Anyone who’s witnessed the remarkable Olympic Torch Relay this year must have experienced more than a few moments of bemusement during the strange procession, as I did yesterday. The build-up of the crowd was impressive, to say the least. Not having managed to secure any Olympic tickets myself, this was the only chance I was going to get to connect in any way (other than on TV) with the Olympic jamboree. I suspect that most of the crowds lining the route felt much the same way.
The excitement (even amongst jaded dads) was palpable as the throng grew. There was something very British about the whole affair – very few Olympic flags were in evidence – just Union flags and the occasional England flag. And, of course, there was the rain. Lots and lots of rain.
But everyone held their ground as the convoy approached. Not really knowing what to expect (beyond what we’ve all seen on the news), we were grateful for the obviously relay-experienced flag/medal peddlars who’d turned up an hour before to shift their stock. We were told to expect a ‘horsebox’ thing followed by the runner.
Eventually the Olympic branded cars and outriders edged past us blowing their whistles and the giant horsebox thing came into view. This was actually the start of a strange sponsorship carnival with Samsung in the lead. Actually, it was probably the most impressive carnival Lymington has seen for many years, ever since the spiralling insurance fees involved in seating a couple of kids on the back of a flatbed trailer put paid to any decent floats. Until now we’d had to make do with a few overweight builders wearing fairly wings pushing wheelbarrows up the high street in formation to the tune of the Dambusters. It’s all the Rotary Club could stretch to.
But now we were presented with a massive (loud) Samsung lorry displaying an amazing, animated screen on its side. Followed by a massive (loud) Coke lorry, filled with gyrating dancers throwing bottles at the crowd. Followed by an even bigger, but much quieter, Lloyds Bank lorry, perhaps hoping not to have bottles thrown back at it. Then followed a rain-drenched, Olympic-liveried bus; quite a normal looking bus, other than the fact that it contained what appeared to be a relay runner. Next to the runner (an elderly gentleman looking as excited as a schoolboy) were two or three giant (and apparently very light) golden cheese graters – the spare torches.
This was the moment, we thought, when the climax of seeing the selected athlete run past with the flaming torch would happen. We waited. More time passed. Then crowd started to close in, wondering whether we had simply missed the runner – was the chap in the bus who we had come to see? Was he just being given a lift over his 300 metres?
Then the rain came.
This summer has been very interesting in Great Britain; interesting insofar as it’s been a season of contradictions. Starting with a drought, the hosepipe bans gave way to quite possibly the wettest summer in living memory. And it felt like the season had saved the biggest downpour for that moment.
Through the diabolical, sheeting, pelting, relentless rain that followed, we glimpsed a blue light flashing through the crowd, which started to part. Then a flicker of orange. Suddenly, she was there, and just as suddenly gone. No amount of appalling weather was going to dampen the spirits of the waterproofed pensioner that emerged, flanked by the determined (and often ruthless) runners that accompanied and protected the torch. Waving as she went, with a massive smile on her face, I finally realised why the sponsorship gravy train had been placed so far ahead. The sight of a lone (almost lone) runner carrying an Olympic flame should not be sullied by the gaudy noise and spectacle of the massive corporate balloon that funded it.
This could have beed an anti-climax, an old lady threading her way through the drenched crowd in the rain; but it wasn’t. If anything, the incredible downpour acted as an underline to the occasion; the British resolutely carrying on regardless of adversity.