I could rant about (or, more accurately, against) G4S for their strident ability to make checking tickets at train stations into a frustrating, arrogant and self-satisfied assault on the freedom of walking from a ticket office to the 0922 to Blackburn. For reasons I can’t fathom, the rail industry has concluded that private security firms offer better value for money when standing near automatic ticket gates than members of private rail operating companies, resulting in some railway stations now looking how old Bond films used to imagine private nuclear basis, swarming with police officers and security guards. It’s not as though G4S do much of a job while standing around on platforms, for that matter, as they can’t sell tickets (and I know this after a toe-to-toe rant against one of their number whilst waving my bank card in the air asking what on earth he thought I was going to do with it.)
The Internet is full of G4S Olympic farrago stories, making Google searches for the long forgotten prisoner transfer stories from my youth a little difficult. But I remember hearing the jokes on plenty a Radio 4 panel show about the sudden difficulty hitherto unexpected in taking a criminal from point A to point B. “Group 4 Security” became as much of a punchline as, well, “British Rail”, I suppose, in tabloid shorthand for rants against the Government giving up responsibility for things it used to do. (Which is a bit different to the times when tabloids rant against the Government not being able to get a handle on things like Heathrow security desks and school building.)
But even without the colossal cock-up by G4S and its Olympic security mess-up, the mood music around at the moment is what rankles with me more. I appreciate that training and supplying people as security bods around the Olympic park is rather important and they’ve carried out their task with all the professionalism as a packet of instant noodles, but there’s something else about the coverage of the Games in the remaining week to go which has started to bother me. And outside the Opening Ceremony and watching the tinier nations do badly in the early heats of the swimming, I’m not even that much of an Olympics fan.
What bothers me – and I’m the same with politicians who choose to highlight the very worst elements of economic statistics even when the general direction is “up” or “more” or “better” – is the growing negativity and cynicism from the press. Yesterday, on Radio 4’s “PM”, the Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt found himself up against an onslaught of sly, wry and sarcastic questioning. When he noted that tickets sales for an obscure sport were never expected to sell out, the presenter made a point of apologising to fans of those teams, as though any chance of the same programme ever running a jokey featurette on minority sports and their followers had never crossed the producer’s mind. It dawned on me that the narrative of the interview, and much of the coverage in the press recently, has switched deliberately from “The Games are coming to London, WOW!”, to “The Games are on their way to go TERRIBLY WRONG BECAUSE WE’RE BRITISH AND FAILURE IS THE ONLY OPTION! BOO!”
Now I’m not a flag waving little Englander or UKIP supporter or one of those football hooligans who stomp around provincial towns every Saturday complaining about the burqa whilst covering my own face with a scarf/hat combination. But all the same, I’d rather like the good natured and well meaning jest about Britain not being very good at stuff to be balanced by the good natured and well meaning truth that we can, and do, produce events rather well at times, and by extending this, that sometimes Britain is quite a decent country doing its thing despite its limitations. “Oh God, the Olympics are coming and we’re all going to SUCK” is a narrative I’ve learned to live with over the years, especially during the Winter Olympics, when the tabloids might have a point about Team GB spending/wasting money on teenagers from West Sussex to spend four months of the year living in Norway smoking weed and pretending to ski on one leg or whatever they do. I can even accept that the Beijing-to-London handover was a messy shambles, given as it featured an exploding Routemaster and the worst body-pop/urban dance thing since Hit Man & Her on late night ITV.
All that aside, though, there’s being British (and therefore cynical and supportive all at the same time), and there’s just being prissy for the sake of it (or, “French”). I’m sure the BBC and its august presenting army have their moments of doubt when the minority sports few people like need to be covered (the silly ones, like “horse riding to music” or badminton). That doesn’t mean the entire package should be dismissed as silliness or wasteful. When Michael Platini proposed changing the format of UEFA 2020 into a continental-wide tour, he was rightly sneered off stage. We like big events, and prefer them to take place in one site. Through nostalgia and genuine pride, we herald Olympic memories from Bolero to Eric the Eel with warmth. Maybe it’s just easier to be negative because it’s happening in our backyard, though I don’t remember well enough if either Euro 1996 or Manchester’s Commonwealth Games were treated with similar sneering. Yes, okay, the Olympics of 2012 is an event stuffed with corporate logos and daft rules on chips. And horse riding to music. Though why does this mean that the narrative has to switch from anticipation to antagonism in the week before the opening events?
Maybe I’m being typically liberal in wanting a nice, middle-grown fence sitting position. Let’s celebrate the 204 countries coming here, the opportunity for commentary classics and opportunities to enjoy the handball or the archery or whatever the Hell, and continue to explore what went wrong with G4S, whilst doing so without one unbalancing the other. I’m the first in the queue to criticise that which we’re told to celebrate. It’s just too much cynicism can kill you. G4S deserve to be called out for their shambles – and that’s just for their behaviour around Preston railway station. I’m not sure the Olympics deserve the same vitriol.
Oh, it dawns on me that the tags under this blog technically break the law on using specific words and terms related to the Games. Pity, that, really.