The Poet Laura-eate provides two perspectives on the problem of the colour of one’s poppies. I tend these days to wear a red poppy. But then I’m not wearing it entirely for myself any more: I’m also wearing it for my grandad. Imagine me as an old man, if it helps you contextualise that. If you’ve heard me banging on about something or other then just hold a picture of that in your mind, and add slippers.
Grandad won’t admit he feels guilty that his bad back, susceptible to the cold, prevents him from parading himself. Nor does he see the irony that his condition arose from the passage of a bullet in Egypt, all those years ago, that smacked splinters off a vertebra. But his pursed lips at the prospect meant that this year I offered to wear his medals on his behalf, and was going to parade for him; the organisation of the parade, though, was sufficiently hectic by the time I got there, that I felt it was best all round if I just stood in the crowds. These men, after all, have been through rationing: they have little patience these days for ersatz anything, especially war veterans.
It didn’t rain; the sun came out a bit before the Last Post; I concentrated on the cenotaph and tried in vain to conjure up the dead with heavy thoughts. Later, on the phone, Grandad said that he’d watched the service on the television, and it had been a bit long, but a good do. In the same conversation I confirmed, in effect, that the package of emotion with which I had been entrusted had been delivered and received with thanks, from bone to stone.
He was chirpy: the only time I’ve ever heard him sad around Remembrance Day was when he actually had a bit of a cold. He’s seen Dunkirk, and Egypt, and Anzio, and plenty of people die. But maybe if you can touch your toes (spine permitting) and see your schoolfriends—both of which classes of social event seem from all reports to happen in the local supermarket—of a weekday when you’re eighty-six, then you probably don’t see it as your dotage.
Our poppies serve to mark the dead
Like underlining, white or red.
Though yours is of a different kind,
What matters is what’s borne in mind.
He wouldn’t understand why I would ever baulk at wearing a red poppy. But then he was fighting wars back when they were meant to end all wars. Poppies to him don’t mean gallantry, or bravery, or being a real man; they just mean remembrance, sacrifice, loss. As his powerful, working-class will has worked its way through my vacillating, middle-class neuroses, so I sympathise with the white poppy protest; I just don’t agree, peaceably.