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Friday, 18 April 2014

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Finally interested – in sport of flying flames

Somebody once told me – I think he was drunk at the time – that no matter how much I disliked sport, if I looked hard enough and long enough I’d find something to tickle my fancy.

I must also have been drunk at the time – because I didn’t believe him.

Now, stone cold sober for far too long, I find he was actually very probably right.

The Olympics. Yes, I accept I’m probably the only person in the western world to be able to find not a scrap of interest in these expensive London games – other than to wonder how much I could have charged to rent my roof out for a surface to air missile launcher, had I lived a touch closer to a running track.

But today (or yesterday, if you’re reading this tomorrow) a little spark of attention was lit by a curiously excited and exceptionally reverential broadcast news reporter.

She was unduly worried about the weather in Greece. It might rain, she warned with a tiny tremble in her high-pitched voice.

Frankly, I thought, the Greeks have a lot more to worry about than an unseasonal shower on their herbaceous borders.

But it turned out that her deep concern had more to do with the Olympic flame than Grecian allotments. An ill-timed downpour could extinguish a lot of what remained of Seb Coe’s continuing experience of excited self-importance, ground a very special flight – appropriately tagged BA 2012 – and significantly disrupt one of Carlisle’s eagerly-anticipated summer party plans.

See, in Greece they’d been kitted out with a high priestess to perform igniting honours. The eternal flame was to be reawakened. Not with a box of Swan Vestas, nor even with a nifty ancient athletic trick of rubbing two boy scouts together.

She was to rekindle mystic fire by capturing the morning sun’s rays in a parabolic mirror. Imagine what a heavy cloudburst could do to that plan. Fizzle, not festival. Bad day for Seb and crew.

She would then transfer the flaming magic to a torch which would eventually be carried in relay through Carlisle – where fire-dousing rain wouldn’t be so much a worry as a certainty.

Actually the high priestess was an actress. All her fellow dancing priestesses and acolytes were also actresses, each bearing an uncanny resemblance to the young Elizabeth Taylor.

This tribute to the quintessentially English beauty may have been a tribute to the host nation – or to Seb Coe’s glittering wealth. Nobody could be sure.

But none of the above was what tickled my fancy. That came later with a description of the torch’s onward journey from the Temple of Hera.

It will have a seat all to itself on a gold-liveried British Airways aircraft, flight number BA 2012, which will land at an RAF base in Cornwall – thus avoiding having to queue for four hours at Heathrow’s passport control and causing already burning tempers to explode into an immigrations hall inferno.

A seat to itself, mind you. With first call on the drinks trolley, a personal minder, cabin crew at beck and call and in defiant contravention of all non-smoking and health and safety laws.

Funny thing is, given obvious UK-Greek links via Sir Stelios Haji-Ioannou – not to mention current austerity obsession – the more humble EasyJet was overlooked for the torch’s momentous journey.

Even funnier, the woman on the radio – still worrying about rain in Olympia – seemed to want me to take this whole pantomime performance seriously.

I couldn’t. Still can’t. My old tipsy adviser was right first time. Wait long enough and the illusion that is the religion of sport lifts to crack you up in gleeful giggles.

And I’m tempted to suspect, when the only permitted smoker on British Airways arrives in Carlisle to be greeted by lashing summer rain, you might be tempted to chuckle too.

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