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Reasons to be cheerful

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The sun and the high spirits that came out on Tuesday for the Commonwealth Games’ baton visit to Shetland drew our reporter Genevieve White out onto to the streets of Lerwick and Scalloway to examine her feelings about such celebrations. Here’s what she found:

Not being a fan of the monarchy or its accompanying media circus I tend to avoid festivals prefixed with the words “Queen” or “Royal”. However, on a sparkling summer’s day the temptation to venture out and soak up the party atmosphere was just too much for me, and so a little after ten o’clock on Tuesday morning I found myself standing beside the Welcome to Lerwick sign, waiting to catch a glimpse of the town’s 14 baton bearers.

After five minutes of standing on the eerily quiet roadside wondering whether I’d got my days mixed up, a marshal reassured me that the baton was running behind schedule due to a delayed flight. I decided to make my way down to the Clickimin, from where the sounds of cheers, whistles and drums were already floating up to meet me.

On the way into town, I passed clusters of people ready to cheer on the baton bearers. Among a small crowd of onlookers standing on Lochside was ex- jarl Magnus Simpson, who was eagerly waiting to cheer on his granddaughter, baton bearer Lauren Odie. Lauren is a sports student at Stirling and a youth legacy ambassador and Magnus admitted to being “very proud” of her. “I’m looking forward to taking part in the celebrations throughout the day,” he said.

Walking onto the Clickimin athletics track I found the party was already in full swing. Pupils and teachers from Bells Brae, Sound and the Anderson High school were all out in force. P1 pupils Orla Henderson, Carys Robertson and Robyn Laurenson were keen to show me the Welsh flags they have been making in school. Meanwhile, seven year old Kali Thomson from Bells Brae was very excited about the crocodile hooter which she was ready to blow when the baton bearers ran past her. “I like to see people running,” she said.

As the crowd awaited the arrival of the baton bearers, fitness instructor Karen Woods led them through a high energy workout. I decided to give this one a miss, as did Tavish Scott, who I found myself standing beside.

I asked him why he thought this day was important. “Sport is all about young people. Events like these are a great way to inspire young people to participate in sports. There was a great buzz when the Olympic torch came to Shetland a few years back and there is the same feeling today.”

The atmosphere was equally festive in Scalloway’s Fraser Park. When I arrived the crowd were performing Mexican waves, shouting “Oggy Oggy Oggy” and waving their flags.

Dawn Mainland, Scalloway’s principal teacher, took a break from marshalling children to tell me what Scalloway bairns have been learning in connection with the event.

“The pupils have been having lots of input about Commonwealth countries through assemblies. For children, a visual approach is the best way of getting them to engage with something new so we’ve looked at big pictures and photos of Commonwealth countries.

“We’ve also looked at photos of baton carriers all over the world, from Mounties in Canada to photos of the baton being carried ashore by canoe in Nauru. It’s really important that our children don’t feel remote, and that they feel a sense of connection with the rest of the world.”

At this point, baton bearer Fiona Dally ran into Fraser Park where she was greeted with rapturous applause from the thoroughly warmed up crowd.

Fiona has been nominated for the significant amount of coaching and volunteering work she has done. Her advice to the listening children was “Mak sure you stick in, try as many sports as you can and just have fun.”

Looking on was Megan Grant, another Scalloway baton bearer nominated for her work with sport. She said she was having a “brilliant” day, the highlight of which had been being handed the baton by her cousin, Sophie Grant, at Scalloway castle.

Countless photographs were taken, before the larger- than- life mascot, Clyde, appeared on the scene to the delight of the waiting children. His sewn-on grin was wide, but I couldn’t help feeling sorry for the poor soul who was trapped under a thick furry thistle costume on such a warm day.

My festival appetite sated I went home, leaving the crowd to enjoy the rest of the day’s events. The pervading atmosphere was certainly celebratory, but then bah-humbug cynical types (like me) are generally likely to stay home on such occasions.

Watching the festivities, it does seem hard to deny that such events provide a great means of celebrating local achievement while encouraging children to learn more about other countries and cultures.

Yet could we achieve similar celebrations on a more modest scale and at a fraction of the cost? I would have to say I think we could.


Scottish Parliament election, 6 May 2021