On 6th July one of the Olympic torches finds its way into Southend. A massed choir of about 2000 people will be assembled on Southend Sea Front in order to sing to the torch when it arrives.
There has been plenty of publicity about the torches, the fact that a lot of them have gone out and been re-lit by the flame of the sacred fag-lighter of Olympia; that they are travelling around the place in vehicles; and that Olympic torches have been fetching huge sums on Ebay. None of this seems to be particularly in the Olympic spirit.
Neither are the games themselves. They are a massive commercial venture – a monstrous shopping centre with a stadium tagged onto it. There will be huge inconvenience for the residents of East London and the vast sums spent on this could well have been spent on something which would benefit the people of the area – some decent housing, for example, rather than shove people who have lived in London all their lives to Walsall or Wolverhampton just because the government wants to save money for their friends the bankers.
Although they are quite good reasons not to take part in an event which is being held in anything but the Olympic spirit, they are not the reasons that I am not going to do so. More often than not, as a member of Southend Bach Choir, I sing stuff I don’t necessarily believe in. In March, I took part in a terrific Messiah concert, without in any way considering myself a Christian. Last week, I took part in a Jubilee Concert: although some of the words I sung went very much against the grain of a lifelong anti-royallist, it’s the music I go for and mostly it was very good indeed.
There’s a specially commissioned Olympic Anthem, composed by a chap called Tolga Kashif. A quick google tells me that he’s got pretty good musical credentials and the piece is tolerably musical, although really aimed at youngsters and not the veterans of the Southend Bach Choir – I’m one of the youngest members and I’m 58.
No, the reason I will not sing in this event is that we were told this evening that we were expected to sing the anthem twice. That’s not terribly arduous, as it probably takes about 15 minutes to sing from start to finish. The reason I’m not going to sing is that the two performances are due around the time the torch appears, at 11.32 precisely, and again when it disappears off to its next destination.
What, I hear you ask, is the problem with that? It’s the fact that “Security” insists that all singers are in their seats by 8 a.m. and they will not be allowed to leave until 2 p.m. It seems that some poor kids are being bussed in at 7 a.m. (whether everyone taking part will be on coaches I don’t know, but something tells me that if I were to turn up on my bike in order to take part in this event I would be turned away).
There comes a point when “security” becomes so overbearing that it simply is not worth bothering with the event being made secure. I would assess the risk to the people of Southend from having an olympic torch turn up in the town to be probably no more risky than the annual carnival, much less risky than the annual air show, and probably on the par with the average home game for Southend United. On the other hand, having 2000 people corralled onto some temporary staging on Southend sea front for six hours on a July morning is asking for trouble. Early July is likely to provide one of two types of weather – either swelteringly hot or a deluge. Neither is suitable for sitting around for 6 hours, whether you are a teenager or an octogenarian, and the risk from so doing will be far far greater than any risk from a terrorist attack.
One assumes that there will be toilet facilities for the choir – it will be pretty insanitary if there aren’t – and what about food? It has been documented elsewhere that anyone attending the olympics will not be allowed to bring in their own food and drink. Will the sponsors, those well-known champions of healthy living Coca Cola and MacDonalds, also have a monopoly at the torch events?
All of this is as far from the olympic spirit as it’s possible to be and I’ll have none of it, thank you very much.