Saturday, 21 July 2012

Olympics time

The Olympic Torch passes Canterbury Cathedral

In the next few days the 2012 Olympic Games will start in London. Media hype is in full swing, and the weather is finally relenting. As I write, there is blue sky outside, the first we’ve seen for a while.

Unfortunately, the Olympics have not yet engendered much of an optimistic mood in Britain. Partly it is the weather, partly the lousy state of the economy (with everyone, including bankers, in fear for their jobs) and partly the unprecedented censorship that has descended in the wake of the IOC. The Games are represented in the media as security theatre more than a festival of sport.

 Boris Johnson (hizzoner the Mayor of London) is doing his best: jokey, upbeat recorded announcements greet passengers on the Underground; his speeches and interviews present relentless optimism. Hitherto, however, I’ve noticed little real anticipation for the first Olympiad to be held in the UK in most people's lifetimes. 

Tower Bridge and the Rings

 I was in London for a meeting recently, and took the opportunity to pop out onto London Bridge to get a snap down the river of the Olympic rings dangling from Tower Bridge. The grey, lowering clouds above the scene seemed to sum up the pervasively miserable mood.

Rockefeller Plaza, July 4, 2005
It is all a far cry from when London was awarded the Olympics in 2005. At the time, I was working in New York, so missed out on the celebrations in the UK. In New York, though, the whole feeling was very muted: my colleagues, at least, showed no interest in Manhattan being taken over for the Games. I got the impression that New Yorkers thought it was generally a good thing the Olympics were going somewhere else. So now they’ve arrived here.

Standing in stark contrast to the broader zeitgeist, however, is the Olympic Torch. As it has made it's journey around the UK it has attracted crowds everywhere and generated real enthusiasm among most people I know.

I have very mixed feelings about the Torch, given its origins; however, bearing in mind that (a) the runners carrying it have been selected as recognition for the contribution they’ve made to their communities and (b) my next door neighbour, a silversmith, was involved in the development and fabrication of this year's model, I’m doing my best to share the enthusiasm (still doesn’t sit easily, somehow).

A day to remember

Palace Street spectators
On the afternoon the Torch came though Canterbury, the building where I work emptied as people went downtown. I joined the crowds in Palace Street an hour in advance to grab a spot of pavement, before it was entirely overrun. I chose Palace Street in order to give my pictures a sense of place: it is one of the few places on the route with a clear view of the Cathedral in the background.

Canterbury was packed – beyond anything I’d expected. I think the occupants of every office and shop must have come out. Most of all, there were foreign students everywhere: Canterbury has always hosted hordes of continental students, and they were out in force.

Wiggly worms

Selling flags in aid of Help for Heroes
While we waited for the Torch, all sorts of vendors patrolled up and down the road, selling flags, whistles, toy medals and blow up objects described with wild imagination as “Olympic Torches”.
 The whole thing was distinctly Ankh Morpork in flavour: all that was missing was Mr Dibbler and his sausages.

Torch party approaching
By the time the Torch party came up the road, it was packed; the stewards and police pretty much gave up on trying to keep everyone on the pavement – it was a bit like one of those roads on the Tour de France where all the spectators crowd in on the competitors.

Coming through

The Torch carrier, surrounded by police in grey athletic-style uniforms, hoofed through at high speed, as if trying to avoid being completely swamped. Blink and you missed it. I had time for just a couple of very quick snaps – and then it was gone.

Canterbury crowds
The crowds slowly dispersed, or, rather, melded together; the road simply disappeared under the mass of humanity. I made my way back through the hordes to the car and on to work, taking some snaps along the way.
Pictures from a window

Tourists and Morris dancers

Maybe Mr Dibbler has a new line

No Olympic rings for Canterbury 2012

Drum band outside the Marlow Theatre

Maybe we will all have a party this summer
It was clear that people really had enjoyed the occasion; there was a party mood, even if most people only saw the Torch itself for two seconds. The sun was out, and the great festival of sport is on it way. Maybe we’re going to have a good time after all.

1 comment:

  1. You have caught the mood perfectly , this is a wonderful posting I,m proud to be a Wonky.