With the upbeat and raucous London 2012 Closing Ceremony over and the British public reluctantly waving a tear-stained farewell to the departing athletes, we are now all hoping that the Olympics-fuelled euphoria can somehow become the start of a new era of British positivity.
One word that I have heard bandied about a great deal over the last fortnight is ‘Pride’.
This mood became infectious over the last 2 weeks with so many Brits proclaiming themselves proud to be British. Proud of the torch relay, proud of the opening ceremony, proud of the venues, proud of the volunteers, proud of how our country looked on TV, proud of the way the general public got behind the Games, proud of the performance of Team GB and even proud of having the chance to be proud again.
This somehow seems a far cry to last summer when a wave of civil unrest swept across the country, leading to the riots that so shocked the world.
At that point, I wonder how many people could have foretold the transformation in national sentiment that could have been achieved a mere 12 months later. I’m sure many would have laughed at you if you had told them that they would be proud again a matter of months later.
For me, returning to the UK after so long away has been a fascinating and often emotional experience.
Living in Sydney, I knew many ‘Poms’ who renounced their homeland almost as soon as they got off the plane and would do anything they could to criticise England, partly, it has to be said, as a way to reinforce their own decision to emigrate.
Conversely, I also knew many other Poms who have retained a strong connection with the old country, glorying in its triumphs and wincing when things went wrong. For these expats, no matter how long they live away, there will be a little part of them that will be forever England (or Scotland, Wales or Ireland).
I had always belonged to the second group, often feeling a bit wistful when watching something very English on my Sydney-based television set, whether that be cheering a sporting triumph (unlikely), catching a view of the green, green countryside, celebrating a Brit achieving big things on the world stage or even just watching a particularly good BBC drama. I felt a strange sense of my heart and body somehow being in separate places.
(I can only imagine how I would have felt during the Olympics if I’d still been based in Australia and would be interested to hear how other ex-pat Poms were feeling).
Arriving back in England earlier this year, I got a sense that expressing pride in your country was seen by many as being somehow an inappropriate sentiment, given the current economic circumstances.
Reading some of the intellectual posturing in the newspapers made me wonder why some of these journalists bother living here if it is all as gloomy as they like to report. It all felt like a self-fulfilling prophesy – talk the place down and people will feel down. If nothing else, it gave them something to moan about in their weekly columns – bad news still sells papers, it seems.
I chose to take a somewhat different approach, believing that it is possible to hold divergent opinions at the same time. That you can be concerned about aspects of modern society whilst still retaining a strong underlying sense of patriotism and national pride.
And, as a counter to some of the endemic, media-led pessimism, a belief that a positive outlook is more likely to lead to a positive outcome.
Sometimes timing is all important and for me, it couldn’t have been better.
I arrived back in the UK a few months ago, already harbouring positive feelings about my country and since then, I have had those feelings magnified with spring rolling into summer, the Queen’s jubilee, The Euros and of course the magnificence of the Olympic Games.
The British feelgood factor must be close to an all-time high which I’m sure we all hope marks a dramatic switch in the fortunes of the UK.
A friend asked me the other day about the legacy from the Sydney 2000 Olympics and I struggled to think of anything specific.
Sure, there was a similarly amazing feeling created at the time, but I think maybe people just assumed that it would lead to a golden future for Australia and it became a golden chance squandered. It just goes to show that nothing is guaranteed.
But what the upsurge in positivity leading out of London 2012 does do however is to provide an opportunity.
An opportunity for people to start to believe again in their country and furthermore, the contribution they can personally make to help put the Great back into Britain. If that feeling of positivity can somehow be harnessed and developed, then the future could indeed be rosy.
As for me, I just feel privileged to have been able to return to my homeland at such a glorious time in its history. Sure it is ‘only’ a sporting event, but I have never felt such a sense of pride and belonging and am looking to the future, brimming with optimism.
As the Twitter hashtag says, now more than ever, I’m truly #proudtobeBritish.