Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on

Olympics: Why these are dark days for a cynic

By Peter Wilkinson, CNN
updated 3:15 AM EDT, Tue August 14, 2012
A sea of Team GB's union flags greet competitors at a London Olympic equestrian event.
A sea of Team GB's union flags greet competitors at a London Olympic equestrian event.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Peter Wilkinson: Good will descended on this once curmudgeonly isle
  • "I was quite hopeful that something would go marvelously wrong in the British tradition."
  • Commentators opined on page after page that Britain had entered a new era, he said

Editor's note: Peter Wilkinson is a senior digital producer for CNN.

London (CNN) -- What has happened to my country? This last fortnight has made me feel like a foreigner in my own home as a collective wave of happy-clappy good will descended on this once curmudgeonly isle. Where has our natural suspicion of organized fun gone, our disdain for overt displays of emotion, our celebration of hapless failures.

It's easier for my fellow cynics, most of whom probably fled these shores long before the official sponsors parked their corporate juggernauts on our lawns and the athletes arrived for the glorified sports day known as the Olympic Games. But I had to remain in London to help with CNN's coverage of the spectacle, and boy was it tough seemingly being in a minority of one.

The singer Morrissey reliably poured his usual words of scorn on the parade, criticizing the "blustering jingoism." He added: "Has England ever been quite so foul with patriotism?"

Peter Wilkinson
Peter Wilkinson

But while I secretly sympathized with him, I bet he didn't have to run the gauntlet of thousands of smiling flag-waving enthusiasts on London's public transport system every day of the Games.

It was bad enough in 1997, following the death of Princess Diana, when a similar wave of hysteria overtook Britain. Then, complete strangers cried together and hugged each other in the street, as they mourned a pampered princess whom they had never met. Commentators opined on page after page that Britain had entered a new era in which adults were able to discuss the hitherto taboo issue of emotions in public. Many of us hoped they were wrong. But this time it's far, far worse.

Games close with fireworks display

Not only are we all supposed to rejoice that £9 billion of taxpayers' money has been spent tarting up part of east London that I have never visited and now have even less reason to go there, we must all celebrate and cry uncontrollably when sports men and women win events that I have never even heard of. Coxless fours? Taekwondo? Handball? I wouldn't have minded if there were real sports in the Olympics -- crazy golf, kite-flying, staring contests to name just three of my favorites -- but many of the events that really took place are just crazy.

Before the Games, I was quite hopeful that something would go marvelously wrong in the British tradition. We'd got the dates wrong, and it's actually taking place next year. The swimming pool would spring a leak. The medals hadn't been made.

But oh no, everything went to plan -- IT DIDN'T EVEN RAIN -- and suddenly we're a "nation at ease with itself."

But before you board your flight home and hail Britain's flawless organization skills, spare a thought for curmudgeons like me. And now you've had your fun, please make sure you clear up all your mess, and turn out the lights. The show's over! Normal service can resume.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 9:53 AM EDT, Mon August 13, 2012
The moment that Team GB's Mo Farah won the 10,000 meters was a wonderful collision of electricity.
updated 11:34 AM EDT, Mon August 13, 2012
His blistering pace and larger-than-life antics made him the king of the track in London, and bolstered his claims to be a "living legend."
updated 5:44 AM EDT, Tue August 14, 2012
Disappointment for Nigeria's Muizat Ajoke Odumosu, who came last in the 400m hurdles final, London 2012 Olympics.
The Olympics are generally won and lost long before the opening ceremony cauldron is touched by fire.
updated 3:38 AM EDT, Sun August 12, 2012
Fans of the home side, Team GB, wave Union Jack flags during the Olympic Games
CNN's Richard Quest believes the London Games will be regarded as having brought the Olympics concept home.
updated 12:33 PM EDT, Sat August 11, 2012
Strategist Alastair Campbell says he never imagined London 2012 would be quite the triumph it turned out to be.
updated 4:57 PM EDT, Tue August 14, 2012
Award-winning director Danny Boyle celebrates the best of British music in London 2012's Olympic Closing Ceremony.
updated 9:52 AM EST, Thu January 31, 2013
From Usain Bolt's record-setting achievements to an unexpected Ugandan gold, London 2012 has provided a wide array of highlights.
updated 11:05 PM EDT, Sun August 12, 2012
CNN's Amanda Davies recaps the London 2012 Olympics from the opening ceremony on July 27 to the finale on day 16.
updated 1:02 PM EDT, Sun August 12, 2012
Mo Farah and Usain Bolt celebrate their success at the London 2012 Olympic Games by copying each other's
It's been just over two weeks since the Queen parachuted into London's Olympic Stadium, her apricot dress flapping in the breeze.
updated 8:14 AM EDT, Wed August 15, 2012
When the world's top marathon runners bid to win Olympic gold, they would do well to draw inspiration from one of the greatest athletes in the history of track and field.
updated 12:33 PM EDT, Sat August 11, 2012
Team GB supporters with their faces painted in Union Jack designs at the Olympic Stadium in London.
Alastair Campbell always thought London 2012 would be a success, but never imagined it would be quite the triumph it has turned out to be.
updated 6:21 AM EDT, Fri August 10, 2012
Adrien Niyonshuti is unlikely to win an Olympic medal, and he will do well to even finish his event, but his story is surely one of the most inspirational.
updated 12:05 PM EDT, Fri August 10, 2012
The colors of the Olympic Rings at the Olympic Park in Stratford, east London, August 2012.
Olympic fever has cheered up London and made it a more welcoming place, but will optimism be one of the legacies of the Games?
updated 2:25 PM EDT, Fri August 10, 2012
Wojdan Shaherkani's Olympic debut was short, but sweet -- the Saudi judoka said competing at the Games was
London 2012 is the first Olympics to feature women in every national team, with Jacques Rogge hailing a "major boost for gender equality."
updated 8:40 PM EDT, Thu August 9, 2012
An impoverished South Korean gymnast has not only struck Olympic gold, but also reaped a $444,000 donation in a veritable rags to riches tale.
updated 8:46 PM EDT, Wed August 8, 2012
Britain's hero Jessica Ennis is set to cash in after winning heptathlon gold, but the poster girl of the 2012 Olympics says fame is not her motivation.
updated 3:46 AM EDT, Wed August 8, 2012
China is rallying around fallen hurdler Liu Xiang after he failed to make it past the first-round heat for a second consecutive Olympics.
updated 3:30 PM EDT, Fri August 3, 2012
The first woman to win Olympic gold almost died in a plane crash, but remarkably returned to run again for the U.S. in 1936.
updated 11:04 AM EDT, Tue August 7, 2012
Don Paige could not bear to watch the race he knew he could win. The 1980 Moscow Olympics were the death of a dream for many athletes.
updated 10:21 AM EDT, Sat August 4, 2012
Ricardo Blas Jr
While Michael Phelps and Usain Bolt grab the headlines, little-known athletes from around the world keep alive the original spirit of the Olympics.
Athletes spend years eating the right foods ... and then must resist the free fast food in the Olympic village. How do they do it?
ADVERTISEMENT