LONDON - Tears mingled with cheers on the streets of London on Monday as thousands of Britons hailed their Olympic and Paralympic heroes but also pondered the future after a glorious summer.
A sea of flags and Mexican waves transformed the capital for the victory parade, which ended at Buckingham Palace with a noisy and colourful flyby by the Royal Air Force Red Arrows aerobatic team.
But as a fleet of street-cleaners moved in afterwards, many spectators wondered whether London's new-found optimism would be swept up with the rubbish.
"I wasn't looking forward to it beforehand, in a typical English way I was moaning about it and thought it looked like too much hard work," said Juliet Holden, whose law firm sponsored Paralympic T42 200m winner Richard Whitehead.
"But since it's started, it's been amazing.
"London changed. It's got a real sense of community. It's going to be a let-down after today."
London mayor Boris Johnson highlighted the renewed sense of togetherness, writing in the Daily Telegraph that it was "as though the city has been crop-dusted with serotonin".
The medalists snaked their way past St Paul's Cathedral, theatreland, Trafalgar Square and along The Mall in 21 floats, passing on the way some of the iconic locations which served as memorable backdrops for Olympic events.
Almost all of those in attendance were waving Union Jack flags while others decorated buggies, pubs, city offices, churches and theatres in an unashamed display of patriotism.
A seller of the Big Issue, a homeless charity magazine, was dressed from head to foot in red, white and blue while a traditional city gent had the flag sticking out the top of his bowler hat.
A giant banner hanging from third floor of an office on the Strand read "So Proud", summing up the feeling on the streets.
Lizzy Muggeridge, 38, cheered on the athletes dressed in the nurse's costume which she wore while performing in the Olympic opening ceremony on July 27.
"I was in two minds whether to wear the outfit but I just saw someone else wearing one so I don't feel as silly," she explained.
"It remains to be seen whether this feeling will last.
"I've never been particularly patriotic but it was nice how everyone got together, it was inspirational. But then again it could all fade away," she added.
Cyclist Victoria Pendleton got the collective bottom lip wobbling with her teary response to supporters.
Crowds seven-deep lined the street along the two-mile (four kilometer) route with a host of different languages and regional accents adding to the collective din.
Hard-hatted builders hung off scaffolding while less fortunate fans mounted traffic lights and others clambered on top of the city's famous red telephone boxes to snatch a better view.
Police and volunteers kept the crowd amused by orchestrating mass performances of the Mobot, the celebration made famous by double-gold medalist Mo Farah, before a slow-motion Mexican wave of noise heralded the approach of the floats.
Tokyo native Masami O'Meara, 49, said she had "never seen London like this" during her 14 years working in the city.
"I don't think before the Games there was much excitement, but then Boom!," she explained.
"It has revealed a side of Britain I've not seen before, everyone young and old are very happy," she added. "It will never happen again, I've never seen it so patriotic before, it's very good."
Thousands of fans held message boards emblazoned with personal messages, many thanking the athletes for "inspiring a generation".
Live footage of the parade was beamed from big screens in Trafalgar Square, where tens of thousands gathered at the base of Nelson's column, London's tribute to a different generation of British heroes.
The country is still in the midst of an economic downturn and traders seized upon the opportunity to make a fast profit, offering unofficial gold medals, whistles and clappers to supporters.
Whether the Olympic spirit will be enough to pull Britain out of the economic mire remains to be seen.
Richard Bazeley, 29, who carried the torch in Aylesbury, central England, on July 9, was optimistic.
"We didn't know we would be in recession when we got the Games but it's proved to be a real boost," he said.
"It's done a world of good."
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