Of course the Olympics were great: a two-week holiday from the Eurozone crisis and interviews with Ed Balls. How could it not be great? Christ, what are we living for anyway? The pre-Games nay-sayers (you know who you are) are scrambling to respond to the shock of how great they were – I particularly like the Counter-Intuitive Patriotic Defence, whereby it is argued that harping on about how awful Britain is in every aspect is in fact a great British attribute, and by doing so continuously one is really doing one’s bit to add to the greatness of Britain. I like this line because it begins with the same premise as the Enthusiasts: that Britain is indeed the greatest nation.
In fact, there was always a high level of public enthusiasm for the Games throughout the country. I witnessed this indirectly (the impossibility of acquiring tickets in the first round) and directly (the turnout for the torch relay). Virtually all the negativity came from Londoners whining about their commutes, which they do all year round anyway.
It’s remarkable how parochial Londoners become. They live in the greatest cosmopolitan city but their world shrinks to about three streets within walking distance of their house. A Londoner will think nothing of demanding that you travel hundreds of expensive miles to the capital, but if you suggest a meeting on the wrong side of the river, or at a location that requires them to make two Tube changes they’ll react as if you’ve asked them to traverse the Gobi by camel (or perhaps, as Michael Palin’s Ripping Yarn brilliantly had it, TO CROSS THE ANDES BY FROG!)
The BBC’s coverage of the Games was superb across all media (I listened to most of the second week on the radio, for reasons which will become clear below) but there were some amusing Alan Patridge-isms. My favourites included Jonathan Edwards’ technical analysis of a triple-jumper’s effort: “There was too much toe on the hop-landing.” There was a funny moment when John Inverdale attempted to start a discussion about the ‘tactics’ involved in a 100-metre race. Paraphrasing, it went something like this:
INVERDALE: “So do you think that by attempting to beat Bolt and get the gold, rather than settle for another medal, Blake could actually end up missing out on the silver or bronze?”
MICHAEL JOHNSON: “No I think he’ll just try to run as fast as he can for 100 metres.”
Gary Linekar also slipped in a beauty just before the deadline. Introducing the closing ceremony, he promised that it would represent people “from all four corners of the Earth, and all four walks of life.” This prompted a heated living-room discussion about what “the four walks of life” were. I think we finally concluded that they were the dentists, the cheese-mongers, the astronauts and the New Statesman columnists.
Of all the Olympic races, rowing ones are surely the most excruciating to watch. That camera foreshortening thing is so deceptive, and when the British crew are in the lead, just holding off the Aussies by half a length, the wretched finishing line just never seems to arrive, does it?
The best thing about the Olympics is seeing the practitioners of minority sports getting their moment in the sun. I think my favourite this time was Jade Jones, the lass from Flint who won a gold in the Taekwondo. All these indefatigable people who get up in the dark every day for years to punish their bodies, sacrifice easy comforts, perform agonising feats in front of the proverbial one man and his dog, all so that every four years they might stand on a podium and we might share a little bit of reflected patriotic glory as the national anthem plays. Always makes me well up with tears, this year especially so as I have been suffering from conjunctivitis.
Conjunctivitis, I used to think, was an annoying but relatively trivial condition. What I didn’t realise until this past fortnight is that the term covers a multitude of diseases, and can lead to complications. It started three Fridays ago as a minor itching and soreness in the left eye. By the Monday the left eye was virtually closed. On the Wednesday I woke up and found the infection had spread to my right eye, and then my ordeal began.
The NHS is not a patient-based organisation but a system-based organisation. By which I mean, in a patient-based organisation, you would go to a medic with your symptoms, and the medic would conduct a thorough examination to discover which disease is causing those symptoms, and would give you the appropriate treatment immediately. That’s not how the NHS works. Instead you are faced with a series of gatekeepers whose job it is to prevent you from taking up the time of the next professional up the ladder. If you go to the health centre with conjunctivitis symptoms, you will see a nurse, who will give you an over-the-counter remedy and say “come back if it gets worse.” If it gets worse you will see another nurse who will give you a slightly stronger remedy and say “come back if it gets worse”. Then you’ll see a GP who prescribes antibiotics and says “go to the Eye Hospital if it gets worse.” At the Eye Hospital you have to pass a telephone interrogation before they let you see an admissions nurse. Eventually you will see an ophthalmologist who will diagnose you and casually explain why all the treatments you’ve had thus far have been useless.
The system is based on the assumption, at every stage, that you have what 90% of people with your symptoms have, with the onus on you, the patient, to break through the next barrier if your suffering becomes intolerable. That’s a good system from the NHS’s point of view, and works for people 90% of the time, but if you are unlucky enough to be one of the 10% with something that isn’t the norm, you will undergo unnecessary and prolonged torment.
Contrast with private medics. When my photophobia (acute light-sensitivity) became so bad that I was effectively blind outside of a blacked-out room, I went, mole-like, to a local optician. For £25 he examined me under a microscope, identified something called anterior uveitis (an inflammation of the cornea caused by the immune system fighting the conjunctivitis) and sent me to A&E with a covering letter. I then got the steroid treatment which has enabled me to write this, in small bursts. At that stage I was of course grateful for the NHS’s free drugs. Incredibly grateful in fact, because blindness, I’ve found, really sucks, especially when accompanied by pain, insomnia and paranoia. But today I squint happily at the world, which contains such beauteous things as blackbirds and roses and Saunton Sands and Jessica Ennis, and the glorious kaleidoscope of greens and reds and burnished Olympic Golds, and my road lies fuzzily before me, for I was blind but now I can see, and I’m movin’ on up now, gettin’ out of the darkness and my light shines on, my light shines on, my light shines on…