I don’t know about you, but I for one am deeply tired of all this muttering that the Olympics have finished. No, no, no. This is the intermission before the main event. The Paralympics are coming. A friend of mine on Facebook told me the Sydney Paralympics were easily as good as the Olympics. Some say the Games are a bit too easy and the Paralympics take it up a notch. I can’t wait me.
Mind you, the one thing the Paralympics really do not have is a separate Olympic Torch relay. My suggestion is we all stage a little Olympic Torch ceremony of our own.
I’ve already done mine. One morning a small, smartly dressed, latter middle-aged lady was standing outside my tube stop with tastefully green leaflets and vouchers.
“You’re going to work,” she said.
“Yes,” I said.
“We’re giving out free vouchers and leaflets about the Olympics and how it will affect the area, as the Torch is going through here today. Would you like a leaflet?”
“I’ve never yet been known to turn down a leaflet,” I glanced down. “You’ve got flags too.”
“Yes,” she said, slightly more bemused. The nearly 40 work brigade weren’t the target market for her Richmond flags. She looked at me slightly hesitantly. “Would you like one?”
“Yes please,” I said. “I have meetings in both Westminster and Essex’s local authorities. It would be nice to have something from my own local authority with me, for a change.”
She smiled and handed the flag over. I thanked her, and took my mini-torch on the Overground train to the throbbing epicentre of the Olympics, Stratford. Every once in a while I gave it a little wiggle to get the sense of drama and celebration into my mini torch relay, whilst quietly working for the rest of the journey. Most relay runners only get to carry their torch for 200 metres – just the first train ride took about an hour.
I posed with my flag next to one of the many Olympic Park signs. Stratford was painfully close to the Olympics by then: the tannoy had been announcing “Welcome to the home of the Olympic Games” for some months. Stratford is daubed with hundreds of posters assuring us that we are all making the Games. By carrying my Richmond flag to Chelmsford, it is fair to say my contribution to the Games was smaller than any spectator, planner, call centre worker or McDonald’s server depicted in the posters. But nevertheless I found myself in positive mood as I alighted the train to Chelmsford for my meeting, flag resplendent in my rucksack. Happily I noticed I was on the wrong train at Shenfield or I would have taken my little torch to Billericay by accident. Disaster averted, I took my little flag to Chelmsford, where we discussed the scope of something terribly important in County Hall, before returning to Stratford.
It was on the train to Stratford that I was given a challenge. A strikingly pretty girl was in tears. The flag and I looked at each other in concern. If the poor girl was in emotional torment, I should probably leave her alone but… It didn’t seem the Olympic thing to do. I pondered. What would Sir Steve Redgrave do? What would Tanni Grey-Thompson do? Suddenly all became clear.
“Are you alright?” I asked.
The girl shook her head, and sniffled, “Not really, no. I’m in a lot of pain.”
The flag and I furrowed for a moment, before (quicker than you can say ’Fatima Whitbread’) inspiration landed. “Would you like some painkillers? I don’t have any water but…” She nodded enthusiastically, and I handed over the ibuprofen. They kicked in swiftly enough and we got to chatting, about why she’d been crying, and that it was all alright now, and then we parted company at Stratford again, her to have lunch with a friend, me to take the Flag on its journey of dreams to Westminster.
The Jubilee line was littered with my Olympic brethren, whether it was the police, the Ministry of Fun Olympic volunteers or little old me and flag, waving quietly from its little pocket in my rucksack. Most of the LOCOG posse had departed by the time I reached Westminster, which is odd, because from my point of view, the Westminster leg of the journey felt like the most Olympic stage. Me and flag were thronged by tourists on every side, and because we weren’t the full torch, I had no jogging security guards to hold back the throng. Nevertheless, flag and I pressed on, pausing only to have our photo taken by Big Ben.
On and on we went, past Parliament Square, past Westminster Abbey, past everything and up Victoria Street, to the Westminster Council building. If I’m honest the Council building was one of the least desirable bits of my journey. I didn’t tell my colleagues why there was a Richmond flag in my bag for much of the day. I thought they might think me peculiar.
I didn’t even tell the very small child I met on the tube home to Richmond why I had a flag in my pocket. He rather made contact with me. I was working on my iPad: he kept touching the screen and grinning broadly at me. I smiled back, and explained I was sketching out an essay structure for when I was back at work, but I don’t think he fully understood. Flag was tucked in my rucksack pocket on the floor, just at his hand height. So he kept flicking the flag. I eyed him. And quicker than you can say Chris Akabusi, an idea blossomed. I had intended to keep my flag so I could take it to wave at the Olympic torch proper. But that is not the spirit of the Olympic games. The true Olympic flame is passed on. The boy started touching my iPad screen again.
“OK, you’re not getting the iPad, but I’m open to options about the flag,” I said. He looked at me quizzically. I smiled, and repeated, “Would you like my flag?” He looked to his mum.
“Would you like the lady’s flag?” she said. He nodded, grinning a big toothy grin.
And with that I passed the flag to the next generation, and my time as a budget Olympic carrier was over. I took his photo with his mother’s permission, and realised that, entirely unexpectedly, living the Olympic way is rather better than the normal method. Really – do give it a go. I think you’ll find living the Olympic dream does wonders for your karma, and will fill the void before the main event on 29 August…
Incidentally, if you have any further doubts about the Paralympics, watch this fascinating documentary about the man whose bright idea it was. It is a truly marvellous piece of drama which will be on the iPlayer until 10:29, Thursday 23 August. If I had my way it would be on all year round, and would be compusory viewing for everyone (although it does get a little bit sweary in places). http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b01m1jqd/The_Best_of_Men/