Archive for November 2011

It’s 11/11, NOT 9/11

November 11, 2011

This week (in fact yesterday) my children attended a school assembly themed around remembrance day. Here in Canada, as in the UK, Remembrance Day/Armistice Day is traditionally a day set aside to remember the fallen of the two world wars as well as all subsequent conflicts (Suez, Korea, Iraq, Afhghanistan etc.). Quite right too I say – I feel very grateful to all those who have given their lives, limbs and/or peace of mind in combat as part of defending the freedoms and way of life I currently enjoy. Those people placed themselves in harm’s way for millions whom they would never know, for causes they perceived to be greater than themselves. What they gave and what they were prepared to sacrifice deserves remembrance and honouring – it deserves our gratitude, our appreciation and above all our respect.

Remembrance day/Armistice Day does not glorify war, in fact the opposite is true. The occasion commemorates and reminds us of the horror of warfare, the reality of human savagery from which we are routinely shielded by Hollywood and TV. My grandfather died thirteen years after being gassed in WWI, one of my many uncles suffered a horrific head injury from an aircraft propeller, another lost his testicles to rifle fire – war is horror beyond most people’s comfort level or imagination.

Thank you, thank you a million times to those who gave, whether they returned home or not.

So imagine if you can, my reaction when my children returned home to tell me that their school assembly had focused not upon the senseless losses of open warfare, but instead commemorated 9/11 with a dramatized account of the event including some interpretive dance (flight attendants dancing if you can believe it). Quite what 9/11 has to do with Remembrance Day escaped me, and needless to say it also escaped my kids, who came home bemused and uncomfortable with what they had witnessed. It seems that the responsible teacher believed that 9/11 heralded ‘a new kind of war’  – presumably he or she felt that the use of the word ‘war’ therefore meant that 9/11 fitted the occasion.

Frankly I’m disgusted. There is simply no comparison of the two issues and attempting to do so is in my opinion insensitive, short-sighted and smacks of following a trend – in this case the trend of mourning over 9/11. That day is commemorated every year on its anniversary (and how – we are repeatedly exhorted and expected to share America’s almost obsessive grief) and again, rightly so – it was after all a horrific act of callous mass murder which should be remembered. It does NOT however compare in any way – materially, quantitavely or qualitatavely – with the events commemorated on Remembrance Day, and most definitely should not usurp our traditional act of remembering and honouring our veterans, alive or dead.

Who authorized this crass stupidity? Who gave the green light to such a ridiculously inappropriate idea? Why should our youngsters be brainwashed into jumping on that particular bandwagon? Why can we not honour whom the day is traditionally intended to honour instead of having a drama teacher’s personal preferences thrust upon the consciousness of our children? I mean really – students dressed as flight attendants performing interpretive dance – if it wasn’t offensive it would be embarrassing. Maybe next year a history teacher could take the lead and provide some perspective?

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Shall I continue? You tell me:

November 9, 2011

From The Outside Looking In

 

A typical October night in a typical
northern England city; the wind negotiated the twists and turns of the old town
centre with relish, sweeping before it the typical flotsam and jetsam of city
life.  Plastic sweet wrappers, deadleaves and rain announced themselves to the unwary traveller with playful if not malicious gusts which threatened to invert any unwary umbrella or
unbuttoned coat. “Bloody typical bastard weather” thought Paul Birch
as he trudged along the wet pavement of Bridge Street and approached the corner
of Watergate Street knowing full well that on the other side of that brick wall
there lurked a violent blast of wind that had been saved up just for him. Birch
felt very strongly that he was much too old for this shit, but at the grand age
of 30 he did not have the luxury of whining from a position of strength.

