Pix at her Tiny Ten wrote yesterday of snow. In Lndon, I haven’t got the heating on yet, apart from the heated towel rail in the bathroom that is. It has been unseasonably mild. I went to dinner tonight at Octavia’s. Her mother, Rae (query spelling), is with her, a hale nonagenarian. While Octavia made a ‘phone call, Rae and I guzzled the good red wine. On the way home a short time ago, I actually felt very warm. I don’t think that was entirely due to the wine. Although this mildness, and the floods elsewhere in Europe, are worrying indications of climate crisis – and if I lived in one of those parts of Britain where floods have become the norm over the last few years, I imagine I would now be on Prozac – I admit I was grateful for the unseasonal warmth today. I spent the afternoon in the moat at the Tower of London as part of the disassembly team of volunteers taking the poppy display apart. An email yesterday warned us to expect Glastonbury conditions. The shift before us gleefully warned us of a mud bath. I can only think they don’t walk on unpaved paths very often.
Yes it was muddy, but nothing more than you’d encounter on an average country walk at this time of year, and certainly nothing to compare with the trenches and battlefields of the First World War which these poppies remember. But the gloves we were lent were ghastly: wet, muddy and full of holes. On a cold day we would have left with frozen, chapped fingers. Today they were merely muddy and damp. I kept my badge on in the hope that others on the bus home would look charitably on my muddy boots and dirty hands. I don’t think anyone noticed. But when I went into M&S on the way home, Win spotted my badge and exclaimed. Unlike the soldiers at the front, I was able to discard my boots and leave the mud to dry; throw my trousers into the washing machine; stand under a hot shower and wash the mud from my fingernails. And then go and enjoy a good dinner with Octavia and Rae. As we dismantled, packed and bundled, people took photographs. Being part of the poppies in the moat has become quite important. Some people have planted them and are now removing them. That urge, or instinct, to join in, to share this extraordinary experience probably helps us better to understand the enthusiasm of so many young men to sign up and become part of the First World War. But we are more fortunate than they were. We left with damp hands and muddy boots. Our lives did not end because we obeyed an impulse to be part of something. I am glad the poppies are leaving the moat. In the last weeks they have become the story. But the story is not about a sea of ceramic poppies encircling the Tower of London, it is about a generation slaughtered on the battlefields for reasons no one is quite sure about. Lest we forget.