Remembrance Day 2017

This is the post I put up for Remembrance day two years ago. It seems as pertinent now as it did then.

Remembrance Day, and the wearing of poppies, seems to be something that divides opinions and causes a certain amount of friction, especially in Britain.

0006

On one side, there are those who say that simply wearing a red poppy is a glorification of militarism, whilst on the other are those who argue that it is all about respect; about honouring the dead.

Are we remembering the First World War, one hundred years ago, or are we celebrating it? There would seem to be quite a few people, judging from conversations that I have heard and threads that I have seen, who are happy to confuse the two and seem unwilling to listen to what is really being said.

A lot of nonsense, of course, is spoken by both sides:

‘Every soldier is/was a hero’

‘Anyone who objects to them is a traitor’

‘It is all about glorifying war and militarism’

Unfortunately, as soon as a debate becomes in any way emotional, then there is a tendency both for people’s opinions to become polarised, and for their perceptions of the opinions of others to also become polarised.

And then anything that your ‘opponent’ says is jumped upon as furiously as if they had just advocated the torture and murder of all children and little furry animals.

But they haven’t, so calm down.

Now then, the facts.

It may come as a surprise to some people, but the poppy was not chosen because the red colour of its petals symbolised bloodshed, but because of its ability to bloom where the ground has been smashed and churned up, such as at the Somme, where it was noticed by a Canadian soldier, Col. John McCrae, a physician, who wrote a poem about it, and through this it was adopted later by the Royal British Legion as a symbol for their poppy appeal. It is intended to symbolise how someone whose life has been in dreadful turmoil may come later to peace and normality.

The white poppy was first used in 1933, to remember those who had died, but also as a determination to work for peace. It was mildly controversial at the time, and some women lost their jobs for wearing it, but in more recent times Margaret Thatcher expressed her distaste for it and there are many now who follow her lead.

The Royal British Legion point out that they have no objection to the white poppy or, as some people like to do, it being worn alongside the red poppy.

To return to the controversy, then.

Why does it only commemorate the military? What about the civilians who died? What about the conscientious objectors who died for their beliefs? When it was first used by the Royal British Legion, it was to raise funds for disabled servicemen and the families of those who had been killed, so this wasn’t an issue then. When the white poppy was introduced, in many people’s minds it came to represent those others.

Does it glorify war? In some people’s minds, no doubt, it does, but this is not its purpose. Even the military will say that part of the purpose of Remembrance Day is to help to ensure that a war like WW1 never happens again. It is important to remember the horrors to avoid sleepwalking into them again.

There are also many people who feel it terribly important that it should be worn the ‘right way’, but there is no agreement over what this ‘right way’ is. Some say it should be worn on the left side, some that men should wear it on the left and women the right. Many argue over when it should be first worn – from October 31st? The eleven days leading up to Remembrance Day? After Guy Fawkes Night? Some argue that it should be worn with the leaf pointing to eleven o’clock. There are no ‘official’ guidelines on this.

The poppy, and Remembrance Day, are used also as propaganda by hate groups like ‘Britain First’ (if you have never heard of them, they describe themselves as a patriotic political party and street defence organisation’ – I think that tells you everything that you need to know), who choose to ignore facts such as that 400,000 Muslim and 1.2 million Indian troops fought alongside the allies in World War 1, many giving their lives, and like to think of it as a symbol of white Britishness. This, of course, is not a reason to object to the poppy, but only to the hate groups, especially as this only helps to further polarise opinions.

I do not see, then, any reason why pacifists should object to the red poppy and the Remembrance Day tradition, or why servicemen should object to the white poppy. If they all take the time to understand what each one represents, then they should understand that there is no real conflict in their views, and that both represent remembrance and respect.

Advertisements

An Even Shorter Letter

There are so many people who get angry because other people believe in something that they don’t.

107b

And there are so many others who get angry because others don’t believe in something they do.

As though they had a right to dictate what others must believe.

Well, get over it and grow up, both of you.

Go On A Journey!

Everyone should go on a journey; a journey of discovery.

Even if they only do it once.

