Northumberland Stories and Tips

Bumping into the Olympic Torch Relay

Some of the vehicles servicing the Olympic torch Photo, Berwick upon Tweed, Northumberland

After 65 miles of hiking it seemed appropriate that when we finished our walk the streets of Berwick upon Tweed were lined with bunting and people waving Union Jacks.

While the excitement coincided with our arrival in Berwick at the end of our journey, alas I must confess the welcome was not intended for us. We simply had arrived about 10 minutes before the Olympic Torch had. To be fair to the Torch it was mid way through its 8000 mile journey up down and across the UK as against our meager 65, although we had walked the whole of our trip (unlike the Torch that spends much of the time being driven around on a bus).

Anyone watching the BBC news might imagine that the country has some kind of universal approval of the journey of the Olympic torch relay; however it is not without its critics or controversy. The tradition of the relay dates back only to 1936 when Goebbels, Hitler's publicist, used the arrival of the Games in Berlin to boost Hitler's popularity and promote the view that the Aryan race were dominant.

There have also been grumbles that some of the people selected to run the relay are not only the good charitable souls originally envisaged, but also people put forward by the major sponsors of the games. Finally, tales that the torches available to buy for £200 by each of the 8000 participants on the relay are turning in a healthy profit on e-bay have also created a mini storm.

Still, there was a pretty good turnout for the arrival of the torch in Berwick, albeit with the majority of the crowds waiting on the sunny side of the street only. There were a couple of bands and market stalls to liven up proceedings while residents waited patiently for the arrival of the Torch from across the border in Scotland. Having been on our feet for 6 hours, we hopped from foot to foot while we waited to stop cramp from developing.

Excitement arrived with the first Police dispatch rider on his motorbike with lights flashing and driving importantly slowly. Unfortunately, he was simply the first of a number of Police dispatch riders from a range of Police forces in the area before the coach containing the relay runner appeared. The slow hop from foot to foot had to continue.

Our "runner" did indeed seem to be one of the selfless charitable people intended to be honoured with a relay spot. She was a friendly woman who chatted excitedly with local press and dignitaries as she waited for the arrival of the torch with the previous runner. After the obligatory official photos, she also offered to stand with a number of other people with the hallowed torch. Who knows, perhaps she had already sold hers on e-bay? To be honest, my view is good luck to her if she has.

Before she could set off, we were treated to two bus-loads of overexcited PR staff on behalf of the sponsors of the relay; namely that paragon of health promotion Coke, and that other famous "British" company Samsung. The folks at Coke seemed to be trying to convince the crowd that their lucky day had arrived simply because they were dishing out free bottles of coke and a coke emblazoned "Frisbee" to the crowd (to the sunny side of the street only alas).

To be fair it was better than the Samsung offering, as they handed out some rather useless blow up plastic sticks with their name emblazoned all over it. Again, it was only the sunny side of the street that obtained these "treats". It was obviously our bad for choosing to shiver in the shade for the better view.

I was left with the distinct impression that whatever these waving, skipping, screaming and manically smiling PR people were getting paid it just wasn't enough to lose that much dignity in public.

Meanwhile the lads from the quick fit tire shop opposite were in battle with their boss over who should answer the phone and whether the customer stools could be used by the staff while they waited for the spectacle to pass. That was to be honest more exciting than the grinning manic PR staff trying to whip us up into a frenzy. Again, to be fair after a 12 mile hike it was going to take quite a lot to whip me into said frenzy.

Finally, the previous relay runner had arrived and our girl had to stand there for 30 seconds mingling her torch with that of her predecessor while the flame was transferred from one torch to another.

Her journey through the main street of Berwick (and her literally 15 minutes of fame) then began, before she in turn had to pass the flame onto another. In total, I counted two runners, 18 support vehicles and a number of support staff riding bicycles presumably to make sure our girl could run in a straight line and in the right direction. I guess in her shoes, I would have attempted to carry all the way onto London, so perhaps they were there to stop her.

Our runner did seem genuinely excited and was very gracious with her time talking to the people lined on the streets, so in the sense of honouring our community unsung heroes it was all worth it.

Once our lady had passed by, we disappeared off for a quick drink in the local bar as the stopped up roads for the all mighty Torch meant we weren't going anywhere fast in our cars. 30 minutes later with the procession over it seemed as though Berwick had shut up shop; stalls, musicians, runners and crowds had all moved on.

It strikes me that the value of the Olympic Torch Relay depends on your view point; is it chance to see a little bit of history passing in front of your eyes, and that probable one opportunity to be part of the Olympic dream, or is it simply some posh boys pet project to shower a few crumbs of the Olympics out to the provinces of the United Kingdom outside of London?

In my eyes it is probably a bit of both, but I cannot begrudge that pleasure our torch lady obviously had in taking her place as one of 8000 chosen folk.

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