Carrying A Torch
It was a typical Port Wenn Saturday in late October. Gossip related to James Henry's kidnapping and events at Pentire Castle had faded and life was somewhat back to normal. Villagers were chattering about the imminent Guy Fawkes Day and the traditional bonfire on the platt.
Following a tiresome day treating oil rig workers home for the weekend and the occasional diabetic or asthmatic patient, Martin Ellingham made his way to the harbour to purchase the principal ingredient for tonight's supper. Louisa's order to him had been "anything but cod," and he pondered the possibilities.
"Ah, Doc Martin, what will it be today," the fishmonger called to him.
"I've been told not to buy cod, so what else have you?"
"I see Miss Glasson's got a hold on you, then. Telling you what's for supper. That sort of thing. You know women, Doc. You can't live with them and you can't live without them."
Martin grunted as he selected a whole Pollack and handed it to the fishmonger. As he completed his purchase, the man said: "Have you heard the news then, Doc?"
What news hadn't he heard today. Every bit of superfluous gossip had been dispensed to him at the surgery. The usual prattling on by those who had little respect for silence. Making no response, he turned to walk back to the surgery as the fishmonger continued: "The Olympic torch is to be carried through Port Wenn. The Council just heard it today. Won't be until May but quite nice I'd say for a little village like Port Wenn."
Martin continued to walk away, thinking that the obese, sedentary villagers were as likely to be inspired by the Olympic Games as they were by his admonitions to shift weight, eat healthy foods and exercise. Only another stunt to fill the coffers of the dodgy shops and restaurants. More nonsense as far as he was concerned.
Louisa and James had returned from their baby and me swimming class at the Leisure Center, and Louisa was making a hopeless effort to feed their child carrots. With each spoonful, he made a face and spit them from his tiny mouth. "Try the cereal, he seems to like that more," Martin suggested.
Pressing her lips together before speaking, Louisa responded: "Thank you, Martin, but he needs to taste something other than cereal. The Cornish Mums website said he should be eating veg and fruit now, not just that bland cereal."
Having lost too many arguments over Louisa's devotion to the mothers who doled out internet advice, Martin began to silently unwrap the fish.
With a row averted, Louisa said brightly: "Oh, have you heard that the Olympic torch is to pass through Portwenn. It's to be flown to the Naval Air Station at Culdrose and brought to Land's End the next day. From there it'll be carried throughout Cornwall. It's quite an honour, really. Our spring term classes will be focusing on the Olympics, and the children will be over the moon knowing they'll see the torch."
Martin nodded as he skillfully prepared the plump fish, not wishing to put his foot in it over the ridiculous nature of the whole scheme. May was a long way off, and there were many other things to hold his attention. He promptly forget the entire matter.
Six months later, the village became a bit mad over the torch relay. Bert Large mounted a badly produced replica of the torch on the side of his restaurant along with a sign proclaiming it "The Official Port Wenn Restaurant of the Olympic Torch Relay." Not to be outdone, the Crab and Lobster became the official pub and so on and so forth. Utter and complete rubbish. Thank goodness, Martin Ellingham had a PCT meeting in Wadebridge this afternoon and would be spared this nonsense for a bit.
Unfortunately, those attending the meeting were more interested in the Olympics than the state of health in North Cornwall. Some petty bureaucrat in the NHS had persuaded the Olympic Organizing Committee that a tribute should be paid to England's universal health care during the opening ceremony. The call had gone out for nurses, doctors and other medical professionals who could dance in the opening ceremony. A debate ensued about the propriety of such behaviour, and Chris Parsons was helpless to moderate the battle between the two camps. After the meeting he said to Martin: "Care for a cuppa? We need to chat."
After the time wasting meeting, Martin did not want to have a chat, but acquiesced to his friend's request. Driving back to Port Wenn, he wished Chris had never given him the news. It angered him, and he told Parsons he must think seriously about their discussion.
As the time for the torch relay approached, the tiny village burst into civic pride. Flowers were planted in anything that wasn't moving, paint was applied to neglected surfaces, and rubbish disappeared from the streets. Leading the charge was Caroline Bosman, who had wangled a stringer post with the BBC for the Cornwall torch relay. If the villagers saw the relay as their moment to shine, Caroline saw it as her entrée to London media.
Making certain she was prepared with human interest stories, Caroline tried to interview each of the torch carriers. The torch, itself, would be brought from Bodmin to Bisland by five woman who had started a small crafts group that gainfully employed the mentally disabled. From there, four park rangers would take the torch to Port Wenn, with the final leg being run by Ranger Stewart, accompanied by his special friend, Anthony. The rangers were being recognized for their extraordinary cleaning and clearing efforts following the devastating floods in Cardinham Woods.
PC Penhale would take the torch from Stewart and race it to Louisa Glasson at Port Wenn Primary. Penhale had been nominated for his bravery in stopping a series of robberies at the two village cash points, while the head teacher had created a partnership with a Falmouth company to provide computers for the school.
