I’ve never really understood why people flock to see the Olympic torch. It’s not as if humankind only recently discovered fire. But the torch came to my part of London today so I went to see what people get so excited about.
Little Britain star David Walliams was taking a turn in the torch relay. Crowds filled the pavements, the sun shone and abseiling artists put on a colourful show on the façade of Islington town hall. The council leader came out to address the throng. “Good morning Islington!” she shouted into her microphone, possibly channelling Robin Williams. She introduced various dignitaries before presenting Walliams. Each torch-bearer carries the flame for an average of just 300 metres but Walliams was looking so portly in his white track suit with gold trim that a friend of mine suggested even that might be a stretch for him. Of course Walliams has become an endurance athlete in the past few years, performing various feats including swimming the Channel for charity, and I can report that he also survived his gruelling jog down a short section of Upper Street. We saw him walking back, high-fiving groups of children, a few minutes later.
There are plenty of official pictures of the event (here and here, for example) but what you see if you’re a few rows back on the pavement is a bit different:
First, you see a lot of buses, blaring high-energy music and telling you the torch is coming soon. The big blue Samsung bus led the way, with cheerleaders dancing up top and a giant video screen on its side showing a glowing David Beckham. Then came the big red Coca-Cola bus, with excited red-clad people on top. Then the Lloyds TSB bank’s white bus, with a sign exhorting people to “Smile!”. Then you see what almost everyone sees these days at events with crowds — lots of people in front of you holding up mobile phones and cameras to try to take a picture of what they can’t see. Which means you can see even less than you otherwise might be able to see.
To be fair, I did manage to see the torch, the flame and David Walliams. Just about. And I’d probably have seen more if I hadn’t been trying to take pictures and record video.
It seems the relay has been a hit around the country (there are more relay-related facts than you could wave a torch at on the official site) but the most impressive sight of the morning for me was Czech artist David Cerny’s London Booster bus, which put the torch sponsors’ vehicles to shame. Cerny’s bus (outside the Czech House, where the Czech Republic is promoting itself during the Games) is a big red double-decker that does push-ups. Just for good measure, it also groans and flashes video images from its windows too. Really. Look!