Well I’m still basking in the afterglow of the Olympics.
I loved it all - well, nearly all of it. I’m not big on the dressage. If you are going to try to impress people by making a horse dance, it needs to involve tap, ballet or something involving hip hop.
Everything else, however, I loved - the running, the jumping. The travelling very fast down some rapids in a kayak, stopping, then going back uphill against said rapids to go through a gate then carrying on back down again was wonderful and ridiculous. The modern pentathlon - which I think I would be good at if it weren’t for the damn horses or the guns or the swords - was splendid and bizarre. I loved hearing the back stories of the athletes, I loved the fact that it was the first Olympics where women from every attending country participated. I loved the fact that both men and women competed in all sports except synchronised swimming. Why no men in the synchronised swimming? Equality? Pah!
In essence, though, I enjoyed the spirit of the whole thing, a spirit that no doubt will continue into the Paralympics. I particularly liked the volunteers. Helpful, smiling, purple-shirted role models pouring emotional labour over the country like milk on cornflakes.
I have often believed that the NHS would benefit from a biannual mini Olympics or, to be more accurate, a great big sports day. In recent years, as the NHS has been increasingly regionalised and local services turned into mini corporations, the binding sense of cooperation and common purpose has been eroded. What better way of addressing that is there than all getting together and playing some games?
Granted, there are bound to be those thrusting medical student types who row earnestly and come to conquer but mostly it would be people like us, throwing ourselves at the 10m platform diving and three-legged race in equal measure, bringing a packed lunch, running around a field with gay abandon, dragging those long ribbons behind us and imagining we are doing rhythmic gymnastics. It would be a laugh, chaotic probably, lacking in some areas the sporting excellence of London 2012 perhaps but convivial, celebratory… funny.
I think one of the things the Olympics does is to help people to like strangers. That capacity is something nurses do every day but others struggle sometimes. The subtext of the Olympics - beyond excellence in human achievement - is about enhancing the space between people, isn’t it? It is about helping us to feel good about ourselves because we feel good about each other.
If you wonder where that sort of social capital is accumulated outside events like the Olympics, you can’t help but notice the value of nursing. If you look at everyday institutions that generate social cohesion or model decency, engagement or even an open-hearted kindness between people, it is nursing that best shows that.
It is telling that politicians can celebrate the feel-good factor of the Olympic Games and be photographed at every possible gold-medal winning event. They can revel in the sense of goodwill, warmth and conviviality and the “proud to be British” glow (so tellingly made manifest by the celebration of the NHS in the opening ceremony). And yet they struggle it seems to recognise the social cohesion public services bring to the nation. Nursing at its best models the best kind of social relationships - in that sense, at least, it is a bit like the Olympics.
Mark Radcliffe is senior lecturer, and author of Gabriel’s Angel