"...and there's a more worrying thing going on in London right now. It's you Brits. What's happened to this grumpy national identity? All this smiling is getting annoying."
(Good-natured comment from Australian restaurant owner in London on the Olympics.)
Who would have believed it? From the London riots of August 2011 to the London Olympics of August 2012, what a difference!
There were plenty of naysayers who opined that the Olympics in London would be a disaster. They ranged, of course, from the inappropriately critical Mitt Romney who provided London Mayor Boris Johnson with yet another opportunity to enhance his own reputation with the British public, to the man in the street in the UK who until recently appeared to be disenchanted with the whole idea.
Not today! With the closing ceremony only minutes away as I write (no, not here for the ceremony, but a good view from television!) the unbiased view as far as I can tell is that the games have been a success - without serious qualification. Ticket problems? Yes - some. Empty seats - yes but only at the beginning as the "Olympic Family" were taken to task for not attending events for which they had been allocated seats. Bad attitudes? Nowhere in sight.
London's transport system defied the odds. It worked!! Yes, it was very crowded at times and I can certainly testify to that, but it didn't break down! A game of sardines would have been really appropriate.
The security arrangements - jeopardised by the failure of a privately enlisted security firm to live up to their contract - but saved by members of the British armed forces who stepped in with good humour and efficiency, and earned the respect and support of everyone.
The "volunteers" particularly have received plaudits from every quarter for their humour and their willingness to help visitors.
And the spectators, despite their obvious bias towards British athletes ("...very un-British", as one of my neighbours said), have been enthusiastic at all sports venues - witness the turn out this morning for the Marathon where British hopes were more aspirational than real - with spectators 10 deep in places cheering just anyone who went past.
And the smiles? Well - they have really been evident. It helps because Britain has done well of course, with a record haul of medals. And I am sure they are partly because most of the Olympics have been held during the two weeks of summer they have just had! The start was a bit wet - and the close might see some rain, and the rest of next week is forecast more rain - but the last two weeks..?
Yes, Britain welcomed its visitors well.
But what now ...
I have never heard so much community spirit being expressed amongst people here, but can it be maintained?
And if you had told me that by 2012 the Monarchy would be respected, and even perceived to have a "human" side, I would not have believed you. But the wedding last year of Prince William and Kate Middleton, the outpouring of support for HM The Queen's Jubilee this year, and then her participation in the opening ceremony of the Olympics has certainly changed opinions.
Behind the beaming Brits at present - who by the way will continue to smile and provide support as the Paralympics get under way in a couple of weeks - is there something more sinister lurking? Will the smiles last?
The economy is not in wonderful shape, just like the rest of Europe, and unless there have been some great deals achieved by British companies during the last two week, nothing much has changed. The Americans are continuing to beat up the British banks, leaving a reputational issue out there, but frankly I think they may have overcooked it this time and people in Britain are getting pretty fed up with what appears to be posturing and electioneering by Americans with an eye on internal political positions.
Unemployment remains an issue in Britain, and there is no easy answer to that - you can't build Olympic venues all the time to provide employment.
The "trick" therefore, must be to harness the current good will, and provide some momentum and incentives to people who can create employment. I know that suggesting tax breaks is not welcomed generally in Britain today, but if they are well directed and not open to abuse they can create new opportunities. And I often wonder what the reaction would be to the abolition of death duties (inheritance tax) in Britain. I am sure that it would encourage wealth to be brought back into the country. If you have paid taxes all your life and met your obligations to the community, it just seems totally unfair that you should not be allowed to pass on your remaining wealth to your family, rather than having to hand 40% of it to the Government with no say over how it is used.
There is much to be done, and many lessons to be learnt for other countries out of the positive changes that have taken place in London over 12 months. Let's not waste them.