It’s just a torch. As I sat there at the dinner table while the family chattered away excitedly about its upcoming visit to the Palace, it’s all I could think about. I flattened my mash with a spoon. Uniting the city? Restoring confidence in the country? A beacon of hope? What a load of rubbish. Not to glug too much from the glass half empty but day in day out the torch relay consumed our tellies with its perpetual churning of clichés and pre-practised grins that, quite frankly, I was a little sick of it.
Was wading through the heaving masses at Ally Pally in the simmering July heat, to catch a mere glimpse of this ‘almighty’ torch really worth it? Or was it going to be a sticky, uncomfortable anti-climax? I had my predictions.
So there I was, glued between wailing North Londoners, sweat beads queasily rolling down my temples. The Coca Cola vibrating drum pads throbbed about my ears, the thick stench of frying meat wafted heavily in the humid air and the speakers spat their music aggressively through my bones. More like a moment to wretch than a ‘moment to shine’.
What was so special about this torch? I mean a stylish abseiling arrival with the Royal Navy Commando helicopter forces, resting in the Tower of London jewel room, riding the London Eye and the tube? Now call me crazy but err, am I the only one who’s noticed it’s an inanimate object? I don’t think seeing the London landmarks was one of its lifelong ambitions. My wild hunch? It’s a hunk of aluminium.
Symbolic of ‘purity and the pursuit of perfection’, travelling in the media limelight for its 70 day relay and crossing the hands of the likes of Patrick Stewart, Hamilton and even Billy Mitchell in a live Eastenders episode; why such a bloody fuss over this torch?!
Then, I saw it.
As Daley Thompson strode up to the stage, the frustration evaporated and I stood curiously transfixed. The flame was mesmerising. Aside the heat of the crowd, a bizarre cooling warmth was flooding my body and I felt kind of…emotional. I was being swept up in the clichés. Around me, my North London neighbours stood goose bumped in delight and for the first time, dare I say it, I got the sense we were all in it together. I felt a sudden, uncontrollable rush of pride to be a North Londoner, a Londoner and a Brit. What I learned, while watching the flame flicker away there on our Palace porch, is that when it comes to the torch, avoiding the soppy stock phrases is impossible.
With the volunteering and interacting of local community members and the air of London being replenished under the World’s gaze, there was really no other way to describe it than a little bit magical. Touching? Poignant? Heartwarming? Sensational? Powerful? Moving? Scoff all you want at such a fantastically cliché cauldron of words, but the torch-deservedly-lit them all.