It’s the month of November and the little red flower of Flanders is ubiquitous on British television and in every theatre of British public life. English Premier League football teams have even adopted a November strip with a poppy incorporated into the fabric of the team colours. Remembrance is inescapable in Blighty – everyone must remember. Anyone who happens to forget to remember is politely, then more forcefully, reminded to remember, and if they are of the opinion that they wish not to remember they are subjected to the sharpest treatment of the media and society. Remembering is now no longer an option in a Britain that is trying ever harder to rediscover – or reinvent – a sense of itself.
Once upon a time Poppy Week lasted for seven days. The matronly agent of the British state, sometimes referred to as the teacher, would unceremoniously place a blue plastic Royal British Legion collection box on her desk and advise the Crown subjects, sometimes referred to as pupils, to drop a tenpense in the box and take a wee poppy so as to honour the dead of a war we had never heard about. Ah, sure, it was a lark. Now that week is a month in length, and the Crown has been replaced with the God that saves it, saying: “Thou shalt take a poppy.”
From between the crosses, row on row, John McCrae’s blood-spattered blossom has come down to us from on high that we might remember. Remember what? The Fallen! What Fallen? All the Fallen! What, the fallen fifteen year old boys whose government denied they were underage? The fallen pals who had no other reason to be killing their brothers than King and Country? The fallen countless working men who were put before rattling guns in a sea of mud and filth to satisfy the lust of imperial men who subjugated and enslaved a third of all the world? Or is this for the fallen Afghan youths, Iraqi children, and Syrian babies blown to bits in their beds as collateral damage?
Poppies are not about remembering – except, that is, for those who do remember. We weren’t there, and we’ve nothing to remember. Those who have been there often want to forget. Why don’t we go and ask the brave young men and women who’ve come home all broken? Why don’t we ask them why your tenpence pays for a nurse to empty their piss bags and not the government and Crown that sent them? Go and ask them to drop some change in your little blue box, and see where that gets you. No, I won’t be wearing your poppy, but I will remember your bully tactics as once others bullied others with a silly white feather.