In a few weeks, the Olympic flame is going to wander past my front door. My wife's already planning how to suspend water balloons over the street to put it out, but quite honestly she probably needn't bother. During the excruciating flame lighting ceremony the other day, the flame went out on its own.
One thing that surprises me is just how few people know about the torch relay's recent origins. In 1936 the Olympics went to Berlin (they were supposed to be held there in 1916, but we were all a bit busy) and Hitler and his chums were keen to make it a bit of a spectacle. One thing they dreamed up was the torch relay.
Initially Adolf wasn't actually keen on the idea of holding the Olympics at all, condemning it as "a project of Jews and Freemasons" which was the 1930s German equivalent of calling everything "gay" or "lame". But the torch relay really helped convince Hitler that the Olympics were a decent idea for showing off Aryan values of youth, fitness and athleticism.
Hitler was keen to stress the historic origins of his Aryan race and the torch relay was seen as a neat way of suggesting a shared lineage with the ancient Greeks. In the ancient games, a flame was kept burning to symbolise Prometheus stealing fire from the gods. Carl Diem came up with the idea of lighting the flame at the birthplace of the Games and running it across Europe. Interestingly, almost everything about that first relay is present in this year's version. The flame is lit with the using mirrors to concentrate the sun's ray, each runner covers about a kilometre and it is used to light a cauldron at the Olympic venue. About the only thing that does vary is the design of the torch - the German used magnesium to make sure it didn't go out, but other have used gas, petrol and even olive oil. Astonishingly many of the torch designs have suffered stupid problems like going out, being too heavy, injuring the carriers or shooting sparks at spectators.
My favourite torch moment: 1988 Seoul Olympics. Skip to the five minute mark to find out if you should release flocks of doves before or after lighting the cauldron.
I had an encounter of my own with a travelling flame a few years back. I was helping out in a Buddhist centre when the world peace flame came to visit. Seven flames were lit in various corners of the globe and then brought together to in Wales (of all places) to form a single peace flame that has since travelled all over the world, healing conflicts and ending wars (or not).
At the centre I was happy to help out my Buddhist chums, but I really disliked the annoying hippy hangers-on who often inhabited the place. With the world peace flame coming to visit, the place was full of crystal-wearing divorcees decked out in purple velvet and sandals. I always refused to join in any of their nonsense, but they never learned. I was working away in the office when some of them came in to insist that I also came out to light a candle from the peace flame. When "fuck off" didn't work, I realised it would probably be quicker just to go and light a candle than to argue with them. So I went and did that. I escaped the frigging meditation circle though.
I brought the candle through to the office and left it on the desk like in the picture above. I had a bunch of stuff to print out so I set the printer going and went to the toilet. Now you might notice a potential hazard in that photo - I didn't. Returning from the bathroom, I found flames everywhere and they were markedly behaving in a less than peaceful manner. As each sheet passed through the printer, it was projected directly over the flame of the candle, catching light on the way past and then falling to the floor.
So upon my return there were sheets of burning paper all over the place and various parts of the office were getting a little toasty. The hippy meditation circle outside was rudely interrupted by me swearing at the top of my voice as I hastily attempted to extinguish the word peace conflagration that was threatening to engulf the office. Good times.
I haven't been asked to carry the Olympic torch through Alnwick. I can't think why not.