Now We Are 28: On Remembrance

Remembrance Day seems to be increasingly controversial – there’s been lots of debate this year over the wearing of poppies and the upcoming centenary of the outbreak of the First World War. The wearing of poppies becomes more and more of a fraught issue every year – does their ubiquity take away their meaningfulness, should the BBC insist on people wearing them, is it hypocritical for politicians who have sent troops to war to wear them?

I have stood in the battlefields of Northern France, now so still and peaceful, bearing few signs of the slaughter that took place there nearly a century ago. As a fourteen-year old to stand in the Commonwealth War Graves was one of the most profound and sobering experiences of my life – particularly when I saw the grave of a boy my own age. That experience is why Remembrance Sunday is important to me – the first hand understanding I gained of all those who died so that I could be free is one of the most significant things I have ever learnt. It is why I buy a poppy and watch the Remembrance Ceremony at the Cenotaph whenever possible – not because I feel I have to but because, to me, it is important.

The First World War was a mess, a pointless war caused by rampant imperialism, but that does not mean we should ignore or make less of the sacrifices a generation of men and women made as part of that conflict. The Second World War was perhaps a more just war but I have always questioned whether, without the First World War, Hitler would have had either the motivation or the opportunity to rise to power in 1930s Germany. Rampant nationalism and the need to protect one’s perceived interests at home or abroad have caused wars beyond counting throughout human history – the so-called “war to end all wars” was nothing of the sort. War is futile, it solves nothing and almost always promotes further conflict and instability.

Condemn war all you want but don’t condemn those who remember, however they choose to do so. Wearing a poppy isn’t just a visible symbol of commemoration but an opportunity to support a very worthwhile charity, The Royal British Legion. Equally, however, the wearing of a poppy should never be something that we compel – gestures of this kind ought to come from the heart not as part of a PR campaign. Wearing a poppy, observing a Remembrance Sunday silence or laying a wreath at a war memorial aren’t acts that rejoice in war or of national pride – they are a reflection of shared grief, dulled but not lessened by the passage of time.

As the First World War and Second World Wars become history rather than memory it is more important than ever not only to remember but to understand these conflicts in the hope that one day we might move beyond military force and the death of countless human beings as a way of resolving our differences. The saying “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it” is as true today is it ever was.

“In Flanders fields the poppies blow
      Between the crosses, row on row,
   That mark our place; and in the sky
   The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
   Loved and were loved, and now we lie
         In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
   The torch; be yours to hold it high.
   If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
         In Flanders fields.”

                                            John McCrae
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30 Day Music Challenge: Day Twenty-Two

Day 22: A Song That You Listen To When You’re Sad

Ok, despite what I said in the last post, this is the easiest question to answer! There was only ever one band I was going to choose for this, primarily because their music is the definition of melancholy – Bon Iver. Anyone who deals with a break-up by locking themselves in a cabin in Wisconsin and writing an album called “For Emma, Forever Ago” is going to write some spell-bindingly sad music. The timing of this album also chimes quite well with my life – it was released at a time when I really needed to listen to a lot of sad music and it’s an album I come back to whenever I feel down. There’s also a song written for one of the Twilight films called Roslyn which is in the same vein. If you haven’t heard this album I really would recommend you give it a listen. However probably my favourite song is Skinny Love – it makes my heart ache just listening to the words. Given that today is Monday and that I feel ill it’s also quite appropriately depressing…
“Come on skinny love just last the year
Pour a little salt we were never here
My, my, my, my, my, my, my, my
Staring at the sink of blood and crushed veneer

I tell my love to wreck it all
Cut out all the ropes and let me fall
My, my, my, my, my, my, my, my
Right in the moment this order’s tall

And I told you to be patient
And I told you to be fine
And I told you to be balanced
And I told you to be kind
And in the morning I’ll be with you
But it will be a different kind
And I’ll be holding all the tickets
And you’ll be owning all the fines”

30 Day Music Challenge: Day Ten

Day Ten: A Song That Makes You Fall Asleep

Yeah I just don’t blog at weekends do I. And I haven’t got very much time today so this’ll have to be a quick one. Today’s question is a bit odd – I’m sure they mean a song that you like to fall asleep too but the wording is strange. No song makes me fall asleep and if it did I’m not sure it’d be worth writing about. I also don’t really listen to music when I’m in bed, I’m a big fan of quiet and darkness when I’m trying to sleep to be completely honest. Music also tends to make me think which generally isn’t conducive to sleep. Having said that, if I’m going through any kind of particular life trauma I sometimes need music to distract me from my spiralling thoughts – For Emma, Forever Ago by Bon Iver is one of my favourite albums for times of emotional trauma. I also have a chillout playlist on my iPod for times when I can’t get my brain to behave but I’m not quite miserable enough for Bon Iver. It’s got a lot of random stuff on there – Joni Mitchell, The Miserable Rich, Muse, Buzzcocks… But also a singer I discovered accidentally via iTunes (of all things) a few years ago – Polly Scattergood. She writes really good angsty songs about traumatic relationships and this song (I Am Strong) is my favourite song of hers. It’s also a good mantra for getting through heartbreak if you ever need that kind of thing.

“I am strong, I am not weak
I am not in a place where I can talk to you
I am not hot, I am not cold
I am not for sale, I am sold
I built this house, it took quite long
Sticks and stones, I made it strong
I locked it up, I gave you a key
But you didn’t come home to me”

30 Day Music Challenge: Day Five

I was doing so well and then a weekend got in the way, a fantastic weekend but not one involving much writing… I’m suspecting that this whole thing will probably take me a bit longer than 30 days but I doubt it matters that much.