The journey will be different for everyone. No two journeys will be the same. But what they will have in common is that they will all be journeys where the traveller discovers something about themselves, as well as the environment where they have chosen to journey. The essence of the journey is that it gives the traveller both time and space to think; that on the journey they allow themselves to be open to new sights and thoughts and people.

boat

For some, it will be a carefully curated tour to a country with a different culture to their own. Perhaps a Westerner travelling to Nepal or Cambodia, or an Indian visiting Spain or Iceland, with a carefully prepared itinerary designed to help them get the most out of their journey.

For some, it could be much the same, but as an independent traveller. They would have the flexibility to either keep to a strict itinerary, or to go off somewhere new as the whim takes them. Because everyone’s sense of adventure is different.

For some, it will be a long, long trek through difficult terrain, pushing themselves physically and mentally every step of the way.

img_0010

For some, it might also be a long journey, but under easier conditions, where the aim is more one of contemplation, perhaps a pilgrimage of sorts.

For others, the difficult terrain might be that of their prejudices and fears – the terrain of the mind.

006-2

What starts as a pilgrimage might end up in your discovering that you do not believe in God; well, that is fine. Remember, it is perfectly possible to be a spiritual person without believing in any god.

Although what ‘spiritual’ actually means is not so easy to nail down. I think of it as pertaining to the spirit, rather than to material things. In that sense, I would associate altruism with the spiritual, and greed with the material. A sense of calm and peace with the spiritual, a rowdy hedonism with the material.

For some, the journey might be from their house to a town or village a few miles away, and the journey might take no longer than a day.

034a

It is essential, though, that the journey is undertaken for the sake of the journey. The destination is, in some ways, unimportant. It is what happens on that journey that matters.

Many, perhaps, will journey without realising that they have done so, or arrive at their destination not realising that is what it is. They might only realise later.

Some will arrive at a totally unexpected destination, and perhaps that is the best destination of all.

Go on, then, off you go!

A Limo in Lima…

…something that ought to be a cautionary tale.

It was a long time ago, now, but I am sure these things still happen. I was sent by the company I then worked for, to Lima, Peru. My role there was to carry out some training of half a dozen local men who had been recruited to operate the computers in our branch office.

Now, I have never been what could be described as a ‘snappy dresser’. I incline towards what can best be described as a ‘casual’ look, although I have at times been unfairly described as a ‘scruffy bugger’, and no one looks their best after a journey of over 24 hours, with a couple of flight changes and a certain amount of time spent hanging around in airports.

And thus it was I emerged into South America haggard and unshaven, sporting a pair of old jeans and a tee shirt, picked up my battered rucksack from the carousel, then looked around for whoever was meeting me.

IMG_0001

We’ll blend in. No one will us notice us in our big, clean, shiny black limo.

I was accosted by a smart suit and tie which was housing a short man who looked like a mafia boss, but who was affable and friendly and directed me to my transport.

A huge, black, limousine.

Now, in some other circumstances I might have quite enjoyed the ride, since it was an experience I had never had before (or since, as it happens), but we then proceeded to drive through massive slum areas where most of the ‘housing’ appeared to lack even a roof. The road was pitted with potholes, most of the traffic consisted of battered buses, lorries and cars, and poverty seeped out of everything that could be seen.

I have never been so embarrassed.

Every time the car stopped, I wondered whether we would get attacked and robbed – we certainly attracted a lot of attention, all of it the wrong kind as far as I was concerned. And after I was dropped off at the hotel where I would be staying, I was left wondering just who the hell that was meant to impress?

Me? If so it failed abysmally. My (already somewhat low) opinion of the company I worked for simply plummeted further.

The locals? If that was the case, then God forgive the b*stards that thought of it.

Can anyone enlighten me as to the thinking behind that?

A Shared Humanity

‘The world knows nothing of its greatest men’ goes the old saying. Or women, of course, since it is men who tend to write these things. I may have alluded to this before.

017

I was reading a blog post by Rajiv earlier today, on the partition of India and Pakistan in 1947, and we swapped a couple of comments, the result of which decided me to write this short post. You can read Rajiv’s post here: Partition in the Punjab

Those of us who did not live through that time, cannot really imagine the full horror of it all. The figures alone are dreadful.

