The Journey of Harmony

7 Apr
I have just spent a rather lovely weekend in London Town. Managed to see a lot of people whom I love and rarely see, along with two ridiculously amazing central London flats. Leggy’s abode in Middle Temple with its wood-panelled study, ancient law books, frecoes, turret and view of Big Ben tops even Oxford’s student accomodation. Absurd.
More absurd though was my Sunday activity. Ratboy Heald informed me that "the Olympic torch relay is going to pass by the end of my road – do you want to come early and watch it?" Now Ratboy is a big sports fan; I am not particularly, and assumed that we were very likely to be the only people who turned out in the snow to watch a flame carried by a psuedocelebrity pass by probably on a bus.
I was mistaken. Lining the street outside the British Museum were thousands of Chinese people waving flags, and a surprisingly heavy police presence. What we didn’t know was that earlier in the "Journey of Harmony", some bloke "disguised as a member of the public" (our favourite quote from the news there) had tried to wrestle the torch from the hands of Konnie Huq off of Blue Peter. So we were a bit surprised when a very small group of people silently carrying a placard saying "Free Tibet" down the side of the street passed by, to be met with loud boos and then a rendition of the Chinese National Anthem from the crowd. At this stage, Calum and Fergus trotted off to go and join in the protest, while Ratboy and I stood there mildly interested by the goings-on, reflecting that we had never heard a "Don’t Free Tibet" protest from a crowd before.
We didn’t really see the torch go by – the thirty Chinese officials, policemen and bodyguards surrounding it in a three-person deep ring, followed by police on bikes and motorcycles rather obscured the view. As they ran past they yelled "get back!" to the highly dangerous people who had come to clap. This was when we became rather ashamed of Britain. What a farce. The Tibet supporters and the China supporters were standing right next to each other in the crowd and all they were doing was cheering or booing – there was not a hint of violence anywhere. Even a man trying to snatch the torch, a man using a fire extinguisher, or some people throwing eggs hardly constitute a major security alert or even a risk of any physical harm. You wouldn’t think that by the way the police were tackling people to the ground, though. This all just seemed to be a massive overreaction. A good day for those trying to get Tibet on the agenda, because it certainly disrupted events enough for the world to take notice – well done. But the thing is that they didn’t really do it – it was the reaction of the police and authorities that made the whole thing into a big deal and allowed it to cause disruption. There really was no need for the thirty policemen. So, beamed around the world will be these nice pictures of the "Journey of Harmony" – the Olympic flame representing the unity of all nations obscured by a massive bodyguard trying swat away anybody exercising their freedom of speech and right to protest in a frankly very peaceful way. Kind of ironic that those demonstrating against China should be treated that way…
We spent about the next three hours watching the live coverage of the relay on BBC News 24. It was strangely compelling – like watching the Marathon but with the added interest of a potential ruckus. Who’d have thought that I would spend my afternoon glued to something I had thought would be a dull ten minutes? You never do know.

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