Hawking looks up to the stars

 

PARALYMPICS:OPENING CEREMONIES are like water slides. You know they’re preposterous, you know they’re dumb but in the end you don’t have any choice really but to lie back and let them whoosh you along. Wanna know how you make it less dumb? Get Stephen Hawking to kick it off. “We live in a universe governed by rational laws that we can discover and understand,” said the world’s most famous wheelchair user as he set the Paralympic Opening Ceremony in motion.

“Look up at the stars and not down at your feet. Try to make sense of what you can see and wonder about what makes the universe exist. Be curious.”

If Danny Boyle’s offering four and a half weeks ago showed what you can do with a bit of wit and a lifetime subscription to the NME, last night was a bit more earnest. It was still about welcoming the world, only this time we were being invited not to London itself but to the pitch and possibilities of disability. By the end, there was a symbolic smashing of a glass ceiling and a rendition of the Ian Dury song Spasticus Autisticus. It’s safe to say the earnestness had withered by then.

It opened with a mass umbrella dance, over 600 performers taking to the middle of the arena to jig around a huge representation of Newton’s apple and a revolving book showing the text of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It would have been bad manners at that point to wonder aloud whether the umbrellas were a nod to the trouble they were having getting the Paralympic torch to the stadium, yesterday’s torch relay through London having been interrupted by almost two hours due to incessant rain in the city.

Such was the delay that they had to break off and send a back-up torch ahead to Olympic Park just in case the main one didn’t arrive. They considered skipping part of the route and missing out some of the scheduled stops to get the original flame to the stadium in time but decided against it on the basis that it would be depriving the already rain-sodden participants of their chance to be involved.

One way or the other, the flame got to Stratford and the task of lighting the cauldron fell to Margaret Maugham, Britain’s first ever Paralympics gold medallist (she won the archery competition in Rome in 1960). As you would expect, we sit long in our seats waiting for that part of the evening to arrive, the parade of athletes having been followed by yet more ceremonials.

We had jugglers, we had a huge inflatable whale, we had quotes from The Tempest. We had storms, we had a giant geometric formation in the middle of the arena and then, most fun of all, we had the mass apple crunch.

The wheeze in this part of the ceremony was a tribute to Isaac Newton’s discovery of gravity upon being clattered on the head by a falling apple. To tip the hat in his direction, each person entering the stadium was given an apple and everyone took a bite out of theirs at the same time. All of which just goes to show that sometimes opening ceremonies are about breaking boundaries and widening people’s perceptions and other times they’re about seeing how odd an idea you can get away with.

“When Isaac Newton saw an apple fall to the ground,” narrated Prof Hawking, “he suddenly realised that it must be the same force that holds together the beautiful system of the sun, the planets and the comets. This gravity is the same force that can draw us into a black hole, never to return!”

Seb Coe was altogether more rooted in the Games themselves when he took to the stage. After the triumph of the Olympics, Coe has the air of a man who knows everything will be fine now. Whatever happens, London 2012 has been a success and so when he stepped to the plate, he felt no guilt at all about swinging for the bleachers.

“From the moment London began its bid to host the games in 2012, we determined that we would raise the bar. Not just for the Olympics but for the Paralympics too. That London 2012 would be the next great advance for the movement. That London 2012 would be the landmark for people with disability everywhere, a landmark in the progress of mankind towards the light, towards seeing the immense capability and possibility. And now we are ready.”

Ready for anything. Black holes or no black holes.

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