Wednesday, 1 August 2012

'Ents' used to mean 'entertainments' (and was usually followed by 'secs')

IT’S a little hard to say quite what the Olympic opening ceremony was for or about, especially with Team GB’s track-and-field athletes away on camp in Portugal.
What it clearly had nothing to do with was sport. On the other hand, it was no doubt enjoyed by many for whom the sport will prove less memorable.
I’d like to tell you that I enjoyed it – or, alternatively, that I thought it was a load of old rubbish. But in all honesty I can do neither. I had better things to do with my time.
I was watching instead a charming, gentle documentary about Snowdonia on BBC2. Pictures of snow-speckled hillsides, mountain sheep being herded and sheared, dizzying close-ups of a mad mountaineer scaling sheer walls of a slate quarry. It was all, surely, more beautiful, and said more about Britain, than anything contrived for the Olympic panto.
Not to mention being a great deal more cheaply made. And probably having one of the smallest audiences any mainstream British TV channel has pulled in at prime time on a Friday night for decades.
I did, however, catch a snippet or two of the Olympic frolics on the news.
There was Kenneth Branagh, dressed as Isambard Brunel, declaiming a speech from Shakespeare’s Tempest (astonishingly badly for a professional actor). And if that meant anything to anyone, it wasn’t me.
Beyond that, I must rely for an assessment of the ceremony on the various comments of my online friends.
Among which, my favourite was: “Arctic Monkeys sing The Beatles to a ring of cycling moths. It’s what you’ve dreamt of all your life.”
Strangely, the same person summed up the next morning: “That’s the best opening I have ever seen, mostly because of the chaos and humour. No other country could have done it.
“The organisation too was impeccable – amazing for a country with a railway system like ours.”
Interesting, I think, that that positive, pro-British attitude comes from a Brit who started out as a Hungarian.
Perhaps more typical was my friend who complained: “So that was what we blew £27million on, was it? Perhaps, rather than getting sentimental over a mythological pretence of the NHS, we should have spent the money on the real NHS instead.”
That, I might say, is an expurgated version of Jeremy actually said.
Possibly more telling were his acerbic remarks as the whole pageant unscrolled. Such as this: “Just caught the traditional British Victorians worshipping the roots of an Ent near Hobbiton.”
Oh dear. Cod Victoriana meets Tolkien whimsy. It all sounds more would-be surreal than really surreal, a theme-park vision of a weary cliché Britain. Glad I wasn’t watching or I might’ve fwoed up.
An actor playing James Bond meeting the real Queen before stand-ins for both of them parachute into the stadium is either inspired madcappery or embarrassing nonsense. I don’t which, and I don’t think being there would have helped.
But, Jeremy, if it was all truly as awful as you say, why weren’t you watching that delightful Snowdonia documentary instead?


I’M not anti-American, though over the years a number of Americans have accused me of being. Like most Brits, I’ve absorbed American culture to the point of fascination.
I did, though, find myself nodding a lot as I read a blog post entitled “10 Things Most Americans Don’t Know About America”. Which is exactly how the writer, PostMasculine, said non-American readers would react.
PostMasculine is an unusually well-travelled American, whose blog has suddenly acquired a mass of new readers (including me). He has, in the lingo, “gone viral”.
Among the things he says most Americans don’t know are the following:
“Few people are impressed by us”. The exceptions, he believes, include the English. Which is obviously at least partly true.
“Few people hate us.” To which he adds:Most people in the world don’t really think about us or care about us.” Which is obviously the thing most Americans, themselves uncaring and ignorant about the rest of the world, find hardest to accept or understand.
“The quality of life for the average American is not that great.” Here he refers to the enormous inequalities in a society where most people are not actually rich – and to the fact that riches don’t actually buy life quality anyway.
“The rest of the world is not a slum.” True, of course. Though even I had to confront my prejudices when reading this: “My neighborhood in Colombia is nicer than the one I lived in in Boston.”
“We’re paranoid.” Hence Homeland Security, the irrational fear of the foreign, the exaggeration of threats of all kinds (except, oddly, those that really exist, such as climate change and armed fellow Americans). (I added the bit in brackets myself.)
“We are very unhealthy.” Two points there – both of which we in Britain should take special note of, because we seem intent on heading the same way.
One is the Americans’ awful diet – too much, too fatty, too laced with unpleasant chemicals. “Our food,” says PostMasculine simply, “is killing us”.
The other point is the US health-care system. Americans spend far more than people in any other country on a system which the World Health Organisation rates only the 37th best in the world, just behind Cuba, Malta and the United Arab Emirates.
As PostMasculine says: “Enjoy your Big Mac.”

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