Bloody knackered,  hardly describes it. Another good hot shower and a change of clothes and I’m ready for a revivng pot of tea. This is most definitely a sign of encroaching decrepitude. A few hours gardening and the  salty sweat was literally blinding me as it ran in rivulets into my eyes.What’s that all about? i used to do that without a bit of bother. Of course it’s warmer out there in the garden  than it was in August past and it’s almost  the last day of October.Funny how that hour being moved back changes the whole feel of the day  though and makes us all feel rushed. There’s that battle against the coming of the dark. That’s gardening though …working with the  dimming light .

Jude was on the radio before I went out. Stephen Nolan had invited him  onto the ” Nolan Show”, doubtless to wind up the natives about poppies.. For once , Mr Nolan  didn’t butt in too much and he allowed Jude space for  his opinion, unfettered. Jude got more time to talk than Nolan would normally allow which was refreshing. Of course , somehow there is always the ” One” allowed onto the phone lines to spar . You know the “One” that talks about taking the Queen’s Shilling and biting the hand that feeds. The one with the bumper sticker which says “Nornneverland…love it or leave it”…like the rednecks in America would say to the anti-Vietnam war demonstrators. According to some ,we should all be perfectly happy with our lot and never want to tweak or change anything at all. Just let the hare sit. Of course we have a perfect right to question everything about our strange situation in Nornneverland  because it was imposed on us and has left us all with something that is plainly  barely operating at present .It’s been like that in one way or another since the state’s inception, so there is obviously something not quite right that might need tweaking.The squeaky wheel gets the oil and all that. Well this state we live in is one hell of a squeaky wheel. The wonder is that it rolls at all.

Anyway , Jude didn’t blow any gaskets , insult anyone, or snap back at any of the banalities. He was actually very calm and reasoned, which is a trick that some of our politicians might need to study.He just stated his point of view.That is, that the “Poppy” , that symbol of the slaughter in the first World War has basically, long-ago, been hijacked by one side of the community here. That would be the side with an unblinking support for the British Legion and all things British rather than the Irish  side that feels that it has never really had a place in this “race memory” for historical reasons..Well that’s true , isn’t it? That’s only a fact , nothing more.It’s the way we are now.

The poppy is a perfectly potent symbol ,and even as a peacenik, I  think it is very emotive of a time when we all {as in humanity}made a horrific mistake in engaging in this new kind of mechanised, post – agrarian, warfare that had only replaced the bloody romance of fields of lancers on horseback with tanks and shells and seeping trenches  full of rot and putrescence. It led to the unmitigated  industrial slaughter of  many thousands  of naive and shocked young men who expected something else altogether . It decimated an entire generation. That could not be easily forgotten or talked away. Why that war had to be fought at all is still a matter of some debate.

There are always young men who believe there is glamour in war and there are always young women who in one way or another encourage that kind of brave ,if stupid ,passion and romance.It’s not easy to avoid the fact  that wars are mostly fed by the unknowing , if romantic, youth. . That was the First World War.That was the” Poppy War”.

World War Two against the Nazis and the Axis Powers and all the other skirmishes have nothing at all to do with that bloodied   red poppy. It grew profusely and is referred to in  John McCrae’s poem “In Flanders Fields”,He was  a surgeon with Canada’s First Brigade Artillery.and  it  first saw print in December 1915, in the British magazine “Punch”. It is a poem of  simple reportage from beyond life as though the dead can somehow evoke a remembrance   and  a revenge by appealing to  coming generations ,The dead may be gone  but the poem lives on :

In Flanders fields the poppies blow

Between the crosses, row on row

That mark our place; and in the sky

The larks, still bravely singing, fly.

Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the dead. Short days ago

We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,

Loved, and were loved, and now we lie

In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:

To you from failing hands we throw

The torch; be yours to hold it high.

If ye break faith with us who die

We shall not sleep, though poppies grow

In Flanders fields.

