Saturday, 12 November 2016

War memorials and butterflies

I slept in late this morning. I have some kind of cold developing nicely in my lungs, and thought I'd give it a chance to bed itself in! 

Fortunately, at 10.30am, Nathan reminded me that it was the 11th November, so I instantly dragged him out of the house, and we jumped in our car with the idea of driving to the war memorial opposite Jack Straw's Castle on the Heath.

Sadly, we got snarled up in traffic along Spaniards Lane, and hadn't yet found a parking space at three minutes to the big moment. Nathan suggested I jump out of the car and leg it to the war memorial, and I made it, just as the young trumpeter from Highgate School was limbering up for the Last Post. At the same time, the police stopped all the traffic, leaving Nathan, behind the wheel of the car, trying his best to do silent contemplation in stationery traffic. The young lad played well. He was obviously a little nervous because his trumpet sounded a little like someone playing tracing paper over a comb, but he didn't crack any notes and God knows, it's a tough gig.

There were a surprisingly large number of people at the memorial. The crowd included several police superintendents, a couple of Jewish people in kippahs, a few local workmen, a rather decrepit-looking Henry Kelly, some sort of mayor, and a smattering of small children from a local school. There's always a smattering of local school children. A man of the cloth, in some sort of military uniform resplendent with medals, did some prayers into a microphone, which forced me to temporarily and politely turn my back. I pretended to stare out across North London and no one seemed to be too put out at my blasphemous behaviour. If someone had said something I might have been obliged to point out that God himself had turned his back on millions of soldiers, systematically, over the course of countless conflicts. I have no idea how religious people justify that nonsense.

During the two minutes of silence, I thought about the Leeds Pals, the Barnbow Lassies and the wonderful cast of Brass. I then hoped for some stability in the world after the double tragedy of Brexit and Trump. My Dad thinks a new world order is on its way, which could well be a positive one. I hope so.

As the trumpeter played some kind of reveille to signify the end of the two minutes silence, a butterfly flitted its way in circles around the memorial. Those who know Brass well will know that the white butterfly is a recurring motif in the show. Whenever I've visited the site of the trenches in France, I've been astonished by the number of butterflies which all seem to gravitate towards where No Man's Land once was. I've subsequently held the somewhat romantic belief that butterflies somehow represent the souls of the men who were killed. It therefore felt rather special to have a butterfly join us today. In November! I hope he or she has found somewhere warm to hibernate!

We had a lovely walk across the Heath afterwards; down past the tree with the hole in it and around the edge of the Vale of Health, before heading back to Highgate for lunch in the greasy spoon, where the man on the next door table was on the phone. I don't know who he was speaking to, but they'd obviously just asked him for his name, "yes" he said, "it's Robert... and I'm going to spell my surname: F.A.R.T.O.N." I genuinely didn't know where to look.

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