Sorry to be vulgar (although I am hoping to attract a few unsuspecting readers who were looking for something else), but I have a few more curmudgeonly thoughts on the Games now that they’ve started and we’ve entered what appears to be an orgy of national masturbation. I find it hard to think of a less profane metaphor for what’s going on. Admittedly, some of my feelings are influenced by my own self-pleasuring obsession with listening to Radio 5, but most of the media and body-politic seems to be whipping itself into an Olympian frenzy of self-love. To pursue the analogy just a little more, Friday’s opening ceremony was an exercise in popular culture pornography. Even people who share my overall scepticism about the corporate Games appear seduced by Danny Boyle’s mawkish pageant. Yes, it’s good that there were nods to working class history and political struggles, although I would have liked a direct reference to the defiling of the old Bryant and May match factory (scene of the 1888 strike) by surface to air missiles. Yes, it might be good that he worked in an homage to the NHS, but I worry that this kind of romanticisation is actually part of a problem. The Tories, particularly Cameron, have no difficulty crying crocodile tears for the NHS, while working to destroy it. The images on Friday don’t do anything to seriously engage people with the need to fight for public services beyond a very superficial sentimentality and while I don’t doubt Danny Boyle’s sincerity, I hope in future I’ll see him supporting our local ‘Keep Our NHS Public’ campaign.
I carried some of this grumpiness with me on yesterday’s Counter Olympics Network demonstration. About 400 of us marched from Mile End Park, down Bow Road and past the aforementioned military emplacement. I didn’t really want to go, worried about appearing to be a puritanical party pooper, but the fact that there has been an active attempt to inhibit and prohibit critical opposition to what the Games represent (shame Shami Chakrabarti couldn’t join us), made it essential to be there and the act of reasserting the right to protest and reclaiming our streets from the Olympic lanes cheered me up.
My cheerfulness is not shared by some of the people who are trying to make a crust while the Games go on. I’ve done a straw-poll of a couple of restaurants, a cafe, a bookshop and an ice-cream van, all of whom report significantly reduced takings and certainly nothing like the boost for local business that has been part of the rhetoric of justification for bringing the Olympics to east London, more evidence, if we needed it, that the benefits of ‘sports-led regeneration’ are at best, highly localised (i.e. to the exclusive advantage of the high-end companies in the immediate vicinity of the Olympic Park) and at worst, a lie.