Bells, blooms – and the Olympic Torch

Sunday 8th July, 2012

Even though the rain was beating hard what better could a boatless boatwif want on a summer Sunday morning than to stand looking at a fine river while church bells ring out joyfully?  In front of Bedford‘s Swan Hotel union flags were being distributed for waving purposes and spectators of all shapes, sizes and generations were gathering five and six deep on the pavements.  Below Bedford‘s Town Bridge rowers of skiffs and teams of rowing fours demonstrated their prowess; swans too were on the water, gliding expectantly towards the Swan Hotel bank – with so many humans about surely bread rations would be generous? There was the sound of PA systems, one from the Rowing Club, another from the Salvation Army pitch on the opposite side of the bridge. The crowds swelled, umbrellas swayed, laughter and eager anticipation were in the air.

When would Something happen? Crash barriers prevented High Street traffic from crossing Town Bridge and still the rain rained and the crowds multiplied. Local Friend and Boatwif had selected a good viewpoint for the Event; from their bridge vantage point they could see right down the Embankment (Bedford’s “Jewel in the Crown”), their eyes could sweep across the river, could view up the traffic-clogged High Street and survey behind them the Town Bridge crowds. Two police motor-cyclists swept along the Embankment, turned the corner onto the Bridge and carried on. Excitement was palpable. Yellow-coated stewards were busy controlling the crowds. Next, a few minutes later, swept past a low-slung strange vehicle, its red metal bodywork emblazoned with Coca Cola brandings, emitting garbled announcements. Would this eccentric thing on wheels one day be parked in a Motor Museum for Heritage Vehicles…  A long pause. To the right a man twiddled with an i-phone. “You saw it at Goldington Green?” he muttered into it. “Uh-huh… we’re on Town Bridge, it’s really busy here.” Brave souls clambered to perch high on the riverside balustrades, eager to get optimum photo shots. Two police cars swept the roadway clear…

Amidst the hubbub came a new noise, a siren. Down the High Street, blue lights flashing, raced an ambulance. A gasp!  The crash barriers were edged apart; through the crowds it pushed. It paused, stewards and police swarmed around. Then onward – forward it pushed, right towards the oncoming Torch procession. Activity surrounded the ambulance. Watched from bridge, from pavement, from balconies, from rooftops its driver eased the vehicle backwards, backwards through the crowds. Pressing onwards towards it now came the Action: the bus carrying the relay runners still to carry the Torch, then a huge red Coca Cola band on wheels, next the blue Samsung truck, cheerleaders on its roof, now the Lloyds TSB truck, from which a microphoned voice instructed: “Cheer your runner, her name is Ann, her name is Ann.”

Just on the bridge, just feet away, the next relay runner had been deposited. A cyclist chaperone protected her as the crowds pushed to glimpse an iconic Olympic torch. More blue lights, then slowly, oh so slowly, the yellow flame approached – low down, clamped to a wheelchair, its rider doing wheelie tricks (to impress, and /or in jubilation). Next, obscured from view by the crowds, came The Kiss, the flame passed from torch bearer to torch bearer. Cameras clicked and whirred. Voices called and cheered. A roar, the new torch lit and off it moved, Ann its proud bearer. The trucks rumbled on, back platform camera crew firmly focused on runner and spectators.

Olympia – Land’s End – the West Country – Wales – Isle of Man – Ireland – Scotland – a criss-cross of England – and now through Bedford. What razzmatazz surrounds this simple symbol – and yet the joy it brought, a unifying experience.  Across the nations millions have breathed: I saw it, I was there! And for Boatwif too, a thrill: she saw it, she was there.

Gently the crowds began to disperse: why hurry now when the rain had stopped? Down to the riverside Boatwif and Local Friend ambled, crossing the teeming weir, seeing the canoe slalom, watching a narrow boat descend the lock, noting the rain soaked deckchairs set before the bandstand, witnessing dedicated rowers competing down the straight, gaining first glimpse of the just installed Archimedes’ screws, Bedford’s own water-powered energy…  On went their amble, past regatta-readied rowing shells and drifting dragon boats, across the river at Butterfly Bridge to enjoy the Embankment’s fine floral displays.

ER 1952 – 2012, laid out in recognition of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Year.

2012Britain‘s Olympic Year – and the Olympic flame passed here just an hour before.  Have hearts been touched? Were spirits lifted?  Can a single, simple flame provoke lasting inspiration…?  Will it…?



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