In this blogposting...
* Armistice Day
* AGM XXXVIII
Are you sitting comfortably? Then I'll begin...
I’ve been seething since Sunday.
I’ve had that awful, boiling sense of unredeemed outrage in the pit of my stomach for 3 days now - and all because of a smug, pompous and - at best- misguided woman.
Last Sunday morning, I had decided to visit Tynemouth Station Market. It had been a long time since I’d seen my friend Mark, who has the north-east’s finest picture-framing stall there. Nor, I’m ashamed to say, had I seen the completed restoration works in the station itself. So I was keen to right both of those wrongs.
Sunday was 11 November - Armistice Day.
It is, of course, traditional that, at precisely 1100, we stop whatever it is we are doing if we possibly can - our daily routine of getting and spending, working and playing - and stand still and silent for two minutes. At the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, we pause for just a moment to remember the men and women who have given their lives in war - no matter who they were or where they came from.
We focus our collective thoughts, too, on the many people whose lives were damaged or even ruined by war and to those who are still fighting and dying in wars today.
An announcement was made over the tannoy at Tynemouth Station. In a few moments, it would be 11 o’clock; would everyone please observe the traditional two minutes’ silence after the klaxon sounded.
The market was busy. It was a sunny morning and hundreds of people were wandering around what has become a much bigger affair since the station’s refurbishment was completed. Old and young, men and women, boys and girls. There were so many people that it was often difficult to make any headway between the stalls.
And then the klaxon sounded.
And suddenly...the noise and the hubbub and the bustle stopped. Completely. Everyone stood exactly where they were. People curtailed their mobile phone conversations. The chatter and laughter and wandering stopped. The station was peopled, just for a minute or two, by so many silent and thoughtful statues. No-one made a sound. No-one moved.
Except one woman.
She looked to be in her late thirties. She wore a knitted dut, combat jacket, cammo trousers and sneakers. She was pushing a buggy with a baby in it. I think I’ll have nightmares about the awful squeaking of those buggy wheels for months.
She behaved as if nothing had changed at 11 o’clock. She wove her baby-buggy in amongst the statuesque people. She stopped here and there to look at the stalls then continued on her way. It was a startling statement she was making and it had the desired effect. At least, it did on me.
Perhaps she was ‘anti-war’. But surely, I thought, for her to assume that everyone who observed the Silence was ‘pro-war’ was both patronising and offensive.
Perhaps she felt strongly enough to make her facile statement because someone close to her had been killed or injured - maybe in Iraq or Afghanistan. But that, I thought, would give her more reason to join in with the act of remembrance and not ignore it so obviously and pointedly.
As I watched her pretence at nonchalance, and realised how irritating and just plain rude it must have looked to other people too, I began to feel that surge of dislike which I’m still finding it difficult to dislodge.
The klaxon sounded again two minutes later and - equally suddenly - everyone resumed their normal business of the day. In the distance, a brass band could be heard playing the Last Post from the War Memorial in Tynemouth village.
And the woman disappeared into the throng.
Don’t concern yourself. I know the counter-arguments. Millions of people have died to make sure that this woman has the right to express her opinions in the way she chose. All she was doing was claiming that right.
Surely, though, it would have done her no harm - it would have cost her emotions and political views nothing - to stand quietly somewhere in the station, or to walk quickly outside if she felt it so necessary not to observe the Silence.
For me, that she chose to ignore what is, at least, a harmless public ceremony and at most a deeply-felt communally expressed grief is proof - if proof were needed - that we are living in an increasingly immodest, graceless and disrespectful age of which our fallen ancestors would be thoroughly ashamed.
Hildie - whom God preserve - has pointed out that there may be some confusion over exactly how many AGMs we’ve actually had - and that this can almost certainly be laid squarely at my door because I chose the ludicrous convention of counting them with Roman numerals, as if they were Olympiads.
Frankly, though - I don’t care. The next AGM is number XXXVIII because I say it is. That’s the kind of mood I’m in.
It’ll be held at 1100 on Tuesday 4 December at a venue to be agreed. That is to say, I can’t quite decide on the venue!
All suggestions will be gratefully received, as always.
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