There was at time in my teenage years ,a year or two  before theTroubles  took off , when as the likes of Paisley was stirring up division and evoking old dead fears: division seemed to be  the thing that kept him happy and exercised and fear of the “other” was a source of his  power ; at a time when across the communities social reform and civil rights seemed like  a progressive 1960s  ideal and the nascent UVF were already plotting  bombing mayhem and blaming it on an IRA that wasn’t really there .It sounds like a lost world….. and of course , it was a world that  was buried in the coming slaughter and paranoia of the conflict  here ; but my friends,  back then , were a mixed group from across the community and on a winter’s evening I can still remember some of us with our  girlfriends selling poppies after school around the pubs. It was the girls, of course. Us boys would have had little input on this one.We were mostly from nationalist backgrounds  and the girls would have had  their roots in the unionist community where the poppy held some status ., At  the time , nothing much was thought of this.No more than the “Freedom from Hunger Dances”  we all shared .  The Troubles within the next few years  and the end of schooldays, mostly finished those friendships. It should be remembered too that all the money from the sale of poppies goes to the British ex-servicemen alone.  When the army initially arrived here , they were generally welcomed by a nationalist population who felt under siege and were offered tea and sympathy by  frightened householders in Belfast. That must have stirred up some very strange emotions in the unionist community here because  this was “their ” army being welcomed to protect “the enemy”. Of course hospitality was soon off the menu and “No Tea Here” starting appearing on walls in nationalist areas. Everything was treated as black joke in Norneverland. Soon the balance of the spheres was returned and unionism got “their” army back….sort of ….and life went on as near normal as we could expect here.

I don’t think anyone should be under any pressure to wear the poppy in the media, their place of work  or otherwise, especially  now that we really do know how divided and poisonous our society really is in certain areas and in  certain mindsets .

I still have  bright red poppies in my garden, of course .I planted a mix of wildflower seeds in a flowerbed some years back and the poppies spread in great profusion. They are a pretty , delicate bloom with petals of tissue.My  honeybees  love them .They probably loved them at Flanders too.

4 Responses to SCARCE HEARD AMID THE GUNS BELOW by Harry McAvinchey

  1. Brian Patterson October 31, 2014 at 7:54 pm #

    Loved it!

  2. Perkin Warbeck October 31, 2014 at 9:40 pm #

    Flanders is having a field day as it does at this time of the year every year, going forward and looking backwards. And like Christmas it seems to be arriving earlier especially for those Grandpoppies whose way of life has fallen ‘into the sere, the yellow leaf’. It gives them a great gee-up to get to wear the Redmondite red flower of loyalty in their lapels.

    South of the Border down Wexico way the annual Proxopera Season this year features a contemporary classical ceoldrama entitled ‘Silent Night’ which seemingly celebrates the muddy truce on a bloody Christmas Eve between die buddy-minded Englanders and the ruddy Krauts when they gave preference to their legs over their arms. And indulged in a game of der kickabout soccer between a team of Goodies A and their understudies, a team of Goodies B. Baddies were automatically disqualified. And sent to Dublin to keep their eyes in.

    Every year the Dublin Institute of Advanced Fuddy-Duddies aka The Unionist Times gets the brainwave to charter a train to transport their urbane cohort on its annual pilgrimage to Dort and Croft Central in the Sunny South East. The female members among them (of both sexes) are humorously referred to as the Wexico Winfreys.

    This year the locomotive (and its calculated motives were far from loco) transported so many hangers on the roof that as one detached observer noted: ‘It more resembled a Calcutta choo choo heading for the grave of Nehru’.

    (The actual technical term for ‘contemporary classical opera’ is ‘creaking gate music’).

    The featured swannsongs in this proxopera, which oddly enough, one understands, did not feature ‘Somme Enchanted Evening’ (seemingly on the grounds of having the malady of melody) , and neither did not exactly set the punters whistling or humming or lilting or even port a baling itself on their way out.

    Unlike say, La Traviata, or Il Trovatore when the hostelries of Wexico would resound with many a tuneful, well- oiled chorus of ‘Verdi well, my lovely Dinah’ long past closing other, perhaps,less commemorative years in the sere and yellow belly county.

