Hello again from soggy London. Today a nationwide drought (or garden 'hosepipe ban') was officially called off after the wettest spring in recorded history. Who woulda' thought? In my ongoing efforts to give you my expat's perspective on London living and attending the London 2012 Olympic Games (including the opening ceremony), I will try to strike a balance between what I find noteworthy and what you might deem interesting about the Games of the XXX Olympiad. In that vein I will return another time to the topic of life on a crowded island. Right now, let's talk sports.
==B A sporting chance==
Growing up in Palo Alto, two of my favorite sports to play were soccer and tennis. That meant eight years of AYSO dribbles from El Camino Park to you name it, and countless baseline battles at Rinconada and across town. I also loved badminton at Jordan and Paly. What luck, then, to find myself living in the country that created these and many other sports. Britain is, of course, also the land that gave us golf and rugby, the latter of which is the clear progenitor of American football. Even the indigenous game of rounders can plausibly be considered the birth-sport (when spliced with cricket) of America's Pastime. So yes, Britain is absolutely a sporting nation.
Wimbledon, the mother of all tennis tournaments, is typically the highlight of the English sporting summer. We attend almost every year, and its proximity to our home adds immediacy and relevance for us. But the recently completed Euro 2012 football tournament had a tight grip on this country. With the Olympics a couple of weeks away, I really didn't focus on "The Championships" until this past weekend. Andy Murray falling to Roger Federer was thrilling but also historic and heartbreaking, as Murray is the first British man in 74 years to reach the final of this august competition. He is now a national hero, not for losing, but for his grace and poise as a runner-up.
==B Victory in defeat==
The U.K. loves a good hard-luck story, and Murray is just that. He will continue to press and impress, with his British-approved pluck and, lest we forget, outstanding athleticism. Another of the all-time great sports legends here is George Best. This much admired and lamented Northern Irish Football superstar once said: "I spent a lot of money on booze, birds and fast cars. The rest I just squandered." He went for the joke on that one, but he also foretold his demise, as he died in 2005 at age 58, after countless failed attempts to get sober.
Best will be loved for many years to come because he was a brilliant athlete, despite his slow and very public descent down the neck of a beer bottle. But like I said, the U.K. loves a good hard-luck story. Or more poignantly, is OK with not winning, depending on the circumstances. Even the World War II battle of Dunkirk, routinely cited as the ultimate example of Britain's steely resolve in the face of overwhelming adversity, was a defeat. But don't be mistaken: Britain is peopled by a highly competitive folk. And though opinion is divided on the role of the Monarchy, many here are fiercely protective of their Queen.
==B If you want to sing out, sing out==
Nothing quite stirs patriotism here like a good public airing of "God Save The Queen." This song is the national anthem of both Great Britain and New Zealand, and was famously skewered by the Sex Pistols in the '70s with their twisted number-one punk single of the same name. This sombre ode (not the punk one, obviously) to a "gracious" and "noble" Queen is a rather uplifting and positive hymn, truth be told. Unlike most national songs, it has two versions (#king) and is also the royal anthem of 10 countries, including our friends Jamaica and Canada. Heck, even Neil Young & Crazy Horse currently have a top-10 album in the U.S. and U.K. with their take on GSTQ.
A close second in the British anthem stakes is "Jerusalem." This poem by English writer and painter William Blake was set to song during the First World War to boost morale, and is regularly sung in Anglican churches. It was one of four hymns sung at Will and Kate's wedding last year and is the anthem of England's cricket team. Its "green and pleasant land" closing line goes a long way to describe the essence of Britain.
==B Definitely green, definitely pleasant==
Danny Boyle, the acclaimed director of "Slumdog Millionaire," is the producer of the London 2012 Olympics opening ceremony. He has cleverly chosen Green and Pleasant Land as one of the event themes. The cost for this pageant is rumoured at over $40 million (including live cattle), with a cast of thousands (including said cattle) and volunteer staff numbering over 10,000. As one of the lucky "punters" who were awarded the right to purchase tickets to this extravaganza, I am keen to see what Mr. Boyle & co. have in store for those of us in the Olympic Stadium and for the expected television audience of one billion.
Next up: Palo Alto Olympians, more Opening Ceremony details and logistics of Olympic proportions.
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