Letters From London

London 2012 opening ceremony

Only Two Fruit Machines Were In Use

The stirring scene as Londoners take in the Summer Olympics.

By Ellie Gibson • July 30, 2012

Many of us on the Gameological crew like the Olympics. Eurogamer’s Ellie Gibson, on the other hand, does not care for them (or so she claims). Naturally, then, we’ve invited her to be the site’s sole correspondent for the London 2012 Olympics. She does live there, after all. During the two weeks of competition, Ellie will be providing periodic updates to her running diary of the Games, in a feature we’re calling Letters From London.

Wednesday, July 25—Women’s soccer, Group E first-round match

The Olympics have started! Or as I like to put it, the Olympics have started. I’ve lived in London my whole life, and I love it. But I hate sports, patriotism, the funding of expensive non-essential projects with public money, and not being able to get cabs. So no exclamation marks from me, cheers.

I was pretty sure the Olympics weren’t starting till Friday, so imagine my delight when I turned on the telly and there they were. The other people in the room had to imagine it, too. At first, I assumed I’d finally become so bored with the pre-event coverage I’d fallen asleep and slept through the last two days. At least I’ve missed the opening ceremony, I thought. I’m not saying it’s going to be a total disaster. I’m just saying it’s going to be shambolic, too long, embarrassing, and best-forgotten. Much like everything else Britain has ever done, from colonialism to Love, Actually.

Then I realised it was the women’s football event. This made perfect sense. The women had clearly become bored of waiting around in the Olympic village bar, listening to the male athletes argue about the size of their javelins, and decided to just get on with it. Or, even more plausibly, the powers that be had decided that no one would bother watching women playing football, so no one would notice if they did it before the Olympics had actually started.

To be fair, they may have had a point. The stadium looked to be at least half-empty, even though it was hosting Great Britain versus New Zealand. I watched the women kick the ball around the field for a bit. No one scored. I tried to get excited. I couldn’t. Things continued in this vein for 45 minutes.

Then it was halftime, and the action switched to the studio, where some top pundits discussed the match so far. I’m pretty sure it’s the first time three women have been allowed to talk about sport on British television, together, and on their own. I’m pleased to report that they proved the principle of equality, being just as tedious and nonsensical as any bloke could hope to be.

Obviously, a man had been drafted in to help out the woman commentating on the actual match. She too proved it is possible to be a mistress as well as a master of stating the obvious. “You don’t want to get injured before a big tournament,” she sagely intoned at one point. Insightful real-time player-specific analysis included, “Nice bit of suncream on her cheeks, there.”

The final score was Great Britain 1, New Zealand 0. I looked outside my window to see if anyone was dancing in the street. No one was so much as walking down the street in a jaunty manner. The Olympics have started.

Friday, July 27—Opening ceremony

Outrageously, it turned out not everyone living in London automatically got a ticket to the Olympics opening ceremony. Not that I wanted to go, but the offer would have been nice. It’s like a bunch of people turning up at your house, announcing they’re going to throw a big party, then locking you in the toilet while they raid the booze cupboard and set off fireworks in your lounge.

Picking an alternative venue to watch the ceremony was tough. It had to be somewhere vibrant and dynamic. A microcosm of London—sophisticated, exuberant, diverse—where I could enjoy the boundless joie de vivre that Londoners are so famous for. Obviously, I ended up in a Wetherspoon’s.

If you’ve never heard of Wetherspoon’s—perhaps because you’re American, or a Conservative MP—they are a chain of terrible pubs, serving Jagermeister and energy drink cocktails for £1.50 a pop, and “gourmet burgers” that are so-called because they come with bacon.

This particular branch, in Forest Hill, South East London, is in a converted cinema. It has a long bar where the screen used to be, four fruit machines [slot machines —⁠Ed.], and the worst carpet in God’s creation. It also has several big TV screens, on which the opening ceremony was being shown.

I arrived to find the place half-empty. The landlord’s show of patriotic support was to hang a single string of bunting and to make the carpet extra sticky. As is traditional for a Wetherspoon’s, everyone in the pub looked mad, drunk, bored, or all of the above. No one looked very excited about the Olympics.

My friend Caroline arrived. “Are you excited about the Olympics?” I said.

“Hmm,” she said, staring past my shoulder. “There’s a woman getting felt up over there.”

Some other people turned up. We had a sweepstake on how long into the opening ceremony it would be before they wheeled out the pearly kings and queens. And then the numbers of the final countdown ticked away on the big screens, and we were off.

