Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Challenge Number 38 (Part Two) – Take Charlotte to see The Queen And/Or Olympic Torch

This was York’s moment to shine, according to all the banners hanging all over town. Conveniently, the Olympic Torch was going to be carried right past the end of our street. Rather less conveniently (it transpired when the schedule was announced), it was due to arrive at Charlotte’s bath and bedtime. Charlotte likes change about as much as her mummy, but there was no way I was going to let us fail at this challenge just because toddlers are sticklers for routines.

But just in case things didn’t work out, I took Charlotte along to all the Olympic themed activities happening on the Knavesmire during the day. In the morning, school children had made giant puppets to race in an oversized sports day. In the afternoon, various local sporting clubs had set up stalls and opportunities for kids to try out various activities – a climbing wall, riding on a trotting plastic horse (a bucking bronco wouldn’t have gone amiss, surely?), a tiny tennis court, a sheet with holes to lob rugby balls through and, er, bowls. Then there was a lot of over-commercialised tat from the official Games sponsors, whose names I won’t advertise here. The only highlight for me was seeing the horse, Paddy, who was going to be tasked with carrying the Torch on its last stretch and would cause a major upset by being so unsettled that he made his rider, Harvey Smith, drop the torch. (A true bucking bronco!) Paddy was walked out for a rehearsal and was already showing temperamental flare and white eyes as it stomped round and reared near the stage.

In the end, all it took to get Charlotte out the house in time to see the Flame was having tea half an hour earlier. Once Charlotte saw all the helicopters hovering overhead it didn’t even seem to occur to her that she was missing In The Night Garden. And just like when the Queen came to York, it was a sunny day, there was a lovely atmosphere and we very easily found a spot with an excellent view. And brilliantly, a torch handover was going to happen right at the end of our street where we were stood. Before long, the torchbearer taking over at the spot was dropped off at the bus stop by the Torch Relay Special Service. He was an amazing guy who despite having terminal brain cancer has raised thousands of pounds for children suffering from brain tumours by going on sponsored cycle rides (literally) the length and breadth of the country. His friends and family were out in force to support him and he seemed quite overwhelmed by the occasion but was kind enough to let Charlotte and me muscle in on a photo.

Then came lots of police motorcycles, two naff floats from our sponsors playing pumping dance music (the less of which said the better), then a lorry (the mother flame?), before at last, one torchbearer, flanked by runners, ready to hand over to another. It really was quite magical and uplifting to see it all happen in front of us. Everyone cheered, people had garden parties, and I felt inspired enough to make Dave take Charlotte in for her bath (challenge done – she’d seen the Olympic flame) and follow the crowds up to the Knavesmire.
Here came the perfect end, purely by chance. I went in via the posh entrance to the racecourse grandstand that I’m normally not allowed anywhere near, and arrived just in time to see Harvey Smith astride his now much calmed horse complete his stretch along the straight. He then dismounted and headed up on to the stage to light the giant cauldron. An excellent telephoto lens on our camera makes it seem that I was very much in on the action. I wasn’t. I’d seemingly missed the concert’s advertised highlight of some pop star I’d never heard of (I’m old, I don’t care) but the other purported celebrity was still there, an ex-Blue Peter presenter who wasn’t Peter Duncan, Janet Ellis or Simon Groom. (Like I said, I'm old.) But I did recognise that woman from Look North with the very deep voice who presents the sport. Oh, yes. Just like I saw Christa outside the Yorkshire Museum on the day the Queen came to visit. And Harry Gration in my doctor’s surgery once.

Lots of cheering followed the lighting of the cauldron, then once the university gospel choir started singing, the crowds flocked away in droves, so I was able to get nice and close to the stage to take one last photo.

So the Olympics made all of us in York have a great day. I’m not sure they’ll do the same for my friends living in London in August.

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