Posted in Writing

The Olympic Spirit Meets Britannia

Laura waits patiently for the Olympic torchbearer, Union flag at the ready
“Is here nearly here yet?”

With the opening ceremony of London 2012 nearly upon us, I have to say that I’m entirely happy with my experience of the Games to date: watching the Olympic Torch pass by.

I didn’t want to miss the opportunity for my daughter Laura to see a piece of history in the making. About to turn nine the next day, she would remember the event for the rest of her life. It would also be the perfect overture to her birthday party, the theme of which was to be the Olympic Games (albeit our games largely featuring the garden hosepipe, making the most of the fleeting heatwave).The timing couldn’t have been better.

And so after school on the Tuesday afternoon, we shot off down the A46 to park near my brother and sister’s houses, a stone’s throw from the Bath to Bristol road. I’d have preferred to see the Torch crossing the Clifton Suspension Bridge, enabling us to segue neatly from Laura’s current school topic (Brunel) to the next one (The Olympic Games) but it would have meant missing a morning of school.

We strolled down to the Torch route at 5 o’clock and the sun was scorching. We quickly claimed a piece of (hot) pavement from which we could enjoy an unimpeded view and sat down to see what would happen next.

We weren’t really sure what to expect, but somehow I thought there’d be something to imbue us with the Olympic spirit, inspiring us to strive “faster, higher, stronger”. I thought there would be an international vibe to the proceedings, in preparation for so many nations coming together.

Laura and Tim wait for first glimpse of the Olympic torchbearer
“I think I can see him!”

I thought to myself, if this was America, there’d be marching bands with drum majorettes and baton twirlers, military precision and grandeur and pomp and show. If it was China, there’d be military might and vast crowds of synchronised dancers in colourful costumes.

But this was Britain, and what unfolded was an endearingly British spectacle. Here was the general public at its whimsical British best, turning pink in the hot sun without sunhats or sunblock, tucking into Mr Whippy’s 99s and making their own entertainment.

Several small children had brought along their own Olympic Torches, home-made in the best Blue Peter tradition, all sticky backed plastic and kitchen tinfoil. Many waved Union flags, dusted off from last year’s Royal Wedding and being given a preliminary airing in preparation for the Royal Jubilee. With a wry flourish, my brother produced a free promotional flag that he’d been given by a building company at the height of last year’s Will-and-Kate mania. The building company had since gone bust.

Amiable security guards, armed only with dayglo yellow waistcoats and walkie talkies, ambled about the crowds, trying to look busy to justify their temp agency fee. They were clearly at a bit of a loose end. One of them, with spectacular dreadlocks, suddenly seized a home-made Olympic torch from a child and started to run along the route, waving at the spectators as if he were the official torch bearer. A Mexican wave of cheers followed him. Then a couple of cyclists, having jumped the road blocks, pedalled cheerfully along the centre of the cleared street to further applause.

Official Olympic bus followed by torchbearer

Finally it was time for the real thing, heralded by pairs of police cars driving slowly and officiously along. But their windows were wound right down and the policemen inside were relaxed and smiling, proffering royal waves. Then came the sponsors’ open-topped buses, understaffed, a few souls in garish uniforms looking slightly embarrassed as they waved to the crowds. But the crowds didn’t care: they just let out a rousing cheer.

At last along came the Olympic bus (but it didn’t appear to be faster, stronger or higher). Jogging behind, holding the Torch aloft, was an elderly white-bearded sage. He looked as if he’d just come down from Mount Olympus. He waved and saluted as he trotted along, clearly savouring every moment of his three hundred metres of fame. The crowd went wild.

Olympic torchbearer passes by
Famous for 300 metres

And then he’d passed by and it was over. We all dispersed quickly and quietly, ripples of innocent pleasure radiating out through suburban streets. There wasn’t a hint of trouble. We’d all got more than we bargained for: a bit of a laugh, some unscheduled sunshine, a Mr Whippy and some community bonding.

I came home very glad to be British.

This post originally appeared in the Tetbury Advertiser, July 2012 edition.

If you liked this post about the London 2012 Olympics, you might also enjoy In A Lather Over My Olympic Shampoo

Posted in Uncategorized

In A Lather Over My Olympic Shampoo

Image of one of three official Olympic hairstyles at Beijing 2008 Olympics
One of three official Olympic hairstyles at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing

Dousing my hair with pale mauve shampoo in the shower, I am startled to spot on the bottle the familiar logo of the Olympic Games, indicating that the manufacturer is an official sponsor for London2012.

This makes me smile. My aspirations for my hair don’t echo the Olympic standards as expressed in the motto:  “faster, higher, stronger”. I bought this shampoo because I liked the colour of the bottle (I’m that shallow), its violet scent, and its endearingly fatuous name: “Tousle Me Softly”. If tousling has become an Olympic sport, that’s news to me.

“Stronger”, I can embrace – everyone wants their hair to be strong enough to deter split ends. “Shinier” would be good too, and maybe “softer”.  “Softer, shinier, stronger” would not be a bad slogan for a shampoo, though it’s perilously close to the former strapline of a certain toilet roll brand favoured by labrador puppies.

British Olympic swimmer Duncan Goodhew
British Olympic swimmer Duncan Goodhew

Surely the ideal shampoo for an Olympic athlete would not be one that tousles your hair, thus increasing your surface resistance and slowing you down, but one that makes you more aerodynamic and streamlined. “Faster, sleeker, balder.” (Mr Goodhew, I’m looking at you.)

I then fell to thinking (in the shower still – a great place for meditation) – about the other Olympic sponsors. I couldn’t think of any to whose products the proper Olympic motto would really apply, though at least two others score the same 1 out 3 rating as my shampoo.

“Faster, saltier, greasier” perhaps, for a certain notoriously litigious restaurant which I shall not risk naming here (though the Daily Telegraph clearly has no such scruples in its article today about banning inappropriate sponsors).

“Fizzier, higher, windier”. If I tell you that the higher refers to the effects of caffeine and sugar, you will not expect a gold medal for guessing to which soft drink manufacturer I’m referring.

British Olympic swimmer Duncan Goodhew with Olympic torch
Still a good look…

Can you think of any others? If you do, I’d love to hear them! Please post your suggestions in the comments box below. 

If you enjoyed this post, you might like another one about the Olympics:  Keeping Up With My Sporty Daughter 

More will follow soon! 34 days to go to the Opening Ceremony, and counting…