It took most Londoners a while to warm to the Olympics. More weeks than I care to remember were spent bemoaning debts, security concerns, travel problems and all those other signs of impending doom that LOCOG were bringing down on us. But then something happened. When the much-feared multicultural, multi-lingual swarm of locusts finally descended, we all realised that they weren’t locusts at all. They were people. Smiling, happy people who were genuinely excited to be in London. From here, things only got better. The opening ceremony was pretty cool (although I must have missed the Harry Potter movie in which Julie Andrews kicked Voldemort’s ass), we won some medals, we suddenly had no qualms about gathering in pubs and living rooms to collectively cheer on plucky individuals we’d never really heard of a month ago.
A confession – I’m not in love with London. I’ve lived here for just over a year and I frequently find it frantic, caustic and unfriendly. And I’m not the only one – I recently read an article warning visiting Americans to make a note of any friendly pubs they found, as they’re far from the norm. A friend from Newcastle recently returned from an ill-fated trip down south, vowing never to return again (she definitely won’t succeed – she’d miss me too much). Don’t get me wrong; I’ve met some wonderful, interesting, welcoming people in the past twelve months that I’m honoured just to have stood in the same room as. But that doesn’t change the fact that, at its core, the city is depressed. Except that the London I’ve seen in the past sixteen days isn’t the one I’m used to.
Not too many years back, I had a bit of an episode. My personality has an obsessive compulsive element that threatened to disrupt my life by pulling my mind into a depressive corner, which isn’t the easiest place to escape from. Though I now consider myself to be ‘fine’ (aside from getting irritated when people think having their desk organised is ‘LYKE SO OCD’) I feel much more attuned to the emotions of others and can tell pretty easily when people are in a dark place. A huge percentage of Londoners seem to be suffering from a chronic version of what I suffered from. The feeling that nothing is ever good enough, that nagging feeling that everything is bound to go wrong, is written off as British modesty or self deprecation. Self-medication with drugs and alcohol is downplayed as part of the ‘work hard, play hard’ dialectic. Introversion, unwillingness to make eye contact with strangers and a compulsive need to be forever wearing headphones (iPod, therefore iAm…) all fall under the heading of the ‘urban experience’. The undercurrents of anger and despair, that erupted during last year’s London riots, have merely been glossed over.
In the past two weeks, I have seen a change. Team GB, the Olympic spirit, whatever you want to call it, has brought us together. That may sound clichéd, but it’s the truth. Epic rivalries between nations have displaced the smaller scale arguments that plague day-to-day life, and they are good natured and respectful instead of petty and acidic. Youngsters have seen that, whatever background they’re from, they can make good. And no, I don’t believe that’s just wishful thinking – with the latest study estimating that 90% of Brits watched at least some of the Olympics, there must have been a positive impact. Sure, all of the bad stuff is still there – recession, the daily grind, the fifteen things the Daily Mail found today that give you cancer – but everyone’s been more willing to just…make the best of things.
Just because the Olympics is over doesn’t mean that we have to go back to the way that things were. True, we’re off to a bad start with that Closing Ceremony (I think we set the world record for most whingy tweets per minute last night), but it doesn’t have to be the end. If we can hang on to that thing that makes us want to be friends with strangers rather than ignoring them and that sense that, actually, everything probably WILL be ok in the end then…well, the rest is easy.
Westfield London is still running their #IWASTHERE competition until the end of this week. If you have any inspiring London 2012 stories to share, check out the deets HERE and tweet them HERE. You could win £25,000 for your trouble, which is a pretty spicy meatball. Even if you don’t win it’s still worth a go; might make you feel all warm and fuzzy.