A New Flame

(Simply Red, 1989)

The Olympic flame came to Southampton on Saturday.

Now my general feeling about the Olympics is pretty well known – I don’t like the fact that London residents and businesses have been made to pay for it, yet received no preferential ticket allocations; I don’t like the fact that little or no advantage in ticket allocation was given to grass roots supporters of the sports in question; I don’t like the arrogant way that London businesses will only be allowed to receive deliveries between 11 PM and 6 AM, to keep the roads clear of commercial vehicles so the “Games Family” can speed unhindered between sites; most of all, I don’t like the fact that London’s commuters are being told to plan alternative ways of getting to work, because public transport is going to be jammed solid with those games tourists who are not part of the Games Family, and therefore don’t qualify for chauffer driven limos and sepcial traffic lanes.

All that said – and to clarify doubts that someone raised as a result of a Facebook post I made t’other day – I hope the Games are a rousing success: I hope London shows off its best face, that the Underground and Bus networks get people where they’re going without problems, that all the spectators, volunteers and competitors have a great time. I truly do hope all these things – it’s just that experience – together with the stories that have appeared in the press over the last few days – makes me think that at least the middle of those hopes – on which the other two largely depend – is unlikely to be realised.

Anyway, the flame came to Southampton, and Purple Fred (Whom I Love Very Much), Mini Fred, another friend of ours, and I, all went to see it. It has to be said that the adults in the party weren’t keen – I know it was a once in a lifetime opportunity, but so was the Black Death and I’m quite glad I missed that – but we went anyway. Even though it rained all afternoon, I was sure we’d need to get there early or we wouldn’t find a parking space. And Yes, PF(WILVM), I freely admit I was wrong about that. Still, it would be worth turning up early, as Southampton’s Guildhall Square, that magnificent public open space in the town centre, had been turned into the “Olympic Activity Village” to entertain the crowds. Here’s a picture of the Olympic Activity Village in the Guildhall Square:

The Olympic Inactivity Village

We spent three minutes in the Olympic Inactivity Village, but only because that’s how long it took to walk from one side to the other, stopping to take a picture on the way. We found ourselves a good spot to see the flame in the rain, and awaited developments. The crowd were all getting into the spirit of things, even the non-human ones:

Dog with flags

Then three sponsors vehicles came round the corner, handing out freebies (we didn’t get any): The crowd surged forward, leaving just enough space for the flame carrier and his escorts to come through, and the flame carrier came and went. This picture was provided by PF(WILVM), as at the key moment of flame-passingness, the person next to me leaned forwards and blocked my view:

The torch bearer passes by, version 1

From the place we’d chosen, we knew we could easily get to another bit of the route before the torch did, so we headed off through the parks for another go – more in the hope of being more successful at getting freebies than having a better view. More by luck than planning, however, we’d chosen a spot where the flame passed from one torch bearer to another, so it went a bit slower, and we’d also chosen a spot that the flame had to pass twice: As it had been through once, most of the crowds had pushed off to the pub, so we had a much better view:

The torch bearer passes by, version 2

The Police people were friendly – we were also at the changeover spot for the escort teams, and a couple of the motorbike cops were posing for photos with the kids in the crowd, and we have to admit we were all glad we went.

And then we went home to change into dry clothes and warm up.

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