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Saturday, August 11, 2012

The Olympics won't make us better because we're not like that


I'm not sure you can learn a lot from the Olympics other than the fact that, having invented sport, the British seem to love it more than anyone else.

In the run-up to the Games the nation seemed to be full of Private Frazers. Since it started we've all suddenly become Pollyanna. The papers today are full of portentous pieces about how we can use the experience to bring about some change in the national character.

I came across this extract from a speech made in the House of Lords by the late Lord Longford:
I asked Sir William Beveridge to come to lunch. I was meeting with Evelyn Waugh, an old friend and famous writer. They did not get on at all well. Evelyn Waugh said to him at the end, "How do you get your main pleasure in life, Sir William?" He paused and said, "I get mine trying to leave the world a better place than I found it". Evelyn Waugh said, "I get mine spreading alarm and despondency" — this was in the height of the war — "and I get more satisfaction than you do".
Beveridge invented the welfare state. Waugh wrote some great books. I like to think of Longford sitting there listening to the pair of them, admiring the mischief of the latter almost as much as nobility of the former. That's the national character. And if it isn't, it ought to be.