    Though there was, it must be noted, a special lunch time recital of Flanders swannsongs, one of which in particular drew appreciative gasps and prolonged applause not to mention ferocious foot-stomping from the train-travelled cohort (see above) and even caused them to refrain from saying to each other ‘Have a Madeira, m’dear?’. That song was ‘A Song of Patriotic Prejudice’ whose hook line goes:

    ‘The English, the English, the English are best
    I wouldn’t give tuppence for all of the rest’.

    While all of this is indeed joyous to report, in the brave Gnu Ireland, nonetheless Perkie’s inner musicologist, without in the least wishing to act the coalition party pooper, feels it imperative to strike an albeit bum note of caution. The reason for this is simplicity itself. The more he dwells upon the Foreign Minister of the Free Southern Stateen’s subversive speech in Belfast yesterday – Brits Out ! – dressed up as ‘In Northern Ireland, for Northern Ireland’ the more he fears for 2015.

    For next years features the Sixtieth Anniversary of a seismic musical event: the birth of Rock and Roll.

    Consider the following:

    1. In August of 19 hundred and 55 (as Fat Pat Devlin might have rotundly put it) Bill Haley kisscurled his way on to the Ed Sullivan show with his earth-shattering rendition of ‘Rock around the Clock’.: comet the hour, comet the man. His four man band featured an acrobatic saxophone player and a double bass player who alternatively rode his instrument like a pony when not twirling it around with that slap-happy palm action indigenous to the Deep South.

    2. The clock ticked on and in the following month, September of 19 hundred and 55 the Government of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth annexed the island of Rockall when a four man band of British soldiers were winched down from a helicopter to plant the Butcher’s Apron on the rock in q. That these two planet-rocking events were not unrelated is evidenced by the manner in which one of the soldiers in mid winch did an impressive impresson of the acrobatic saxophone player and another did a slightly less impressive imp. of the double bass man. Though he could not be faulted for trying, according to contemporary sources.

    The resident periwinkles, kites and barnacles extended a hearty ‘Cead Mile Failte’
    to the airborne British soldiery, even if it did not quite extend to multiple cupain tae.

    (It should be pointed out that in the month of November of 19 hundred and 55 another momentous musical event occurred: the Platters released their legendary recording of ‘The Great Pretender’. Perkie mentions this because, while it is not strictly relevant to the topic in hand, it did cause a certain stir in Warbeck Towers at the time, rather).

    Coming quickly to the point: what can all this historiography signify for 2015? Could it be that the increasingly bellicose Foreign Minister of the Free Southern Stateen has his increasingly acquisitve eye on …..Rockall? The Rock on which, it has been said,’ less men have landed than on the moon’. After all, as Cleopatra prophesied in a time of antiquity: this Foreign Minister will so bestride the globe that ‘realms and islands will fall from his pockets like plates’.

    Is Rockall to be the first such island?

    There are other portents which indicate it might well be so. An increasingly perturbed Perkie would like to draw the a. of his last discerning reader to the following ditty from the Flanders swannsong book, simply entitled ‘Rockall’:

    ‘The fleet set sail for Rockall, Rockall, Rockall,
    To free the isle of Rockall from fear of foreign foe
    We sped acorss the planet,
    To find this lump of granite
    And a rather startled gannet
    In fact, we found Rockall’.

    In his unseemly haste to ingratiate himself even further with the intransigent Somme-fixated Sommies it seems that the Foreign Minister of the Free Southern Stateen will stop at nothing. As is instanced by this too obvious push to relieve them of their nearest unwanted appendage, by getting their rock off them.

    Some comedian. Gone beyond a joke..

    • Jude Collins November 1, 2014 at 10:46 am #

      O you marvellous man, Perkie! The Platters, the only group who pronounced “Yes” with a d, as in “Oh-oh-oh yesd, I’m the great, Preeeetender!”

      • Perkin Warbeck November 1, 2014 at 12:40 pm #

        GRMA, Estemeed Blogmeister.

        That the pitter-patter Platters did pronounce ‘yes’ as ‘yesd’ is as true today as it was in all our, erm, ‘yesderdays’.

        Beir bua !