14 million people were displaced, forced to move from their homes to either what remained India or became East or West Pakistan, by any means of transport available, frequently on foot. Those that survived the journey, frequently one of tremendous hardship, carried memories that were often too dreadful to relate.

Most lost their possessions.

Families were split apart and separated, many of them never to meet again.

Millions of refugees.

Up to 1 million were killed in what were effectively religious killings – the actual figure is unknown. Trains were set on fire, men and women, adults and children, lost their lives in what became a frenzy of killing.

Much, of course, has been written of this over the years, and the blame placed on many shoulders. The British were extremely culpable in this case, mainly through neglect and thoughtlessness. Those that assumed power in India and Pakistan need to take their share of the blame, too.

But the world, as I remarked at the start of this post, knows nothing of its greatest men. Or, in this case, its greatest men and women, or at least very little of them.

On both sides of the new borders, whilst most people succumbed to fear and many to hatred, whilst innocent lives were taken and dreadful acts carried out, there were many, many people who sheltered and saved those of other religions who had been their friends and neighbours before, often at great personal risk.

They gained nothing from it, but simply displayed their common humanity.

I have read of a few examples of this, a few stories from both sides of that border, and I have seen it mentioned briefly in documentaries.

But now, before the last players in that tragedy finally pass away, it would be marvellous if there could be a concerted effort to collect these stories and record them, as an inspiring example of people reaching out to each other across what is, once again, becoming a depressingly familiar religious divide, and, most importantly, remembering and commemorating their bravery.

Comments, anyone?

This was a writing exercise I did some while back. The premise was to find a couple of unrelated articles or adverts in a magazine or newspaper, and make up a piece of fiction from them.

I found an article about women delaying having children due to career choices, sitting serendipitously next to a piece about child brides. I know there is a bit of a connection there, but I couldn’t resist it.

Those who follow me will realise that this was written entirely tongue-in-cheek!

But, does anyone have any strong opinions on the suitability of treating this subject with humour?

006-2

Dear diary.

Goodness me, it’s been a busy day. So much has been happening that I might almost forget who I am! Perhaps I need to remind myself; my name is Elizabeth Wilson, and I’m ten years old. Well, ten and three quarters, really. Very nearly eleven. Anyway, we had the careers teacher talking to us in our class, today. It’s never too early, she said.

So, we talked about careers. Well, in these enlightened times, we’re now being told: ‘Delay marriage until you’re sixteen, and get a career.’ Quite a turn around, eh? Sixteen! I’m sure I don’t know what my mum is going to say. I mean, a career is all well and good, but while I’m out being a career girl, she’ll be at home and all broody for grandchildren and worried that she’s heading towards her thirties and in the meantime all her friends will be cooing over their grandchildren.

I say that I don’t know what Mum is going to say, but that’s not actually true. I can hear her now; ‘It’s not natural, all this waiting. It’s a woman’s duty to have children – it’s her function, after all, both biologically and socially. What would happen if all you girls said you were off to have careers, rather than getting married and having children? Society would collapse, that’s what would happen. It would just consist of old people, and who would look after them?’

Plus, of course, I don’t want to leave it for too long; my biological clock is ticking and I’m not getting any younger.

But on the other hand, I could be in a responsible, well-paid post by the time I’m sixteen. Really, a whole world of experience is going to be opening up for my generation that my Mum could only dream about. In a way, it is no less than the final emancipation of women, and how exciting is that?

It was so much more than just a talk about careers, though. It has helped me to understand that there is more to life than just getting married and pleasing a husband. Just because I will be a woman, doesn’t mean that I am not an individual in my own right. We dare to say that the days of being owned by men, of being their mere playthings, are well and truly over!

And, I’ve got an interview already! The Mayor needs a new mistress; it’s only a two year contract, but it will be good experience and could perhaps be a stepping stone to something better. He’s big and fat, but rich as Croesus, and apparently he’s very good in bed, which is a bit of a bonus.

Perhaps, in a way, it’s a bit of a compromise. I’m sure that my parents will be pleased.

How India Changed an Englishman

I wrote a piece for The Good Men Project, about my time in India and how I came to write Making friends with the Crocodile’. Sushi Menon kindly edited it to make it readable, and gave it a title, and you can find it here:

How India Changed An Englishman

Making Friends with the Crocodile cover

Ooh, it’s nearly finished!

