Until in her late nineties mother used to march past the Cenotaph for the annual ceremony of remembrance whether on foot or, in later years, pushed in a wheelchair by a chum from the Brigade of Guards .
Father would never attend any such ceremony, considering it all a masquerade which glorified the deaths and wounds of those who were sent to war for interests that were not their own.
Mother wanted to march with her comrades.
Father turned his back on the whole thing.
But on some things they were agreed. Those who died in war did not ‘sacrifice’ their lives…….they were killed, wounded, potentially maimed for life both mentally and physically, in actions ordered by their governments.
Governments which do and have not given a toss for those who serve in their wars. Plenty of lip service and ceremony, but a U.K. Ministry of Defence which throws money at inept procurement projects while sending the human beings out in the field with defective equipment to take their chance. Discharged veterans without aid and support, some even on the streets.
Further, those who go to war have a strong bond of solidarity…they look after each other through thick and thin…something in civilian, in political life, in these days of identity politics we seem to have forgotten.
Can you imagine them not going to the aid of a comrade because he voted for Brexit….was of a different skin colour….approved of Trump? No, you can not. They will bring him in and argue about their differences later.
It is a lesson we can learn from those who volunteer to defend their country…though all too often they end up defending some other country’s interests.
In civilian, in political life we should stop identifying people by the labels either they or others give them.
We need to band together to defend the values which we need to have a healthy society.
Good housing, good education, real employment.
We can argue about our differences when we have won.
And on a personal note, here is something that brings back memories of mother.
The Royal Hospital Chelsea offers care and accommodation for a limited number of veterans, known as the Chelea Pensioners and recognised by their red coats and black tricorne hats.
Every year at the Royal British Legion Ceremony of Remembrance they make their entry, clapped to their place on the stand to the accompaniment of ‘The Boys of the Old Brigade’.
And every year, without fail, mother would greet their entry with a cry of ‘Creepers!’ and then have to take to her handkerchief as she remembered the ‘boys of the old brigade’ now gone.
After a few rough months we were finally lifting our heads again…we had had a visitor, life was returning to normal…and then you all know what happened – Corona virus. So now, as we are both elderly and Leo is more than vulnerable, we are supposed to stay on the property, have no visitors, wash our hands to an extent which would alarm Lady Macbeth – well, you know the drill. Distinctly frustrating, but at least we are not shut up in a small flat in this baking weather.
And, once the sun is over the yardarm we can enjoy a gin and tonic and look out over the valley below.
Makes me think of the First World War song to the tune of ‘in and out the window’…
Breaking out of barracks’, not to speak of ‘parading all unbuttoned’….giving rise to fourteen days in barracks…’as we have done before.’ ‘Yes, and we can do it, yes and we can do it, yes and we can do it, as we have done before.’
No doubt that we can…we have been living in each other’s pockets 24/7 for many years as Leo has been too ill to work since in his forties and so far homicide has not been on the menu.
Thanks to having lived in France, at the first sign of problems we stocked up on essentials so were not taken by surprise by the Presidential address to the nation which sent the entirety of said nation out in search of rice, beans and toilet rolls.
Why toilet rolls? I suppose in this digital age there are less newspapers available to be cut into squares and placed on a hook in the loo. As children visiting an appallingly pious aunt – who was as tight as a duck’s arse, watertight – we used to be intrigued by the newspapers spread on the floor by her cleaner after mopping same – excerpts from ‘The News of the World’ – a scandal rag whose reporters always ‘made an excuse and left’ when in tight moral corners. Even the aunt did not use Bronco or Izal…disinfected glossy paper rolls which left more liquid on your hands than on their surface, so time in the loo could be well spent trying to match one square of the NOTW with the follow up of the reportage.
As my father – who detested this sister – said, where did the newspaper come from? The cleaner hardly brought it in herself. Furtive equiry at the newsagent revealed that she had it delivered – ‘for the staff’. As if ‘the staff’ would have had time to breath under the supervision of Aunt Ellen, let alone read a newspaper…
As things are quiet on the confirmed cases front in this area I did go out to the feria – the farmers’ market – on Saturday morning. All very well organised with one entry point, then down the ramp where a large lady in an overall squirted soap on your hands and directed you to the basin provided with running water. Another overalled lady then gave you one paper towel to dry your hands before releasing you into the market area. The number of stand holders was down – including the lady from whom I buy tomatoes – no kissing or hugging – and the clients were few.
It appeared that, as usual, I had missed the action. It all went off on the Friday evening.
As this weekend marks the end of the month, people have been paid. Having been paid they want to shop, thus lines of cars blocking the roads as the supermarkets limit access – and a crowd headed for the feria.
