"...did you want to finish that or are you being purposefully elliptical?"
"I wish you wouldn't use such big words I don't understand."
"Worn them in what? A dress? A blizzard? A teenage mutant ninja turtle costume?"
"No, no, no. Have you worn them in and gotten USED to them? So they don't blister? You can't run with the Olympic Flame in unworn shoes."
I didn't know there were rules to this. I thought I could just wear my conver...shoe things that looked liked proper converses from New Look and be done with it. Surely that would be fine? They have a sole. They cover my feet. They have LACES. Shit gets real with laces.
I was in my uniform. In my trainers. Hair straightened within an inch of its sorry split-end life, and polos shoved down my trousers. Phone clutched. And still I didn't feel any sense of excitement or nervousness. The whole morning I'd spent in my pyjamas, feet up on the desk, watching the BBC live torch relay cam, trying to establish some sort of etiquette for what I was about to do. Do I wave? Do I hold it with two hands? Do I walk or run? I concluded that whatever happens, I was going to look like a prize twat. The only thing I knew I wanted to happen was for the crowd to sing Wings as I ra..jo..walk....moved my 300m. Likelihood? Minimal. Hope? Great. And that's all I had. Hope that somehow I knew what to bloody do at some point during the next 3 hours. And for the love of baby Pete and his family including pets, DO NOT DROP THE THING. DO. NOT. DROP. IT.
"Done any training?" another torchbearer asked me. Mum, dad, and Matt, all donned in red, white, and blue had dropped me at the Town Hall and now I was surrounded by organisers, the mayor, torchbearers, and the media. Lots of the media. I stuck to the wall and tweeted my way through the waiting, until HUMAN CONTACT WAS REQUIRED OF ME. It was downhill from here. Oh, oh wait no. No it wasn't. My 300m was all UPHILL, that's right. Of course. *I* had the uphill stint. Me. Only me.
"..I ran up and down the stairs a few times this morning...two at a time." I said, with some conviction.
"You're young! You don't need training. Here hold this." And a torch was thrust into my hands. One of the actual Olympic torches. I fumbled with my polos, lipgloss, and phone (essentials, don't tell me otherwise), as the torch tipped sideways and had to be grabbed to safety.
"Oop, I'll just take that. We're going to have the briefing now, then some media photos, then we'll be on our way!" Organiser Northern Tom said. I liked Northern Tom. "But YOU will be in the middle holding the torch in all the photos!" Oh yay. Two hands, I repeated in my head. Hold the bloody thing with two hands.
At 5pm, one hour before my slot, we left on the torchbearer bus. Around 16 torchbearers, Northern Tom, and the driver. Just us. Until we left the car park and started the journey to the start of Ingrave/Brentwood's route. I was still glued to my phone, texting friends and family about where to wait, when I heard gasps from inside the bus, and gasps from outside too. Hundreds of people had already lined the streets. Hundreds of people with chairs, banners, bunting, cameras, friends, family, strangers, burger vans, music, MORE PEOPLE. I didn't understand. I didn't know Brentwood had so many people. And I was running in front of them. So I bent my feet forward, wearing my new trainers in.
"Louise, look. Look outside. The people. Look! There are so many and they're here to see US!" Leah's 16 and we stuck to each other the whole time. I was passing the torch to her and we went to the same school. We were the double act. Comedy required.
It was only then when the adrenaline rushed to my feet, awakening them from their eternal slumber to think "...what the fuck is going on. Louise. Louise what are you doing. Why have we got energy. Louise. THINK ABOUT THIS.", and I found myself beaming and waving frantically to the now thousands of people. 50,000 to be exact. 50,000 people.
"So how did you get nominated, Louise?" someone behind asked. He was the oldest torchbearer, in his 70s, and had tears in his eyes the whole time.
"Erm. Well I didn't, really. I sort of got asked by Coca Cola over a year ago after I won this journalism-ish award with Channel 4. I have a blog and I want to help young people realise that they don't have to follow the crowd. It's silly really. Really cheesy. But I try to be funny and stupid so they know they can be themselves really and not take any shit."
He didn't bat an eyelid at my language, and put a hand on my arm.
"You're amazing. That's brilliant. You're inspirational, you really are. Well done Louise."
And that was the first time I felt worth it. Felt like I deserved all of *waves arms around* this. I gulped and said my thanks, before it was my turn to get dropped off.
They screamed. My own torch clutched to my chest, I stepped off the bus and the crowds were the thickest yet, and they screamed. My name. There were flashes, and shouts, and security guards. And music and floats with people who jumped off and hugged me, shouting through a megaphone to the crowd to cheer my name.
WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON.
"Excuse me, can my daughter have a photo with you please?" A man had stepped forward and nudged his toddler forward. I instinctively crouched to her level and she hugged me, resting her head on my shoulder as the crowd awwed, and I let her hold the torch to have a photo. Then I was surrounded. Everyone rushed forward, throwing me their children for photos. Pushing each other to have their chance.
SERIOUSLY. WHAT. I DID NOT PREPARE FOR THIS. DO I HAVE A SPEECH? WHAT DO I DO? NO ONE TOLD ME THIS IS WAS A THING.
My family was crying as the previous torchbearer came into view, and before I knew it, I was holding the Olympic flame. The whole world, possibly, could have been watching me. That flame. THE FLAME. Don't blow it, Louise. No matter how tempting. Don't. Blow. My feet were freaking out, my hair had waved, trying to bend round to see the action, and my face hurt. I didn't know my face could pull those shapes.
And then I was running.
Up a hill.
With the Olympic flame.
In front of 50,000 physical real life sentient beings.
I saw friends shouting and crying, I saw family running to catch up, and I saw strangers taking photos and cheering. And all I could do was wave, forget about my aching lungs, and scream "I LOVE YOU!!!" to everyone. If this was my moment, then I was going to make it Oscar award winning worthy.
And then it was over. Leah took the flame and I was back on the bus, still waving to people as we followed the flame to the finish. Every torchbearer on that bus had tears on their faces, waving and gasping and trying to mumble words that meant something to their feelings. But it was impossible. I can't explain it. To feel like part of history and part of, just, SOMETHING. Like you've been good, really. You've been a good human. You deserve good things, and this was the epitome.
I sat on the bus, torch clutched, cheeks stinging, feet throbbing with pride, not ache. It's all worth it. All of this. I'm not being egotistical, I'm being appreciative. I think I'm an alright human. Yeah. I'm not bad. And nor are you. And that's awesome.