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B is for Baton

I suspect that many of us have possessions that have some attachment for us, often an emotional or nostalgic one that has much greater strength then any kind of monetary value that something might have, or even what might be considered intrinsic value relating to the age or artistic merit of whatever it is.

I’m a hoarder and a collector (as is the Lovely Wife, which explains the clutter in any place we have lived, live or will live, no matter how much space we acquire). Because of this, my list of objects that fulfil this special status is probably longer than many people’s. One I will focus on today recently re-entered my consciousness when we had the bedroom carpet replaced and various clutter around the antique fireplace had to be cleared away to allow for this. For a short while I was distracted by the discovery, followed by careful removal, of a mummified (best description I could come up with) wood pigeon that had clearly breathed its last in our chimney but dried rather than rotted (thankfully). Anyway, once this slightly tragic and unsavoury item had been removed that left me holding a baton.

The baton is a regulation competition size as used in international relays. It is a good, chunky, metal object, probably adequate for fending off mad axe murders at a pinch. The legend’ London 2012’ on it rather gives away why I have it. Mayor of London Ambassadors, as well as Games Makers all received one as a memento of the volunteering work they had done during the games five years ago (time flies so much!) and it is a very nice thing. Of course, it is not pretty, and while I run a lot I do not see myself taking up the 4x400M anytime soon, but it is a precious object for two reasons.

First, in the specific sense it is of course a reminder of the Olympics and Paralympics in 2012, which many people have fond memories of. From a personal point of view the time I was volunteering were some of the happiest days of work in my life, not so much in what I was doing – standing around telling Swiss synchronised swimmers where they might find a tattoo parlour, for example (in the end, she didn’t go through with it) – but rather being at the heart of something so big and something which, at least to me at the time, seemed bathed in such a positive atmosphere. I was lucky enough to be in the Olympic village itself, and so there was always the thrill of turning a corner and falling over (almost literally, they were all laid out on the pavement stretching) the Australian women’s hockey team. But in London everyone (including the sun!) seemed to be smiling most of the time, which, bless it, is not the usual London experience.

Secondly it reminds me of just how much fun volunteering can be, doing something not because you should, but because you want to. Compared to the pressures of normal work, even hard labour in the context of volunteering seems ‘fun’ because in theory you can walk away at any time. Because of the Olympics I began volunteering with English Heritage at Wrest Park House and Gardens and the De Grey Mausoleum, both in Bedfordshire. Five years on, I still enjoy helping people understand the history of both sites and telling the stories of the people connected to the sites, and the only time it gets boring is soggy Saturday mornings in January where understandably few people want to visit was is predominantly an outdoor site. But it’s worth pulling on the (disgustingly beige) uniform polo shirt for the one family that does turn up.

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