Do you ever see places as colors? I do and it struck me as a new way to look at destinations. Perhaps I will turn this into some kind of series of posts, but for now I have to tell you that I went to London just over a week ago expecting it to be golden and brown, the hues of its parks in Autumn but this year it was red.
Of Poppies and Debts
Biggest reason for the shades of crimson was the utterly stunning art work at the Tower of London “Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red,” dedicated to those who fell during WW1 in this 100-year anniversary of its beginning. I’d been yearning to see this, as I’d watched it develop over the internet for weeks and weeks, but didn’t think there was enough in the kitty to go. Happily for me, at the very last-minute there was a bit extra, plus Ryanair flights from Nimes in France, where I was staying, to Luton. So off I went.
My early childhood was peppered with the names “Our Arnie” and “Our Irving,” brothers my grandmother had lost in WW1. Of course, as a baby boomer, stories of WW2 were much more current and plentiful for me, but I used to wonder what nana’s brothers had been like. Forever young, had they borne any resemblance to the crusty, old siblings of hers that I met on my “holidays” to the stern, mill-dominated landscapes around Halifax in Yorkshire? My family, I should, explain, was the old-fashioned sort, who “didn’t talk” about anything which stirred the emotions, so I found out very little. Still it was moving to know that there were two poppies there in that magnificent display which represented members of my family.
For anyone who didn’t hear about the project; one ceramic poppy was placed in the moat of the Tower of London for every British and colonial life which was lost in WW1. They spilled from a window, and drained like lifeblood into the moat. The scale was much huger than I had guessed from photos on the internet. Powerful imagery. Powerful reminder of the futility of war, and was there ever a war so futile as that one? Already, today, half of them have been gathered up and have been sold for the benefit of military charities like the marvelous and historic British Legion or the more recent and equally marvelous Hope for Heroes. At 9am on Saturday morning, my son, Guy, and I had hoped to be ahead of the crowds, but we’d underestimated the public desire to see this tribute to the fallen, and although I would like to have gotten closer, taken better photos, it was heartening to know that.
Just as warming, was seeing how almost everyone was proudly wearing a red poppy. This custom dates back to 1918, and although it’s not observed in the US for Veterans’ Day, it was, apparently, an American lady named Moira Michael who began it, although the legend of the poppies which grew amidst the horrors of the battlefields in Flanders was recorded in eloquent poetry, most famously by Laurence Binyon, in the lines:
“Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun, and in the morning
We will remember them.”
Strolling through the city on Sunday afternoon, after watching the celebration, observing the silence at the 11th minute of the 11th hour, on tv, it was humbling to see proud chests wearing medals amongst the crowds. Of course, there are now no survivors of WW1, but still so many from WW2 and subsequent battles, whatever the rights and wrongs of some of those fights, we owe a debt to these guys which goes way beyond our comprehension as civilians.
And Other Redness
Red is the color of Paddington Bear’s hat! Well, normally! Right now until the end of December 50 likenesses of our childhood hero are dotted around London, on the Paddington Trail, each “dressed” by a famous personality. Some of them are probably only know to Brits, or at least I should say residents of UK, because I didn’t know them all, but you will recognize names like Ben Wishaw, Sandra Bullock and Liam Gallagher who lent their talents. At the end of the display they will be auctioned off for charity, and in the meantime if you take a snap of yourself or family with one of the bears, you can enter a competition to win a weekend in London 🙂 This was our entry! Any votes greatly appreciated!!!!
Red was also the predominant color in most store windows, as it is close to the holiday season. Looking for a new winter coat (the last one I bought was …..er….around 30 years ago! So little do I need one!) in Marks and Spencer it seemed like a sea of scarlet, and, yes, the one I bought was red. You can just see the collar in the photo Guy snapped of me at the NFL game at Wembley. Where the event featured the British Legion again, and more poppies.
The day before I arrived the Oxford Street Christmas lights had been switched on, and whilst they seemed to be mostly white and shimmery from what I saw, red is also the color of Christmas, which we toasted in Starbucks, me with Gingerbread latte (no chestnut nor pumpkin 😦 ) and Guy with hot chocolate – in, of course, a red cup!
And finally an apology : Most of the photos were taken with my awful little Samsung phone, and not even approaching the quality I would like, even from a mobile phone. Still, there for the memories 🙂
November 19, 2014 at 3:27 pm
A quick response as I too have followed and longed to see poppy art work. Friends have been and seen it at night and thought it was even more moving lit up. Another friend has bought one for her dad. It is indeed a brilliant idea and has moved so many people and evoked so many memories. Possibly I may see one of the small local displays that are planned.
I had two gt. uncles who were shell-shocked and led very simple lives. I learned quite early in life what shell-shocked meant, when shells to a child should mean the sea shells we gathered on the beach. there were other shells which blew people up. or made them stone deaf trembling men who cried easily.
Have you followed the stupid idea that the Paddington film is not suitable for children. The world has gone mad to try to do the right thing. Bit late now to try and create Utopia sez I.
November 19, 2014 at 4:44 pm
I remember, years ago, hearing about a group of people who decide what the popular colors will be for the coming year. This was back in the 60’s, when we were al agape at the blues of the planet earth, as first seen from space. Indeed, the following year, as they predicted, had translated into car and fashion colors. Wouldn’t be surprised if the London red did the same thing.
November 20, 2014 at 3:11 pm
I remember that! I’ve often thought about these Canary Islands in terms of color, but never quite like this London memory occured to me when I thought back on it. Perhaps because it was something of a whirlwind, so a blur of red! Definitely felt good in my new, red coat!
November 19, 2014 at 5:36 pm
November 20, 2014 at 3:12 pm
Thank you. Being in London this Fall really was humbling.
November 19, 2014 at 8:42 pm
LOL! on that last sentence! I saw the headline but didn’t read it. Just couldn’t be bothered. Guess if my kids were still small it might be different.
Sorry to hear about your great uncles. Sometimes, I hate to say, perhaps it’s better to die than live with the consequences of war.
November 20, 2014 at 9:07 am
yes, back then, when what could be done to help people was very limited. many brave young men come home these days and get more help with both mental and physical problems and lead good lives. Not all I’m sure but a better percentage and I don’t think they will have experienced the total carnage our uncles experienced.
November 20, 2014 at 5:17 pm
re red coat. do you remember being small and getting a new winter coat, matching hat and scarf /gloves. hat elastic hurting under your chin?
November 21, 2014 at 12:22 am
Oh yes! Tell me about it!
November 21, 2014 at 3:37 am
Some places I’ve visited come across as color. But I would be seeing red where you were. What a moving experience.