(CNN) -- Last week, I tried to cross St. James' Park in London and found my path blocked by a uniformed soldier. I asked him what he was doing there and he replied, somewhat incredulously, that he was guarding the Olympics. That I had forgotten the park was being closed off for the event, or that or that I didn't much care, speaks volumes about my attitude toward the Games
I didn't much care, speaks volumes about my attitude toward the Games. I found a different exit and when I finally arrived at the pub -- jolly angry about being five minutes late -- I told everyone about the incident in the park as if it was the greatest civil rights infringement since Abu Ghraib.
Never stand between an Englishman and his pint of beer.
My attitude toward London's hosting of the Olympic Games is not unusual; the mood among many Brits ranges from disinterest to hostility. In a recent article in The New York Times, Sarah Lyall put this down to the British obsession with "expecting the worst." She wrote, "Even in the best of times, whinging, as Britons call the persistent low-grade grousing that is their default response to life's challenges, is part of the national condition -- as integral to the country's character as its Eeyoreish attitude toward the weather."
There's some truth in Lyall's view (we are a nation of pessimists), but she didn't reach the heart of why the feeling is so acute this time. Beyond the constant threat of rain in summer, the British have a concrete reason for anxiety about the Games. Recession has plunged our country into a paralyzing crisis of confidence.
The Britain that won the Olympic bid in 2005 was very different from the Britain of today. That Britain had experienced several years of sustained growth, with low unemployment and practically nonexistent inflation. Britain was booming and London was swinging. The Olympics offered the chance to transform the landscape of the remaining poor parts of the capital and showcase it to the world as a confident, modern metropolis.
The credit crunch ended the good times. The financial sector upon which the boom was built collapsed, and succeeding governments were forced to cut spending, bringing poverty and riots. A parliamentary expenses scandal that caught members of Parliament defrauding the taxpayers gave the impression that the recession was caused as much by greed as incompetence.
Overnight, the savvy bureaucrats who won us the Olympics became, in the eyes of many, the crooked fools who would surely run it into the ground. That popular misgiving was captured in a brilliant BBC comedy called "Twenty Twelve," which parodied the vacuity and incompetence of the Olympics staff in a series of farces that were re-enacted as tragedy in real life.