The local news service is usually at the feria, to promote it, but this time they produced film of people pressing to enter, and the aisles, if not crowded, at least somewhat busy with people not keeping a distance. The commentary criticised the organisers of the feria, emphasising the risk of contamination and the clip went out that evening.
The response was immediate. Someone associated with the feria announced that the maker of the film should be lynched for endangering the livelihoods of the stall holders, with which there was much agreement, among remarks that the news service was, as usual, trying to kick up a fuss to attract viewers.
The frontman for the news service – someone whom I find bombastic, to say the least – claimed that his work was essential and unbiased and that he would take those who proposed to lynch him to court.
He will be out of luck there….the courts are shut for all non urgent matters. I expect that his case may be put back until manana…and manana…and manana…
I find it interesting, however, that the film clip appears to have been removed, to be replaced by still pictures of the feria with the headline ‘The feria cares about your safety’…
As he cares about his, I suspect.
There has been a positive angle to the campaign to limit the spread of the virus…a curfew on use of the roads at night – 8.00 pm to 5.00 am on the weekends and 10.00pm to 5.00 am on weeknights. If you are not travelling to and fro your place of work, then you are not to be on the road. People in the centre are rejoicing, because the gangs of youths on unsilenced motorbikes no longer strut their stuff or, should they do so, a call brings the police down on them very rapidly. The silence in the evenings is most appreciated, it seems.
On Saturday night the dogs alerted me to traffic on the road…it sounded like three unsilenced motorbikes followed by a jallopy, to judge by the engine sounds, all going like the clappers up the steep hill to town. Collecting the dogs from the gate I saw that this assortment was being pursued by the local police dog van, complete with flashing lights, barking from within and, as the driver waved in passing, the siren. I think they were having fun.
This curfew, and the closure of the parks, is felt to be very unfair on the drug dealers….they’ll probably be asking for a rescue package shortly.
Any type of ‘flu is potentially fatal for Leo, so, over the years, with every ‘flu epidemic, we have become accustomed to shutting ourelves away. When in France I used to put a notice on the gate asking people to call on the telephone rather than entering if we were not expecting them, and this worked well.
I was telling a friend here that I must do the same and he said that I must be joking…one look at our pack of dogs belting to the gate would have anyone in their right mind legging it. So I did not put up a notice.
Yesterday I was washing the dogs. This needs careful preparation if one is to avoid having to hook dogs out from under beds, thus revealing more than I want to know about the fluff levels and have wet dogs dry themselves in our bedding after their ordeal. First close external doors – quietly so as not to alert them. Then close the gates to the swimming pool, as they can escape by running round its wall. Collect the gear on the table on the balcony. Close doors to the bedrooms. Entice dogs onto the balcony with a treat for Scruffy, who will be followed by all the others to ensure they don’t miss out. Close door to the house. Then grab first dog, pin against balustrade with knees and get to work…
I thought that they were kicking up more than usual…and as I cleared down the mess and let them out I saw that they had reason to do so.
Standing in my garage, sheltering from a shower, were two of the local God botherers.
There are notices everywhere telling people to stay at home, not to go visiting and there were these two, bold as brass, having opened the gate and walked all the way up the drive. To make matters worse, they knew that Leo was in poor health and at risk…but still they came.
Keeping them at a distance I asked what they wanted…oh, they had come to enquire about Leo’ s health…all with eyeballs rolling to the sky and the usual pious utterances…and while they were about it, could I give them the money to buy a gas cylinder?
Life in Costa Rica has softened me…when living in France they would have received a barrage of abuse and possibly a whack from a shovel in the posterior resgions. I contented myself with declining to assist them and shepherding them to the gates.
Once on the other side one of the ladies assured me, with a sugary smile, that Costa Rica would be safe.
Why is that, Senora?
The Virgen de los Angeles has flown over the country, giving it her protection.
The Virgen de los Angeles is the patron of Costa Rica…
and she has indeed flown from the national basilica in Cartago to cover the entire country, but not, you will be relieved to hear, under her own steam. The image was carried in a police force plane…it flew over us at about half past six in the morning last week.
The tempation was too severe.
A pity she did not drop you off a gas cylinder when she was passing.
Notices go up tomorrow…but for now – time for a tisue restorer.
Poppies at the Tower of London…the Queen bowing before the Cenotaph…the standards lowered…the silence…
Now, while it is still available, please turn to the BBC radio rediscovery of The Long Long Trail on radio 4…a collection of the songs of the Tommies made by that archivist extraordinaire Charles Chiltern…and see what made those ordinary men great.
Their resilience, their kindness, their bawdiness, their cynical recognition of the realities….you could kill the man, but never the spirit. Ordinary men….not sculptured heroes on a monument.
Men who lived, loved, laughed…and were killed.