This morning I was invited to the Remembrance Service for Clifford Chambers at St Helen’s Church.
After hymns and readings we all silently stepped outside the church behind the Vicar, to stand round the memorial cross in the square. The vicar waited for that magical stillness in the crowd before he spoke and then a bugle was played beautifully in the tingling blue air.
Two decorated ex-servicemen, wearing bowler hats, ceremonially deposited wreaths on the steps of the memorial. I watched them, so solemn and reverential, and wondered what horrors they had seen, and still carry with them.
Then young boys came forward with poppies on sticks, and placed them in a flower planter full of earth. It reminded me of the moment in the RSC Love’s Labours Lost when the young men of the play appeared in army uniforms, and I had to hold back the lump in my throat.
They were followed by Brownies, carrying their poppies to plant. Brownies don’t look like Brownies anymore, they wear zipped up tracksuits and scraggy leggings, but they all had loads of badges sewn on, so must be diligent. But we’d have been sent home if our little brown dresses weren’t impeccably ironed and our socks pulls up sharply. They looked a lot happier than we did and much more comfortable. They smiled into their pigtails as they proudly planted their poppies.
A toddler wailed “I want to go home”, but his brother brought him up to plant a poppy and for a moment he was happy and skipped gurgling, a blonde curly headed angel, immune to the serious crowd.
The bugle played again and we lowered our heads in respect for those lost boys, their parents, their lovers and siblings and the lives that would have all been so different if they hadn’t fought, and if they hadn’t died.
Back in the church afterwards we sang Jerusalem and God Save the Queen, and in spite of myself wanted to cry, for the sadness of it all.
Afterwards there was the chatter, the shaking of hands and the feint wafting spell of roast and mint in the air. I drifted through it, like a fairy tale witch and wondered at this other way of life, where everything seemed so certain.
Time to think: that is what the residency gives me, and all of it feeds into the writing – even this remembrance day will come out, one way or another.