I’m getting excited, now.

My novel, ‘Making Friends with the Crocodile’ is hopefully ready for its final edit.

This part of the journey seems to be taking a great deal of time, but this might be because it is my first foray into publishing. I know that there is still much to do – formatting, advertising, proof-reading, the publishing itself, amongst a plethora of smaller but no less important tasks – but I am finally beginning to feel that I am getting there.

Curiously, after what I wrote in my last post, I never found any of the characters threatening to hijack the plot in any way. Although I never planned it out in any detail, I had a rough plan in my head, which, remarkably, I kept to. Perhaps it is because the subject matter is strong. I don’t know.

And I think that I have settled upon the cover (the artwork is my own).

Making Friends With The Crocodile cover 1

I may play around with the wording, slightly, for example I might take out the words ‘A Novel’.

For some background; the story is set in a village in Northern India, some fifteen odd years ago. It is about the deteriorating relationship between two women in a family: the mother and her daughter in law. Like this relationship frequently is, it is a strained, fractious one, not helped by that society’s attitudes towards women and their roles in general. And when one of them gets caught up in events beyond her control, these attitudes become dreadfully destructive.

As always, your thoughts would be very much appreciated.

Poverty and Those Ghastly Scroungers

I have sat on this one for a month or so, so that my emotions do not get the better of me.

But I am still furious.

I am lucky. I have always had a roof over my head.

I read an article in a broadsheet newspaper weekend supplement that self-righteously banged on about having to convert an entire house on a small budget of twenty thousand pounds, and how they had to live oh, such a frugal life, whilst they were doing this.

Not that there was anything wrong with the house before they converted it, but it wasn’t a style that they liked.

And the colour of that wall, isn’t it dreadful? How could anyone be expected to live in a house like that?

Have they ever had to wonder how they were going to buy food for their family because the bank refused to honour their cheques, because they were overdrawn without permission? No, but I bloody well have, and it really makes me furious.

And I am very aware that compared to the problems and dangers facing millions of people in the world today, mine was a comparatively minor problem. No one was shooting at me. I wasn’t forced to live on the streets. My children didn’t drown attempting to reach a country where they wouldn’t starve to death or be shot or bombed.

Untitled-TrueColor-01

I am certain that many people here in the west today simply do not understand what ‘poverty’ means.

It does not mean that you cannot afford an exotic holiday this year.

It does not mean that you cannot afford to upgrade your car this year.

It does not mean that you have to buy the second best large flat-screen TV.

So many people condemn ‘economic migrants’ as if the very term means that they are simply greedy freeloaders.

As if hundreds of thousands of people are willing to risk their lives, and those of their families, just to get a little bit more. A few extra treats, or somesuch.

That they must be greedy, scrounging and good for nothing.

Foreign, of course.

It seems to matter little that they are fleeing war, terror, the destruction of their entire lives and livelihoods.

They are forced into overcrowded camps with hardly any facilities, which are then condemned for being squalid.

And newspapers and politicians encourage and disseminate this attitude for their own ends, telling us all that our own standards of living will decline if we let them in. Like the shameful lie that went around the UK a couple of years back that immigrants were being given cars by councils.

I am genuinely ashamed of belonging to this society.

It is not that there have been any new revelations on the migrant crisis, rather there is a paucity of news. Dozens of human beings drowning in a desperate attempt to reach safety no longer merits more than a passing mention.

Do we no longer care, or are we merely saturated with the horror of it?

Or do we just not, really, care what happens to people who live, or should live, far away?

No, it was just this one little article in one broadsheet supplement that made me furious this time. Next time, it will be something else.

Don’t tell me that if all the powerful and influential people of the world got together with genuine goodwill that they could not solve this crisis.

Where are the powerful of industry? There are one or two immensely rich industrial tycoons, such as Bill Gates, who have demonstrated that people like themselves can make a genuine difference to the world, and in a good way. Where are the others? I have always felt that the very rich have become very rich because they are callous, selfish, and do not care about anybody else.

I would be delighted if a few of them could now prove me wrong.

An Alien Culture?

