You Might As Well Shit In Your Hat

No photograph would do justice to that phrase, so I will do without for fear of scandalising the congregation.

It was a statement in frequent use by my grandmother’s neighbour… a lady of firm opinions, baldly stated. I would dearly like to have her resurrected in this era of trigger warnings, PCism and all that…Saul might have slain his thousands, but she would have slain her ten thousands, snowflakes melting to left and right of her. Suffice it to say that she enjoyed the Black and White Minstrel Show on the television, went to church on Sundays and regarded all foreigners with suspicion. Rumour had it that in her younger days during the Great War she had denounced a Belgian for espionage on the grounds that he wore a wig, proving that he was a master of disguise.

She was also involved in the forced resignation of my grandfather from his post as an ARP warden in the Second World War when he crept up on her gossiping and waved his gas rattle at her. The fact that he was supposed to be a messenger during an exercise which supposed a German bombing raid in the area which resulted in, hypothetically, the gasworks being blown up together with the trolley bus depot and the hospital because he had dallied in the Rose and Crown might also have had something to do with it…but as far as he was concerned, it was the neighbour wot done it.

As children, my grandmother used to usher us indoors when an encounter with her neighbour was likely to sully our ears, but she had a carrying voice and we, straining our ears for more, were agog.

The problem was, one could not seek enlightenment….one would be accused of eavesdropping…so to this day the phrase, ‘There she stood, tits akimbo’ remains an enigma.

I can remember receiving a horrified dressing down by my mother when I saw a woman walking down the road outside and asked whom that tart might be, as she had been so apostrophised by the neighbour. I had been puzzled as to me, in the age of innocence, a tart was something to eat, made of pastry and fruit, so I vaguely thought the woman must be involved in the bakery business. I was enjoined never to use the phrase of any woman but retained an idea that women who ate fruit tarts were of ill repute but that attention should not be drawn to that fact.

Which sounds very like the respect accorded to the current generation of politicians. We know they are venal lowlife, but attention should not be drawn to that fact…because if you do you are either wearing a tinfoil hat, are a domestic terrorist or a pathetic lunatic…so, as she so often said, you can kick up all you want, but you might as well shit in your hat.

The Lamps Are Going Out

tower of london poppies demilked.com
On the day on which, one hundred years ago, Great Britain entered a war against the empires of Germany and
Austria-Hungary in support of the alliance between the bourgeois republic of France and the Russian Czarist empire, there are many comemmorations.
Church services….ceramic poppies tumbling from the Tower of London…lights replaced by a solitary candle in public and private buildings all over the country…radio and television programmes following the course of that war – to become known as the Great War before succeeding madness relegated it to being merely the First World War.

I do not doubt for an instant the sincerity of people comemmorating the start of that war….surprising how close it is in terms of family lost – people we never knew, but who were known and loved by those we knew and loved.

I do doubt the nature of the comemmoration itself.
The latest brand of the royal family in Belgium…French President Hollande embracing his German counterpart; choreographed public remembrance.

What has that to do with the men who entered that hell?

Men who went willingly, on a tide of nationalism..patriotism as they saw it.

Men who went reluctantly….threatened with the loss of their job and the inevitable eviction of their families from the tied cottage if they did not join up…in the later years shaken out from ‘reserved occupations’ as the war of attrition threatened to turn Germany’s way.

Not every man was an angel – a veteran of those years described to me the line of men waiting outside the other ranks’ brothels in Amiens, trousers doffed and folded over the arm to save time once admitted.

Not every man was a hero….old sweats would advise new boys to abandon the underpants soiled under the first experience of bombardments. Quartermaster sergeants became plump in the pocket…but nothing to compare with the industrialists safe at home.

Those who survived remembered their mates, both the living and the dead….because government certainly did not.
The land they returned to was not, in any sense, a land fit for heroes…a Victoria Cross might get you a job as a commissionaire – if you kept your mouth shut, your nose clean and your hand ever ready to touch the brim of your hat.

We hear a great deal of ‘sacrifice’. A weasel word which covers the nastier one …….
‘Killed’.

I worry that we are comemmorating by gesture, not by action.

These men went forward against terrible odds….fell…rescued each other under fire…assaulted and took positions that were deemed impregnable….because they were in it together.

A true comemmoration of this war would be a revival of solidarity and decency….decency which recognises that governments who deliver ‘suspects’ to torture under ‘extraordinary rendition’; governments which abandon translators for their armies to the vengeance of their enemies; governments which send their young men to war on behalf of commercial interests have to be brought to book..and only solidarity will achieve this.

That generation faced bullets and bombs from an external force: our generation faces police ‘kettling’ and false charges leading to imprisonment from a force within our society….our own government.

Blinded by gesture…by the formalities of respect…by elevating these very ordinary men to the status of demi gods – we betray them.

We have forgotten that we are in it together, as they were…

Revive that memory…..remember them, but not just their fate.

Dido’s Lament

Cherubino