The Commonwealth Games Opening Ceremony was the best thing I’ve watched on TV all summer.
OK, I understand that this event would perhaps not be everyone’s summer 2014 audiovisual highlight. And yet, despite stiff competition from football matches in Brazil and several episodes of Orange Is the New Black or House of Cards (or any Netflix-driven drama), Glasgow’s thistle-filled and tartan-covered extravaganza was quite honestly the most wonderful two hours I’ve spent in front of a television screen in a very long time.
It is hard to write this, I have to say. I didn’t want to like it so much. I didn’t even think I would watch it. So when I did, it would have been easy to be critical. To say something clever, and not at all clichéd, outlining the inadequacies of the evening’s entertainment: “two hours of my life I will never get back #wtf #glasgow2014”. Perhaps followed up with a witty response: “2hrs 40mins actually cuz it dragged on a bit #lol #cringe”.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not judging the many invaluable insights that graced my Facebook feed during the ceremony. I too was prepped and ready with my own similarly retweetable remark.
I could have pointed out, for example, my annoyance when SuBo opted for some uncomfortable ad lib. Or my frustration that, by the time the Welsh athletes had arrived in the arena, the now weary multicoloured dancers were beyond out of sync, left limp like a sort of wilting Celtic Park-sized fruit bowl. I could have jumped on cynical bandwagon favourites and reiterated how horrendously garish the Team Scotland outfits were. Or suggested that Rod Stewart was getting a bit too old for it all. I could even have gone for an ironic yet indignant outburst about how unfortunate it was that there were some empty seats kicking about the front rows when I would have loved to take my nan, dog, boyfriend or even my step-mum’s second cousin to such an event.
And initially, it was all quite annoying. First, I was temporarily blinded by all the bright green and purple tartan flashing before my eyes. When I regained sight, famous Scot John Barrowman had appeared atop a 4×4 belting out some bizarre song featuring such whiffs of lyrical genius as “We’ve got ships, such wonderful ships”. Then a giant kilt-cum-storage unit looming behind him was manipulated to reveal a foam Swilcan bridge replica, which was used in the ditty’s depiction of our dear St Andrews.
At this early stage, I genuinely feared for the image of Scotland we were about to portray to the world. But then, something great happened.
It seemed to just come out of nowhere, though perhaps it was choreographed all along. Or perhaps it emerged from within the depths of a giant sporran.
All I know is, this truly perfect moment changed my mind forever…
A small child stumbled into view dressed as a Tunnock’s teacake.
Said outfit worn by said child appeared to be a simple yet effective elaboration on that fancy dress favourite, a tinfoil-and-cardboard-box-robot. Our first Tunnock teacaked toddler quickly gave way to seas of Tunnocks teacakes spilling across our screens; some worn in cardboard box fashion by bewildered children and others chucked around and rolled about the stage by tartan-clad teens.
So, I started to laugh. I laughed a lot, actually. And it didn’t stop there, because this glorious teacake exercise was repeated with whisky barrels and Irn Bru and golfers and shortbread and I don’t know how many other hilarious Scottish stereotypes. And it was all very funny.
And it also seemed to be a whole lot of fun for those involved. They may have resembled a crew of Borrowers who’d taken a wrong turn and ended up in the Loch Ness gift shop, but at least they were having fun. It made me think of a play in nursery or primary school. The kind of play where everyone who wants to be in it, gets to be in it. And, when you are in it, you know that someone is going to come along and see you and take photos of you and remember your performance forever. And it doesn’t matter whether you are the Virgin Mary herself or just sheep number seven; you do your role and it matters because you were in it.
It didn’t matter whether you were Nicola Benedetti beaming as she played her beautiful Loch Lomond rendition or one of the lucky few dog walkers guiding in each country’s athletes with their adorable Scottie dog companion. Everyone in it was loving it. Utterly and unashamedly.
And I completely fell for it all. I could muster no more cynicism.
Glasgow showed the world its talent: a virtuoso violinist, top athletes, multimillion selling recording artists, incredibly moving ballet dancers and world renowned film stars. Glasgow shared its culture, reminding us of its way with words, a diverse history, political strength and some comedic wisdom. But Glasgow also showed its heart. Not only in the outstanding charitable effort for UNICEF. Not only in the tribute to the victims of the MH17 tragedy that brought the whole city to silence.
The heart of this city, of this country, and of the combined Commonwealth nations, was shown to be a shared strength of feeling; valuing integrity, promoting inclusion and fighting injustice. And, in that great Glasgow way, not taking itself too seriously.
The very human – and often hilarious – aspects of this opening ceremony proved that we can always overcome disaster and debate and differences. The whole ceremony, surely embodied by the wee boy and his teacake costume, seemed to say that we need to let go of these little things that can annoy us and divide us. Let’s enjoy ourselves. Let’s have a laugh.