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.Reuse content