More people travel for leisure purposes today than have ever done so in the past. And many work abroad on short- or long-term contracts, often with a certain amount of leisure time available to experience the culture that surrounds them there.

And this will result in these travellers meeting the people that make up the indigenous society where, for a while, they find themselves. Will there then be a meeting of minds?

Having lived in an ex-pat society, as I have referred to on here before, I am familiar with the laager mentality that often pervades it. I won’t go into all the permutations, but there is frequently a combination of arrogance and fear that leads to a strong feeling of ‘us and them’.

Many travel with the firm conviction that their own society is superior to any other, and are unwilling to see any good at all in any others. Some who go away to work resent being uprooted, and arrive with that resentment packed in their baggage. Some find the experience to be fearful, if they do not understand the language being spoken around them or assume that this alien society has values that somehow threaten them.

And they can either lock themselves away and peer over the barricades, or they can embrace the experience and learn from it.

137 (2)

Travel broadens the mind, it is said, but sometimes it seems to just cement prejudices more firmly in place.

And how easy it is to travel around just looking for things to justify prejudices!

One of the more infuriating things that I come across occasionally is a bigoted and ignorant letter or article in a local newspaper (it often tends to be the local ones) where someone’s idiot views are justified by the phrase ‘I know; I was there’. I imagine them living their entire time in a foreign country in a compound that they rarely leave, yet thinking that they now know exactly how the society functions beyond their walls.

I’ve met one or two of them, over the years.

I spent three years in Oman, working, and I’ve travelled fairly extensively in India, but I do not imagine or pretend that I really have much more than a superficial experience of these places. I knew little of the local culture in Oman beyond what I could see in the streets and villages and markets that I visited. I didn’t know anyone well enough to spend time at their homes or in their social circles. I went with groups of other westerners to places of interest. I did spend a lot of time exploring the desert and the nearby towns on my own, but I was effectively still inside my own little bubble. It is a huge regret that I never got deeper under the surface.

I have, perhaps, managed to learn a little more about the real India, especially through spending time on a project in a village, although I cannot pretend, even to myself, that I really have any idea of what it is like to actually live in an Indian village.

During the later days of the British Raj, the rulers took the approach that their civilisation was naturally superior, and that there was nothing in Indian civilisation worthy of their consideration. The irony of this is that around the end of the eighteenth century, and the first years of the nineteenth, many of the British in India had taken a keen interest in Indian history and culture, themselves doing a tremendous amount to unearth much of the history that had been lost and forgotten. For that comparatively brief period, it would seem that many of the British treated Indians and their culture with a deep respect.

The reasons that this changed are probably deeper than my understanding, but two things stand out. Firstly, that from the beginning of the nineteenth century, many British women came to India in search of husbands, bringing with them what we tend to think of as Victorian attitudes, and secondly, there was an upsurge of evangelism in Britain, which translated itself in India as a movement to convert the ‘heathens’ to Christianity. These combined as a new feeling of superiority, and contempt for a society that was now seen as inferior, especially when much of it resisted their overtures.

With this, the British as a whole seemed to become more intolerant and arrogant, and less respectful of sensibilities. This culminated in the horrors of 1857, which could be said to be caused directly by these attitudes.

To return to the present day, it seems that many travellers have attitudes no better than their Victorian predecessors’. I wrote a post a few months back that mentioned a number of westerners I came across in a Himalayan hill resort, https://mickcanning.co/2015/10/25/the-mad-woman-of-the-hill-station/  should you wish to view it, whose behaviour and attitudes were just downright arrogant and disrespectful. They were doing no more than confirming their prejudices as they travelled, and at the same time I daresay they were confirming many people’s views of western travellers.

Yet there are many people who travel with open ears, open eyes and an open mind, and their rewards are far greater than those of the blinkered traveller. They have the wonderful opportunity to experience and learn about different cultures at first hand, speak to people who hold different beliefs and ideals to them, and perhaps learn a little of what drives them. In return, they have an opportunity to enlighten others, perhaps, to things in their own society that might not be understood by those others. In a small way, each and every one of them can choose to contribute either to different societies coming to understand and become more tolerant, or to the further spread of tensions, mistrust, and misunderstandings.

And all of these little interactions, added together, are as important and influential as the contacts between politicians and diplomats.