Today is Remembrance Day when we commemorate war dead, even though the main ceremony at the Cenotaph is now on the Sunday before. This year, because it is the centenary of the start of World War I, there have been a number of special events in London. The one that has most captured the imagination is the filling of the moat at the Tower of London with an art installation by Paul Cummins, Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red, consisting of 888,246 ceramic poppies, representing British dead of WW1, which have all been sold for charity. Another worthwhile item is the Fields of Battle, Lands of Peace, a collection of photographs in St James’s Park by photojournalist Michael St. Maur Sheil, which shows what the battlefields of the time look like now. They look rather beautiful, in many cases.
November 20th is Transgender Day of Remembrance. There is little doubt that the number of trans people who have been murdered or committed suicide is very significantly higher than average, a shocking state of affairs. I wonder if this can be compared to the sort of wasteful slaughter in World War I? I will also be remembering them.
On a personal level, I have been mourning a friend who died very unexpectedly last month. He was only 51 but was (ironically) full of life. His wife held a cheerful memorial event in a local pub, which we all agreed was by far the beat way to reflect on the fun we’d had with him. We concluded that his philosophy of enjoying life as much as you can since you never know when it will end is absolutely the right one.
From the dead to the still living, yesterday I had an interesting communication from my old school. They are, of course co-operating with the police on the ongoing investigation into abuse there and are therefore unable to comment much. But in the carefully worded lines they do admit there will be reflection to be done. I would like to thank all of you who have so far commented here on this subject, and those of you who have sent me private communications. I appreciate all your thoughts. The post is here and I welcome any relevant remarks: http://suerichmond.blogspot.co.uk/2014/10/historic-child-abuse-new-hope.html
Dark days of history, be it personal, community or worldwide, always cast a shadow on our lives, even after decades or centuries.
I promise to return to the more usual upbeat blogging next post.
So, with that end in view let’s also reflect on how Guy Fawkes night (November 5th) has stopped being almost Britain’s unofficial national day and faded away. As kids we would recite:
“Remember, remember the Fifth of November,
Gunpowder, treason and plot.
I see no reason why gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot.”
Well, the forgetting seems to be happening! When people have fireworks it’s rarely on the night itself unless it happens to be a weekend (like Remembrance Day). And kids no longer make guys and cart them around town asking “penny for the guy”. The highlight of the night was, of course, chucking the guy on a massive, eyebrow-singeing bonfire!
So let’s leave it to that seminal work on British history, 1066 and All That, to explain why This Date is Important:
“There were a great many plots and Parliaments in James I's reign, and one of the Parliaments was called the Addled Parliament because the plots hatched in it were all such rotten ones. One plot, however, was by far the best plot in History, and the day and month of it (though not, of course, the year) are well known to be utterly and even maddeningly memorable.
The Gunpowder Plot arose in the following way: the King had recently invented a new table called Avoirduroi, which said:
1 New Presbyter = 1 old priest.
o Bishop = o King.
James was always repeating, 'No Bishop, No King'" to himself, and one day a certain loyal citizen called Sir Guyfawkes, a very active and conscientious man, overheard him, and thought it was the slogan of James's new policy. So he decided to carry it out at once and made a very loyal plan to blow up the King and the bishops and everybody else in Parliament assembled, with gun-powder (recently invented by Francis Bacon, author of Shakespeare, etc.). Although the plan failed, attempts are made every year on St Guyfawkes' Day to remind the Parliament that it would have been a Good Thing.”
So there you have it.