Thursday, 6 November 2014


If I am going to see the 888,246 ceramic poppies at the Tower of London, today would be the best day. Tomorrow I have an overdue hair appointment in Brighton, and I certainly do not want to endure a visit to London on the weekend. While I was unloading the caravan two days back, a neighbour told me she'd gone to see these ceramic poppies - truly a sea of red - and highly recommended my doing the same. So it's been in my mind.

And yet.

First, I am methodically working my way through all the practical things one does when back from a holiday - you know, things like washing and ironing - and I don't want to be deflected.

Second, the return off-peak rail fare to London from a local station, to include the central Underground, would be around £30. Add in a sandwich for lunch, call it £35. Minimum. Plus the physical effort, the packed trains, the inevitable waiting around, and the oppressive shuffling crowds. And London always leaves me tired and irritable, no matter what. Do I want to inflict all this on myself? Just to personally see one extraordinary sight? I think not.

Each of these poppies is an artwork, and they have been on sale to the public at £25 each. And I suppose that if you'd actually gone to see them, there would have been the temptation to mark the visit with a purchase. They do seem rather nice. It would have been like making a donation of £25 but getting something tangible in return. It's too late now. They've all been sold.

Presumably the sale raised £25 x 888,246 = £22 million. That's a lot! I merely bought a regular little poppy from a chap at my doorstep two weeks back, donating a pound. It's lying there in my hall. I'm not fixing it to any of my coats. They don't have buttonholes, and I don't want to make any pinholes. Paying one pound is the limit of my personal gesture. After Remembrance Sunday I can drop my poppy into the bin, and buy another next year. This might be better than finding a permanent home for a rather large bright red artwork that won't suit any room.

Don't think that I am inclined to dismiss or belittle the annual Poppy Thing. To me, these poppies represent victims of conflict who need not have died. They are an admission that humankind opts for violence as the standard solution. Argument and aggression is innate in the way human beings function. There will always be someone, somewhere, wanting to stir up trouble, wanting to make other people fight each other in the name of something. I have always intensely disliked people who like to say provocative things for their own amusement, just to look good. That's stupidly self-indulgent, and it's playing with fire because it's so easy to give offence and create ill-feeling. So much better if they used their wit and intellect to foster co-operation, and get worthwhile things things done. After the end of every war it's always easy to see who were self-indulgent or ambitious or irresponsible. They have blood on their hands. They are jointly responsible for those 888, 246 poppies.

I am not against fighting if it is forced on one. I'm very much for self-defence - it's obvious that one needs to stand up to threats from bullies, trying words first, and doing the big bluff, but if necessary hitting back with skill until the threat has been decisively repulsed. (Says she, who has never hit anyone in her life!)

But I want no part in starting a fight. Not for any reason cooked up by 'leaders', political or spiritual. Behind the concocted evidence and suppressed truths will be a crude ambition to be rid of those doing better, or those who are merely different, to steal what they have, and be top dog instead. Imposition of ruthless control is the real name of the game - which means a few pulling the strings and having the best of it, with the rest kept obedient and compliant through misinformation and propaganda, inflexible dogma, fear of informants, fear of the secret police, and mass hysteria. It's always been so; if not overtly, then just below the surface, ill-feeling ready to break out whenever there is a trigger. I can't see this changing soon.

I really can't see any cause worth starting a fight for. In fact I would say that any cause or set of beliefs that encourages a 'them-and-us' mentality, that says it is all right to be cold and unkind to other people, and do them harm, has nothing to be said for it. I don't care if the official manifesto is full of sweetness and light. If the people who want my vote, or my money, or my social allegiance, look like sharks, then I know that I will eventually be devoured if I support them. No matter what they promise.

So if anybody comes up to me and tries to persuade me that so-and-so needs to be treated badly and punished, simply because they exist, and that this 'will be in the best interests of the British People', they will not get the response they want. I will immediately suspect them of being a shark with an uncontrollable killer instinct. A warning, then, to any sharp-toothed electioneering politicians at my front door.

Sigh. There are so many global problems. If only the world could stop squabbling, stop wasting effort and resources on war and other side-issues, and pull together. I honestly wouldn't care if every old-fashioned, backward-looking attitude and tradition and belief were junked, if it brought about a genuine improvement for everybody. But people cling to old ways because they are familiar, because time and long custom have given them authority. These old ways haven't stopped war, though, whether international or civil. So it seems obvious to me that they must be mistaken, a false standard, the wrong thing to trust, and not the answer.

888,246 poppies is quite enough. But next year's total will be higher. Of course it will.  

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