Olympic Torch Relay

I’m prone to cynicism. I understand why lots of people are moaning about the London Olympics which are due to start this week. Brits love a good moan. Of course it is colossally expensive and of course this is galling at a time of austerity. Of course the restrictions placed by the organising committee (LOCOG) on use of related words and logos are heavy-handed and illiberal. Of course G4S has made itself look immensely foolish by its inability to secure sufficient numbers of security personnel. For sure the sponsors have too much prominence and are all global mega-corporations. And yes, Wenlock and Mandeville are supremely sinister-looking mascots.

But, despite all this, I think it is going to be a great spectacle and something that people will remember fondly for years to come, long after they have forgotten about the negatives. The first thing that got roundly criticised was the Torch Relay bringing the Olympic flame on an 8000 mile journey round the UK. Some denounced it for its supposed Nazi origins as it was first conducted ahead of the 1936 Berlin Games, although that didn’t seem to have worried many people at the 1948 London Games even though the horrors perpetrated by Nazi Germany were fresh and had been experienced by all at the time.

I was unconvinced by the value of the Torch Relay until a few weeks ago when we went as a family to watch it pass through Headingley on a fortunately sunny Sunday afternoon. The crowd was massive and cheerful. There was a real sense of excitement about seeing the torch – even though, as it turned out, with so many people watching it was all but impossible to see as it rapidly swept past. Normally the area is one which has the typical Guardian-liberal antagonism towards jingoism – few of the adults round our way were at all interested in the Jubilee – so seeing the streets filled with Union flags and innocent excitement at the spectacle was refreshing after a diet of often jaded anti-establishmentism.

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I was lucky enough to get to see the Torch Relay again a couple of weeks later as it made its way through Slough and passed right in front of my office (see, I may be a cynic but not a pessimist if I can put a positive spin on spending 3 days a week in Slough).

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As you can see, I got an excellent view this time round. Also, that the torch bearer (one of the non-celebrity local ones, a guy called Bob Dennis) was wearing contraband trainers rather than those from the official footwear partners of the Olympics. It looked like he was enjoying it as one of the best days of his life and one that he’ll not forget.

The visit last night of the torch to East Enders’ Albert Square had been long anticipated and caught the mood of the relay well. The partial live broadcast got the feel of the event. It was one of those relatively rare occasions when a soap opera reflects something real about the society it is set in. The episode also gave the impression of the mad events of an anxiety dream in following the normally hapless Billy Mitchell’s travails in getting back in time to do his stint as a torch bearer while also worrying about his errant grand-daughter Lola and the impending birth of her daughter (which took place in the inauspicious environment of McClunky’s Chicken Restaurant while he enjoyed the only limelight of his life). Which is probably how things felt to LOCOG when the G4S security problems came out! 

Ironically, I’m going to miss most of the Games themselves, but I’m not going to make the arrogant mistake of assuming that nobody cares about them and nobody is going to enjoy them. They’re going to be great and those who will carp are ultimately going to be the insignificant ones. Let them be grouches or take the 100/1 odds on Boris Johnson setting fire to his hair with the torch at the opening ceremony.

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If Voting Changed Anything

…they’d make it illegal. Ha ha ha. Of course, they do make it illegal in the sorts of places where the powers that be really don’t want to have any change outside their control. Voting is part of changing things and also of registering the wish for things not to change either because they’re fine as they are or because the alternatives proposed aren’t very appealing.

Today most of England and Wales will be given the opportunity to vote for local councillors and assembly members, the mayor of their city (most notably in London), and whether they should have a directly elected mayor in a number of larger cities. It is up to you whether you want to vote on all or any of these matters where they are presented to you. But, one thing which they are not, is pointless.

That’s not just my general position as someone who is interested in and follows politics and current affairs. I do get annoyed by people who say they are not interested in politics and then go on to reel off a whole load of things that they care deeply about which are political. There is a difference between being as uninterested in the parties and politicians as I am in the X-Factor and declaring that you aren’t interested in politics or music. I can understand the frustration about national politicians who tend to disappoint if ever given the chance of governing. Sometimes that means that alternative ways of being heard are more attractive than pinning your hopes on the representative of a particular party in a General Election – hence the appeal of things like Occupy and 38 Degrees which give you the feeling of doing something and making a statement.

Local elections are different. Continue reading