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Games of life

It was impossible to watch the Olympics without wondering what the Games told us Brits - and the rest of the world - about ourselves. From Danny Boyle's imaginative Opening Ceremony (which showcased the best of UK history while sidestepping nasty nuggets like Empire and slavery),  to the happiness at our finishing place in the medals table,  we showed off a rare sense of satisfaction. Indeed, in pushing suffragettes, the National Health Service and civil rights on to foreign TV sets, we even took it upon ourselves to preach a little to the world's unconverted.

We did manage a few bum notes though, and not just in the (non) singing of God Save the Queen, which proved a bit too much for Welsh soccer players more used to hearing it sung by the opposition. In some quarters - namely the Daily Mail and the odd Tory MP - everything was just a little too politically correct. 'This was supposed to be a representation of modern life in England...' said the paper's website review of the Opening Ceremony, 'but it is likely to be a challenge for the organisers to find an educated white middle-aged mother and black father living together with a happy family in such a set-up.' This daft suggestion was hastily removed before Jessica Ennis and Mo Farah first wowed the stadium and then joyfully hugged families of exactly that make up.

But despite pre-Games cynicism about sponsors and Olympic hubris (with naysayers regularly reminding us that rituals such as the torch relay were invented by the Nazis), complaints dissipated as the sport got underway. More than anything, we showed the world that we like a party - and our athletes gave us occasion for several. It became clear that with ambition, commitment and an abudance of British talent, we could reach some serious heights.

This should give pause for thought. If the British people can set themselves ambitious goals and skillfully attain them, surely we can turn our attention to areas of national life in which we are currently failing. If we can build excellent velodromes and aquatics centres, surely we can devise and deliver levels of housing, schooling and healthcare that are equally excellent.

Whatever Britishness is, it can achieve greatness. Our task now is to decide to which other ends we can turn our talents.