I was shaken as the Gautrain pulled into Sandton terminus. Yes, the engineering was wonderful – but what was wrong? The track levelling felt as if the London Underground gremlins had had a hand in the construction. We were going quite slowly, but still we shook, rattled and rolled.
And that got me thinking about the gremlins. London Transport has one of the world’s first underground railways, and it shows. The track needs levelling. They provide grab handles for the standing multitude. Are they necessary? Yeeess! I don’t know why there isn’t a mass revolt, but perhaps it is that the Brits don’t like making a fuss.
It is all the more surprising when you think how many of them nip over to France for the weekend. Paris has two Metros, one riding on steel wheels and the other on rubber. The steel-wheeled one is good, smooth and quite fast as a result. The rubber-shod one is smoother still, and you wonder why no-one else seems to have thought of this sooner.
But Britain seems convinced that she knows best. If her commuters can be thrown around without complaint, well then, throw them around! The same lack of leadership seems to have pervaded the Olympic Games. I was persuaded to watch the opening ceremony. I nearly threw up when an assortment of children in varicoloured nightdresses appeared, and shrilled the National Anthem! Where were the massed bands of the Royal Marines? Where were the choirs that can fill the Albert Hall with sound? Where was the thrill? Instead, there was unmitigated schmaltz – “Aren’t they cute? And did you see Tommy Jenkins? He wet his pants it was so exciting!”
Then we were treated to dancing nurses and more children in hospital beds, in celebration of Britain’s greatest achievement, the National Health Service. What a real thrill! (Sarc.) I suppose Health and Safety ruled against one thousand pipers blasting away, on grounds of possible ear damage.
Il Trovatore was clearly the ‘inspiration’ for the British worker at the forges, making the rings that are the Olympic trademark. It was somewhat more inspired and inspiring than what was supposed to be Britain’s greatest musical achievement, Tubular Bells. Purlees! The parents of my grandchildren were still in their cradles when Oldfield burst on the scene, then disappeared, we thought for good.
Ceremonies in Britain used to be pageants to remember. It was one thing they used to be able to do really well. The great State occasions, with Her Majesty smiling benignly from her gilded coach. This time she was allowed what I think is referred to as a ‘cameo appearance’, a walk-on, walk-off part of minimal importance. Oh yes, and her effigy was dropped from her incoming helicopter. Shall I be kind, and say she looked decidedly underwhelmed?
Great, Britain may have been – but the Olympic opening showed that she has well and truly lost it.