ex memoria

They weren’t all elderly and they weren’t all white, but the number of shoppers wearing poppies in Tesco in omnicultural Hackney, as the Armistice Service Parade wheeled out of St-John-at-Hackney into the Narrow Way, definitely counts as few. You couldn’t help feeling that, to many of those on the same streets on the same day, this Parade was as private an affair – as little to do with them, anyway – as the Free Kurdistan march tends to seem, whenever that is, the last remaining massed Stalinists so proud in their little Uncle Joe tribute ‘taches. Two tot-sized twins in excellent sky-blue wellingtons seemed to be present, with their mum and dad, to Watch the Parade Pass and Wave Flags – one in a nice little poppy-themed frock, the other bolshily not; neither actually HAD flags, mind you, and both had their hands over their ears at the noise the Marching Band was making. I also overheard a young black mother (wearing her poppy on her green khaki parka) explain to her five-year-old that this was to remember people who died in the First and Second World Wars. Almost rveryone else seemed to be in a parallel world, watching briefly before getting with their own lives, their own business.

The Marching Band-members were children also – 12-16 or thereabouts – playing tunes that presumably mean as little to them as they mean so much to the veterans marching behind them. Standing and watching them myself, for a while, I wondered what those marching felt about how their reception must have changed down the years: the possibility of an East End vivid with multicultural tolerance is surely what World War Two was “about” (including, far down the line of urgency but hardly irrelevant, the abolition of Sunday as a day of rest and reverence); but the concomitant of this tolerance is a whole bunch of amiable bored indifference, and that must be a bit hard to take when it was your closest young friends that died for it all those years ago. Point to any world-historical troublespot – from Northern Ireland to the Balkans to the Middle East to…. – and one can see the perils in choosing never to forget the fallen: but this is an all-too-easy thing to think or say for someone who as it happens knows NO ONE – and in fact is closely RELATED to no one – who fell in any significant British conflict in living memory. My mother’s mother’s two younger brothers were gassed in the trenches – they survived and both went on to be GPs in Scotland, but they also both died long before I was born. And that’s the closest to directly “memorial” that any of this comes to me. I didn’t come out in order to watch and remember and reflect – I came out to shop, of course – but I’m glad I did. I know that one zone’s ease with itself has probably been bought at the expense of some hotspot elsewhere staying all too miserably heated, but i do like how things turned out, in omnicultural Hackney anyway…

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