LAST September I visited London with my wife. She was heavily pregnant, the weather was sweltering, and we were travelling by train and tube.
You know what is coming next, don’t you? This is where I describe how we were trampled underfoot by callous Londoners. How sneering City Boys not only failed to give up their seat for my burdened missus but actually used her bump to hang their veal-skin man bags on.
Well, I’d love to oblige – it would certainly make for a better anecdote – but I have some bad news: they didn’t. They were kind and gallant and, providing they actually looked up from their newspapers or phones to notice a damsel in distress, couldn’t leap out of their seats quick enough.
I recount this tale only because I was baffled by the notion, repeatedly stated in recent weeks, that the Olympics had magically transformed our national psyche.
Back in those dark “BC” (Before Ceremony) days, so the legend goes, we were frosty, repressed, insular. Then, as if by magic, we stepped into the rosy glow of the “AD” (After Danny) present, a nation of smiley, happy people, straining at the bit to reach out and touch someone (but not with the usual connotations of such behaviour on public transport).
To all you professional pundits and amateur Tweeters peddling this nonsense, I ask only this: Have you lived here long?
The Britain I know has always been chock full of strangers ready to chat and help. Just give us the slightest excuse – a late train, bad weather, an inquisitive dog – and you cannot stop us.
The Britain I know loves nothing more than to give directions, cooch unknown infants, theatrically tut and roll its eyes over a shared inconvenience. I have yet to wash my car, trim the hedge or sweep the drive without some passing comedian telling me “you’ve missed a bit”.
If you want to assemble a crowd of British men, simply open your car bonnet, scratch your head and watch them gather like bees around a honeypot.
Yes, this natural friendliness may have been intensified by the Olympics, which provided an instant conversation starter in the absence of rain or groin-sniffing canines.
And, yes, I do concede that we straw-chewing provincials may be slightly friendlier than Londoners, although the Big Smoke is nowhere near as bad as its reputation.
But the idea that a three-week sporting event has created some mysterious alchemy on our personality is hogwash, supported only by the hard of thinking or those desperate to find some “legacy” from our £9bn blowout.
Sport does not build character, they say, but reveals it. You could say the same thing about hosting it.