Between choruses Sir Paul McCartney shouted, ‘I can’t stop it’. He was kidding himself if he thought that audience participation in ‘Hey, Jude’, the closing number in the London 2012 opening ceremony, was unstoppable. At 12.50am in Stratford’s Olympics Stadium, SingAlongAMacca was more gently simmering than boiling over; and plenty of seats were already empty by the time Sir Paul stood up to conduct the final chord. But supposing he meant Britain compulsively remixing itself – frantically sampling itself in a bid to hold the world’s attention, then the ceremony up to and including his own participation in it, proved him right. Out of the mouths of baby-faced old men….. Out of the ground: in the opening ceremony’s most compelling representation of British history, concertina-ed chimneys sprang from the turf to symbolise the rise of Britain’s smokestack industries. Industrialisation really did make men as mobile as molten metal, so the scene in which a dramatised facsimile of ‘industrial Britain’ actually went on to mould the five Olympic rings, rang true. (How apt that a disused building on the former Ford’s Dagenham estate was used as a rehearsal room for this sequence.) So, too, the parade of iron bedsteads representing the formation of the National Health Service in 1948. Never mind that Sir Kenneth Branagh, the actor presiding over relentless industrialisation in the role of Isambard Kingdom Brunel, politely refrained from lighting his cigar; or that few Brits would have recognised Brunel without the aid of TV commentary, helpfully scripted in advance. The section highlighting Britain’s formative experiences between the mid-nineteenth century and the mid-twentieth, managed to keep its line. In accordance with the original, historical period, there was certainty in the tableaux, too. By comparison, the lengthy retrospective of British pop culture, with the athletes’ parade sandwiched into it, was circuitous rather than directional. Scores of micro-samples – from ‘Pretty Vacant’ to ‘Tiger Feet’; from Queen to the Queen, were pasted into the presentation like so many examples of clip art. Old Man McCartney was there as a replica of his younger self – a sort-of hologram with sadly sunken cheeks. As they buzzed around a world audience of ‘up to one billion’, these relics made for a messy mixture. Yet all the ones-I-made earlier (why no Blue Peter?) comprised an accurate reflection of London as it really is today: the place where things produced earlier (culture from the past, commodities from elsewhere, capital derived from global production) are continually re-mixed, re-branded, and re-launched around the world. So if this part of the opening ceremony was no more purposeful than a merry-go-round, that’s telling it like it is. True to form, television coverage of the ceremony had not even finished before images from two hours earlier or even two minutes ago were being recycled and beamed around again in a brief reprise of the ‘historic’ occasion. (Commentators describing an event as ‘historic’ when it has not even finished yet, have already pinged it into a higher orbit of continuous recycling.) On last night’s showing, this part of the world really ‘can’t stop’ circulating itself; even while the Olympics are on, it’s the only game in London town.
Nick Buckles: man out of time. Nick Buckles: man of his times. The head of G4S, the security firm that failed to recruit enough guards in time for the Olympics, is also a man of the moment, perfectly synchronised with the way London is today. £5.3m earnings last year. Cheesy grin like David Dickinson. Central Casting for the fat cat that only knows how to cream? But Nick Buckles does not lack integrity. His operation was fully integrated with London’s current way of being. ‘They are all working through a process of interview, two or three different degrees of training, licensing, accreditation’ – Buckles describing the applicants who didn’t make it onto the company’s books in time. He went on: ‘Our review process was around the number of people applying for interviews, we had 100,000 of those, the number of people interviewed which was 50,000. So basically you work through that process of numbers….’ Process, process, process. Not only his keyword but also the key to a city – the City, which processes value for and on behalf of global capital. Accordingly, Buckles has been carrying out a ‘process of numbers’ for and on behalf of the International Olympics Committee and its London brokers, Locog. His company does not seem to have fully grasped that the outcome of this process was to be finalised before the opening ceremony. But its inability to complete is consistent with London’s everyday priorities: continuous financial processes; continuity of finance. Buckles’ manner of speaking is similarly inconclusive. (And not only about G4S and the Olympics. He once said ‘I can’t say I have ever read a book, particularly’.) Yet when circling around a topic, not quite getting there, it isn’t simply that he is being evasive. Speaking inconclusively, he is articulating a whole way of life – process, process, process – which is how London lives today. To repeat, Nick Buckles – man out of time; Nick Buckles – man of his times.