Watching the Olympic Torch Go By

The usual remnants of debauchery are absent from the spotless pavements of London's Camden a day before the Olympics.

6:00 A.M., outside the Roundhouse music venue on London's Camden High Street. Most early mornings, street-cleaners are just starting to clear away the remnants from scenes of the previous night's debauchery, the puddles of vomit, discarded beer bottles and polystyrene fast-food boxes. Not this morning. Today the street is shining in the first rays of the sun. Not only is it clean, the pavements are beginning to fill with clean-looking people replacing the derelicts and drunkards who are usually the only humans around this part of London so early in the morning.

The Olympic torch has come to the Borough of Camden the day before the Olympics and the local council has made a special effort. Not only is the street spotless, but there is a local choir in black uniforms, the councilors are all wearing their best suits; even the mayoress has turned up in her official robe and chain. A pity that they are all upstaged by the large floats of the official corporate sponsors of the Olympics: Holiday Inn, Barclays Bank and Coca-Cola of course.

A balding man wearing a grey-silver tracksuit approaches the starting line, bearing a torch, not yet aflame. Actually it's a tapering metal honeycomb painted in gold. Who is he? “Don't ask me” shrugs Councilor Theo Blackwell, “he's something in rugby, but this is a football town.” The choir is singing gospel, trying to make itself heard above the “keep moving please” shouts of the stewards trying in thick Polish and Spanish accents to herd the crowd along. Hundreds have already gathered outside the Roundhouse but the organizers want them to line the road further on, toward St. Pancras as the torch is carried toward the center of London.

Suddenly the crowd surges forward, a blonde-haired man holds a silver box, looking like a soft-drinks can, which holds the sacred flame brought all the way from Greece and carried around the British isles for the last two months, and lights the torch. The organizers are urging the torch-bearer to get a move on, there is a tight schedule and the torch must arrive at Buckingham Palace on time. A quick photograph with the mayoress and his daughter and the blonde-haired man is off.

Not exactly running, but at a slow jog, trying to keep his face serious as the solemn occasion requires but breaking into a grin and then he's disappeared down the main street between the crowds, just the lighted torch bobbing over their heads.

The choir delivers a final flourish and bow but the crowd doesn't disperse yet, despite the police wanting to re-open the road. A long queue forms by a red caravan with the unmistakable logo. Coca-Cola is handing out tiny free bottles – a limited edition for the Olympic Torch Relay celebrating “amazing young people who spread inspiration and happiness everyday in their communities.” For another 10 minutes the road stays closed - until everyone has got their special bottle in the colors of the Olympic logo, a right that has been bought by Coca-Cola, the “worldwide partner” of the Olympic movement.