The Paralympics officially began last night with an opening ceremony based on a science theme, simultaneously heavily emphasising progress and enlightenment, and harking back to lines from The Tempest. Again. Stephen Hawking played a major speaking part in the opening ceremony; despite not being the obvious choice for this kind of thing, the eminent scientist still managed to sound less discordant than the Spice Girls a few weeks ago. The teams entered the stadium to huge applause, but bizarrely some of the Iraqi members decided to arrive on the scene wearing balloon hats. It is not clear whether they were wearing them as a way of showcasing new safety equipment for wheelchair rugby, or it was some kind of patronising effort to entertain the mentally ill. Either way, I found them hugely entertaining.
“I want one shaped like a sausage dog”
Former government minister Edwina Currie enjoyed the parade immensely, and even became sexually aroused at the arrival of the Italian athletes. Making sure that everyone was aware of her feelings, Currie swiftly withdrew her mobile phone from wherever she keeps it and Twittered gleefully, "Italians are gorgeous even in wheelchairs. Love 'em." Oddly some considered this comment patronising, and when criticised for this she later Twatted "Get off with the patronising. Look at them: they are gorgeous, and they're in wheelchairs. I bet they'd agree." I bet they wouldn’t. One Twitterer said that the comment was "singularly the most offensive thing I have seen on Twitter". He obviously doesn’t follow Frankie Boyle.
Like the opening ceremony for the main Olympic Games nearly five weeks ago, Sebastian Coe took part by giving a protracted and windy speech loaded with unnecessary and ill-fitting superlatives, and once again lecturing those who remained awake long enough on the true meaning/spirit/importance of sport. Near the end of the nightmarish sermon Coe promised that the attending crowds would be “unprecedented”, a promise that, in the cold light of day, might best have stayed in Coe’s jacket pocket alongside his driving gloves, Extra Strong Mints and stacks of corporate tickets.
In a situation of typical Britishness the Olympic flame nearly didn’t make it to the stadium in time for the ceremonial lighting of the caldron, as it was running behind schedule by two hours earlier in the day. A contingency plan was put into place in which a breakaway flame was lit and Sir Cliff Richard was refused entry to the venue on the grounds that he might be tempted to sing during the possible delay.
“Okay guys, who knows NWA’s ‘Fuck the Police’?”
The Paralympics are seen by some, James Berresford the CEO of VisitEngland in particular, as and opportunity to “show off the UK's world class accessibility to the disabled”, the world class accessibility which I have proudly highlighted before. But not everyone believes that Britain is at the forefront of caring for the disabled, particularly yesterday’s protesters who are a bit peeved that Atos, the private company contracted by the Department of Work and Pensions to investigate disabled people’s benefits is in fact also, alongside Samsung and Visa, one of the three ‘Paralympic partners’. Could it be that Atos are sponsoring the Paralympics using the money that they have collected from the government, who in turn have collected it – with the help of Atos – from the disabled people to whom they were previously paying benefits?
In a way it's beautiful.