The red flag of China dominated the north side of Trafalgar Square when I arrived there around midday last Sunday to see the Olympic torch make its progression through central London.
There were very few of the Olympic geeks who help maintain the preposterous notion that the Games are much loved by all and sundry. There were a variety of the usual rentacrowd lefties and peaceniks. Mainly there were lots of young attractive looking Chinese students who'd obviously been organised and encouraged to, literally, come down and fly the flag. They clutched thousands of little handheld paper red flags. There were also dozens of huge, double bed sheet size, red flags held aloft by self-evident organisers who were probably Red Guards or whatever they call their secret police these days.
As the occasional pro-Tibet banner or flag was unfurled, the mood of the Chinese element o the crowd changed. Whenever an activist was isolated he or she was subjected to threats, shouts, and mild abuse by the Chinese, who soon turned into a baying mob singing Chinese songs, ridiculing protestors, and seeking to surround Tibetan banners with the huge red flags. This is how it goes in a dictatorship and, for just two hours, Trafalgar Square got a taste of freedom of speech, Chinese style.
Eventually the Olympic flame arrived under guard. It was, as has been widely reported, a total farce. I was right in the front like of spectators, nothing obscured my view, but I could hardly see the torch behind the phalanx of Red Guard-types in pastel blue jumpsuits. In seconds it had moved on and then the Square was given over to running battles and arguments between spiteful Chinese students and the rentacrowd.
It was a rotten bleak cold day. A stiff breeze was blowing in from the Artic, sharp as a razor blade.
In England the Olympic movement is an ancillary to the military establishment and part of the "Land of Hope and Glory" flag flying industry. It was good to see the Games getting such a rough ride and to see the equally hostile reception the torch got in Paris. Let's hope San Francisco gives it a similar welcome.
I heard one Chinese boy shout angrily, and accurately, to one Brit protestor, "You had enough colonies of your own. You colonised the whole world." The same is true about France and the States - but two wrongs don't make a right.
Joe Ambrose has written 14 books, including Chelsea Hotel Manhattan and The Fenian Reader. Joe is currently working on his next book, Look at Us Now - The Life and Death of Muammar Ghadaffi, which is an expanded version of a story first published in the anthology CUT UP! Visit Joe's website for all the latest info: JoeAmbrose.co.uk.