Having kids has made me really appreciate big national celebrations. They are something we can enjoy together, along with whatever friends and family wish to join us, as well as sharing the media coverage on TV, newspapers and online. We can feel a tiny part of something big and historic.
The Golden Jubilee in 2002 didn’t register for me. I had one child and he was 11 months old. But now… Royal wedding, Olympics, Diamond Jubilee, bring it on! While the kids are the right age to enjoy and appreciate it, we’re going to get involved in all of it and hopefully create some long-lasting happy memories of once-in-a-lifetime events.
Sod the cynics and the ‘waste of taxpayers’ money’ moaners, we are going to join in and we’re going to have fun!
So when I found out that, not only was the Olympic torch passing through our town, it was stopping the night for a big free party, I was beyond excited. So we all got Olympic Tshirts and got ready to party!
Now I’ve said it before and I will say it again. I’m a worrier. I can’t just chuck my wallet and mobile phone in a handbag, strap the kids in the car and GO! Oh no. We need food and drink. We need suncream and hats. We need Piriton and Calpol for emergencies. And what if there’s no parking? We’ll walk there! It’s only a mile and a half. But what about the mile and a half coming back at 9pm with a reluctant 6 year old, a moany 8 year old and a grumpy 10 year old?
So I have to plan. It becomes a near-military operation. I will have to leave work early. I will have to find somewhere for the car. We will have to take sandwiches. My bag will be heavy and I will struggle to carry it. But there is no way we can go without food and drink. They will have the ‘wrong’ food and drink there for sure.
So I left work very early and parked the car on a friend’s drive close to the venue (before they closed the roads), then walked home. And because it was hot, my mum picked me up halfway. I wasn’t reckoning on 28 degree temperatures, not after we’d had 9 degrees only three days previously.
So packed and prepared, and dressed appropriately in Olympic Tshirts, we were ready to go!
My eldest had the rucksack on his back and I had the cool bag and my shoulder and we started to walk. It was hot, VERY hot. We tried to keep to the shade. We passed some kids from school. My eldest was so excited telling them where he was going that he temporarily forgot his Year 6 cool. ‘It’s going to be rubbish,’ they told him. Having clearly not forgotten THEIR Year 6 cool. Then a car containing another kid from his class drove past. And stopped. And offered us a lift. Slightly illegal because there were four kids in the back, but it was 28 degrees, way too hot to be worrying about such minor detail.
And so we arrived. And there was so much to do! Mainly, there was so much free stuff. Which to an 8 year old boy and a 10 year old boy is about as good as life can get. Already on day five of the relay, I’d heard the cynics moan that the whole Olympic torch thing was ‘just a big Coca Cola advert’. And maybe it was, but if Coca Cola (and Samsung and Lloyds TSB) are prepared to sponsor these events and make people happy and give them a big free event they wouldn’t otherwise get, who am I to argue?
You could have your photo taken with an actual Olympic torch (surprisingly light and very cool looking). I took a photo of the boys with my camera because I assumed I’d have to pay £7.50 for the ‘official’ photo, but, no, it’s a free download. OK, I admit I haven’t actually tried the download element of it, what with being a complete technophobe and everything, but I will. And there was free Coke and Coke Zero – in limited edition bottles! My eldest and I don’t drink Coke, so I queued for 20 minutes in the baking sun to get one solitary bottle of Coke for my younger son. But he thought it was the best thing since sliced bread.
There were free cereal bars! Goodness knows how many of those they had. The guy giving them away had to check for nut allergies. ‘Only a peanut allergy!’ my son said, almost proudly. But he had a bar anyway. Then another bar. And probably another one, I was starting to lose count.
As the venue filled, including pretty much every person I had ever clapped eyes on, my boys’ confidence grew and they started taking themselves off to get ‘free stuff’. Free Samsung wristbands, free Lloyds TSB sweatbands, free souvenir torch relay squashed pennies…
The entertainment started on the main stage in the distance. I’d mainly been looking forward to Twist & Pulse and Labrinth, but the boys weren’t bothered. They were just in their element chasing the free stuff and chatting to people. My younger son started taking off his glasses and hat to ‘disguise’ himself to get more free stuff.
My mum, dad, sister and brother-in-law arrived with my daughter, who was gutted to have missed Twist & Pulse (we’ve met them before – we’ve even DANCED with them!), but her upset was short-lived because she could get a pink Samsung wristband. And Grandpa had bought her a union jack on the way in.
Labrinth came on much earlier than I’d expected. I would have liked to have watched and been in the main crowd, but it was relaxing where we were on the grass, with the kids so happy.
There was talk of the torch running late as it travelled through the town. My husband, still at work of course, was going to watch it go by the office, but then he decided to chase it. So he drove out of town in the other direction and followed it through the town all the way before coming to meet us. The streets were packed and the atmosphere was great. People were even cheering him on his little bike wearing his suit weaving in and out of the crowds!
He arrived at the venue before the torch. We could see Zara Phillips in the distance, circling on her horse, Toytown, waiting for the torch to arrive. As it was handed over everyone cheered. Even though I’d been looking forward to this for ages, I was still surprised at how excited, patriotic even, I felt.
We could just about see Zara as she rode through the crowds, then we saw her on the big screen as she went up ont the stage and lit the Olympic cauldron. An exciting and memorable moment for everyone.
The whole event was a brilliant one, well worth the hassle and lugging around of Piriton and Calpol ‘just in case’.
The boys said it was their ‘best evening ever’. You can’t say fairer than that.