London 2012: Part 3 – Torch Relay & London Atmosphere

 I’m looking back at last year’s summer of sport centred around the London 2012 Olympic & Paralympic Games. Click the links for extra photos.

Part 3 – London, Friday, 27th July 2012

Amy and I arrived in London from Cardiff’s football on Thursday night on a train that was standing-room-only for half the journey, and suffered extensive delays for the remainder. We were quite tired when we crashed at mutual friend’s place, yet were determined to see the Torch Relay on Friday. This was her first and only opportunity to see it, and I’d previously missed it because I went on holiday the day it passed through my town. We’d also convened in London for a get together for the Sidepodcast F1 website community. That wasn’t until the evening.

Peckham

Handily, the Torch was visiting Peckham, just a 10-15 minute train ride away from our borrowed lodgings. It was a gloriously sunny day, we found a reasonable spot and the crowds began to gather, thankfully most of them the other side of the road. You got the sense Peckham had tried to clean up, but there’s only so much you can do with such a crappy place (to me it’s forever surprising how nearby parts of London can be so different).

A guy from an Asian TV station turned up (as the pair of us turned our backs and tried to avoid eye contact with him so he wouldn’t interview us) and started talking to camera, saying how it was all very exciting and there was a real buzz, and how many people from Southern Asia were here. It wasn’t quite like that, he was talking while the road was still open to traffic so there wasn’t much buzz yet, and in any case from what I saw Peckham is more a part of the African or Afro-Caribbean communities.

The buzz began when the police outriders appeared to great cheers from the crowd. After all the protests and kettling of a couple of years ago, could you have imagined the Met being cheered? Remarkable. It stepped up again when the first parade vehicles arrived.

The official sponsors had their own floats with loud music and MCs pumping up the crowd, handing out little free Cokes, then the bus of torch bearers goes by, a fully-grown man holding a big plush Wenlock… then there he is! The torch bearer!

High Five the Police!
Olympic Flame in Peckham! (and again!)

And then all of a sudden it was over…for now.

The crowds took over the road briefly, we threaded our way back to the station. Once we were clear away from the parade route, to the pair of us non-London folk from the countryside (England and NZ), this didn’t seem the safest place in the world, so we buggered off to the station pretty quickly!

Central London

For the rest of the day I went for a walk around London. A much longer walk than I’d intended for such a hot day! I didn’t work to any plan except to be at the pub on the Strand by 6pm, so I didn’t take the most direct route. I must’ve walked for three hours in quite a sticky heat. I’m glad I did though, because I got to see London at its’ finest: bright sunshine, as clean and tidy as a major old city can be, all decked out in Olympic trimmings. Here is just a small selection of photos from my journey….and keep scrolling for a surprise!

The Shard next to London Bridge station:

I didn’t expect this on the river. I’d never seen a cruise liner this far into London before, certainly never a ship so large at the Eastern (inland) side of Tower Bridge.

View from London Bridge L-R: Tower of London, MV Silver Cloud moored up with HMS Belfast, Tower Bridge with Olympic Rings on!

I walked along the South Bank to City Hall and Tower Bridge where in addition to the rings on the bridge there were these:

It was fun seeing all the Olympic ‘furniture’, the street signs, the special ‘Olympic lanes’ that Londoners complained so much about before the Games began but in reality didn’t seem to have that great an effect, and the fleet of BMWs being driven around by competing teams, and Games officials.

It was fun trying to spy the country name before the car disappeared again. This is Belarus!

Then you had the Brazilian TV crew riding around on open-topped Routemaster.

I walked around to the Monument and back to the riverside, the aim being to walk along the river to the Millennium Bridge and look for food. As I got to the banks of the Thames, I looked over at Tower Bridge again – the Olympic Rings had retracted and the bridge was being raised!

Rings retracted, bridge raised, tall mast allowed through

It felt like a long way trying to find a shop in this part of town, not wanting to pay quite high cafe/restaurant prices (especially when on my own – I wouldn’t mind when with people), until I grabbed something from a Pret and sat under the Millennium Bridge just to get out of the sun for a while! I could see the recreation of Shakespeare’s Globe.

From there I went to have a look at St Paul’s Cathedral and walked past the front, before thinking, “aha if I just go down Fleet Street I’ll be near the Strand for my pub visit”. I went past whatever this is, and the Royal Courts where the TV reporters always stand outside for the big name trials. I got to the Strand a couple of hours early. Trying to save money, I thought the best free thing to do was to carry on walking, even though I was already quite hot and a bit tired. I also wanted to find somewhere a bit more Olympic-themed, or at least somewhere with atmosphere.

I found the upmarket foodie side of the market selling very expensive things. I found the tacky corner selling a load of the obligatory ‘Keep Calm’ and slogan tat. I found a happy band! I found Batman! This was more like it.

If you go to the top of Covent Garden, past the tube station, you reach a long narrow street called Long Acre. If you wander along there you’ll eventually reach Leicester Square and on to Picadilly Circus.

Long Acre
Picadilly Circus

You could watch the torch relay right there!

On Regent Street, which makes a 90-degree turn through Picadilly Circus, they’d hung the flag of every single competing nation at the Olympic Games. They stretched from the bottom all the way up beyond Oxford Street – not a small distance.

And here’s one I got the next day from the Oxford Street end, I like this photo:

Regent Street flags

Surprise!!

As I was walking around Picadilly, watching the screen, I discovered the Torch Relay was coming this way – I had the chance to see it for a second time! This time in the heart of London! This time the buzz was much greater – I wasn’t going to pass this up.

I knew Picadilly was going to be rammed, so I moved up the street, to Shaftesbury Avenue (the heart of theatre land) to find a good spot.

And this time.. I took a video with my phone. Admittedly it is an old phone and the camera is not great, and the camerawork is dreadful, even so I really hope it gives you a sense of the moment. The long buildup as we waited, the booming music, and the torch going by!

Olympic Torch!

And then it was off to the pub for a well-earned beer after all that walking!

The atmosphere in London was far from flat. This being the day before the Games properly opened there was the definite sense of anticipation, the excitement building as you could tell from the video. Previously the torch relay was very understated and British, yet now people were gathering in big crowds and cheering! Not long now.

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This is part 3 of my delayed series of posts on London 2012 Olympic & Paralympic Games.

Other parts:

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