Monday, November 17, 2008

Willing to fight?

I bought the Guardian as usual on Saturday, having returned to the newspapers, if not the radio, with the Obama victory. I normally buy it, with a loaf of Polish bread, from our local Asian newsagents. This week though, I bought it in the Co-op, from the smiling young man of African extraction who usually makes a point of asking if I have any ID, and then laughing a lot, because from him I am usually buying wine.

But he wasn't smiling when I handed the paper over. 'Everybody wants to talk about Baby P', he said. There was nobody waiting behind me, and we both stood there together for a few moments, looking down at the photo of him on the front page. It felt like we should mark the unspeakable awfulness of it, but we didn't have a very good way of doing it.

To be frank, I felt much the same way about the Remembrance Sunday ceremony I attended the previous weekend while I was Up North visiting the parentals. My dad came out of the cafe opposite the War Memorial at about 30 seconds to 11, stayed for the two minutes silence and then disappeared back in. I lasted a little bit longer on either side, but not much. 'I didn't expect there to be so much God stuff in it,' I said as I squeezed back into the booth. And I didn't -- he did, which is why he timed his cheese toastie with such precision: he's done this before. Atheists want to do their remembering too.

To make matters worse it was the unchallenging yet somehow non-inclusive sort of God stuff that I find so non-comforting at funerals. Every self-important civic dignitary, committee member and general do-gooder in town was there, plus some embarrassed looking naval cadets, a sprinkling of elderly veterans and a truly awful brass band. But that was about it. Large swathes of the Great British Public, in fact, were largely unrepresented, maybe because they couldn't be arsed, but also because I suspect it would have been as irrelevant, or worse, a ceremony to the great majority as it was to me. And I think we should be able to do better than that.

I always buy, and wear, a red poppy, and when I can get hold of one I wear a white poppy too. When I was at school I used to buy two red ones and paint one of them with Tipp-Ex (which is quite sweet when I look back at it), because I had no idea where to get a white one. There still weren't any other white poppies on display in small town Lancashire last weekend. Can't say I'm surprised: to my mind, the white poppy is for the grey areas, and I didn't sense much desire to acknowledge those.




Blogger Andy said...

Lovely post, Jo.
I must echo your comments about the chap in the coop - he's so happy, and makes a visit really rewarding...

9:07 am  

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