It’s been running all over Great Britain for months now, several thousands of miles and thousands more waving citizens, and today, on Olympic opening ceremony day, the Olympic torch is coming my way.
Up the Thames.
On a barge.
Up the Thames on the Royal barge to the Tower Bridge, where it will while away the day with the five giant rings that commemorate the five great continents, until they come to fetch it for the ceremony.
Mid-morning Vivienne and I head for the river, five minutes walk down the road. It is cloudy for the first time in a week. And chillier than the swelter of days past. We’re half an hour early and surprised to find there’s loads of room among the small crowd along the walkway near Chiswick Pier.
The sky opens and we laugh as we stand umbrellaless in the rain. Waiting. It’s not every day an Olympic Torch sails by. Not on the Thames, anyway.
London is agog with excitement about hosting the Olympics. And it’s counter cacophony: criticism. Some of this criticism reached me from twelve thousand miles away, via email from Australia.
Tonight marks the opening ceremony of a show that a small band of visionaries set in motion probably 15 years ago. It is seven years since London won the bid. Another few before that preparing for the bid. Some few before that while the visionaries convinced those who needed convincing that the bid was worth everyone’s while.
Tonight is their night.
There is nothing left to do but bow to the vision and hope like hell they pull it off.
We live in negative times. Even if they do pull it off it will hardly silence the critics and others eager to peddle their dark hopes.
Vivienne and I stare at the river. A quintet of men on those new boards you stand up on paddles past. The rain eases off. A sudden swoop of seagulls swirls the air in front of us. We wonder what they see in the brown water.
Down river there is a flurry of small craft: rowers, a police boat, a barge. I see the flame.
I catch the dancing orange light in the gloomy day. And then I see the barge. The Royal Barge.
OMG it’s The Royal Barge.
I have just read three Phillipa Gregory novels (that I picked up for a dollar each) back to back, leaving the last one on the plane (so I didn’t have to carry it) just one week ago. I am currently wading through Wolf Hall. For an entire month my mind has been captive to 16th century England. And here I am, standing on the bank of the River Thames, watching the royal barge float by.
Lucky I caught sight of the flame when I did, because from then I had eyes only for the barge.
Wolf Hall is like wading through an old growth forest, minus the mystery; it is dense, a story about the practicalities of the realm. Phillipa Gregory, because she writes about women, gives me the intrigues of the realm, and it is Phillipa who has excited my sudden interest in the royal barge.
The Royal Barge with her stately gold trim, like a Nordic sled on water. It is not hard to imagine the Queen, any queen, sailing by on an English summer’s day, surrounded by a flotilla of revellers; nor hard to imagine her slipping away in the darkness, huddled against the bitter cold, alone but for a loyal knight, heading away from the Tower.
And just like that the barge is gone, out of sight around the bend in the river. I blink to the present. I will have to look at my photos to see the barge that carried the Olympic flame, the barge that sailed by me today.