Dark mutterings about torch relay

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DID you go? Did you see it? Did you watch history being made?

I did.

I got me a free Coca-Cola tambourine. Waved at the Samsung float. Cheered on the torch guardians as they, quite literally, dragged a 77-year-old woman out of the way of a runner.

I laughed with Seb and Toby. I studied all 14 pages of coverage in this paper.

I tried to ignore the fact that if you looked closely at the flame - the Olympic flame no less - it sort of looked like every other flame that’s ever been burned. Except with a horrible mass-manufactured cone protruding from its backside.

And I said, ehh, doesn’t it all make you proud to be British?

Except no, it sort of didn’t.

Because I hate to be the guy who questions something which brings 20,000 Sheffielders together in celebration and which everyone - literally everyone I know - has nothing but praise for but...let me choose my words carefully here...what a load of North Korean-style, propaganda-peddling, corporate-kowtowing codswallop the relay really is.

Don’t get me wrong: I have nothing but respect for those torch-bearers.

People like John Burkhill and Liz Westby, who have given their lives to helping others, deserve every bit of recognition they get - and more besides.

They are truly modern-day heroes in the mould of Hercules, giants of spirit and generosity. They are the very thing which makes this country great.

But the execution of the torch relay itself? An utterly odious display of marketeering at its most mendacious.

What didn’t I like? Where do I start? Probably with those hideous white tracksuits the bearers had to wear, but let’s overlook fashion concerns.

Because didn’t walking up Fargate on Monday feel a little like walking into Stalin’s Russia?

From the helicopters patrolling Sheffield airspace to the thuggish ‘guardians’ - robots in blue who would rather commit borderline assault on a pensioner than let her get close to the flame - wasn’t it all slightly ominous?

Wasn’t it just a costly and chaotic propaganda set piece about as far removed from the ancient lone runner bringing a lick of fire from Mount Olympus as it’s possible to get?

And yet the arrival of the flame was treated, not like the arrival of a flotilla of Coca-Cola, Samsung and Lloyds TSB should be - with disdain - but with unbridled, unnatural delight.

My old ma and pa travelled 25 miles so he could see it a few days earlier. Why, I asked him. “We won’t see it again our lifetimes,” was his answer. That was all.

That’s what most people have said when I’ve asked. ‘It’s historic, isn’t it?’ is the reply.

Well, yes, I sort of get that and I loved seeing the city out and families enjoying themselves. But I couldn’t help feel it was all an Emperor’s clothes style con to whip up enthusiasm for an event - London 2012 - which is costing us millions of pounds but which has few tangible benefits to anyone other than a few (already rich) southern businesses.

It felt like a slight-of-hand worthy of Kim Jong-il - ‘look at the flame, look at the flotilla; don’t think of the cost’.

Or maybe I’m just an Olympic-sized grouch.

Either way, like they say, thank Zeus it won’t happen again in our lifetimes.