Don’t panic Mr Mainwaring 25 Jul 2012
A comedian on Radio 4 sums up the British summer so far – “nobody’s got skin cancer. Some of us have drowned”.
During the last three months of relentless, record-breaking wet, there has also been a sense of a country doing one of those silent mental deals – “we’ll put up with anything, as long as the Olympics are not an embarrassing wash-out”.
As I write, we’ve now entered the jittery final days where the guests are starting to arrive for a family wedding.
We’ve booked the marquee and the photographer, we’ve typed up the menus, we’ve sorted out the seating plan and where to park the big cars if the field is still wet. But we know there’s always the risk that someone will not “hereinafter hold their peace”.
The signs are all around that something big is about to happen. I’m at Waterloo station late one night and a familiar harrumphing and throat-clearing comes over the public address system – “Er, hello London, it’s your mayor here”.
Boris has clearly recorded a message to be played in any public situation – he makes no direct reference to Waterloo, or even to trains. It’s just a general exhortation to be friendly and help people discover “our great city”.
Even in my own unobservant, non-Olympic-ticketed life, it’s beginning to penetrate. All of the money issuing from cash machines is pristine and crisp. Have they printed new money, held a lot of it back, or done a massive, secret job-creation scheme involving Santa’s elves in their off-season and a lot of ironing?
There’s a lot of general rushing about like Rabbit in the Winnie the Pooh books. Anyone who is vaguely anyone looks distracted, but can’t tell you what they are actually up to.
Pink stickers appear on public tube maps, marking where to get off for particular venues. The Evening Standard says “Half of the UK’s white-line painting force will come to London to mark the streets”. Who knew the UK had a white-line painting “force”? Has anyone told Darth?
I’m at an event about doing business in Africa, which turns out to be Olympic-related. Introduced by Lord Hastings, who has more international diversity qualifications than you can shake a stick at. He says “We’re being told that 204 nationalities are coming to the Games. That’s still fewer than the number of countries represented in the East End of London alone”.
An MP tells me that the ambassadors of countries like Armenia, the Stans, and other places you only hear about when there’s an exceptional disaster, are excited because their presidents are coming to town.
It’s the biggest thing that will happen for any one of those ambassadors, in all their years in post, but the UK government big-wigs are all tied up, and not necessarily in a Shades of Grey sense.
The MP is slightly worried because he’s being promoted, effectively, to being a junior minister for the purposes of hand-shaking and photos. Will anyone notice that he’s not William Hague? Perhaps all MPs could be issued with baseball caps to create some constructive confusion.
Constructive vague-ness, so that your authority can never quite be challenged: that’s the ticket. I know this – “never mind what the clock says, it’s bed-time, that’s all you need to know”.
Basically chaps, if it’s not the Olympics, we’ve got a collective sign hanging over the arrival gates at Heathrow – “Bisy. Backson”
Follow me on Twitter: @mjfenwick
Piccadilly photo: Mark Hillary - Flickr CC
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