At the platt, Louisa would hand the torch to Ross, the surfer, who had saved a child from drowning last summer. As captain of the lifeboat crew, Ross would pass the torch to his six boat mates who had rescued sailors from an Irish barge which caught fire off Port Wenn.
Not that he was thrilled to do it, but Ross would hand the torch to Pauline Lamb, who had earned the honour of carrying the torch in Bristol, but asked that she might do so in her hometown. As a student nurse, Pauline organised a support system for parents of children being treated for life-threatening illnesses at the Bristol Royal Hospital for Children. Pauline asked that a further exception be made by allowing Al Large to run alongside her.
A few other villagers would move the torch up Rosscarrock Hill, including the Tae Kwan Do instructor from the Leisure Center. The after school programs he managed kept the bored village teenagers entertained and less of a nuisance, in the opinion of Martin Ellingham. After a brief hour in Port Wenn, the torch would make its way through towns and villages to Plymouth, where a big reception would be held that night.
The day before the relay, a representative from the torch convoy team arrived and met with most of the participants. They were ever mindful that the eyes of the world would be on them, not to mention Caroline Bosman recording the entire experience for the archives of the BBC. Official white tracksuits, bearing Olympic insignia, were handed to the runners along with the suggestion that they wear trainers rather than plimsoles. Heads were held higher and stomachs churned a bit as they realized the significance of what they would do the next day.
Port Wenn was to be the second stop on the relay, scheduled to begin at ten sharp. By eight the streets were lined by villagers, tourists and those from outlying areas. School children were waving small Union Jack flags, while Large's Restaurant and the Crab were doing a brisk business in Cornish pasties and coffee.
Al Large had persuaded Ruth Ellingham to attend the event, and she felt an uncommon affection as she watched the people who had welcomed her so warmly following her sister's death. Meeting Pauline Lamb the night before, she understood why Al went on about her. Not one to judge a book by its cover, Ruth saw a goodness in Pauline that belied her gaudy clothing.
Participants were in their appointed places, clad in their Olympic torch relay outfits. Last minute instructions were being given by the convoy leader, and Caroline Bosman was busily filming the proceedings. All was ready.
At a bit after ten, an excited murmur swept through the onlookers as Ranger Stewart was spotted passing the "Welcome to Port Wenn" sign. With torch held high, Stewart made his way to the constabulary, where PC Penhale impatiently paced. No fumbling or bumbling occurred as Joe Penhale did - what no one in the village expected -everything correctly. No mishaps occurred even wading through the throng of exuberant children at Port Wenn Primary.
Louisa Glasson gave James Henry a hug and kiss, as she handed him to Pippa, and Joe Penhale handed her the torch. With a wide smile and her ponytail bobbing, Louisa heeded Martin's advice and maintained a slow, steady pace to the Platt. There, a very somber Ross nodded crisply to her as she turned over the torch. A few surfers trailed after Ross as he circled the platt and then ran to the lifeboat where the crew awaited. The boat was rowed out into the harbour, torch raised aloft, so that the fishermen might have a glimpse of it.
On their return to the harbour, the crew passed the torch one to the other and then to Pauline Lamb. With her ginger hair flying about and Al Large following after, Pauline made her way to the base of Rosscarrock Hill. There she was met by the Tae Kwan Do instructor and a number of teens dressed in white doboks, their yellow and green belts glistening in the sun. The torch convoy leader rolled his eyes at this further bit of unorthodoxy, but allowed it. Leading his chanting troops up the hill, the instructor grimaced as most were winded when they reached the Port Wenn surgery.
What occurred next would be filmed by everyone with a camera or app on their mobile along with Caroline Bosman, who would narrate the scene for that night's edition of the BBC news. Emerging from the surgery dressed in a meticulous grey, pinstripe suit, white shirt and blue and white dotted tie was Dr. Martin Ellingham to accept the torch from Mandy's father. Nodding curtly to the man and sniffing a bit at the smell emitted by the torch, Martin ran through the astonished crowd with his carefully polished black leather shoes beating against the paving stones.
Unless one had a video camera, as Caroline Bosman had, this extraordinary performance would not have been captured quite as perfectly. Louisa Glasson watched in amazement as Martin moved smoothly up Rosscarrock Hill toward her and James Henry with a huge smile lighting his face. The villagers cheered and that short video became one of the iconic images of the 2012 Olympics, ended as it was by Al Large mumbling – but loud enough for Caroline's microphone to capture – "That's our Doc."
In her narration during the evening news, Caroline explained that Dr. Martin Ellingham had been nominated to carry the torch by the people he served and by the Cornwall PCT. He was one of the most efficient and effective doctors in the NHS service and was the type of caregiver who would be celebrated in the opening night ceremony of the Olympic Games.
That night at the pub, Bert Large provided an epilogue for the extraordinary day: "As I see it, the Doc carried a torch for Miss Glasson those many years. Today, then, he carried a torch for the world."
Author's note: The closest the Olympic Torch Relay came to Port Wenn (Port Isaac) was Bodmin. With apologies to the Olympics for taking "literary" license in re-routing the torch relay to Port Wenn.