Call me a curmudgeon if you will but I’m no fan of flag waving, especially if that flag is the Union Jack. Give the poor, misguided proletariat their bread and circuses and they’ll smile and wave and make do with their horrible lot. Not me. I know better. Having hopped across la Manche to avoid the interminable Diamond Jubilee celebrations, I hatched a plan to do the same when the Olympics rode into town.
Departing the returning Eurostar that drizzly bank holiday Tuesday night after the Jubilee, I saw before me a lonely specimen bedraggled by rain on the drenched St Pancras walkway. Head to toe in the flag of St George, his face painted like a clown’s face, this spectral figure was sobbing drunkenly, the tears smearing the clown paint – and as I regarded him, I thought to myself: ‘What a pitiful cunt.’ He epitomised everything I despised about these wretched, state-enforced celebrations, and I became steadfast in my ambition to flee London, to flee my flat in Hackney, to flee the whole corporate bilge and the gridlock and the moaning and the LOCOG Stasi forcing small businesses to take down their Olympic promotions, and I’d hide away in the splendorous La Ville-Lumière until the whole thing blew over. It’s not like we were going to win anything.
Paris, lest you forget, was denied the opportunity to host these Games when it looked like a shoe-in, and where better to get away from it all than the very place where they’re still a bit bitter about the whole thing. And true enough, as I march along the Rue Vieille Du Temple or the Boulevard De Sébastopol, through Pigalle and Place de Clichy on the left-hand side, you’d scarcely know the world’s biggest sporting event is in full swing across the water. Turn on the news to, say, France24, and there’s barely a mention of coverage but for the butt end of bulletins and certainly no thoughts on Team GB; the French are more interested in boring stuff like the escalating crisis in Syria.
The extent of sporting drama in Paris this summer
But then something strange happened, something I wasn’t prepared for. Out of curiosity, I decided to tune into the Opening Ceremony via a dodgy web link, with the sole intention of scoffing. And damn my foolish heart, it was brilliant. I’d not seen pretty nurses dancing before my very eyes since I was last carted off to the nut-hut with a mind-bending concoction of internet drugs swilling in my belly. Take that, Andrew Lansley! Up yours, the Coalition! And blimey, aren’t we good at pop music? In recent years I’d come to believe we were only known for our bad teeth, sexual deviancy and penalty misses, but suddenly – on Twitter and Facebook – it became de rigueur to say how brilliant we all are. And people seemed to mean it, too. But this was just the Opening Ceremony right, the Games would still be shite, the sponsors still wankers... Wrong.
And so it transpired that the whole of London was suddenly rocking with jubilation. Collective pride was in the ascendancy and nobody was moaning any more. Word filtered back that people were chatting on buses. Strangers. And not just mental ones. First Bradley Wiggins, then that ginger chap, then Mo Farah, the Somalian Muslim sticking it to your average Mail reader. Arise, Sir Mo!
The ghost of 1996 where Steve Redgrave and Matthew Pinsent won one measly gold was banished forever, and everyone thanked John Major for committing billions to people running around and stuff. What a guy! And who could forget Jessica Ennis (apart from me, who hadn’t watched her)? She’s become the people’s new princess, and she doesn’t even sing or do Page 3 or anything like that. And then to top it all, Andy Murray only goes and wins the fucking tennis. What is going on, GB? What is going on? And why aren’t I there? Even that sad-faced clown is probably moonwalking about the city when he’s not getting laid.
And so as I walk along the picturesque canals and see debonair jeunes drinking wine and eating cheese and having a lovely time without getting too blotto, I long for the streets of London where everyone is sloshing around like another Gin Craze has settled upon the city like a weird, collective drink-dream. As I look upon the louche grandeur of the baroque buildings and the opulent splendour of Buttes Chaumont in the glorious sunshine, I wish I was squeezed into Hyde Park paying an inordinate amount of money for a Coke in order to watch bands who haven’t sold any records for 15 years with a bunch of pissed gremlins. And when I’m served in the local boulangerie by an impossibly pretty girl who says coquettishly “C’est tu!” or, far more likely, “C’est tout?” I secretly hanker for Greggs on Bethnal Green Road. It’s hell, I’m telling you, hell.
Follow Jeremy on Twitter: @jeres