D L Misty On The Olympic Torch

Funny story written by Erskin Quint

Saturday, 23 June 2012


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Athletic nudity has never been a feature of the Winter Olympics: the 1932 Mongolian bobsleigh squad yesterday.

If there's one thing I can't stand it's the Olympics. Another thing I can't stand is all this talk about the weather. You know, 'Oh how terrible the weather is, you wouldn't think it was June', that kind of talk. The other week I was in a shop buying some picture hooks when I heard the woman behind the counter saying 'isn't the weather dreadful? You wouldn't know it was June'. Apart from the fact that it was May at the time, I remember thinking that this was yet another example of an idiotic statement about the weather.

'This is another excellent example of weather-based folly', I thought. By way of a small protest, I replaced the pack of picture hooks I was going to buy and walked out of the shop without making a purchase. Of course, they hardly batted an eyelid. The woman was still going on about the wind ruining her pansies and how awful it was that the hosepipe ban was still in place when Littlehampton was flooded. This is typical of the empty behaviour of bourgeoise society. It's very dangerous as well as being empty because it's very much the sort of thing that annoyed people like Napoleon so much, and made them want to conquer Europe. I wonder if Nelson knew what he was really fighting for when he laid down his life at Trafalgar?

If Nelson had been with me the other week when I was trying to buy some picture hooks, perhaps he would have asked himself, 'was it worth it, all that commotion? Is this what we fought for? I could have stayed with Lady Hamilton, and we should have been spared all this ludicrous complaining about the weather, after all, Napoleon wouldn't have put up with it, he would have had the shop closed down and the woman sent to a bilberry farm in Schleswig-Holstein'.

Insult would have been added to injury for Nelson when he found that they didn't even have any brass-plated double picture hooks, only single ones. The Devil is always in the detail. That would have been a harsh lesson for Nelson, who was more used to broad strategies and large-scale planning, and didn't have to deal with the everyday minutiae, since he lived in a fold-away luxury compartment at the end of the ship, but I like to think that he would have been grateful.

You are probably thinking: 'all this is very well, but the weather has been dreadful this summer', to which I would fain reply: 'that is beside the point'.

Weather is hardly a novelty. We have had weather every single day. There has been weather every day that the world has existed. Think about it. That is a lot of days with weather in every one. I haven't even mentioned the nights either. With the nights thrown in, we have twice as much weather. That is a lot of weather.

Now if, one fine day, it turned out that there was no weather, well, yes, that would be cause for making pronouncements and going on and on. That would be remarkable, the fact that here was a day with no weather at all in it. Why, if even a small part of the day had no weather, it would be unusual and worthy of note.

I would actually welcome talk about the fact that there was no weather. If the woman behind the counter had been saying 'I don't know what we are going to do at all, we haven't had any weather at all for three weeks, you wouldn't think it was June, and Nigel, our eldest, has been made redundant from his job at the Weather Centre' - if she had said all that, I would have bought the single picture hooks without a second thought.

But the reality was quite different. I find that reality is often quite different. This is one of life's great imponderables, I find, this business of reality being quite different.

I find, most days, that reality is quite different. It is a mystery, reality. It's elsewhere. It's very much 'other'. A transcendent thing. It's always somewhere else. It needs looking for. All these people, Judges, Bishops, Philosophers, Tax Inspectors, Lord Leveson, they're all out there, spending our money, looking for reality.

Of course I don't think they'll find reality very soon. Life's not that simple. I don't expect I'll wake up one morning, switch on the Radio 4 News and find out that Lord Leveson has discovered the truth. For one thing, I don't listen to Radio 4. For another, sometimes I stay up all night and sleep until the afternoon. For a final thing, Lord Leveson, and those other people, are all spending our money, and that's not likely to stop very soon. If it was their own money, that might be a different thing.

(Of course, to digress a little, David Cameron and his friends are a lot of people who seem to have lots of their own money, and it doesn't look as though they are going to stop doing whatever it is they are doing very soon - though it's not their own money that is at risk, they are making sure of that, so it only goes to prove my point.)

Returning to Lord Leveson and the rest of them, I don't think so though. Yes, if it was their own money they might stop looking for reality, of course they might. I don't mean that. What I mean is, they wouldn't find it, even if they were paying for all the staff and the offices and the sandwiches and all those articles in the Daily Telegraph by that friend of George Osborne's.

No, they'll not find it. Reality is always elsewhere, which brings me to the Olympic Torch.

As I have already said, if there's one thing I can't stand, it's the Olympics. If there's another thing I can't stand, it's the Olympic Torch. Another thing I detest is the Olympic Flame. In 1978 I lived for three months in a flat above a Greek Fish and Chip shop and I hated every minute of it. The battered jumbo sausage was anathema to me.

Before you protest at an inappropriate use, in connection with a battered sausage, of a Greek word originally denoting something raised up as a votive offering to the Gods, let me quell the fury in your breast. Let me stay your ire.

Such a confusion and corruption of an original Greek terminology is very much apropos my argument, if argument it be.

