Kevin Garside: Never mind the torch's tawdry side, feel the exuberance

The Way I See It: There is something in all this madness that appeals to our noble side

An estimated one million Londoners will pour forth across the 32 boroughs this week to clap and cheer the Olympic torch all the way to the cauldron in the stadium. About the same number witnessed its journey from Cornwall to the four corners of these isles, among whom I was one, straining to see above the throng as it made its way along the High Street in Buckingham.

The chap next to me had been in situ an hour, leaning against a railing adjacent to a tree. He was a little territorial when I approached lest I inch him out of position. When the torch appeared around the old jail he would be up on that railing, his weight propped against a low-hanging branch. It all made sense then.

In truth, the procession was disappointing, scarred by the tawdry line of support vehicles decked in sponsor logos that preceded the torch. There is in this kind of stage-managed arrangement the obvious risk of an authenticity deficit, and the attachment of commercial interest to a Corinthian ideal is necessarily problematic. But we are too far down the road to say "no" to the Coca-Cola dollar and in the wider scheme this might not matter. What does is the connection being made between citizen and ideal.

The Olympics are more than a sporting festival. They are 17 days of congress that bind us to a common vision and values. And they are an opportunity.

Sport is arguably the only vehicle that can pull this off on so grand a scale; that can get the populace off the couch and on to the streets, engaged.

Forget who wins and loses. Those are just the details. The bloke up that tree in Buckingham might or might not care about Bradley Wiggins adding Olympic gold to Tour de France glory. It is not just about the sport junkie but the civilians casually dragged along by a sense of something going on.

The whole jamboree will dominate the news schedule for the period. From the moment your alarm goes off till you fall into bed it will be affirmation all the way. That is not to say bad stuff will not be reported, that the things that go wrong will not get 15 seconds of fame. But the negative elements will not dominate our impressions when the curtain falls.

You might recall the festival atmosphere generated by the bulletins from Beijing four years ago, daily doses of good tidings fed into the nation's homes at breakfast time. It began on the first day, when a Welsh girl called Nicole Cook let go a smile that lit up the Great Wall in celebration of road cycling gold. It was a filthy day in China. In Blighty a golden glow spread across the morning as the nation woke to the news, affecting a kind of mood massage.

There would be a heady 47 medals in total, 19 gold, a record that left Britain fourth in the table. Among the intangible benefits of this kind of projection is the effect it has on the kid watching at home. I can hear the cynics muttering already about the mass trading of playing fields that are now propping up supermarkets instead of goalposts. And they are right to debunk the nauseating political messaging about legacy and suchlike, which is spun into a romantic dead end.

But there is something in all this madness that cuts through the propaganda, that appeals to our noble side and fires the imagination in a way that is essential for the good life. Whether the body politic can ultimately deliver on that is another issue, and even a cursory acquaintance with the streets of Britain is sufficient to highlight the discrepancies between the more nauseating aspects of a jubilee flotilla on the Thames and the hopelessness and despair that blights swathes of Her Majesty's realm.

But hope and optimism need feeding and much of what the Games represent and mean to the competitors is nourishing.

Up and down this country of ours thousands of unpaid volunteers are out every weekend putting out cones, marking pitches, erecting nets, holding stopwatches, making tees, etc, inculcating in the next generation a sense of empowerment through sport. There are worse ideas to sell to our youth.

And London will do a number on the whole production. This will not be the fenced-in fun delivered by Beijing, which was a made-for-TV event for the benefit of the watching world, not the rank-and-file Chinese, who were largely excluded from the party. The municipality made little of the games outside of the stadiums. There were no parties in the park, no big screens broadcasting athletic endeavour. As a result the atmosphere within the walls of the Olympic village did not catch fire.

London will follow the example of Sydney, where the pessimism and negativity over budget concerns that dominated much of the pre-Games commentary were washed away by a swell of naturally occurring exuberance. One can't get enough of that.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Kara Tointon and Jeremy Piven star in Mr Selfridge
tvActress Kara Tointon on what to expect from Series 3
Voices
Winston Churchill, then prime minister, outside No 10 in June 1943
voicesA C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
News
i100
Sport
footballBrighton vs Arsenal match report
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch has spoken about the lack of opportunities for black British actors in the UK
film
News
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project
Diana Krall: The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai

Diana Krall interview

The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai
Pinstriped for action: A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter

Pinstriped for action

A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter
Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: 'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'

Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: How we met

'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef serves up his favourite Japanese dishes

Bill Granger's Japanese recipes

Stock up on mirin, soy and miso and you have the makings of everyday Japanese cuisine
Michael Calvin: How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us

Michael Calvin's Last Word

How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us