Well, they did for me anyway. At first, I was full of cynicism. Oh a green hill, and, oh, a hymn *shudders*. Then Kenneth Branagh doing Isambard Kingdom Brunel, whilst quoting Shakespeare, in a top hat and ‘scary facial whiskers’ (to quote my daughter) bothered my sensibilities somewhat and the grubby working classes, well worked… until, the five Olympic rings were forged before my eyes and raised above the stadium and then, you might say, we were all on the same page. That sentence took some writing. Not unlike the time (cubed) it took for me to catch up with the vision.
There’s no need for me to catalogue what came next is there? All I want to say really, is this. The time passed awfully quickly and when Muhammad Ali faltered onto the stage I cried.
I didn’t cry a little, I cried a lot. I have mentioned Ali on here before, mainly as a beautiful individual and a lyrical gangster. The night before the opening ceremony I had coincidentally waved his photo biography at a small audience and extolled his many qualities, lest they troubled to forget.
Then last night, as if by magic, there he was. He looks so different from his prime. It’s more than age, it’s the ravages of the cruel neurological disease that is Parkinson’s, a disease that afflicted my grandfather. Last night, I had to look and look again to be sure, ‘Is that Muhammad Ali?’ And then, when Ali moved to touch the Olympic flag, suddenly, time and space collapsed and so did I. In that Olympic moment I was a child again, watching Ali in black and white on the portable tv, listening to his patter and his press conferences. I was reading him, occasionally writing about or quoting him, over a lifetime. I was the age I am now, waving his picture to strangers and I was all I can ever try to be, somehow incredibly knowing shared humanity, connected through all our wondrous possibilities.
I am nothing to Muhammad Ali, and he is nothing and no-one and everything and everyone to me. How much easier for a man of his age, and frailty to stay at home out of the public’s gaze, than fly to London for a late night gig. But despite the disease, the age, the infirmity and confusion, he is the same as he ever was, because he was there. There, still fighting his battle, on the world stage. And to me, that is the Greatest Ever Inspiration any of us could wish for.
He who is not courageous enough to take risks will accomplish nothing in life.