It began with green and pleasant lands, and uplifting clashes of light and sound. And it ended with fire and mighty machines, in the 'Festival of the Flame'. Book-ending the London 2012 Olympic Games, was an extraordinary pair of ceremonies. After a fortnight that saw the world's 'super-humans' take to the Olympic stage, and the first sold-out Paralympic Games in its history, the Paralympic Closing Ceremony finally brought London 2012 to an end last night.
Yesterday's ceremony saw 'dreamers' blown, quite literally, out of the stadium, up into the sky by creepy-looking goblins on bikes with vast wind machines on the front, as fire streamed into the stadium. As drums pounded and bodies teemed on the central stage, some of the athletes who had performed over the past two weeks displayed their strength and skill once more; dragging carts and scaling vast ladders. The props of this closing ceremony were very steampunk chic - stripped back, artfully aged and mechanical artefacts that looked a little bit mystical. Calling on the seasons and the power of the elements, amputee Corporal Rory Mackenzie, acting as MC for the Festival of the Flame, heralded into the stadium flame-throwers, fire-dancers and yet more fantastical machines. Armoured mega-beatles rolled around the stadium, stalked by glittering and menacing crows on stilts. But what did they all mean?
Artistic director, Kim Gavin, had instructed viewers not to look for too much meaning in the ceremony (a cunning get-out clause in the face of potential criticism, the cynic in me thought); there was no narrative. Just troops of black-clad foot-soldiers, brandishing flaming torches, metal creatures ablaze, enormous cogs turning and turning, and a green tractor pulling the world's largest grasshopper. Like a wild-looking figurehead on one trailer stood Vivienne Westwood, with a face-painted Clockwork Orange eye, red hair flying. As all the crafts began to gather around the central stage, the stadium began to look like a parking lot for floats at a village fete.
Alas, as this ceremony was being broadcast by Channel 4, proceedings were paused sporadically for advert breaks, no doubt costing the Olympic and Paralympic sponsors millions. This gave the ceremony an oddly jerky quality that the seamless BBC Opening ceremony fortunately lacked. We arrived back in the stadium after one such break right into the middle of an award ceremony, which was a little confusing; weren't we done with all the medals by now? I was pleased to see that following these presentations due respect was also paid to the staggeringly positive and cheery volunteers - the Gamesmakers - who have been such a key part of the Games.
And then Coldplay appeared on the central stage, and I slightly lost the will to watch. (With the sound on mute however it was bearable, and I rather liked Rihanna boarding the stage from the prow of a steampunk barge.) More and more dancers flew up into the sky above the stage, grasping clusters of lights like human Chinese lanterns floating off into the night on their invisible wires. The melancholy music of the British rock band did however serve to illustrate just how genuinely sad much of the city feels about the end of these extraordinary weeks. These weeks of excitement and surprise, of feeling even a tiny part of 'our greatest team', Team GB. Even those of us who struggle to be proud of our city at times cannot deny that London totally nailed the Olympics. We are great at coordinating massive, televised sporting events. We are brilliant at cheering for people as they face momentous challenges, of which most of us could never even conceive. Most crucially, and hopefully for the future, we are open to be inspired, and we are always able to welcome a new hero. I hope that when the Games are gone, and by the time the spotlight is on Rio, that this can be our Olympic legacy - an admiration of hard work and effort, and a recognition that it really is the taking part in something amazing that counts.