No one in the pub paid any attention to the pastoral bit. It was just another stereotypical representation of England, there to please the Americans and the Conservative MPs. But as the drums kicked in and the chimneys rose, it was clear this was going to be something different. The temperature of the air seemed to drop as the mood in the pub changed from indifference to resigned interest.

After 20 minutes, they wheeled the pearly kings and queens out, and I won £5. By now almost everyone in the pub was watching the big screens. I realized that this was turning into a momentous occasion—only two of the fruit machines were in use.

As the first segment of the ceremony reached its climax, the giant rings soaring majestically through the night sky, a man at the table next to ours rose to his feet. I prepared to follow suit and unite with the rest of the pub in wonder and solidarity. But then his girlfriend came back from the toilet, and they left.

All the same, there was definitely a sense that something had just happened. My friends were so moved they had to go outside and have a cigarette. On their return, I had to spend 15 minutes swearing that I hadn’t made it up about the Queen jumping out of a plane with James Bond.

There were some laughs from the pub audience for that bit, and for the section where Rowan Atkinson shared his Chariots Of Fire fantasy. Otherwise, there was little in the way of reaction. No clapping, and certainly no cheering. This is Britain, for goodness’ sake—the Queen and James Bond would have had to French kiss to elicit more than a polite chuckle. But right up to the bit when Albania began its lap of the stadium, the ceremony held everyone’s attention. No one started any fights or did any mad shouting, which counts as a historic Friday night in south east London.

I ended up watching the whole thing, right through to Zimbabwe, the amazing torch lighting ceremony and poor old Uncle Paul’s wobbly sing-song. I thought it was brilliant. It was funny, moving, political, and beautiful. It celebrated what’s great about Britain today, without glossing over the darker parts of our past, or our present. It wasn’t middle-of-the-road or predictable, unlike so much of British light entertainment. It wasn’t Ronan Keating and Katherine Jenkins; it was Dizzee Rascal, Emilie Sande, and the guy who invented the internet.

Most of all, it was a very British kind of celebration. It did not pretend this is the best country in the history of the world; it didn’t even pretend to be the best opening ceremony in the history of the world. It just said, look, here we are, and here’s how we got here. Here’s some good stuff and some bad stuff, and here are a load of people dressed as Mary Poppins fighting Lord Voldemort for the right to free smear tests.

So yes. I’m glad those people turned up and threw that party in my lounge, even if I had to watch it through the keyhole of my bathroom door.

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941 Responses to “Only Two Fruit Machines Were In Use”

  1. stakkalee says:

    Awesome coverage – I’m looking forward to more of this.

    Watching the opening ceremonies from the US I did notice some curious elisions, although I wonder whether they were from NBC or from the BOA itself.  For instance, I wasn’t sure if the opening scene, from pastoral to industrial, was supposed to be just a loose story or if it was supposed to actually track British history; if the latter was the case, I thought it was interesting they jumped from the end of World War I to the Beatles.  I guess not much happened in Britain from 1925-1960.

    Also, it was pretty shameful that NBC cut away from the moment of silence to show that terrible (in the sense of boring) Michael Phelps interview.

    Finally, the Queen is such a great sport.  Not just with the James Bond thing, but then they included the Sex Pistols “God Save The Queen” in the musical montage.  Of course, she looked pretty dour when she was read the opening statement, but I’d wager she always looks like that.

    • doyourealize says:

      Not only does she always look like that (at least on that night), but the NBC announcers made a point to explain how she has “a wicked sense of humor and you are seeing it on display tonight” while the camera was focused on her making that face.

      I enjoyed the show, but the announcers needed to shut up most of the time.

      • stakkalee says:

        Aww, you mean you didn’t find Matt Lauer and Meredith Viera witty and insightful?  What a completely unexpected turn of events.

        It is good to know that they’re apparently providing Ryan Seacrest access to the same vacuum-seal technology that’s kept Bob Costas looking so young all these years.  Hopefully that means we’ll only be subjected to Seacrest every 4 years as well.

        • I think my favorite part was when Bob Costas and Matt Lauer said “This is a good opportunity for us to remind you of something we’ve said in the past: the vast majority of athletes that come to these games will not win a medal,” immediately after the introduction of Albania.

