Wednesday, October 3, 2012

The Olympic Flame

Photo: John McGowan
There was only one place to be in Lewes at 2.30pm last Tuesday. On the first sunny day for ages, and after rain like the Great Flood, the wild flowers in the Grange Gardens were not to be missed. A good development, this, from LDC responding to the annual dust-up over bedding plants and letting a bit of nature in. Unfortunately The Trouble With, like all other parents in Lewes, was instead obliged to be up the hill watching the Olympic Flame visit the home of the mighty Rooks.

I say obliged but it was really more of an invitation from school to liberate the children early; always a delight for working parents. The reward for dropping everything was the privilege of seeing the flotilla of Samsung publicity vehicles followed by a clutch of Lycra-clad joggers accompanying an oversized fag-lighter.From the conversations I had later the troubles with this were clearly legion. “I can’t believe how commercial it all is!” Can’t you? While watchers could have been excused for thinking that the Games have been re-titled the SAMSUNG Olympics, it’s not like corporate sponsorship is anything new. To be honest, the values of the ancient Olympics weren't so pure either. True, the competitors didn't wear shirts sponsored by Athens Communications (high speed messaging by slave runner), as they were famously in the buff. Probably quite buff themselves too now I think of it. However, less than Corinthian practices were well-established. For Lewesians though, there was also the special disappointment of a single torch in daylight rather than thousands in November darkness. Lousy theatre Seb, if you don’t mind me saying.

So how could the torch relay have impressed a Sussex population used to feasting on fire? As William Goldman, the great Hollywood screenwriter said, for really great entertainment what you have to do is protect the star. If you have George Clooney in your film you basically give him everything: best lines, sexiest moves and cutest winks. You don’t begrudge it as he’ll make you a fortune. If George needs all that though, how much more must you give to a Bacofoil cone with a candle sized flame? Well they could have gone easier on the pom-poms, the overexcited MC and (admittedly a masterstroke) the sullen youth texting on his Samsung Galaxy. In fact, might running have been exciting and romantic enough by itself?Imagine a different scene. A little razzmatazz sure, but then the noise dies down. The beefy metropolitan coppers call for quiet. Everyone waits. Suddenly a lone runner appears on the horizon carrying the flame lit at Mount Olympus. The spirits of NurmiBikila and Freeman are there as the runner passes the ancient castle. Then, stopping only for a refreshing latte at Nero’s, it's off down the hill and on through the wild flowers at the Grange. 

Not the most obvious route perhaps, but I tell you, those poppies really are Olympian.

John McGowan, 18th July 2012

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