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Friday, November 06, 2009

Wearing a poppy with pride


They used to say you can tell you're getting old when all the policemen look younger. Now I think there are two good barometers at this time of year: you know you're getting old when you're the only one who remembers Bonfire Night (or knows what it is), and you wear a poppy.

Some of the papers talked nostalgically this week about the demise of Bonfire Night and its replacement by the dreaded US replacement, Halloween. To be fair, Halloween wasn't strictly speaking a US replacement. I remember as a child carving out turnips and putting a night light in them, and apple bobbing in a bowl. It was the Hollywood films however, in particular ET,that brought Halloween and all its commercial ghastliness to our shores. Still, it if makes the hard-up supermarkets more profits, what's the problem? (She says cynically.)

I do think it's a pity that a real home-grown tradition like Bonfire Night, which was steeped in history, has faded away. At least when children begged for a penny for the guy they had actually made a guy, rather than just demanding money with menaces.

I wasn't here last night on Bonfire Night, I as returning from a business trip, so I can't tell you if there were more or less fireworks than usual. I like to watch other people's displays. I would love to have some fireworks in our garden, which we did a couple of years ago, but it's really too small.

When we were kids we trudged out into the garden and Stamps would dutifully put rockets in milk bottles and attach Catherine wheels to the fence, and Giz would scream about the bangers and jumping jacks. It was all over in 10 minutes and then we would go back inside.

The other poignant symbol of this time of the year is the poppy, worn in remembrance of the dead. Hardly any young people wear them. My dad, Stamps, was in the Royal Marines and this is the time of year when I remember him most. He always watched the Royal British Legion's Festival of Remembrance, and I do too. It's a very moving moment when the poppies descend quietly and thickly from the ceiling of the Royal Albert Hall, each one commemorating a serviceman or woman who died in the line of duty, whether it was the world wars, Iraq or Afghanistan and anywhere else where there is conflict.

Every year there are fewer WW1 veterans. This year we have lost Henry Allingham and Harry Patch. I don't think there are any others left. The minute's silence at the 11th hour on the 11th day of the 11th month is very moving.

On the Sunday, Stamps would always watch the Remembrance ceremony at the Cenotaph. I remember asking him, many years ago, the name of the haunting music that was being played as the politicians laid their wreaths. "Nimrod by Elgar," he replied, and to this day I cannot listen to that piece of music without tears streaming down my face.

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