on my birthday, which coincided with Remembrance Sunday
November 16, 2014
What can I say about this flower necklace?
I’d never worn anything like it before.
Each flower – there are three of them – is the size of a deflated satsuma and dyed a deep red. In-your-face blood red. You can adjust the length of the chain so the flowers lie either just above or just below the collarbone. I advise below to limit the risk of chin abrasion.
It’s a lot of necklace.
Proper fashion bloggers would call it a statement necklace.
I’m not a proper fashion blogger. At best, I’m a faux fashion blogger, which has a nice ring to it but is actually about the fact I use clothing as a jumping off point for what I want to say as opposed to actually having anything useful or insightful to say about clothing itself.
Even so, I know enough to be able to claim, categorically, that this big red item around my neck was definitely a statement necklace. And as a statement, it dovetailed nicely with the occasion, November 9th, incidentally my birthday but, much more importantly, Remembrance Sunday.
In the UK, Remembrance Sunday is the day to officially honor all those who served in the two World Wars and in places like Burma and Palestine, The Falklands, Northern Ireland and the Gulf, Iraq and Afghanistan – battles and conflicts not necessarily sanctified as wars with a capital “W” but still occasioning the same realities: death, injury, loss.
The ceremony for Remembrance Sunday is relatively brief: prayers, readings, a military band and a two- minute silence. After the silence, poppy wreaths are laid at the base of a war memorial. This year, my choir was performing at a Remembrance service being held at a local air base. The base is a museum now, the hangar filled with jets and bombers, even an old Concorde that you can board.
We were scheduled to sing (“For the Fallen” by Douglas Guest) after the prayers and before the bugler’s rendition of “The Last Post.”
That’s why I was kitted out in a dress and a pair of decent shoes, and a piece of statement jewellery that, under normal circumstances, I would not have felt stylistically brave enough to wear.
The symbol of Remembrance Sunday and Armistice Day on the 11th is the red poppy.
It represents all the soldiers who’ve died in service and harks back to the men –boys, really – who lost their lives on the poppy fields of Flanders.
By the end of October, artificial poppies have sprouted on half the lapels in Britain and it’s an unwritten rule that all public figures –even D-list celebs pitching diet aids on late night infomercials — have to wear one.
I buy a poppy every year. Actually, I buy several, because mine are always falling off or snaking down the lining of my jacket. But to sing at a ceremony for fallen soldiers, surrounded by soldiers and veterans and their families, called for something more, well, durable. The big red necklace Claire gave me nicely solved the problem.
I’d never sung at a Remembrance service before. In fact, other than buying the aforementioned poppies every year, I’d never particularly, consciously, honored those people who’d fought and died in battle.
I grew up in the Vietnam era — in America, a divisive time. Opinions were wildly polarized; you were for or against our involvement there and, in the course of taking sides, the soldiers themselves seemed to lose shape and consequence, became shadowy pawns. In certain quarters, acknowledging them became tantamount to supporting the war itself. There were very few grey areas: if you had long hair and a poncho, you were a commie sympathizer. If you had short hair or wore a business suit, you were a right-wing warmonger, a tool of the military-industrial complex. Of course, the term military-industrial complex originated with Republican president and former general Dwight D Eisenhower, who used it to warn the nation about the dangers of the arms industry, but that was an inconvenient fact for both sides of the Vietnam debate.
You could say it was not an era epitomized by clarity of thought.
But now, years later, in a country not my own, I had the distance – in all senses — to be able finally to pay homage to all those who went, willingly and unwillingly, into battles not of their own making.
It’s strange to write about this in an earnest voice, particularly strange if you live in Britain where sincerity is often experienced as embarrassing or — even worse — as indelibly American, but the truth must be told: that day, that moment, there I was in a blue dress and a big poppy necklace, just one person out of a thousand in an echoing hangar, all of us grateful, moved and completely untouched by cynicism.