          I, like everybody else with a pulse, absolutely loved this opening ceremony, but it felt so pandering to the scraps of general pop culture knowledge that the rest of the world has about Great Britain that I immediately began to feel great shame for what an opening ceremony in New York might be.

        • Merve says:

          Has Meredith Vieira done anything as egregious as confusing Michael J. Fox and Terry Fox yet at these Olympics?

        • Cornell_University says:

          I imagine it would just be the “you fuck my wife?” scene from Raging Bull, but for 4 hours.

  2. HobbesMkii says:

    Come on now, Love Actually isn’t that bad. Hugh Grant’s redeemable in it. And Colin Firth is there for author avatar. 

  3. Cornell_University says:

    if there had been any men in drag, all of England would have been laughing uproariously, ADMIT IT.

  4. Captain Internet says:

    The Industrial Revolution part of the opening was staggering, especially Evelyn Glennie as The Lady of Pain doing her fantastic drumming piece alongside the giant iron foundry. Obviously I’m disappointed it wasn’t followed by a ‘War of the Worlds’ segment, which is what happened historically, but you can’t have everything. 

    And they should have had Muse instead of the Arctic Monkeys. 

    But apart from that, yes, amazing.

    •  I love rewatching that scene over and over again. It feels inspiring and Kenneth Branagh is amazing as Brunel.

      Also, it gets better at the start when Sir Branagh began the story with a line reading from The Tempest

  5. The_Misanthrope says:

    Imagine my crushing disappointment at finding out “fruit machines” were not some new vending machine that was able to dispense fresh fruit year-round (G1 for Guava, G2 for Grapes (Red), G3 for Grapes (Green)).  It would certainly give London an edge against Tokyo in the “I can’t believe you put that in a vending machine!’ market.

    Also, I had heard about the “Mary Poppins vs. Giant Lord Voldemort” duel before, but now that I have checked some reputable sources/photos, I know now that it’s not an exaggeration.  My question is:  did Alan Moore write this bit or was he just on the planning committee.  That’s just a weird bit of synchronicity.

  6. The_Misanthrope says:

    I’m fairly close to Ellie in my lack of excitement about the Olympics.  I have respect for all the hard work the athletes put into these events, but I just can’t get too excited about it. 

    Also, I begin to wonder how it might feel if your country has never won a gold medal (or ,in some cases,  any medal at all).  Any country big and/or rich enough to develop some ringers is bound to take home a few, so even that country will always leave the closing ceremony with a sense of pride and accomplishment.  However, if you’re a country like Gabon or Saint Lucia* that gets routed every time they compete, you may feel like the poor kid at a school in an upper-class district. 

    *I have done minimal research on this, so I am not positive that either of those countries even compete in the Olympics or that they have never won.

    • Merve says:

      Your assumption was correct. Neither Gabon nor Saint Lucia has ever won an Olympic medal.

    • HobbesMkii says:

      I think the most ridiculous part is that we pretend like this the end-all and be-all of these athletes’ careers. It’s not like Michael Phelps just sits on his ass three out of four years, not swimming competitively. For swimming, at least, FINA holds World Championships every two years (in odd years). But if Phelps (or any other swimmer from any country) takes a gold there, no one gives a shit. It’s only when you dress it up as a great international spectacle and nationalist competition and televise it non-stop on NBC and its subsidiaries that being the best in the world gains any modicum of importance. A person could win a World Championship five times straight, but if they got a silver in the Olympics, everyone would think of them as “World’s Second Best,” no matter if they kept winning World Championships afterwards.

      • The_Misanthrope says:

         Well, I do know from commercials that Phelps enjoys a footlong from the sandwich artists at Subway and, from the press, a nice bong-full of medicinal inhalants, so I guess that would explain a lot about his free time.  Actually, it all fits together really well.

        Subway:  the official sub of pot-smoking Olympic swimmers

  7. Effigy_Power says:

    I can’t describe how I feel over Olympic Games anymore now that it apparently takes mobilization similar to wartime in order to ensure games considered the exemplar of peaceful competition.
    I love the idea, I pity the naivete, I endorse the athleticism, I oppose the commercialism, I admire the athletes, I fear the obligatory scandals.
    I can’t really watch it without being churned around, so I usually and to my detriment avoid the whole shebang.

  8. 24fps says:

    So maybe it is because of my French ancestry but I found it boring as hell. When I tune in it was the “made in Britain” music recap. After hearing all the cliches (but before they got to the Spice Girls) I lost interest and moved on to something else