The attitude of the customers who visited the shop, after closing time, night after night, was certainly akin to that of a votive body of priests or initiates of some kind. They were fanatics, in a staggering, singing kind of way.

And, more to the point, is not this the very emptiness that is the very stuff of the kind of bourgeoise society that spends all its time talking about the weather and eating battered sausages and pickled eggs from Greek Fish and Chip shops and becoming obsessed with the journey of the Olympic Torch through Abergavenny, Pontefract and Windermere?

'Hurrah!' they cry, 'the Torch has passed through Ffestiniog, Coleraine and Chesterfield, where throngs lined the streets, and is already wending its way through Falmouth, Skegness and Wellingborough, where the streets are thronged with lines!'

Now I can understand why lots of people find this inspirational. I can easily see how the sort of people who drove Napoleon to world domination - those who buy battered sausages from Greek Fish and Chip shops after closing time and moan about the weather - would get excited about the notion of the original Olympic Flame being carried about the towns and villages of Britain.

But here we are back in the place where reality is not, for need I point out that there is no such thing as the same flame? I see that I do need to point this out. If you light one candle from another, you don't pass the original flame over from the first to the second, because it's still there on the first candle (of course, there is no such thing as the first flame either, but I won't bring the teachings of Nagarjuna into this and over-egg the pudding).

Alas, the wisdom of the candle is another thing that's been lost with the advent of the electric light, along with the nightshirt, the top hat and a belief in the supernatural.

And while we may well baulk at the prospect of going back to wearing a nightshirt, a top hat and listening to ghost stories by candlelight, are we really any better off? After all, reality is still a long way away.

And if we are talking about the original Olympic traditions, as enshrined within the Flame, then surely the torch should be carried by nude Greek-speaking athletes after the fashion of those who competed at Olympia all those years ago?

At least that way we would be spared David Beckham and Will.i.am, though I wouldn't have put it past them to learn a smattering of modern Greek as a token effort.

The only consolation is that Alan Titchmarsh was too busy practising his fawning and cringing skills for the Diamond Jubilee. The prospect of a nude Alan Titchmarsh brandishing the Olympic Torch while interviewing the Duke of Edinburgh is surely a step too far when it comes to the limits of human endurance, though it does have an appalling tang of symmetry about it.

But I do have to say that, having done my researches into the original Ancient Greek Olympic games, I am at a loss when it comes to discerning anything noble or worth celebrating about it anyway.

All I have been able to discover is a lot of nude wrestling, running about and throwing things. At the end, they used to give out wreaths.

Now I dont know about you, or anybody else, but my experience of wreaths is not a happy one. There was my Uncle Hubert, who fell off his bicycle while drunk, my old schoolteacher Mr Throbes, who fell asleep in a bowl of cold tapioca and drowned, and my old landlady from the Greek Fish and Chip shop, Mrs Takridis, who died in what were called mysterious circumstances.

Wreaths do not connote health and happiness.

So what do we have here? We have a lot of nudity, violence and death, and what's noble about that? You can get that round here any night of the week, if you've got the money. Personally, I haven't got any money, but the Television is no better, and that's just the News and Coronation Street, never mind what comes on after the watershed.

(While we are on the subject of what is noble and what is not noble, here is an interesting fact. Though most of this nude violence was done by men, there was one famous woman who did well at the ancient games at Olympia. Her name was Bilistiche, and she was a famous courtesan, or expensive prostitute, who was later deified by Ptolemy II Philadelphus of Egypt. What this fact tells us, apart from her name being the origin of the phrase 'Bilistiche will be prosecuted. Bilistiche is innocent', is that the Egyptians were no better than the Greeks, if the behaviour of Ptolemy II Philadelphus is any guide, and I think we already knew that or ought to have done anyway.)

Now they say that the Mother Flame is housed in a Davy Lamp and it is from this Mother Flame that the Torches are lit. I am a student of history and I do feel a distinct frisson when I contemplate the history.

It's quite awe-inspiring how the Ancient Greek Davy Lamp once cradled by Aristotle and Hippocrates while they were swearing their oaths (they wouldn't have let Archimedes near it lest he drop it in the bath, extinguishing the Mother Flame and ruining it for the rest of us) has been handed down through the Ages to us, so that we can see it being carried by Will.i.am through Taunton.

But there is a dark side to everything, and the history of the Olympic Torch is as chequered as any other.

Who can forget how Guy Fawkes, one of those chosen to carry the Torch for London 1605, stole the Davy Lamp housing the Mother Flame, intending to ignite the explosives he had set to blow up the Houses of Parliament in the Gunpowder Plot? To this day, a copy of Guy Fawkes' Lamp is kept at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford.

And of course London 1666 was tarnished for ever when an accident with a Spotted Dick at the home of pudding-maker Thomas Farynor, where the Mother Flame was being kept in secret, caused the Great Fire of London.

On the whole, I think it's fair to say that the subject of the Olympic Torch is fraught with myth, violence and death, not to mention nudity and Alan Titchmarsh.

I'm against it. In fact, I'm thinking of starting a revolutionary movement, if anybody is interested.

The funny story above is a satire or parody. It is entirely fictitious.

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