And in what same two phenomena might you hope to catch a glimpse of an anthropomorphic Mole and Rat?
|Olympic Park (Wikimedia Commons: Alexander Kachkaev)|
The first, of course, is the Olympic Opening Ceremony. In the published responses, at home and abroad, most of these words were used.
The second is what we find in the best of children’s books - especially in that most visual form - the picture book. Only in stages of amazement did I recognize a shared sensibility and common intent.
But then, so did the whole wide world.
The run up to the Olympics was not promising: rain and more rain; big chain monopolies; rows about security; dubious sponsorship, tickets reserved for bigwigs; manned helicopters mounted on tower blocks; sausages arrested for forming into rings. I wasn’t looking forward to it at all. I don’t have the sport bit of brain. Somebody wins, most lose. I don’t know who they are so I can’t see how it matters. But it does matter, incredibly, to a great many people and I like watching them have a good time.
So I sat down at the
end of a dull day to watch the ceremony. I was on my own. What did that matter
either? I expected the usual variety show turnout, a bit of tub thumping and
marching, a fading nation’s last stand, bored disappointment and an early
night. It didn’t turn out like that. The first few scenes were the very
antithesis. Mythical England, maypole and morris dancing, cricket on the green,
a bucolic blend of Tellytubby land and Betjeman’s middle England.
|England's 'green and pleasant land' (Wikimedia Commons: Nick Webb)|
But then, oh my
goodness, from the moment that Kenneth Branagh, dressed as Isambard Kingdom
Brunel, uttering the words of Caliban, given to us by Shakespeare, (a puzzle
inside a riddle inside a mystery?) that the ‘isles are full of music, sounds
and sweet airs that give delight and hurt not’, things took off with eye
widening, heart thumping speed. Images rose out of seeming nowhere, disappeared
and were replaced. Those towering chimneys, complete with smoke! Evelyn
Glennie, a white witch with swishing hair and flowing robes (Beware, beware,
the flashing eyes and floating hair), drumming her heart out, clicking her
sticks; the river of molten steel rising up to be forged into the Olympic
rings, the Queen jumping out of a helicopter only to reappear a moment later
with her customary air of disapproval ....and on an on, one scene unfolding
after another, each with a different mood - solemn, hilarious, touching, -
totally surprising and utterly heartwarming. This magnificent panorama
magically rolled out before us – the fine balance of chaos and technical
wizardry – culminating in midnight birds on bicycles and copper petals rising
sleekly upwards to form a flaming chrysanthemum of a cauldron.
|Industrial Age (Wikimedia Commons: Barney Moss)|
|Olympic Cauldron (Wikimedia Commons: Thomas Heatherwick)|
There was sentiment, but no syrup. The NHS scene was idealised of course, but appealed to the childhood sense in all of us, the fear of nightmares, the longing to be tucked up safely in our own bed with our own light and our own nurse to guide us through night terrors. Deaf children singing a song they couldn’t hear, sick children bouncing and dancing on gigantic beds, a giant baby, so many children.
Amid this spectacle, Kenneth Branagh’s eyes glistened with wonder – which looked nothing to do with acting. I think this must have made more new patriots in an evening and more admirers abroad than anything we could have hoped for. And the medals were all to come.
For me, cracking open a bottle of fizz in sheer disbelief and excitement, tears rolling down my cheeks at the dance for the dead of 7/7 with that sweet rendering of Abide With Me, I had the most unfamiliar sense of belonging. This was the country into which I was born, its energy, its talent, its skills, its off-the-wall oddball genius.
As a children’s
writer, increasingly dismayed by the sidelining of picture books both in the
book chains and in schools, it was immensely reassuring, coming as it did from
the same imaginative seam – too rich and deep to disappear. The result was ‘a
miracle of rare desire, a stately pleasure dome, with caves of fire.’
Quintessentially, it reflected the shared inner life and psyche of a nation. It
was a picture book, writ VERY VERY BIG.
To that world, I most definitely belong.
|"This is for everyone." (Wikimedia Commons: Nick Webb)|
Thank you Danny Boyle and Frank Cottrell Boyce. Thanks also to Boris Johnson for the extra dollop of merriment a few days later in getting stuck on a zip wire flapping his union jacks, as if they might get him going again. (Did anyone hear ‘Poop! Poop!’?).
Thanks also to all those volunteers. I wish I had been one of them.
Guest blogger, Joyce Dunbar, is an award-winning children’s author with over eighty books published and her series, Mouse and Mole, has been animated for TV. Joyce’s many picture books include Tell Me Something Happy Before You Go To Sleep, Shoe Baby, This is the Star and Oddly. In October, look out for Joyce’s latest fun picture book: Puss Jekyll, Cat Hyde.