Of ice and men

21 May, 2012 (21:13) | All articles | By: Stuart Fraser

People keep telling me what a misery-guts I am to remain unexcited by this great summer of 2012, its Olympics and its Diamond Jubilee.

They tell me this even after seeing, bringing the sacred Olympic flame to Cornwall, David Beckham, who is to the alleged Olympic ideal of amateur sport what MacDonald’s is to vegetarianism.

But on Saturday, with a sigh, I did the Olympic flame the honour of turning out to meet it.

Well, my oldest had to play with his drum band at the Bodmin stage of the relay. Event organisers and corporate advertisers: they get you through the kids. Emotional blackmail. Blackmail is an ugly word. But it’s a damned effective marketing strategy.

But anyway, perhaps, then, the sight of this magnificent spectacle, this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, this tribute to the good in our society who are bearing the flame, this exercise in togetherness, would thaw my frozen heart.


Maybe it was the Coca-Cola van, or the Samsung truck, or the Lloyds TSB lorry, taking this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to flog their lousy products.

Maybe it was the nagging, nagging thought of the cost of those police riot vans, those police outriders, those expensive police cars, the attendant dozens of officers and emergency services. Of all the riot vans, just one flew, rather pathetically, a plastic Union Jack from its mesh windscreen grille.

(By the way, a fight broke out in the crowd in front of us over a flag which was getting in somebody’s way – as the fists flew, guess how many of those dozens of officers rushed to the scene? You are correct. None).

But I think mainly what kept my heart frozen solid was the shuddering banality of it all.

Thousands lined the streets, but this being Britain we couldn’t keep the streets clear of casual cars and holidaying caravans and the 593 bus to Liskeard just for a few moments, so the eager throngs craned to see over passing Toyotas and round ghastly campers, while embarrassed drivers inched past.

Nobody bothered telling anybody what was going on, of course. Thousands queued for the solitary ice cream van, manned by a harassed Pole explaining in broken English that he had little change and little ice cream.

People queued for ages. Waited patiently. Waved their flags. Even, in the case of one cretinous tattooed bitch of a mother, abandoned a toddler in a pushchair on the verge so she could press forward to see better, leaving the frightened child shouting, vainly, “Mumma! Mumma!”

Then, finally, when a person ran past proudly bearing the Olympic torch and quickly disappeared into the distance, they all started whining.

“Was that it? Is that all there is?”

What did they expect from an Olympic torch relay? A naked Angelina Jolie turning cartwheels and firing ping pong balls from her fundament to the accompaniment of rousing music from the band of Her Majesty’s Royal Marines?

Some twit on one of the many Olympic vehicles harangued the crowd while hideous music played: “It’s been great! Yeah! Cornwall was the best county to start this thing!”

What? As opposed to, say, Rutland?

I wonder how many other best counties the gentleman will encounter in his travels. Yeah!

Everywhere was emblazoned the trite, banal, just plain stoopid Olympic slogan: “A moment to shine”.

Who thought of that gem?

Aren’t our lives full of moments to shine? Do we need a corporate advertising jamboree to enable us to do so? Can’t we choose a moment to shine rather than have it chosen for us? I can think of many moments in which I would choose to shine, few of them involving grinning athletes in skin-tight lycra.

Although, come to think of it…

Let the record show many have found the relay an impressive and moving experience. I applaud them all for having hearts more easily thawed than mine.

A cross to bear

Here’s what I found moving this week.

I had to run up to South Devon today on a bizarre errand, which has made me late.

Many years ago, in 1975, a man called Ronald Snell died. He was a friend of my father’s. During the Second World War, Ron had been a prisoner of the Japanese and the experience haunted him; the war may have ended his imprisonment but he was never truly freed.

Anyway, in his memory his family donated a processional cross to the church in the village where we all lived and where we sang in the choir: in a remote village in the 70s, the church and its functions were the social centre of life.

