diamond geezer

 Saturday, August 25, 2012

The Paralympic Flame came to London yesterday.

But London 2012's second sports festival is doing things differently. The flame was lit not at Olympia but atop four national peaks. The torch is of a different design to that from the Olympics. The Torch Relay is shorter, and bittier, and less well publicised. The flame didn't appear at Tower Bridge, nor at City Hall, but in Trafalgar Square. And the cauldron got lit not at 8pm when people might have been around, but at eight o'clock in the morning.

No, I wasn't there either. I see Boris and the Prime Minister made it, and Seb, and an inspirational marathon walker, and that Mandeville too, of course. There was a lot going on in front of the National Gallery, from what I've since seen, with a variety of Paralympic athletes showcasing their sport. But the best view was very much for the media, with those members of the public who'd turned up relegated behind two rows of barriers at the very bottom of the steps. Never mind, I thought, I'll pop down and see the cauldron after work.

As anticipated, the five giant rings on the front of the National Gallery have been replaced by three curved crescents. They've switched to agitos on Tower Bridge too, and inside the Olympic Park, and even the volunteers working at Paralympic venues now have freshly-branded jackets. Trafalgar Square was certainly busy, it being late afternoon, as I looked around the piazza for sight of flame. Perhaps on the steps up to the gallery, but not there. Perhaps beneath the golden rocking horse statue, but that was only the usual crowd. Perhaps down in the square proper near the Paralympic countdown clock, but no, they were just people taking photos of five days to go. I worked it out eventually... no cauldron, no flame. Ah well.

Like I said, the Paralympic Torch Relay's a very different beast. Yesterday it made a visit to the Royal Opera House, paraded briefly through to Notting Hill, nipped into Parliament and took a two-stop trip on the DLR. A series of unrelated photo opportunities, not quite the public show of affection afforded for the Olympics earlier in the summer, and nothing permanently visible. Having said that, there was an evening celebration last night at Northala Fields, an artificially-conical park near Northolt. An inspired choice of location I thought, with level access and ramps throughout, and far more in the spirit of true inclusivity. Watch out for the 24 hour Torch Relay from Stoke Mandeville next Wednesday, unless you're asleep when it passes (Berkhamsted midnight, Watford 1am, Stanmore 4am, Neasden 6:30am).

Meanwhile back in Trafalgar Square, where nothing special was happening, I couldn't help noticing that the place was overstaffed. A team of London Ambassadors were based in a pop-up visitor centre near the lifts, and several purple- and pink-jacketed volunteers were standing around hoping to assist passers-by with information. Some were doing this successfully, others were standing round waiting and having a natter. That's a lot of Ambassadors, I thought, and then I spotted more (and more) milling around down in the square proper. I counted at least thirty in total, and that was almost certainly an underestimate, smiling and chatting and handing out maps. And this in a London square at non-peak time on a weekday, a quite excessive over-population of assistance. No great money was wasted - they're all volunteers, remember - but someone has vastly over-estimated how large a tourist hit squad is required.
» Jane was a London Ambassador in Trafalgar Square during the Olympics. She has praise for the camaraderie of the team, but also strong feelings regarding the number of volunteers in the Square and how some behaved. She also makes the excellent point that London needs Ambassadors in key locations all year round, just not so many, and that she'd be up for volunteering. How about you?

Anyway, watch out for the Paralympic flame in London and around the country, should you be fortunate enough to be in the same place as its next media opportunity. And watch out too for the last batch of Paralympic tickets to be up for grabs, now that you know it's something you want to be part of. I did urge you to get some fifteen months, twelve months, eleven months, eight months, three months ago. If you didn't, best hurry.

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