On Remembrance Sunday

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They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:

Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.

At the going down of the sun and in the morning,

We will remember them.

(Taken from ‘For The Fallen’ by Laurence Binyon, September 1914)

I have posted these words each year on Remembrance Sunday, and will keep on doing so. They never lose their meaning or their simple power, their power to remind us of the sacrifice made by so many to protect the way of life we enjoy today – above all, our freedom. In previous years I have referred to a failed attempt to disrupt the Day of Remembrance in London by bombing, and the decision by the University of London Students Union to ban its members from attending any commemorations as they “glorify war.” Since then, nothing much seems to have changed, does it? People still use that democratic freedom to make efforts to destroy it, and people continue to confuse a belief that war is wrong with the misguided view that we should not commemorate those sacrifices.

I don’t want to get into a debate about pacifism, but am very clear that I find war abhorrent. However, that does not stop me from marking my respect for anyone who has ever taken part in a campaign to protect my freedom. I will observe the official silence in my own way, and will give them my silent thanks. Official commemorations began in the UK in 1919, after the end of the First World War, and have since developed to include the Second World War and service women and men from other campaigns. Last year, for the first time since 1919, there was due to have been no official parade through the town of Epping, where I live, as the police had decided that it would be too expensive for them to provide the required traffic and crowd control. In common with most towns in the UK we have a war memorial, and I was greatly heartened to see the people of this town turn out in large numbers despite the police’s decision, to mark the usual commemoration. Common sense prevailed, and the normal procession through the town took place, as it is far too important an event to be forgotten and cast to the mists of history, just because of funding cutbacks for the police. With every passing year, fewer veterans of the Second World War remain, and I think it disrespectful to them and their fallen comrades that political and economic considerations interfere.  I hope that all towns in the UK will see their usual dignified, respectful commemoration, as unsullied as possible by politics, finances or by any hint that Binyon’s words about not ‘condemning’ those who died are being proved wrong.

Wherever you are, however you do it, I hope that you will be able to spare a moment to give thanks for those who have died to protect your way of life.

Who We Are

Congratulations to American voters on making Vladimir Putin the second-happiest man in the world today. And they are owed a debt of gratitude by the British Government too: no longer is there a need to worry about how to manage our departure from the EU, when the new US President will have blown up the world before Brexit has to be enacted. But, as Chaucer said (well, kind of) many a true word is spoken in jest, and I’m only joking. Aren’t I?

To my untutored, inexpert eye there are a number of similarities between the US election vote and the UK referendum. The main one is that both seem to have been used by their electorate to register a protest vote against the status quo, against a perceived ruling political class that has moved away from supporting the ‘hard-working people.’ Be careful what you wish for! Many politicians are vain, self-seeking creatures, interested primarily in their own ambitions, and the next four years will tell how little Trump – who is a businessman with no political experience at all – actually knows or even cares about the disaffected people whose vote he has conned out of them.

It happened here too: commentators have remarked that those who ran the Leave campaign in the UK referendum didn’t expect to win, and there remain doubts about the motives of many of them. Do you seriously think that Boris Johnson chose to support Leave after many years of being pro-Europe simply because he thought it was right? I don’t. But they did win it, in an outcome that surprised them as much as the rest of us. Is Trump now finding himself in the same situation? Only time will tell, but if he governs along the same lines on which he has campaigned, it won’t only be the US that has reasons to be fearful.

What concerns me most about both election campaigns, as well as all the lying and bullying, is the appeal to a part of the human psyche that is deeply worrying. In the UK, the vote was won, to my eyes, on two key lies: firstly, the mythical £350m per week figure that the Leave campaign claimed we were paying the EU, and would add to the budget for the National Health Service, and secondly the unsubstantiated fear they engendered around the prospect of ‘mass immigration,’ the fear of foreigners. I don’t recall them calling foreigners criminals and rapists, but they didn’t stop far short of this. What this did was to bring out the far right from underneath their moss-covered stones, and enable them to feel in some way empowered, to feel that people shared their abhorrent views. A bit like the KKK endorsing Trump’s candidacy. Sadly, enough of us bought this view, and the aftermath of the Referendum vote was a huge increase in the number of racist incidents that were reported, even a racially motivated murder in the town I used to live in – a man was set upon just because thugs overheard him speaking his own language, not English. You only have to watch one news bulletin to see how much nastiness and hatred there is in the world, and I don’t just mean the nasty, sneering way that Trump interrupted Clinton in the debate to call her ‘a nasty woman.’ Pot. Kettle. Black. I really hope that in the forthcoming months Trump surrounds himself with people who know how to govern, and who won’t be as thin-skinned and extreme as he appears to be. It isn’t as though the American people can point a finger at him and tell him he’s fired, is it. Not till 2020, by when I hope they have all been blessed with perfect hindsight.

With the likes of ISIS/Daesh and Boko Haram, on the one hand, together with the rise of racist far right parties like AfD in Germany and the Front Nationale in France (and to a lesser extent UKIP in the UK), it is evident that extremism is becoming an ever more integral part of the 21st century world. That the political parties who espouse such causes can garner significant voter shares is terrifying. Are these voters all so disaffected with mainstream politics that they are prepared to ignore what these parties stand for? Or, worse, are the parties tapping into a racism and nastiness in us that has lain dormant until it was in some way legitimised? What kind of world are we living in? What kind of people are we? Are we really all so racist and insular, so protective of what we believe to be our birthright that we won’t allow others to share it? Are we really all so uncaring about others who may need our help? Is this really ‘who we are?’

