There are two types of British patriotism. The first is the crass self deception peddled by certain media outlets, which confuses pride in one's heritage with quasi-racist Empire nostalgia. This is the sort of patriotism which slams Welsh footballers for not singing God Save The Queen, which launches hate-filled media campaigns against „plastic Brits“, and which holds up the two World Wars not as tragic wastes of human life, but as examples of British superiority.
Then there is the other type of patriotism. A pride which simply cherishes all that it finds wonderful about British culture and Britain, from the eccentricities such as cricket and self deprecation, to the great artists such as Rowan Atkinson and Paul McCartney, and the indisputably beautiful countryside of “England's green and pleasant land”. It has nothing to do with populism, nationalism or racism, though it is often fearful of declaring itself for fear that it might be dismissed as such.
Danny Boyle, thank God, clearly has more sympathies with the latter form.
Mr McCartney's singing voice may leave much to be desired these days, and it was a grumpier looking Queen who opened the 2012 Olympics compared to the one who opened the World Cup in 1966. But even those details couldn't detract from what was largely a positive, enthusiastic and impressive celebration of both sport and Britain.
The Opening Ceremony in pictures.
Artistically, Danny Boyle's show was remarkable purely on the basis that it had everything. It had history (the slightly bizarre depiction of the Industrial Revolution), it had style (the burning Olympic rings and the incessant fireworks), and it had wit (Rowan Atkinson's excellent cameo as Mr Bean). It even had a nod to the future (the inclusion of young athletes in the lighting of the flame.)
It was haphazard, it was eccentric, and it made us laugh. It was, in short, everything which Britain, at its best, is so good at. And all without the slightest trace of pompous, bigoted balderdash. While the trumpeting of the National Health Service was perhaps a little smug, it remained apolitical enough not to merit the criticisms levelled at it from some Olympic Scrooges. There was, throughout the evening, a genuine feeling of involvement and eagerness at the prospect of the whole world coming to Britain, embodied perhaps most appropriately by McCartney's booming cry of “Welcome to London” at the end of the show.
This was British pride at its most impressive. The sort of British pride which cheers Bradley Wiggins and Sir Chris Hoy because they are great athletes; which welcomes, rather than fears, the arrival of foreign visitors, and which seeks to treat them, in accordance with the spirit of the Games, with polite and enthusiastic respect.
It is not often that I can profess myself proud to be British, but on Friday night, I would have challenged even the most vicious non-patriot not to have felt even the smallest pang of national pride. If only because, for once, Great Britain managed to paint itself in a good light, and remind all us cynics that there are reasons to be proud of our country. That, in itself, is enough of a rarity for it to be cherished along with cricket, cucumber sandwiches and all the rest of the idiosyncrasies.