It is not easy being a cynic. Take Antisthenes for example, widely believed to be the first of the Cynics. He preached a life of denial and poverty. '..when I find myself indoors, what warmer shirting do I need than my bare walls?' Quite. But then this was ancient Greece, where the weather hardly demanded central heating or roaring fires.
So what would Antisthenes have made of the London Olympics and the £9 billion that has been lavished upon it? Not much I wager. Though I'm sure he'd have thought it was worth spunking a few quid just to see Mitt Romney come over and prove himself to be some sort of political Borat, inadvertently creating mirth and hilarity each time he opened his mouth. He's off to Israel next. I can't see that one going badly. As one wag on Twitter put it, perhaps his advisers might tell him that 'Hey, I baptized your dead Grandma!' might not be the best way of greeting the public there. So far, he's made Sarah Palin look like, well, Antisthenes.
I have every reason to place myself in Antisthenes camp. I live in Chiswick, west London. The competitors, officials, panjandrums, journalists and gaffe-prone Presidential candidates all make their way around Chiswick as they travel in from the airport in special cars in special 'Games Lanes'. The traffic lights on the main road through Chiswick have been 're-phased', which is a lovely bit of modern-speak, meaning 'Messed around with so that only one car can get through at a time.' This means the whole area is effectively kettled for the the duration of the Games. They will probably find the place awash with wild dogs, piles of human bones and bloodsoaked sourdough bread when the Olympics are over. The last thing organisers seem to care about are the people who live here.
Then there's our crumbling Victorian underground network. All the money in the world couldn't make it run smoothly and on time. But that's why we love it. In order to stop the whole system grinding to a halt our Mayor, Boris Johnson, (a man who hides a nasty, right-wing personality and world view behind one of a stumbling posh buffoon who looks like his hair has fallen out of a tree and landed on his head) has basically told the whole of London to stay at home for two weeks and not go anywhere unless it's to the Games. He's even record a Stalinist message in which he urges us to do just that, in so many words, without once saying please. He may well be a future Prime Minister. PM Johnson and President Romney. Jesus.
Then there's the weather. This summer has been wetter than an an otter's pocket. This week the rain finally went, to be replaced with gorgeous sunshine. Yet, as I write, only a few hours before the Opening Ceremony (cost: £27 million - in your FACE Antisthenes) the rain is tapping on my window, much as it has done since April. When London first hosted the Olympics in 1908 (with great imagination - the swimming pool was in the middle of the stadium. The Brit men tried to cheat in the freestyle by starting when the American was still taking off his jumper, though he still won...) the rain fell incessantly for the two weeks. The tickets were overpriced and the crowds stayed away, missing all kinds of controversy in the Tug of War contest (won by City of London Police, who pulled in their police boots, while the Americans slithered in the mud in sneakers. I have blogged about those Olympics in more detail here - I don't expect such enmity between the US and Brits this time, not after they sent Mitt to hit the fan and tickle us beforehand.)
But, all these reasons and Antisthenes aside, I'm secretly, and whisper it carefully, pretty excited about the whole thing. Whatever the next two weeks bring, whether they're great feats or great farce (we've had a lovely taste of the latter already) it promises to be enormously entertaining, and then when it's done, we can all have a good moan about how we never wanted it it here anyway. And nothing warms an Englishman's heart, or his house, even better than bare walls, than a good moan.
Dan - Friday