There is not a lot which happens for the first time in our small seaside town. Plenty happens, in its own quiet way, but not for the first time. Visitors come to the beach to walk their dogs, let their children dig in the sand, ride donkeys, eat ice creams, drink tea, eat chips, and wander aimlessly. They all look remarkably like the people who were doing just the same things twenty or thirty years ago, and the retirement community which now lives in the rows of little bungalows, puts on their anoraks and pulls their shopping trolleys down to the shops has replaced an identical one which did exactly the same things all those years ago too. Nothing changes much and people like it that way. It’s that kind of place.
BUT this week we had something which was a real first for the town, a first which is also quite likely to be a one and only. The 2012 Olympic flame was carried through the town. It’s the closest to the London Olympics that most of us are likely to get so balloons, whistles and flags were bought and the traffic was stopped. Quite a lot of us turned out to watch the cavalcade of sponsored lorries, buses and runners come through. We cheered the outriders, the policemen looking cool in shades on their motor bikes, and the man who jogged inexplicably round the roundabout on his own (after booing him when he took a short cut by accident the first time round and turned back) and we were all very pleased with ourselves, full of goodwill for each other. The Olympic flame itself, when it arrived, was carried through the streets by a local PE teacher, Robert Reid, who has done many good things for sport in the area. The real Olympic flame that is. Sadly it was only carried around a couple of roundabouts rather than along our magnificent beach in Chariots of Fire style and it didn’t stay in town long but it was here and it was real. Yes it was tacky, over sponsored, over-hyped, and ultimately nothing more than a manufactured event to earn money but we liked it.
If only a single runner could have taken it right into the town alone, and along the beach, while people cheered without being told to, as a tribute to the individual effort and achievement which so many athletes all around the world have put in to prepare for the competition of their life it would have been incredibly moving. As it was all that we were really cheering was a commercial opportunity (not least for those torch bearers who have paid £199 to keep their torch and then sold them on the internet) but somewhere hidden in there with that commercial opportunity was the Olympic ideal, and a lot of well justified pride and honour. That had to be worth a shout.