Day Five: A Song That Reminds You of Someone

Thankfully today’s song was much easier to choose than last Friday’s… We all associate songs with people don’t we – my friend Louise used to get people calling her from clubs at 3am because they were playing “her” song (9 to 5 by Dolly Parton) but over the past couple of months there has been one person on my mind more than most.

Sadly, on Valentine’s Day this year my wonderful Nana passed away at the age of 92. Despite the fact that I have spoken or written those words at least a hundred times in the past two weeks it still doesn’t seem real – she was the absolute heart of our family and I don’t think I can express in words just how much we will all miss her. My childhood was defined by the time I spent with her – Holt, the village in which she lived, is as much home to me as where my parents live. My love for history certainly can be traced to Nana talking to me about the Romans, the Civil War and all the other facets of the history of a tiny village right on the English-Welsh border. When I went to university she wrote to me all the way through my first term, enclosing essentials like stamps and money for chocolate along with fervent wishes that I both keep warm and have fun.

Her legacy is far more however than my childhood memories – she bequeathed to all of us the knowledge of what it means to live life to the full. She went to university and had a long career as a teacher as well as looking after a husband and three children long before modern dilemmas about women “having it all”. Family, however, was a vitally important part of her life as were her many friends, some of them acquaintances of over 80 years standing. On the day of her funeral the sun shone and the church was packed with people which was a more than fitting tribute to how wonderful a person she was. She was an intelligent, warm and inspirational woman with a wickedly dry sense of humour and a deep interest in everything happening in the world right until the very end of her life. I can’t tell you how proud I am to be Dorothy Leyland’s granddaughter, I only know that if I’m half the woman she was I’ll count myself lucky.

One of my abiding childhood memories is going to church with Nana and listening to her singing in the choir – and my mum tells me that their house was always full of music when she was growing up. The song that always makes me think of Nana however is Dance the Night Away by the Mavericks. You see, when she was in her 80s she took up line dancing – along with lace-making, German and a hundred other pastimes – we used to joke that her social life was more active than any of ours! When my brother got married in 1998 Nana refused to go to bed until she’d danced to The Mavericks and ever since I’ve always smiled and thought of her whenever I heard Dance the Night Away.

“Here comes my happiness again
Right back to where it should have been
‘Cause now she’s gone and I am free
And she can’t do a thing to me

I just wanna dance the night away
With senoritas who can sway
Right now tomorrow’s lookin’ bright
Just like the sunny mornin’ light”

30 Day Music Challenge: Day Four

Day Four: A Song That Makes You Sad
Today’s question is difficult. I listen to a lot of music when I’m sad, arguably more than I do when I’m happy. There are lots of songs that remind me of times in my life when I’ve been particularly unhappy. But a song that I can put on knowing it’ll make me sad? That’s a bit more complicated.

At this point I stopped writing and listened to a few of the songs which I could’ve potentially chosen with fairly mixed results. For example, Dying by Stone Sour – the opening bars and the lyrics are melancholy but then some quite upbeat guitars kick in which lend themselves more to angsty shouting rather than sadness. The Blower’s Daughter by Damien Rice is much more of a sad song but it also reminds me of the film Closer which, apart from the opening scene where Natalie Portman and Jude Law are walking towards one another in slow motion, was a huge disappointment to me. I’m tempted by The Cure, The Smiths or Bon Iver as well but, quite apart from the fact I’ve already chosen one Cure track for this list, I feel like this should be a song that makes me feel sad for a reason not something that’s just generally wistful.

With that in mind and on the basis that I can’t ramble on about songs that make me feel a bit weepy forever I’ve gone for Suzanne Vega – Marlene on the Wall. It’s probably more of an angsty song than a sad song but every single time I hear the lyrics I remember sitting in my bedroom at midnight wondering how the hell I was ever going to fix the mess I’d managed to land myself in. I was fairly immature and thoughtless, even at the age of 20, and it took a lot to make me grow the hell up. Regardless of my idiocy this is still a beautiful song with wonderfully evocative lyrics but it will always carry a lot of emotional baggage.

“Even if I am in love with you
All this to say, what’s it to you?
Observe the blood, the rose tattoo
Of the fingerprints on me from you

Other evidence has shown
That you and I are still alone
We skirt around the danger zone
And don’t talk about it later”

30 Day Music Challenge – Day One!

One of my New Years’ resolutions was to blog more frequently which, given that it’s now March, is somewhat laughable. The last two months have, however, been high on life-related trauma and low on time to do things like blog, exercise or sit down. I’m going shamelessly plagarise the 30 Day Music Challenge idea from Andy, Nuala and Ness as it seems like a good way of getting into the habit…

Day One: Your Favourite Song
I avoid answering this question all the time. In fact I have spent DAYS thinking about this question and I’m still not convinced I know the answer. I’m quite faddy so the song I’m listening to at the moment tends to be my favourite. However there are some songs which stand out, the ones that get me through the happiest and saddest times in my life as well as the ones that get me out of bed and into work every morning. The song I’ve chosen – because I have for once managed to make a decision – could actually fit into a lot of the categories on this list. It makes me happy but it’s also made me cry. I know all the words, I’ve danced to it a million times and  it reminds me both of people and places I’ve loved. It’s also a song I’ve loved since I was little and had no idea who The Cure were or what the song was about, I just liked the chorus! Over the past couple of weeks I’ve thought about and listened to this song more than I have in years so choosing it seems particularly appropriate.

My favourite song is of course Friday I’m in Love. It’s a song which seems to run through the fabric of my life and even at the times in my life when hearing it made me sad it’s always been a song I loved. At the moment just hearing the opening bars makes me want to dance like a crazy person so, of all the songs that I love, this is officially the one I love the most.

“I don’t care if Monday’s blue
Tuesday’s grey and Wednesday too
Thursday I don’t care about you
It’s Friday I’m in love”