a hundred.
Where China had spectacular, Britain had spectacle: intimacy and interest, in a stadium seating 80,000. Where China replaced a young singer with a “more photogenic” Party Member’s daughter, Sir Steve Redgrave gifted his Olympic flame to a set of young athletes to perform the final honour. Britain’s opener was about celebration, humility, and humour. Totally different to Beijing… and infinitely better.
For me, this was the point that proved a theory at the core of my investment philosophy: China will not join the first rank of nations, its economic steamroller is winding down, and the way it steals and hacks and foils the rest of the world is now blowing back. (Two years ago, plenty of European train operators were actually considering the PRC’s 40%-cheaper locomotives, despite them being obvious copies of European designs. Today only a few are.) On the surface, China can do it by the numbers, but just doesn’t “get” the people stuff.
Britain does Story perhaps better than anywhere. Combining live farmyard animals with molten metal and 1000 drummers rarely ends well, but the narrative of Britain’s ascent from bucolic backwardness to the Industrial Revolution and universal suffrage – not sugarcoated, not even celebrated, just a story told – was brilliant, culminating in the rising smokestacks blowing blazing Olympic rings upward. The jukebox of British music fitted like a favourite shirt; the homage to the NHS, featuring dancing doctors and bedridden children somehow just worked. While the comic relief – Daniel Craig skydiving with the Queen into the stadium, with Her Maj playing along; Mr Bean getting bored with a one-note brief from Sir Simon Rattle – were something perhaps no other country could get away with.
Ridiculous. Incredible. Bonkers. Brilliant. And that’s Britain.
Welcome to London!