Thursday, July 24, 2014

Come On In, Scotland! (Or 'My trip to the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony, plus yet another rubbish photo of the Queen')

So, yes, I'm just back from Celtic Park.  I hadn't been planning to go to the opening ceremony until a few weeks ago, when I got an email offering restricted view tickets for only £20.  I thought to myself, "well, you get what you pay for, so I'm bound to be right behind a pillar", but as it turned out it was fantastic value for money - I could see pretty much everything.  And having just read through some of the comments on Wings, it's probably just as well I was there in person, because I don't think watching it on the BBC would have been good for my health.  Was Cameron really a guest on The One Show? I mean, seriously?  How the hell did they justify that, given that we're now in the regulated campaign period, and especially after they banned Alex Salmond from appearing on a rugby broadcast a couple of years ago?  And what was the logic for it anyway?  Scotland is the host country, not the UK, and as I understand it the London government has contributed absolutely nothing to the costs of the Games - 80% came from the Scottish Government, and 20% from Glasgow City Council.  (Contrast that with the 2012 Olympics when we were all required to stump up for London's party.)

Before I set off for the ceremony, I had a good look at the list of items that were not permitted, and one of them was the flag of any non-participating country.  This is presumably a more-or-less identical rule to the one at the Olympics that leads to the banning of Scottish flags on the grounds that they are "political" (the Union Jack being totally fine and "non-political", naturally).  But with delicious irony, the UK is of course a non-participating country in the Commonwealth Games, and so on a strict reading of the rules, the Union Jack should have been verboten, with everyone being required to wave the non-political saltire instead.  I was intrigued to see whether that rule would be enforced with the the same zeal that we've come to know and love at the Olympics, and the simple answer is that it wasn't.  It goes without saying that saltires very heavily outnumbered Union Jacks, but there was a small smattering of little flags with a saltire on one side and a Union Jack on the other.  I now gather that those flags were being handed out for free.  Who was responsible for that, and what was their political agenda?  Did they check in advance whether it was in adherence with the rules?

It's always said that stadiums look much smaller in real life than on TV. True enough, I was very slightly underwhelmed when I arrived, and the initial set-up with the Irn Bru cans (which was there hours in advance) looked incredibly tacky.  I thought to myself "all we need is a giant haggis and John Barrowman, and the twee vision of 'Scotland the Cringe' will be complete".  I really must be more careful about thinking these thoughts, but we didn't get the giant haggis, so I suppose that counts as some kind of result.

I recall being a bit frustrated with the uninspiring music that was used for Glasgow's little presentation at the end of the Delhi Games in 2010.  When I thought of the almost unbelievably good Scottish traditional music that I hear year in, year out at Celtic Connections, it was heartbreaking to realise we'd thrown away a golden opportunity to showcase all of that to the world.  But I thought "surely when the Games are actually in Glasgow, we'll get it right on the night".  Well, the first few minutes gave us Barrowman and Donald Where's Your Troosers.  Surely it could only get better from there?  Thankfully yes, although I never would have predicted that Rod Stewart's appearance would mark the moment when the quality improved.  Nicola Benedetti was spellbinding, and everyone around me immediately started to sing along to Loch Lomond.  I found I could hardly get the words out after a while, because I had a lump in my throat.  And then finally when the Queen's Baton arrived, we got a precious few minutes of the type of music that the evening had been crying out for all along, and the hairs on the back of my neck stood up.  I couldn't even see who was singing in Gaelic, and there was no name announced - could it have been Julie Fowlis, perhaps?  Whoever it was, take a bow - you made my night.

Where was our national anthem, by the way?  I can't claim to have a photographic memory of previous Commonwealth Games opening ceremonies, but I'm fairly sure Advance Australia Fair was heard at some point during the 2006 ceremony, for instance, and it would have been extremely odd if it wasn't.  When we were invited to stand and sing the "national anthem", and it turned out to be God Save the Queen rather than the national anthem of the host country, I can tell you that there was genuine bemusement all around me.  Some people did sing it, but it was probably one in five at the absolute most, and they weren't doing it with much gusto.  I got the impression they were mainly singing it for the sake of the Queen (and Prince Imran, whose name everyone misheard as Prince William!).

