Olympic #torchrelay lights up Camden Roundhouse

It was the surrealness of it all that struck us most. As we strolled with hundreds of others across the …

It was the surrealness of it all that struck us most. As we strolled with hundreds of others across the sun-lit streets of NW1, people smiling and drinking coffee, or eating ice cream, the vibe was a lazy Sunday afternoon – yet it was 6:30am.

Like thousands of others, we had hauled ourselves out of bed at 5:30, and rolled down the hill to grab whatever space we could outside the Roundhouse, in the dawn shadow of its wildly successful Camden Beach. Sure, we thought it’d be busy, but even then weren’t quite prepared for the crush. The whole borough had turned out to watch, or so it seemed, with ‘ambassadors’ rather bossily telling everyone to ‘keep walking’, yet no, we wanted to stay put and watch the flame being lit right outside Made In Camden.

Faces were painted with the Union Jack, children brandished flags and bright green wigs, dozens of dogs were leashed, the elderly in wheelchairs posed proudly. Some were armed with a camera in one hand, a couple of slices of toast in the other, munching happily while they waited for the procession to begin. All to the hazy strains of the choir.

We were fortunate to be right at the front when the flame was lit, a roar rippling through the crowd. It was a very 2012 affair, with everyone as obsessed with recording the moment – on iphone, ipad or good old-fashioned camera – as actually experiencing it. In fact, the overwhelming impression was one of raised arms wielding digital devices.

But that sea of hardware didn’t damage the carnival atmosphere one bit. And no sooner had the mayor posed with the lit torch, the first bearer – Sir Clive Woodward OBE, England’s former world cup winning Rugby Coach – disappeared down Chalk Farm Road, bound for Kings Cross.

The crowd dispersed and we meandered down Kentish Town Road and Royal College Street, where a brilliant New Orleans-style brass band was entertaining passers-by at Goldington Crescent. Amusingly for some, our dog Pepper was singing along (ie barking) a little too loudly, so it was time to make a sharp exit towards St Pancras Gardens for their community breakfast. Taking place in the sun-dappled churchyard, the tombstones reflecting the rays, it was quite magical. Surreal touches were provided by energetic aerobics routines and an Irish lady on stilts having a laugh with her outsized cakes trolley.

But we couldn’t resist the lure of Granary Square. It’s a majestic space anyway, poised between the new Central Saint Martin’s and the canal, but this morning, filled with eastern music, T’ai Chi, water-jets and stilt-walkers – juxtaposed with hard-hat wearing construction workers, office suits, tourists and the curious – made for a unique atmosphere indeed. People idled, chatted, and basked in the sun now intense in the sky.

Elsewhere, exciting stuff was occurring all over King’s Cross, especially in St Pancras where Kentishtowner favourites Soul II Soul drew a crowd for a boogie under the clock – and the Olympic rings – while sunlight streamed through the glass roof. Swaying commuters obeyed the call to Keep on Movin’, then like a flash mob they caught their trains, headed to work and went Back to Life.

The whole city feels different right now. That’s what it is. The scale of what is about to take place has become tangible. Around every corner buildings, vehicles and people are festooned with regalia. Art, parties and sport are everywhere. Those that have been enjoying a seven year moan at the cost, logistics and the rest must surely be starting to feel slightly humbled. The celebratory feel in London is infectious. And the sun is blazing.

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Words & Pics: Stephen Emms, Tom Kihl, Jai Yehia and Karrie Kehoe.
Pics & Video: Safiah Hashim


  • Show Comments

  • Tim

    Can’t help disagreeing with the last paragraph. I came back in to London from St Pancras last night, walked up to K-Town and remarked to my partner that you wouldn’t know the Olympics was happening, apart from the five rings in the station. LOCOG have really messed up by banning any business from doing any kind of Olympic-orientated promotion. For the Jubilee and Royal Wedding, there were flags everywhere, signs, ‘branding’ on every street corner. Now people can’t even put the word ‘Games’ in their window.

    • Kentishtowner

      A fair point Tim but not quite the point we’re making. Did you attend the 3 hour event this morning in its various locations around Camden & KX? If you did I reckon you’d feel differently.

  • susie

    Lovely. rather tops my standing on Ballards Lane N3 yesterday afternoon. B
    ut that was pretty magical too, in its own special high street way.

  • Joanna

    It was a great event. We stood near Jamestown Road. Do you know who carried the torch past us? thanks

    • Kentishtowner

      Think that would have been the guy pictured. Or did he look different?

  • Tim

    I couldn’t attend the whole event because I had to leave for work at 7.30. The start of the torch relay had a very special atmosphere, but I just don’t think that the city has a celebratory atmosphere like with other major public events, or even the World Cup. Most of the Olympic presence around our city infrastructure seems to be telling us what we can’t or shouldn’t do during the Games. There’s been some great cultural events but a lot would be happening anyway, Olympics or not. Because of the corporate structure this feels like a very top-down festival that’s pushed on to London, rather than anything endogenous