 

This very ‘shit’ itself  was also something he was not in a good
position to complain about since the office of constable was something he had
eagerly yearned after since childhood and had now been enjoying for three years.
This was not, in fairness, a typical night for him – his normal approach to his
role patrolling the beat of Chester city centre was generally most enthusiastic
and the night shift in particular held for him a peculiar frisson, bearing as
it did the potential for exciting stuff such as a ‘break in progress’ or
“a report of screams from the alley at…” in the first half of the
full week of ‘nights’. From Thursday right through to Sunday the mood changed
and there was the strong possibility of public order offences – fights,
assaults, breach of the peace, affray and that sort of thing. Often exciting,
frequently fun and exhilarating for a man as confident in his physical abilities
as Paul was.

 
But… it was 11.45pm on a wet Tuesday, he’d done his best to make his
presence felt among the wet streets, stopping and speaking to several drivers
and issuing an occasional ticket or ‘hortee’) but was now bloody cold after
opting to wear his Gannex raincoat – it smelled of old rubber but was better
for running in than the old and heavy woollen greatcoat – and to cap it all his
left foot was hurting like hell. He was cold, bored, grumpy and he needed a
brew before he stooped so low as to take his mood out on a hapless motorist.

 

This was in fact serious stuff…the
‘brew’ was after all the staple survival supply of the patrolling Bobby. An
absence of food and shelter could be tolerated for extended periods of time
with typical British stoicism, but deprive the officer of his or her ability to
partake of Darjeeling’s finest, and the very structure of the British policing
system would rapidly begin to crumble. Paul ran through his mental list of
‘brew-stops’ on this particular beat. It didn’t do to visit one location too
frequently – partly out of a genuine sense of politeness but also partly from
the desire to not ruin a good thing. A good brew spot was a thing to nurture, to
protect, and at times (although not usually), keep secret from one’s
colleagues. A little light came on inside his mind and Paul made his quiet,
footsore way towards Harriman’s Alley, a remnant of the old city street plan –
once no doubt a bustling narrow thoroughfare but which now served only as the
rear entrance for a number of small businesses. A warm glow from an open door
told him his decision was the right one – the House of India was of course
open, as it would be until the last of its patrons had finished their meal,
thrown a few racial slurs towards the restaurant staff and staggered off into
the night, often some time after 2am.

 

The alley was otherwise very dark, wet
cobbles reflecting only dimly the feeble rays cast from the street lamp in
Northgate Street. On each side the buildings reached high, some five storeys
into the gloom and affording some shelter from nature’s bad temper. It was a
cold and rather dreary place which somehow seemed more damp and foreboding than
the more open streets of the old city. The orange light from the restaurant
kitchen was an oasis in that unforgiving  place straight from the pages of a Dickens
novel. Stepping into the doorway, Paul took off his helmet and knocked on the
open door. “Now then Binder!” he called as his eyes met those of a chubby
Indian man working hard at a table with a large ball of dough in both hands. A
broad grin spread across Binder’s face, Paul was genuinely liked by the
proprietor and staff of the small family-run business. “Mr. Paul! Come in! I
haven’t seen you in a while!” Paul enjoyed this man’s company and he nurtured
the friendship carefully. Only on nights such as this did he drop in to see his
new friends, and he always made his visits brief enough to not impose, but long
enough to convey his enjoyment.

 

“I bet you fancy a brew, right?” came
the customary offer with another bright, flashing grin. Pausing dramatically
for comic effect, the tall, powerfully built Policeman rubbed his chin gently; “Well…hmmm…OK…but…ah…only
to be polite…”. The ensuing chuckles were genuine, a pleasant relief for both
men on such a night. “How’s business, or is that a stupid question?”
asked the friendly policeman. “Well no surprise so far Paul, it’s dead, I
have send my daughter home, there’s just  three of us here now sir – Jaz, KJ and me. I
think there just one customer in there right now, just finishing up.” Paul
furrowed his brow “Are you closing up? I don’t want to put you to any
trouble mate.” “No, no, no, you know us Paul, we be here for  while yet” replied his friend in his
unique blend of colloquial and Indian English. “Sit down, we’ll have that
cuppa char sir”.