Swansea and the Olympic Flame.
Retiring to bed at the unholy hour of 3am the night before, I was awoken from the heat induced sticky slumber I’ve begun to adjust to in an atypically hot and sunny Swansea by my alarm, even though it was only a mere 3 hours later, at 6am. After readying two litres of water, not wanting to suffer in the steadily rising temperatures, I grabbed my camera and departed for Mumbles Road.
Having not gained much experience with a digital camera outside of a mobile phone, I tinkered with my Canon ‘Power Shot‘ as I strolled through Brynmill Park before traversing Singleton Park, through Swansea University campus and finally arriving at my destination. Not before, might I add, taking a pseudo-artistic picture or two. We can but try.
I was among the earliest to arrive and after confirming with a nice lady which direction the torch bearer was bearing the torch from I took up my position across the road. A trickle of people began to join the few already there and soon there was a modest but enthusiastic crowd assembled. I sat and snapped a few pictures in preparation for the purpose of my visit and took in the scene around me. The local police on motorcycles pre-empted the torch bearer by pulling up ahead of the running pack by some 20-30 minutes. They subsequently invited some of the families taking photos to pose with them on the temporarily closed portion of the road. Quite a strange scene to say the least.
As we all continued waiting with whatever patience we could muster, I saw siblings antagonising each other with playful slaps to the back, shoving and teasing but all in good spirits, with just the slightest hint of menace it could be said. I also had the slightly irritating experience of having two young men, who were apparently the two local cynics, stand behind me with their recently purchased coffees accompanied by a running commentary. When not ridiculing and laughing at a chap who had parked his car which obstructed the famous Swansea Land Train they were discussing topics as varied as how much tax payers money was spent on organising various aspects of the relay to the NASDAQ and the value of the recently floated Facebook. One, in a somewhat bizarre moment, expressed great annoyance at the fact Facebook didn’t exist 8 years ago. His point was somewhat lost on me as I returned my attention to the rest of the slightly more pleasant scene around me.
By now the police had taken their positions further up the road and were followed by the Land Train. The crowd were in jubilant spirits and when not cheering ironically at regular cyclists, unrelated to the event, that went by, were in a joking and laughing mood. A mother was sitting on the grass with her young child on her lap reading a book about dinosaurs with an animated voice and pointing out how big the mouth on the T-Rex was. When the little girl didn’t instantly reply she was put at ease by her mother who reassured her ‘They don’t exist anymore so you have nothing to worry about.’ Apparently this wasn’t reassuring enough as the little girl proceeded to insist on a game of eye-spy where she changed the letter she chose every time something new caught her attention.
A second police motorcycle cavalcade was approaching followed by joggers and large important-looking vehicles. I thought this was the moment we had all assembled for. I was wrong. It was in fact some corporate buses and trucks adorned with staff atop their roofs holding microphones and shouting pleasantries at us.
There were also joggers running ahead and between the vehicles with pain etched on their faces. Not from jogging at the fairly casual pace but rather from having to keep a permanent smile on their faces while waving and saying ‘Hello!’ enthusiastically over and over to the crowd every few steps. Surreal and a little cringe worthy. I was suddenly caught off guard when from behind one of the trucks appeared, seemingly from thin air, a bus with a young girl inside holding the torch! I clumsily took a quick photo and the bus had past by. There were a few mumbles - on Mumbles Road no less – of ‘Was that it?’. Surely not. The flame wasn’t even alight.
One of the microphone laden people atop a truck went on to inform us that the actual torch bearer was 10 minutes behind. Phew. The waiting recommenced. As I continued to tinker with my camera a huge articulated lorry bore down on me, on what I had thought was a closed road. It flashed past and from my seated position, now on a small road island, I got a face full of dust and general dry road scum. Lovely. I dusted myself down, rubbed my eyes and grumbled internally.
At this point even more people and their cameras had arrived and one group even had a large banner with some message for the torch bearer, one of them later chuckling mischievously ‘Shall we go onto the road and embarrass her?’. Perhaps they knew the torch bearer. Finally, around 10 minutes later as promised, the Olympic Torch bearer was spotted in the distance by an excited member of the crowd. As the vehicles, that obscured the torch from where I sat, approached I readied my digital camera and attempted to estimate the appropriate zoom since I knew I’d get just about one chance of a decent picture. If I didn’t come away with at least a clear image of the torch and it’s bearer I’d have been a little peeved. Luckily I managed to shoot an average and acceptable picture.
There we have it. The torch. The crowd reacted with cheers of support and encouragement for Megan Jones as she zipped by in the briefest of moments. It was no sooner there and it was gone and Megan was off running up the hill past the University Hospital. All in all it was a pleasant start to a sunny Sunday and certainly worth the effort of getting up so early. Some may scoff and others, like the two local cynics, may complain about tax payers money but the torch relay brings the community together – look at the wonderful life experience the torch bearers of all ages have for example – and, even if for only a brief moment, puts parts of the UK on the tourist map. With sunshine like they had today the local tourist board must be pretty pleased with how it all turned out. What a great advertisement for Swansea. The fact that this weather is unusual, to say the least, is something I think is better kept to ourselves.