So it was a mixed night, but thankfully there was much more good than bad (there's no getting away from it, though - the Barrowman introduction was absolutely, unspeakably atrocious, and I'd say that even if he wasn't anti-independence).  I'm so glad I went, because I've seen so many opening ceremonies over the years on TV, and there was a real touch of magic to being able to wave back at the athletes as they marched past.  Oh, and I can imagine that the London media must be quietly seething that no-one booed the First Minister.

I wonder if the words "Come On In, Scotland" might resonate in a few weeks' time?  You know, in a "Stop the world, Scotland wants to get on" kind of way?

Overheard on the way back -

Official : "Twenty minutes' walk to the city centre straight ahead.  Or five minutes if you're Usain Bolt."

Sarcastic pedestrian : "Hashtag Topical."


  1. Who told John Barrownam he could sing? I mean, that was beyond terrible. Not even close to competent. Some "entertainers" aren't particularly good, but that was something else again. He sounded as if he'd never had a single singing lesson in his life. ANYONE can do better than that with a modicum of instruction from a decent teacher. And yet they attached a microphone to him and let him loose? Who thought that was even close to a good idea. (Or were they deliberately trying to make the man look like an idiot, purple tartan suit and all?)

    Having said that, the soprano who sang "Freedom Come All Ye" was fantastic. And so great to hear a true soprano, instead of all these women who think they're tenors and growl from the backs of their throats.

    To have heard Benedetti at her best you had to have been listening to Radio 3 just before six o'clock. She was live in the studio I think, and she played the entirety of Loch Lomond in a special arrangement, and it was absolutely awesome. Loved her performance at the Games too, though.

  2. That little pile of unpolished turds cost more than the eventual debts from the 1986 games. £5,000,000 then, or £13,000,000 in today's money. Not that I'm still angry about the failure of Government to provide any help to the Capital of Scotland when slums like manchester and glasgow got Hundreds of Millions and massive new facilities all paid for by other people.

  3. Why didn't they have a statue of Wellington with a traffic cone on his heid?


    What the Scotland team were singing before they emerged.

  5. I don't know about Australia, but India didn't play their national anthem at the 2010 opening ceremony. They did in the closing one, though.

    I don't really see why you'd play the host nation's national anthem though. I don't recall the Brazilian anthem being played in the opening ceremony of the World Cup.

    If Flower of Scotland isn't played when Scottish athletes win golds, then I'll moan about it. But as it stands, I think an awful lot of folk are being a bit - dare I say it - Cybernatty about the anthem.

    GSTQ shouldn't have been called the national anthem right enough, but I would have been surprised (delightedly so, mind) if it hadn't been played when the Queen came in. She is the head of the Commonwealth, after all...

  6. According to the britnat racists it is appropriate for Scotland to be independent at The Commonwealth Games but not The Olympics. Scotland Know Your Place!!!

    Then Scotland hosts said Games and you can't move for union flags, GSTQ and britnattery imposed by those enemies of Scottish democracy. GCC and the BBBC. It's just more Scotophobic britnat hypocrisy.

    Lots of wet-nats defending the opening ceremony in the same way people defended gormless brown because he was Scottish and being attacked by outsiders. The whole event was designed in order to reinforce the cringe. Anybody claiming otherwise is mad, stupid or blind to reality.

  7. "The whole event was designed in order to reinforce the cringe. Anybody claiming otherwise is mad, stupid or blind to reality."

    Aye, that stunning rendition of Loch Lomond, having someone sing Freedom Come All Ye to a global audience, and the general themes of equality, diversity and justice that were being promoted (the sort of things we tell people an independent Scotland would stand for) - all very cringeworthy and clearly designed specifically to brainwash people into voting No in September...

