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London 2012 Olympics Did you see Sir Chris Hoy winning his fifth gold medal for the men team sprint? Of course you did! And wasn it marvellous! And Katherine Grainger and Anna Watkins winning the women double sculls yesterday? Fantastic! And the little girl from Greenwich, Zoe Smith, who might have finished only 11th in the women clean and jerk 58 kilo event, but who managed to break the British record. Brilliant! No, I never heard of the clean and jerk 58 kilo event before this week, either, and I still not sure I quite the hang of it but no matter. Over the last week something quite magical has happened in Britain. People of whom most of us have never heard, doing things about which most of us know absolutely nothing, have put the country and me under a spell. Rowing, cycling, slalom canoeing, sports shooting we are all experts now, gathered round our television screens and computer terminals (Work? That can wait), united in that most precious and exhilarating of things a Great National Conversation. To begin at the beginning. Could any nation on earth have provided such a wilfully eccentric, witty and inventive Olympic opening ceremony as Danny Boyle did a sly subversion of the inflated, martial spectacles that custom usually demands, that must have been utterly incomprehensible to the hundreds of millions watching on television around the world Sheep? A man in a stovepipe hat? Children bouncing on hospital beds? What all that about? and was somehow all the better for that. It was surely another sly joke by Boyle that the British athletes should have entered the stadium to the strain of David Bowie Heroes with its qualifying next line ''just for one day. And, let be frank, for a while it looked as if even ''just one day was wildly optimistic, and that this would be a week of crushed expectations. Mark Cavendish failing even to be placed in the men cycling road race on Saturday; Becky Adlington winning only a bronze only! despite beating her own gold-medal winning time in Beijing four years ago; Tom Daley and his partner Pete Waterfield inexplicably failing in their fourth dive. It was not until Wednesday that apprehension gave way to euphoria as Helen Glover and Heather Stanning triumphed in the women coxless pairs, and Bradley Wiggins pedalled insouciantly across the finishing line to become the most garlanded British medallist in Olympic history. By Thursday, as the medals total began to rack up like cherries on a fruit machine, the national mood was rocketing towards palpable hysteria. Gold and silver in the canoe slalom; a silver for Gemma Gibbons in the judo, and for Britain ''four midgets in a boat (their description, not mine) in the lightweight men fours. Then that gold for Sir Chris Hoy and for Peter Wilson in the double trap shooting as you will know, our first shooting medal in 12 years since Richard Faulds in Sydney. Over the past seven days, Shameless Bluffing has become an Olympic event in itself and there is no one more shameless than me. I confess. Before this week I was uninterested. No, make that hostile. The whole thing was nothing but bread and circuses for corporate profit, and a massive inconvenience for the rest of us, and no thank you, I most certainly did not want tickets for the handball, kayaking, the Individual All Round Rhythmic Gymnastics particularly the All Round Rhythmic Gymnastics and all the other non-events that friends were frantically negotiating the quite obviously rigged and fatally inadequate ticketing system to acquire. More fool me. I have been rooted to the sofa since 8.59pm last Friday. Who could have imagined that all these disparate events could be so physically and emotionally exhausting not participating in them, but watching them. (And don for one moment imagine that it doesn require dedication and discipline. I was up at 6.30am yesterday to catch the highlights of the men double slalom on the breakfast news.) For those of us who previously knew little of the mysteries of kayaking or 78kg women judo, the Games have provided some curious revelations, and some pressing questions. Why do fencers wear protective helmets that make them look as if they just emerged from a nuclear reactor? With their loping strut, fancy tracksuits, goggles and headphones, the swimmers look cooler than rap stars (what are they listening to? Handel Water Music?) The wonderfully named Missy Franklin exudes all the fresh-faced beauty of a heroine from a Scott Fitzgerald novel. When presenting a medal it is not the done thing to kiss the recipient on both cheeks unless you happen to be the Princess Royal giving it to your daughter Zara Phillips. There are actually countries called Kiribati and Nauru. And are all the Chinese athletes genetically modified? The effect of all this on London has been particularly remarkable. People seem to be walking with a lighter step, strangers engage each other in conversation; the familiar landmarks are cast in a new and wondrous light as Olympic settings. Could any city in the world have provided as splendid a backdrop to beach volleyball as Horse Guards Parade, and to an equestrian event as Greenwich? As if in some exuberant proletarian uprising, crowds have lined the streets of the city and the leafy suburbs, five deep, reclaiming the spirit of the Games from the autocratic hands of the IOC and corporate sponsorship. They can say you can only eat McDonald drink Pepsi or wear Adidas sneakers when you standing outside your own house in Dorking. ''Wiggo just cycled past our local driving test centre! a friend exclaimed on Wednesday the mundane suddenly made magical by the fleeting presence of a pair of speeding sideboards. Hampton Court where you take your children on a Sunday now provides winning cyclists with thrones, and gods are walking amongst us. A colleague who lives in the environs of Lords, where the archery has been taking place, talks of seeing the competitors queuing at the till in his local Tesco otherwise normal human beings save for their freakishly overdeveloped forearms. ''They can push two trolleys at a time! Of course, what this amounts to is a huge act of collective catharsis. It is a licence to feel pride, to shed tears, not only to feel joyful, but to be moved by others joy. It takes a dead heart not to share in the intoxicating mixture of exhilaration and paternal pride that overwhelmed the beefy Bert le Clos, extolling his ''beautiful, beautiful boy Chad ''the most down-to-earth beautiful boy you will ever meet in your life on beating Michael Phelps to the 200m butterfly title by five hundredths of a second. ''Unbelievable! Unbelievable! Like you, I had never heard of Chad le Clos before Tuesday evening. But I was glad he won. Nor had I heard of Etienne Scott and Tim Bailey, Michael Jamieson, or Louis Smith. But I take my hat off to them, one and all. They have arrived on our front pages and television screens not in the customary modern manner of narcissists craving the banality of fame, but after years of dedication, hard work and self-sacrifice. Has there been any more refreshing comment this week than that of Bradley Wiggins, in the full flush of triumph: ''I not a celebrity, never will be one, and don consider myself one. I despise the whole celebrity culture. There was much talk in the run-up to the Games of the Olympic ''legacy in terms of buildings and infrastructure, but it seems to me that a more valuable and lasting legacy has been one of uplift and inspiration. And the best thing of all? There still a whole week to go. Make the most of it.