Dead flowers

Villiers and the Olympic torch

It was a cold June day. My friend Villiers began our conversation by telling me that he’d visited his doctor recently; Villiers is 65 years old and his doctor had told him that men were really only designed to live for 45 years. So, on that basis, Villiers had been either dead or dying for 20 years. I had the impression that Villiers was quite pleased to be celebrating two decades of life after death.

The alive part of Villiers went on to tell me that he’d been occupying himself with the three Rs.

Except Villiers’ three Rs began with Ruth (his newish girlfriend) then Rowing (which he did with a group of other rowers in a traditional rowing boat somewhere in the Atlantic ocean) and Writing. Villiers had written several books – and was now in the final stages of a book about a crocodile called Washy. It was a children’s book. Villiers had enjoyed writing it because it put him ‘in touch’ with his childhood.

Then our conversation turned to consider things that had been in the news:

“Villiers,” I asked him, “Did you watch any of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations?”

“Not one bit,” replied Villiers.

“Not even the flotilla on the river?” I asked him.

“No. I didn’t see any of it.”

[There’d been a peculiar pageant on the river Thames. It had been a real wash-out even though everybody had persuaded themselves that it was enjoyable despite the fact that they had been stuck outside in the pouring rain and the unrelenting cold for hour after hour after hour.]

It was clear that Villiers had begun to enjoy himself thinking about his absolute rejection of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations.

And then Villiers said: ‘I didn’t see the Jubilee concert either. I’m not interested in any of it.”

He grumbled away for a few minutes about his dislike of ageing pop stars, imbecilic celebrities and the arseholes who organise these things.

Then he volunteered his thoughts about the Progress of the Olympic torch that was currently touring Britain.

“I went to see the torch relay,” he said: “A complete waste of time: the biggest non-event I’ve ever seen.”

“Oh,” I said: “Was it that bad?”

“Yes. I was in Truro when I learned that it was going to go through our village the next day.” (Villiers lives in Torrington in North Devon.) “So I got up early in order to see the spectacle. I waited with the other people who’d also turned out to see the thing go by. It was supposed to be quite something. Anyway, it was half an hour late. I asked one of the stewards when it was going to come and she said she didn’t know and that nobody knew. So we all waited. Then a fat turd of a man wobbled into view – he didn’t even run properly as he clutched the torch – he was wearing a ghastly tracksuit – and he wasn’t even the person who was supposed to be carrying the thing. He was surrounded by an entourage of about twelve idiots – some with shaven heads who were the bodyguards; they were off-duty policemen who looked like thugs; it was all a complete farce and waste of time.”

Villiers became more and more indignant as he recounted the details of the non-event until he reached the summit of his anger:

“And what’s more they don’t even carry the f***ing torch from town to town. It’s put in some sort of coach and carted along. The whole thing is one huge great fraud. AND it can’t even mean that much to the people, who carry the torch: they flog it off on ebay.”

This caused Villiers to reflect on the state of the nation:

“You know,” He said: “We live in strange times. On the one hand everything is superficial, nobody reads anything deeply, nothing is profound – yet at the same time anybody can do just about anything – like build rockets from bits and pieces collected from scrap yards. And so anybody can find themselves carrying the Olympic torch – any fat slug of a nobody – but none of it has anything to do with the original meaning of the Olympic games.”

‘No,” I said, wondering what the original meaning of the Olympic torch might actually be. I supposed that it must mean something – but what?

Anyway, Villiers didn’t pause to explain its true or original meaning. He knew his history: “In those days, back in those Olympian days, the games were a competition between the Greek city states – and they, the contestants, could even fight to the death. Now that would be something. I’d turn out to watch that. Imagine people strangling each other to death.”

Villiers paused for a while as he pondered the dilemma of declaring the actual winner of a wrestling bout in which wrestler A succeeded in strangling wrestler B but at the very moment of wrestler B’s death, wrestler A had declared his own submission because he could no longer stand the pain that the ‘dead’ wrestler had inflicted upon him.

“F**k knows if there is a solution to that one,” said Villiers.

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