I think it would be difficult to ever accuse me of being jingoistic, given that I once interviewed the British National Party (BNP) in order to challenge their views on ‘race’, and that for most of my working life I’ve worked with refugees and asylum-seekers in the UK. A flag-waving nationalist I certainly am not.
Indeed, my displays of patriotism tend to be confined to pulling out my retro England football and cricket shirts when there is an important game or tournament. Of course, I also support teams that represent Britain, although I don’t own any British sports apparel as I’m pretty sure it’s definitely not cool to wear a lycra Team GB Athletics kit when you’re out and about in town.
Nevertheless, when you live outside your country of origin, as I’ve discovered over the past six months, you inevitably compare and contrast life with that to which you are accustomed to back home. In turn, this reinforces a sense of self in which you learn very quickly just how much where you’re from does in so many ways influence who you are and how you think and act.
Yet, whilst I’ve been reminded of my ‘Britishness’ on many occasions over the past six months I have to admit that I hadn’t really missed the UK at all. Sure, I’ve missed family and friends, but the place itself? Not massively. I miss specific things like Sunday newspapers (it takes a dictionary and too much time to read one here), pubs, ale (it can be found here, but at a price) and…err…baked beans. But, one thing I hadn’t felt was homesick or a longing to return home.
Until the Olympics started.
Which is funny, because I left the UK not feeling at all bothered about missing them. We’d known for a couple of years that we’d be in Brazil during the games and whilst we half-heartedley said we might fly back, we never actually made any concrete plans to do so – and so when the ballot for tickets opened in March 2011 we didn’t even bother applying. The fact that hardly anyone we knew ended up getting tickets also made us feel a little bit better (apart from a suspiciously large proportion of my male friends who got tickets for beach volleyball).
However, in the week leading up to the games my mood started to change. Being outside of the UK I could see how the gaze of the world was starting to turn towards London – and I started to feel a little envious that I wasn’t going to be there.
As a result, on the last day of our trip to Minas Gerais we decided that we’d try and find a bar to watch the opening ceremony. After traipsing around São Joao del Rei for over an hour (fellow travellers take note, the city doesn’t seem to have many bars), we finally found somewhere and the barman kindly turned on the TV so that we could watch Danny Boyle’s ode to the UK.
Three hours later I think it’s fair to say that even my wife was feeling a little bit sentimental about London (I even caught her referring to it as ‘home’), although three hours worth of beer probably played a part in that as well.
The next day, in anticipation of Mark Cavendish winning GB’s first gold, we made sure that we got back to São Paulo in time for the men’s road race. Unfortunately, he missed out on the gold, but the race did proceed to go straight past my old office in Leatherhead, as well as lap Box Hill nine times (where I’d had a picnic with friends last summer), go through Richmond Park (where I had gone for a cycle on my last weekend in the UK) and then pass through various other towns and areas that I’d either worked in or lived close to. It was like watching a personal tour of where my life was six months ago.
Subsequently, watching events at different venues has stirred up memories of my life back in London and the UK (apart from Coventry, I have no fond memories of bloody Coventry).
Watching the volleyball at Earls Court reminded me of when I took a coachload of kids to see the T4 Stars of 2011 show last December (I was definitely the only person wearing a tweed jacket to that gig), whilst beach volleyball at Horse Guard’s Parade reminded me of when my wife and I walked passed it on her first ever day in the UK.
To top it off, the entire Brazilian Olympic team is based in Crystal Palace, the place where I lived for three years before coming to Brazil. As such, we get nightly updates from their camp, cut with shots of where we used to have picnics in Crystal Palace park, courtesy of the Brazilian news channels.
And as the games have got going, it has quickly became apparent that a lot of my chums back home had gotten a lot more tickets than I’d realised, because every time I check Facebook my feed is full of people posing for photos outside the Olympic Park – and, of course, at the beach bloody volleyball.
Paradoxically, whilst I’ve wallowed in my homesickness, Team GB has been storming up the medal table so that, from the outside at least, it seems most of London has stopped grumbling about the cost, disruption, etc (ad infinitum) , and has become carried away by the (unusual) wave of optimism that seems to have engulfed the city (apart from Morrissey – the miserable git).
All this seemed to peak on Saturday evening as I watched Jessica Ennis, Gregg Rutherford and then Mo Farah claim gold in the Olympic Stadium. Despite being 5,000 miles away, the buzz from the stadium felt very real in my front room as Mo completed his final lap and pulled away for gold.
“What I wouldn’t give to be out in London tonight”, I thought.
But with a few beers down me I thought about it A LOT more.
“Hmmm, perhaps I could book a flight home for ten days”.
Within five minutes I was texting friends at home to see if they had any spare tickets and then I found myself two clicks away from booking a flight home.
Alas, after necking another beer, and having calmed down a little bit, common-sense prevailed and I decided that although going home for a week would be very nice, spending £700 to do so in order watch some Kayaking (only spare tickets available) and to have a piss-up with my mates was probably not the most rational decision I was ever going to make – although it was VERY tempting.
Nope, I’ll instead continue to watch from our front-room here in São Paulo and I’ll take pride from afar about the fact that London seems to have done a pretty good job (i.e. no massive cock-ups – yet). I’ll also take great satisfaction from the fact that the diversity of those three athletes on Saturday only went to justify what Danny Boyle was trying to portray during the opening ceremony. The fact that the Daily Mail despises this makes it even better.
This was supposed to be a representation of modern life in England but it is likely to be a challenge for the organisers to find an educated white middle-aged mother and black father living together with a happy family in such a set-up
Rick Dewsbury, The Daily Mail (The day after the opening ceremony)