The Torch in Caversham, Reading

July 14, 2012 7:08 pm

Caversham Court Gardens

July 11th— As if empathising with my early rise, the sun makes an appearance and the road glows a little with a July sun, as surprising as it was welcome. I’m headed toward Caversham Court Gardens, a small grassy park which rolls down into the River Thames and where today, the Olympic Torch fires up for another leg of it’s countrywide tour. Doors begin to open and people trickle down to the water’s edge –I’m glad to see I have neighbours and that they aren’t simply some fiction of the suburbs. This is sad thought, really: I don’t recognise anyone coming out those houses more than a hundred metres from mine. But everyone is in winning spirits, golden smiles and happy laughter.

The band gave a sense of occasion to the morning.

Into the gardens now and as the Church bells ring in a merry announcement of half- past seven, two drums begin rumbling and snapping behind band of bagpipes giving a gutsy rendition of ‘Scotland the Brave.’ A little way off, smoke cuts against the clean summer air and I see a breakfast barbeque with a crowd of smiling punters. Either side of the pathway, a crowd forms and swells. Children are let through to stand at the front and everyone leans to get a clearer view, without anyone hustling or urgent; this is a peaceful morning and, for most, once-in-a-lifetime. The feeling is that no-one wants to ruin it.

Stewards hurry back and forth and frown with self-importance. In reality, they seem to be doing nothing but flattening the ground beneath their feet. Perhaps it is an elaborate health and safety exercise, removing trip hazards? Union Jacks strung together form the only semblance of a barrier and little snippets of anticipation float between groups. ‘Soon, darling, the man with the flame will be here,’ says a mother turning to her daughter. The husband, hoisting their little boy (who waves his golden cardboard torch) up onto his arm, turns; ‘Oh, is it a man running with it?’ She smiles; ‘I’ve no idea.’ It doesn’t matter to any of us who it is or for how long we’ll see it.  Eight-o-four is fervently passed around and watches are consulted impatiently.

Amongst this innocent sense of fun come the corporate Coca-Cola girls with free samples, keeping their catchphrase curt; ‘Diet or normal?’ As the local reporters usher families into posing for the cameras (‘Pretend I’m not here love, just be normal, act natural…. Now, just all move in a little bit and look over there, come on now, big smiles…’) I can see parents further up the line looking half-amused and half-worried as little hands pointing at the red bottles of fizzy-pop are accompanied by pleading smiles. Says a dad behind me; ‘Christ, glad I’m not a teacher- the kids will be bouncing off the walls!’ A lady with a bag of exercise books gives him a horrified glance.

A local policeman carried the torch.

Then, to the strains of ‘Amazing Grace’, a white tracksuit and a golden beacon pass. The face goes unrecognised; later I will find out he is a local policeman. His moment before us is fleeting but for him it must be incredible; our cheers pass on down the route and their cheers go even further. He is gone and the crowds turn, to home or school or work. The music gives in to the ringing from the bell tower and through the gates a family comes running in; they look pleased, they have made it before the advertised start time – and then crestfallen, as they realise the flame left early. It does seem such a shame as I see many others behind them, one at a time hitting the same realization.

I walk the route I came to get home again, pleased to have seen a community come together and to have briefly shared the moment. As I shut the door behind me, I wonder if I’ll ever see my neighbours again. At least the torch gave us introductions.

The morning was beautiful and the bells sounded out as we waited for the flame.


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