I know that the picture I’m painting here is very negative and one sided and this is intentional, to make my point. I don’t like the way political events are turning out, and I suspect that many others don’t either. From my blog and the interactions I have here with people, and from the many blogs I have the privilege to follow and read, I know that there are many out there who do all that they can to help others and to spread a message of love and care. I just wish the world was run by people like that!

The title for this piece is a song by Imagine Dragons, which kind of sums things up for me today. It was included in the soundtrack to the Hunger Games: Catching Fire movie and later added to the deluxe versions of their album Smoke + Mirrors:

As they say in the song, it’s all uphill from here.

A Celebration

Today I awoke – or, more precisely, was awoken by a thunderstorm and torrential rain – to the thought that I am now 63. I’ve never been this old before! But we are told that ‘age is just a number’ so who’s counting? Three years ago today, I retired from a lifetime of work, on my 60th birthday, and to celebrate my milestone my two wonderful daughters arranged a special day out for me in London. I had commuted into the capital to work for more than 35 years, and this marked the beginning of my re-acquaintance with London as a place to enjoy, rather than somewhere I was happy to escape on a daily basis. During a comments ‘chat’ with a fellow blogger a few weeks ago I realised that I had never written about that day out. I would have laid odds that I had but when I checked I found several photographs in my Facebook and Instagram feeds, but no blog posts. I decided that I would write something as part of my celebration of three years’ retirement – so here it is.

Due to their work commitments the girls arranged the day out for the weekend, Saturday 14th to be precise. This had the bonus of there being lighter usage of public transport than on a weekday,img_2695  which made it easier to get into London and get around while we were there. They knew that I had a longstanding desire to take a ride – or ‘flight’, as it is officially known – on the London Eye, so to be honest I wasn’t surprised to be taken to the Southbank Centre, adjacent to the Eye. And yes, that was where my grand day out was beginning, with a flight in one of these:

img_2696And in case you haven’t seen it before, this pod is part of a much bigger structure. This, in fact. I don’t have a head for heights, but didn’t at any time have a problem. The Eye moves very slowly, and the only real sense of movement that you have is the changing scenery around you, as the ground disappears further into the distance!

 

 

London has centuries of history and many famous landmarks, most of which are visible from the Eye. Here as an example is the Shard, one of the more modern buildings

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And this is Elizabeth Tower, previously known as St Stephen’s Tower, until it was renamed in 2012 to mark QE2’s Diamond Jubileeimg_2691

Before anyone corrects me, Big Ben is the name by which the clock goes, not the tower itself. A common misconception, which the pedant in me (I am, after all, a Virgo) takes delight in correcting! The ‘guide book’ to your flight is an iPad, suitably encased in a stand to prevent theft, which is programmed to show you where all the landmarks are as the flight progresses. A nice touch.

Having had a wonderful time, we then went into a nearby bar for a light lunch, before the next part of my treat. To be honest, I wasn’t expecting any more but shortly afterwards we were climbing img_2690onto one of these

Spot the operative word: ‘amphibious.’ Believe it or not, this little bus worked both on land and water. Apparently they were originally designed and built in the Second World War for troop movements, and the actual bus that we travelled in was 70 years old. After a trip around some of the landmarks by road, which covered quite a lot of London’s history, we were driven to the side of the headquarters of MI6 – appropriate, I thought – and down a ramp. Moments later, we were in the Thames

We've fallen in the water!
We’ve fallen in the water!
We then went for a ‘boat trip’ along part of the Thames, which was quite an experience. To prove it, here’s a shot of the Parliament buildings – the Palace of Westminster – as seen from the river. As it was a weekend nothing was happening inside, but I’m reliably informed that on a working day you can see the hot air rising from here

We all bowed in reverence, of course :-)
We all bowed in reverence, of course 🙂
Until that day I’d not been aware of this service, and it really was an unusual experience, which I felt very lucky to have enjoyed. Doubly so a few weeks later when one of the vehicles caught fire while on the river, causing a suspension of the rides until thorough safety checks had been undertaken on the entire fleet! There but for the Grace of God…..

After all of that excitement, we ended the day in a lovely restaurant tucked out of the way in Camden, where to my further surprise I was treated to a cake, and a candlelit rendition of Happy Birthday To You from staff and customers. Truly, a lovely day and a perfect celebration I’ll always remember, made special for me by these two beautiful young women

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As you may have noticed, I have for some reason I don’t understand been looking back to three years ago quite a lot this week – my Facebook friends have been treated to reminders of my week of songs for the day which I posted in the lead up to my retirement, so count yourselves lucky to have been spared that! I don’t think this means that I have been wallowing in the past, as some might say, and I feel it important that we don’t lose touch with our past. It is, after all, a part of who we are now. I’m intending to do a post or two on linking the past with the future, when I’ve worked out what that means for me. For now, cake is beckoning, so I bid you adieu until the next time.