The Torch in York

July 14, 2012 2:56 pm

July 14th 2012- Today the Olympic torch passes through York; a place seemingly too small to be granted the honour but apparently a place with enough charisma to earn itself the privilege anyway. It’s 3pm and the main route, a long stretch of road running from the A64 straight into the heart of the city, is already lined with people. Of course, it’s a cliché to say ‘lined’ but this is exactly what people are doing: rank and file, they are queuing down the one mile stretch of road, as if collectively waiting for the post-office to open. No barriers are necessary here. This is England.

Surprisingly in today’s permanently connected society, no-one seems to know what’s going on. There are some vague murmurs in the crowd of a hold up. An elderly man talks with confidence about traffic hold-ups to a young man who nods in open-mouthed deference, as if this aged gent possessed the power to divine traffic information from cloud formations and subtle breezes in the air. Wherever the torch procession is, the road is starting to clear: some perfunctory police bikes pass through , some people cheer, a few union flags are tossed from side to side –but there are no loud-hailers informing us when the main event will arrive.

It’s 4 pm now and things are starting to fill out a bit more. There is a more definite mix of people and a palpable sense of mutual repulsion and curiosity: ‘so this is what all the people who live down my street look like.’ These jointly estranged people all have one thing in common though: they have to see a spectacle. No spectacle might mean the crowd would have to make their own and that would almost certainly result in blood. Another police motorbike passes; he has no news of the torch either but is goading the crowd into cheers with theatrical hand gestures. The event is nearing closer.

Immediately, out of an air of ritual expectation, it occurs to me that there’s something very pagan and middle-English about it all: labourers holding their kids aloft as if preparing them for some sort of sacrament, the cross-eyed mayor in his high-regalia and of the course the elemental flame itself. It’s not difficult to imagine that these events tickle the same part of the brain that must, at one point, have taken pleasure in witch burning, mead and a bit of ‘hey nonny no.’ Perhaps we need these ceremonies to expel the ritualistic energies that would otherwise solidify into darker things. I read later the Olympic flame was originally conceived by Goebbels. Maybe all is not so benign.

Two torch-bearers in York.

The first proper sight comes of anything which looks official and Olympic and it’s a cavalcade of open-deck buses filled with bouncy young girls and chiseled, almost-pubescent looking guys. Music is blaring from each respective vehicle and it sounds like the Vengaboys or S Club 7. It might not have been anything like that of course, but if either of those groups turned up, they would be indistinguishable from the general mood. Ah, these are branded buses I notice as the second one rolls past. Samsung first and now Coca-Cola. You could argue that such blatant advertising shouldn’t be used on those things, but sport stadiums have been glorified ad-hoardings for decades; why should the biggest sports-fest in the world be any different?

‘There!’ someone says, meaning the torch-bearer. In the split second I looked down to fiddle about with my camera I’ve missed the whole thing: the torch is now an obscured blot in the distance. I immediately duck back into the house and put the local news on. The irrepressible Harry Gration says that the torch is now heading to York Racecourse and from the looks of it, most of the city’s inhabitants are there already. The flame is already making its way up to some official looking stand and I can see they’re preparing a horse to parade it around; reluctantly. ‘It’s amazing how well behaved the crowd are’ says Harry’s co-host. ‘Yes,’ I reply in my head to the television,‘so long as that torch stays lit.’ Time for a drink now –preferably something that isn’t mead.


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