Sport The Olympic Torch Relay. The Olympic torch relay. I’m not sure where the capitals are supposed to go, but I was sure that for all my cynicism about ticketing allocation, the siphoning off of money from less populist culture to pay for it and LOCOG’s shenanigans, I had to attend the Olympic Torch Relay, the Olympic torch relay. Checks main website. Olympic Torch Relay it is then.
Indeed I can’t quite understand why you wouldn’t bother, especially if you had the opportunity. As it spaghettis across the country taking in most of the major cities and at least some of the minor towns, there’s certainly enough time. I know people who desperately wanted to see it but couldn’t get time off from their employer, so in a way I felt like I had to see it for them too.
Not everyone has that spirit, it seems. Passing up Hope Street this afternoon on the way the place where I’d be standing, a mother was herding her brood up the pavement. One her boys looked up and asked, “Aren’t we staying to see the Olympic torch?” to which is Mum replied, “Why? It’s just someone running up the road carrying a torch.”
I was desperate to say something, say “Well, yes it is, but think of your boy in twenty years when he’s in the pub talking about all this and when asked if he saw it, his story’s going to be what you just said. It might get him the sympathy vote, perhaps even a sympathy drink, but if he’s desperate to see it you might as well give him the hour.” But I didn’t because it was none of my business.
Instead I carried on up towards the Metropolitan Cathedral, outside which the Archbishop of Liverpool was having his photo taken with five women in top hat, tails, miniskirt and fishnet stockings (Zatanna basically). Inside the cathedral’s café, a girl in a kimono practiced an intricate dance, swishing her sleeves around in circles. For a few moments, I felt like my life was being written and directed by Stephen Poliakoff.
I’d decided to stand in the university district on Brownlow Hill, near the red brick Victoria Museum and Art Gallery, guessing that the crowds would be thinner than in the city centre, and being students slightly more fun and less aggressive, mostly because I like to think that’s what I was like as a student and that has to be the template, doesn't it?
When I arrived at about four o’clock, the streets were empty which boded well for finding a decent speck. But was early so I bought a 99 from an ice cream van, watched some of the entertainment laid on by the University radio station (Chinese drums), winced in Rymans at the exorbitant price of blank dvds and them met a friend in Blackwells who told me that the torch wouldn’t be passing by for another hour.
Eeep. Thankfully after some more strolling about, time passed relatively quickly and by about twenty to five I was standing up the hill outside one of the Electical Engineering buildings, the Sun reflecting brightly across its glass and white modernist tiling. On the balcony of the building, a group had gathered in swimsuits carrying beers. They were the happiest people there.
Waiting. Waiting. Chatting, to a couple of students stood next to me, about why we’d come, about the impossibility of buying tickets, about just what time the torch would actually be passing by. The crowds built. Random cheering ensued, mostly initiated by the people in swimsuits, sometimes after egging someone to remove most of their clothing too, something they succeeded in a few times. No, not with me.
At about 4:45, things occurred. After some stewards arrived to hopelessly ask us not to stand in the road, the first lot of support vehicles drove through, police on bikes (cheer), police car (cheer), Coca-Cola lorry (muted cheer), Samsung (cheerishing), Lloyds (cheer), yellow Olympic vehicles some carrying torch bearers (massive cheer) and then … a number 79 bus. The torch would be on time, then.
Which it was. At ten past five, more police bikes and cars, more Olympic vehicles, the security joggers in their grey track suits and in the middle the torch bearer, whoever he was. The experience of watching wasn’t unlike the Sea Odyssey giants of a few weeks ago, the surge of people, the shouty stewards, the desperate photography, the fleeting moments in which suddenly it's there, then just as suddenly it's gone.
I wish I knew who the torch bearer was. I’ve had a look at the Olympics website isn’t clear on exactly who had the opportunity when and the above photographic evidence is too indistinct for a positive identification. But he was smiling, enjoying himself and that’s the main thing. Certain other torchbearers haven’t seemed like they’ve really understood the honour.
After the biggest cheer went to the street cleaning wagon following the entourage it was over and the long walk to public transport began. I decided to head down Hardman Street to Forbidden Planet to collect my comics order (which is about what you'd expect). As I walked up Rodney Street, in the very distance I could see the torch passing another crowd outside Liverpool Cathedral. Same cheers.
Turning onto Leece Street, I realised that the torch would be passing again up Renshaw Street. Picking up the pace, I dashed to the bottom and waltzed through the traffic onto the small island opposite the Sainsburys. Behind me the steps of St Lukes again were full and as the same vehicles passed by, it became apparent to them that they were very much in the wrong place. Surge forward.
But somehow I’d managed to plonk myself in front of all of them and was within feet of the path of the torch which, sure enough passed again. Another surge of people, more shouty stewards, more desperate photography, more fleeting moments of the torch being suddenly there, then just as suddenly gone. No photograph this time, just a memory of the torch's golden mesh sparkling in the daylight.