For some time now my cynicism about the Olympics has bordered on anger. I work with museums. Museums are facing a funding crisis that has reduced services across the UK and has caused some of my friends to lose jobs. At the same time I’ve seen billions of pounds thrown at an event happening, in both a physical and an intellectual sense, somewhere else.
I really had no intention of seeing any of the torch relay and I certainly hadn’t expected to see it in Stornoway. I’m only here on a short visit undertaking a few preparations before a permanent move later in the year. It’s pure coincidence that I’m here at the same time as the torch(es). Even when I discovered this coincidence it was still unlikely that I would witness the parade. But I woke early and had some business to attend to in Stornoway so I decided to attend – if only to act as a disinterested observer ready to have my prejudiced confirmed. Which they soon were.
I hadn’t even completed the short cycle ride into the town before I was stopped twice by stewards and police. With bland and well practiced politeness I was instructed to abandon my bike and complete my journey on foot. This I did. I found an acceptable vantage point next to an oversized Coca-Cola banner.
The parade was, for the most part, exactly what I had expected. Corporate branding, police, various outriders, TV cameras and a number of busses. The only change was that instead of the large corporate busses that I had seen on the TV coverage here there were a number of temporarily branded SUVs. Clearly the cost benefit analysis of bringing the whole shebang to such a small audience dictated a scaled down version. Somewhere amongst this corporate and state paraphernalia was a torchbearer. I barely noticed them.
Prejudices confirmed, I was now ready to fill my pen with green ink and record my thoughts. But it was not even 7AM so no cafés would yet be open. I decided to cut across town to watch the parade on its return journey.
Standing on the brow of Matheson Road I had a clear view of the final parts of the route. After a few minutes the noise and lights of the parade came into view. But there was something slightly odd. The corporate SUVs had detached themselves from the torchbearers and now formed an advance guard quite some distance ahead. The cheerleaders still went about their business, encouraging applause and handing out branded tat on its short transition to landfill, but it was unclear who the cheering was for. The torchbearer was so far behind that it could not be for them. We were only cheering because we were told to.
It felt like a good five minutes after the last SUV for the torchbearer to get to us. It was possibly less, but it did not matter: it was enough time for the corporates to drift out out sight and, thankfully, out of mind. The outriders and TV cameras were stolidly there but their role had changed. They were no longer part of the machine. They were there to support and celebrate the torchbearer. We smiled and cheered not because we were told to but because we wanted to. Frankly, I had no idea who these runners were. It didn’t matter. They were proud. They were happy. And that made me happy.
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