April 8, 2008
There comes a time in every man’s life when he has to accept that someone he’s admired from afar simply isn’t as magnificent as he believed. That for all their marvellous qualities, their all-too-human weaknesses render them so disappointing that he must turn his back on them, and pray silently for their redemption. That’s pretty much how I felt when I found out that Konnie Huq was going to carry the Olympic flame. How can one so pretty, and I’m sure in possession of other qualities, support the repressive Chinese regime? Needless to say, I was distraught, and felt I had to make a stand against attractive people being in favour of tyrants. So I braved the first snows of April and took to the streets along with thousands of others to protest the arrival of the Beijing Olympic Flame into London.
At Queensway the protesting bourgeois triplet of myself, Mark and Hannah got our first glimpse of the Olympic flame. Some poor young television presenter was separated from an angry crowd of Free Tibet protesters by a slender metal fence which did nothing to deflect the cruel barbs of, ‘Shame on you!’ and ‘What about human rights?’ that were flung her way. At one point she cowered away from the crowd while she waited for the relay team to arrive carrying the flame, hiding the torch between her legs to deflect the crowd’s ire. I nearly felt sorry for her, but this was tempered by the fact that she was supporting a dictatorship for self-promotional reasons and claiming it was all about the sport.
We pursued the flame via the Tube, with a brief pause for cappuccinos (one has to maintain appearances, even at a protest). It was much quicker than running while pursuing a torch, after all. However, I was somewhat caught out upon climbing onboard; a nice Christian gentleman had offered me his seat next to my companions and had started to move over. At that moment the train started with a jolt, and while my right hand futilely groped for a post that was several feet away I was thrown back into the gentleman’s lap.
While I extricated myself and apologised to the terrified looking chap who clearly thought he’d just been violated, the whole carriage burst into laughter, and Mark and Hannah reassured me that they would never let me forget this. I believe them.
At Bloomsbury Square, the torch was hidden from view and the athletes cowered inside the canopy of the official buses, as though that would stop us yelling out their shame. A special burst of shame was reserved for the float of the official sponsor, Samsung, who had cleverly decided to put dancing girls into the middle of a very angry crowd of protesters. The tone of the shouting changed to, ‘Shame! On so many levels!’
It was as the torch hit Whitehall, however, that the lack of organisation on behalf of the, well, organisers became apparent. The metal fences meant to separate the procession from the angry people hadn’t been brought in sufficient quantities to cover the route, and so we ran out into the street, pursuing the mob of sinister Chinese security forces surrounding the torch. The police reacted by linking their arms and forming a circle around the Chinese, like some Orwellian version of the Gay Gordons.
Running and dodging the police along Whitehall was exhilarating, and it spurred the previously peaceful crowd into new heights of non-violent protest. Banners were bashed on the sides of buses, and the screwed-up-coffee-cups that symbolised the angry bourgeois was thrown over the police line onto the torch bearers. This inspired a certain amount of brutality on the part of the police; Mark received a vicious kick from a copper wading into the mass of people, and one policeman forced his way into the crowd by driving a motorbike through it, nearly running Hannah over until she was yanked out of the way. The chap in front of us wasn’t so lucky, and had his leg crushed beneath the copper’s wheels.
When the police started manhandling people off the road, I urged us back before things got nasty. The torch was away, and Brown had demonstrated his cowardice in front of the Chinese by greeting it. So we did lunch.
However, when leaving the restaurant we found that the tables were turned. The imported Chinese demonstration had taken over the street, and five of us now stood alone in a Whitehall full of reds. So I started shouting ‘Shame!’. It seemed to be only the proper thing to do.