    What is all this Britnattery that was imposed on people during the actual ceremony? John Barrowman?

    1. I was delighted that they had found a singer from Nyanga to sing Hamish's magnum opus, however singing a vernacular song in an operatic tone doesn't work at the best of times and I'm certain that not one in a hundred who didn't already know the song could have discerned the meaning in it

  8. The planned blue and white smoke for the Red Arrows flypast blocked by the an english cabinet minister. Well that's not acting like our colonial overlords at all.

    An opening ceremony where an notorious pervert prances into view from under a giant kilt isn't designed to make people cringe? Thick, blind or a moron, which one are you?

    1. "Notoious pervert" eh? Who'd have guessed that the angry anonymous idiot would turn out to be a homophobic arsehole as well?

  9. James, those overtly pro-union, and very 'political' flags were apparently being handed out during certain 'marches' in Glasgow recently, and the same thing happened at another unionist event on the 19th (see Craig Murray's blog comments for more).
    A Yes supporting friend actually asked the people responsible, and the reply was 'we're a church group'- something the Lodge often says when it's backed into a corner.
    I'm hoping that Bella, Wings, NNS, your good self, and others (not Yes politicians, for obvious reasons)start making a lot of noise about these flags, because whatever else they are - they're 100% rule-breakers.

  10. Yeah, isn't there a comments policy here? I think 'notorious pervert' crosses the line.

  11. As to double sided flags - I was in London when the big parade of Team GB athletes was taking place.

    I rescued one of the free flags from a bi, as it was so delightfully ironic.

    On one side, the Union Flag. It was backed by a VISA credit card advert.

  12. You've cheered me up. All that I heard last night was that it was an embarrassment. I guess people must have been referring to the opening as opposed to what came after.

  13. You've cheered me up. All that I heard last night was that it was an embarrassment. I guess people must have been referring to the opening as opposed to what came after.

  14. Niall, yes there is a comments policy here - and the policy is not to delete comments unless it's absolutely unavoidable. I've no intention of going down the James Mackenzie route. That said, it would obviously be a lot better if people simply refrained from saying stupid and offensive things.

  15. "Before I set off for the ceremony, I had a good look at the list of items that were not permitted, and one of them was the flag of any non-participating country."

    Have you got a link to that list, James?

  16. I'll have a look when I have a minute - I think it was in the downloadable spectator's guide to Celtic Park, but that particular section seems to be identical for every venue.

  17. I watched most of the ceremony in a hot and humid London with a few friends. When Susan Boyle forgot her words I thought it would be awful so went to help in the kitchen and came back to see that Barrowman chap on. A lot of the local references were lost on my friends so gave my own running commentary.

    It improved in the second period and my Malaysian friend shed a tear to the tribute by the FM. My friends in London did enjoy it as I did when the second half made you forget the first half.

  18. Off topic, but may be of interest to you guys on here:

    I'm a total amateur at this but I tried to place an internet bet of £100 on a yes vote at this morning. The system said it had to be approved manually. Eventually it accepted a bet of only £15 on a yes outcome and rejected the other £85.

    So the bookies are offering very attractive odds for a yes vote which suggest Yes has little chance of winning (currently between 4:1 or 9:2) but then only allow a maximum bet of £15?

    FIFTEEN POUNDS??? How come we hear about folks putting bets on a no outcome of hundreds of thousands?

    What's that all about?

  19. Pantone
    It looks like they are giving good odds to suggest no chance of a successful yes vote but limiting the stake to ensure they don't lose too much. If I were a conspiracy theorist I might think that UK wide businesses were trying to suggest that the yes vote was weaker than it is.

  20. I remember in the press recently aboutsomeone down south betting £200,000 on a no mate was impressed with this and asked me how much the wager would return...absolutely feck all! was my reply LLF