An Interesting Week.

In 1605 Guy Fawkes, along with others, plotted to kill King James 1 by blowing up the House of Parliament (the Gunpowder Plot). Since then England has commemorated the event, on 5th November, with bonfires and fireworks. Occasionally, over the last few years, you will hear people ask “Where is Guy Fawkes when you really need him?”

How many safety inspectors does it take to light the bonfire?

One to light the match and three to hold the fire extinguisher

How many civil servants does it take to set fire to Guy Fawkes?

One to strike the match and twenty two to fill in the paper work.

How many aerospace engineers does it take to light the kindling sticks?

None. You don’t need a rocket science to start a bonfire.

How many Apple employees does it take to flame Guy Fawkes?

One to light the match and four to design the t-shirt.

How many Microsoft programmers does it take to start the bonfire?

Microsoft declares darkness to be a new standard.

How many God-fearing, tax-paying, law-abiding Members of Parliament does it take to light a bonfire?

Both of them.

It’s interesting that Bonfire night and Armistice Day are so close together. Not quite a week apart.

It was that last Wednesday night I was walking down Wheatclose Rd (of all places) at pretty much the height of the fireworks. The road sort of runs East-West (or West-East if your peculiarities run in that direction) and there was a firework display to the north and another to the south.

But the sound of the fireworks to the north echoed off the houses on the south side of the road and were reflected back, just as the sound of the fireworks to the south of the road were echoed of the houses to the north side, and reflected back.

And the road itself sounded like a war-zone. As a Nigerian friend of mine said, “If I heard this in Lagos, I’d have assumed we were having a coup.”

But looking back I’ve known men who couldn’t have walked down that road, the memories, the terrors, were just too real. There are lads out there now with the same problems. Not every victim of war is dead or physically crippled.

Looking back I’m old enough to have known the men who came back from the 14-18 war. The ones I knew were old, by the time I was able to talk to them with any sort of understanding the youngest would have been in their seventies. But the men who came back from the Second war were my father’s generation and I worked with them.

They were all sorts. I knew one who’d fought at in the Battle of Cable Street. He was quietly proud to have been there but kept quiet because he’d been part of the British Union of Fascists. Five years later he was in the Western Desert fighting against the Fascists.  Forty years later he was a petrol pump attendant, working to pad out the pension. That is how I knew him.

Back in the ‘70s there was talk of Armistice Day dying out because nobody would remember it. After all, there’d been no more wars.

But our political masters have managed things better than that. A lot of gilded youths have found foreign fields for British lads to die on and every generation has its sons, brothers and friends to mourn. So Armistice Day seems to be a solid fixture on the calendar for another century at least.

And as always the lads we send are by and large ordinary lads, and none the worse for that. As the good knight, Sir John Falstaff said, “Tut, tut; good enough to toss; food for powder, food for powder; they’ll fill a pit as well as better: tush, man, mortal men, mortal men.”

Editorial cartoon from Bruce MacKinnon in the Chronicle Herald

Editorial cartoon from Bruce MacKinnon in the Canadian Chronicle Herald

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:

Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.

At the going down of the sun and in the morning,

We will remember them.

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9 thoughts on “An Interesting Week.

  1. willmacmillanjones November 7, 2014 at 12:23 pm Reply

    Of course, in the 1970’s, the politicians had largely been involved in combat in WW2, and understood what it involved, what it really meant to barter young men’s lives for power, profit, prestige and pride. This lot, from Blair onwards, do not – which is why they have involved us in unwinnable conflicts since, and no doubt will continue so to do.

    • jwebster2 November 7, 2014 at 2:28 pm Reply

      There is much in what you say, Churchill was always traumatised by Gallipoli and the bodies of young went washing in and out on the tide. He felt responsible and as a front line soldier knew what he was ordering men into.
      I find it ironic that the last two generations of the Royal family have had young men who have placed themselves in harms way in war. Yet for Tony Blair’s son the ‘hereditary principle’ means there could be a safe seat waiting for him in Bootle.

  2. M T McGuire November 7, 2014 at 12:33 pm Reply

    Excellent as always. I think what amazes me is how little people talked about it and because of that, how much these people went through, and still do, because they feel isolated and believe everyone else came out of it OK. I guess they get taken in by other people;s facades. I worked with someone who was at the Falklands. We were discussing a programme on TV in which the ship’s Doctor of the one of the vessels that was bombed spoke of how never a day went by without him thinking about the people who died, the casualties he treated and the men he couldn’t save. He also said how much he cried and how often. My friend was amazed at this. He didn’t realise anyone else cried, in his words, “I thought I was the only one.” Hearing this man talk of his tears made my friend realise he was normal, and OK. I hope a lot of other veterans saw that programme. I hope the army and the world is better at understanding and dealing with it. But judging by facebooks reaction when a veteran posted a photograph of his healed up leg stumps — it made him take the picture down because, unlike crush videos, it was ‘in poor taste’ we are not.

    Cheers

    MTM

    • jwebster2 November 7, 2014 at 2:30 pm Reply

      One blog post I didn’t write was to comment that these men didn’t die for freedom to be defined by single issue pressure groups and, yes, companies like facebook.

      • M T McGuire November 8, 2014 at 2:40 am

        Yes. I wholeheartedly agree.

  3. ashokbhatia November 7, 2014 at 1:54 pm Reply

    One of the serious aspects of life, so very well captured!

    • jwebster2 November 7, 2014 at 2:31 pm Reply

      Thank-you.
      I have had to give the talk at three Remembrance Day services. I can think of no greater privilege but also no harder job.
      Our tears are the only true remembrance

  4. Will Once November 8, 2014 at 9:28 am Reply

    Very well written – enjoyed that. I was going to quibble about your rant about civil servants and health % safety inspectors, but the second half blew me away. Very very good.

    • jwebster2 November 8, 2014 at 12:31 pm Reply

      Their sacrifice was greater than any quibbles we might have, a pointer to a deeper reality which every so often, perhaps not even once a generation, we need to remember.
      The abyss remains, even when we are not staring into it.

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