AFTER THE LORD MAYOR'S SHOW? NOW THE OLYMPICS ARE OVER, ARE WE A NATION CHANGED?

The medals have all been handed out, the fireworks have fizzled out, and the athletes are on their way home. Yes, after 16 enthralling days, the London 2012 Olympics are over. It's all been thrilling but, for now, it's over and this brief cessation between these Olympics and the Paralympics that will  soon follow, has made me stop and think. The party might be over but our nation's gone and discovered its collective 'hurrah'. Are any of us ever going to be the same again? Can we go back to our natural reserve, or is the 'shout-it-out' genie well and truly out of the bottle?

It might not have seemed it over the last couple of weeks, particularly if you're an Australian rower or a French cyclist, but we Brits are, by nature, a reticent lot. Now, though, you might just have noticed, we've got over that. In fact, we're so over it that we might start being accused of blowing our own trumpets. But the thing is, this 'change' is about more than a bit of showing off the successes of our sports men and women, it's about a new confidence and a new openness.

We've welcomed to our country people from all across the globe. We've competed and celebrated alongside them. We've respected their efforts, hailed their successes and comforted them in their disappointment.  We've put on a show that went without a hitch. We've entertained billions and shown them our very best. We've made new friends and we've revelled in sharing our quirky, unique, diverse island with them.

This has been a unique Olympics in so many ways. The first we’ve been able to watch in 3D. The first we’ve been able to take with us – via the Internet – on laptops, on iPads, on iPods and all manner of mobile devices. The first we’ve been able to Tweet. The other day I found myself discussing Mo Farah’s second gold medal, seconds after it happened, with people I know through social media who live as far away as Australia, the USA and the Middle East. With people I know only through Twitter or Facebook in some cases. But with people with whom I could share the experience.

But it's perhaps the time we've spent with each other, that has really counted. Because we've gathered in stadiums, in parks under huge television screens, converged beside radios or clustered around televisions in our own homes, or the homes of our friends.  We’ve watched, we’ve gasped, we’ve shouted at the telly, we’ve cried and we’ve beamed with pride. We've raised a glass. We’ve chatted in the pubs and food courts, in market squares and at bus stops and we’ve talked. And talked with complete strangers. "Are you going to the Games?", "Isn't it so fantastic?", "Did you see Mo last night?"

It's been a blast and we've done it together. They say that, in London, the change has been even greater. People have been chatting on the Tube. They've smiled more, held doors open more willingly and been open to new ideas. As a nation we've shared the experience with all those around us. We watched athletes from all walks of life and many ethnic backgrounds represent us. And we wrapped ourselves up together in a great big Union Flag. And I think we might just stand here a nation changed by what we have seen. By what we have shared. By what we have celebrated.

That traditional British reserve has been put aside. Some of it might come back, but surely not all of it? Not now we've found out just how much fun shedding it can be? Maybe, just maybe there's no going back now.

And it's really far from over. The Paralympics of London 2012 are just a few days away. And with that, we'll have plenty more medals to celebrate. Plenty more stories to inspire us. And plenty of extraordinary people to amaze us. Wouldn't it be wonderful if that could bring about yet another change in how we view ourselves and the people around us?

It might just happen. And, I don't know about you, but I'm more than ready to find out. Bring it on!