Many times I carried Ron Snell’s cross up and down the church aisle in my robes, a saintly little figure, I assure you. When I left, my father, who remained a prominent part of church life until well into old age, took over from me and bore the cross on Sundays. Ron Snell’s widow Betty and Dad remained friends all down the years.

Well, last week, Betty died, at the grand age of 98, mourned by all. She had planned her own funeral precisely and very clearly, and among her instructions was that she wanted her friend, my father, to lead her into church one last time carrying her husband’s cross, and to lead her to her grave outside after the service.

“Can you do it?” the vicar asked my father, doubtfully. Dad’s 83 now, frail, and not very steady on his pins. But he’s a child of that war too, and knows about friendship.

“Of course,” he said. “I’ll do that for Betty, of course.”

Well, he told me all this and I felt very proud of him. But I also thought it best he have a minder, just in case, and anyway I knew Ron and Betty all my young life. So I donned Brother Fiddle’s smart suit once more and took Dad to the funeral today and kept a watchful eye lest he stumble. But he didn’t.

He left his walking stick in my car. Bent, old and frail, he carted the heavy cross, and showed his friend the way home. And that, a gesture naked of artifice or commerce, a tiny act of courage and faithfulness, that, my friends, thawed my icy heart.


Comment from One Old Fiddle
Time May 21, 2012 at 9:40 pm

And that last item was an example of a true moment to shine, free of corporate bollocks, free of governmental distraction from the harsh (and perennial) reality of the common people being shafted, and a glimpse into the real humanity of real people. And, of course, fucking good writing.

Comment from Stuart
Time May 21, 2012 at 10:12 pm

May any gods who are in the area bless you for your support and friendship, brother. (And for the suit).

Comment from StentsRus
Time May 22, 2012 at 9:23 am

Now what’s all this?…Fraserwords sinking to product placement?….Father Fiddles Fine Fitups and Frockhire….”free money in every pocket” I suppose…I’m watching you Fraser.

Comment from Hamster
Time May 22, 2012 at 1:27 pm

We had a jolly evening, four families sitting on the bank opposite St. Martins Church in Liskeard. Kids running up and down the grass, tiring themselves out and recharging on Cola (Morrison’s own brand) the adults running…no, lying about the place making it look untidy but relaxed all the same. We watched the flame come and go then retired to a tavern…..happy times

Comment from Hamster
Time May 22, 2012 at 1:36 pm

This weeks Hamster Top Tip – DON’T go rushing into the pub telling everyone, “it’s my birthday!” – A gallon of Guinness later and everyone was looking pretty, luckily a Kirsty mixed grill of about 2.5lb of meat worked a treat as a soak up.

Comment from Hamster
Time May 22, 2012 at 1:41 pm

P.S. with Facebook floating on the stock exchange there is a strong rumour that Fraserwords could well follow suit! Just wondering what the initial flotation price would be and if some insider trading could be done.

Comment from StentsRus
Time May 22, 2012 at 1:46 pm

You could well be on to something Hamster…judging by the increased “commercial” activity….be careful who you become “friends” with.

Comment from One Old Fiddle
Time May 22, 2012 at 2:07 pm

Dear Stents, the suit is available at any time for those in need, at no charge, although a pint will not be refused. Fraser Commercial is the company to approach: I’m just a slurring..I mean, sleeping, partner

Comment from StentsRus
Time May 24, 2012 at 9:01 am

Thanks Old Fiddle for your kind offer of suit loan…I’ve asked Fraser Commercial to supply you with a pint to show my appreciation…in fact I think he should buy everyone a pint…it must be his turn by now..oh…and an extra one for hamster as its his birthday.

Comment from Stuart
Time May 24, 2012 at 3:05 pm

Hang on a minute here…. sounds like I’m going to end up down the pub penniless and naked. Again.

Comment from StentsRus
Time May 24, 2012 at 4:36 pm

…nothing new there then…

Comment from One Old Fiddle
Time May 24, 2012 at 10:37 pm

…and glistening?….

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