Well, nearly. I spent the last week in Stranraer on holiday. By day exploring the Rhins on bike (well, until an unfortunate coincidence of a flat tyre on a stretch of moorland and two tyre levers with an amazingly consistent mean time between failure left me dependent on the kindness of strangers) and by night enjoying the faded grandeur of a hotel that was last refurbished in the early 80s at best but which serves coffee in a silver pot at breakfast and handmade tablet in the drawing room to round off dinner in the evening. After which I customarily retire to gaze across an empty harbour at sunset.
Also just in time to watch another British woman beat the crap out of some foreigner to win a gold medal at the Olympics (I promise I won’t mention The Subject, it’s ok, you can keep reading).
Stranraer finds itself at a juncture in its history. Up until the 19th century, I’ve recently learned, most of the shipping from Ireland landed at Portpatrick to the west and, as such, it was was a bustling, thriving locus of trade. Changes in the scale and importance of commerce, and the strong westerly winds, led to most of the shipping heading to the more sheltered waters of Loch Ryan instead. Around this time the hotel I presently sit in was built as a private home for Sir John Ross, Arctic explorer. Today, however, goods shipping has long gone and the passenger ferries have recently moved up Loch Ryan to a new terminal at Cairnryan. From my window I can see the idle cranes, piers, loading bays, car parks and Ulsterbus garage that serviced the shipping which made this the one place in this part of the world with shops other than a general store. Unlike Portpatrick there are other industries here – dairy processing mostly. I think that’s one of the things that endears this place to me. I spent many summers in Carmarthenshire and between the single track back roads, rolling hills, industrial decline and sheep shit it reminds me of there.
Essentially, the half-bucolic, half-post-industrial country that we saw given euphoric, spasmodic, self-assured and confused expression in Danny Boyle’s opening ceremony a fortnight ago.
And like the South Westerly hinterlands of Wales and Scotland, the Olympics have shown a country at a turning point in it’s history, unsure of who it is and where it’s going. No, I’m still not talking about The Subject. The Olympics, from my comfortable armchair, are a London-centric celebration of the confident, self-aware but comfortable Britain that developed from the mid-1990s onwards – think Spice World & Lock, Stock vs Trainspotting and Brassed Off. A wholesale rearrangement of how elite sport was funded occurred then – this generation of athletes have been ruthlessly selected based on results and the successful have had access to some of the best training available. Black and mixed race women from Leeds becoming the focus of a nation’s Will To Power alongside the unexpected Jones-the-kick-to-the-head from North Wales and the equally unexpected, if slightly more establishment, Golds in dressage. Not to mention the bloodbath of the velodrome. Really should ban those scythed wheels, most unfair.
There’s a downside which was also represented. The utterly objectionable verbification of the perfectly good noun “medal”. John Inverdale’s daily progression in more obscene fake tan to try to obscure the fact this is the only time we ever see a panel without any white people on it. The authoritarianism and militarism (however well intentioned) of the UK government by uniformed troops working as security, albeit due to the wretched incompetance of private sector provision of public services, another theme of last 20 years. Admittedly this was balanced by members of the armed forces being free to wear their uniform off duty, something which would never have been possible without serious risk to them and anyone around them until relatively recently. The lingering sexism in Jade Jones’ coach’s comment that “she’s like a man”, however well intentioned the acres of post-hoc justification tried to make it out as.
The post-industrial period is over, the ship(yards) aren’t coming back, farming’s been in deep trouble for decades, the all-party fetish for finance capitalism has proven disastrous and we can’t all open doors for each other. In many ways it’s the last hurrah of the New Labour period, with all the good and ill that implies. Like Stranraer, like Carlisle, like Tenby or Ullapool or Whitby or any of hundreds of other towns the country that was on show at the Olympics is already dead in it’s current form, and as Lallands Peatworrier postulated earlier today, it’s high time we started thinking about what’s next.