Tag Archives: Poppy

Lest We Forget…

Sunday 11th November 2012. Armistice Day. Remembrance Sunday.

Poppy Day.

Poppies bloomed across some of the worst battlefields of Flanders in World War I, their brilliant red colour symbolising the blood spilled in the war. Hostilities formally ended “at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month” and every year since, Britain pays its respects to all those in the armed forces who have died in the line of duty.

Today it’s been a morning of quiet reflection. Partly due to Calvin Innes’ beautifully poignant illustration of two characters whom I love dearly and what they may be thinking. And possibly because I am working on a series of World War Two diaries given to me by my next door neighbour Graeme, whose father was held captive in a German POW camp for four years. He kept these diaries hidden all that time; he could’ve been shot if the Germans had discovered them.

These diaries are a sombre change from the normal ‘bums and bogies’ nonsense I write about but I’m realising that children love learning about history. I’ve seen the WWII projects that go on in schools where kids built Anderson shelters and recreate entire model streets and towns, only to come into school on Monday morning to find the houses demolished, as they might’ve been in reality 70 years ago. This first hand impact and the emotional connection this creates helps to develop a rounded understanding of what people went through back then.

And despite what some scare-mongering newspapers like to promote, children are still children these days. Whilst I’ve been visiting schools throughout the length and breadth of the country, I feel reassured that society will look after itself; that children are still just small people and 99% of them are decent little human beings being taught the same ethics and values that develop responsible citizens, regardless of their background.

Talking of trust and decency, I was incredibly moved this week, when I was due to visit Glebe Primary School near Derby. The literacy co-ordinator at the school, Freda, offered to put me up at her house for the night. Freda and her husband, Steve had been talking about my dramatic change in careers and wanted to help out a new author embarking on a different voyage. It was a wonderful offer, because travelling to different schools around the country can be an expensive business, with hotels and meals etc, and they very kindly agreed to look after me.

Nobody does that now, do they? Nobody agrees to take a complete stranger into their home, feeds them with wonderful pork and cider casserole, two baked potatoes and vegetables, fruit, ice-cream and copious amounts of wine?

Well, Freda and Steve did! A wonderful couple with a beautiful home and a strong artistic, creative streak running through their family. I hope Freda fulfils her dreams to begin writing seriously (and turns the cubby room under the stairs into her writing studio). I was amazed with Steve (a former policeman) and his stories about engaging with youngsters and leading a group of performing children to the Houses of Parliament to win a national award, promoting the serious message of Stranger Danger in entertaining ways. I will never forget your kindness and generosity.

However, Freda kept quiet about this but Steve told me later that her eldest lad Dan, aged 23, has just won the UK Final of the Loop Station and V-Drum World Championships and is now off to Los Angeles to compete for the world title. If that had been me and one of my daughters, I’d be shouting about it from the rooftops. Good luck, Dan!

And Glebe primary school pupils were amazing! 400 enthusiastic and engaged children (and 60 parents) willing to take part in some nooby author’s manic performance. They were a credit to the school with the superb behaviour and the ability to become very vocal and excited one minute then come back down to earth to listen carefully to the next part of the story.

But then again, most schools are like this. What made Glebe primary special was the size of audience, all the parents in the audience and the extra excitement around the school because of literacy week. Thank you Glebe Primary, thank you mums and dads and grandparents, thank you Mrs Seymour the headteacher and especially, thank you to Freda and Steve.

Finally, there’s that tiny percentage of pupils who haven’t quite learned what good behaviour is. I suppose the earlier you identify this, the easier it is to correct. There’s always one or two kids in most schools that can be a little er… flighty. However, I was still rather surprised at another school, with this outburst.

I had already performed to the Key Stage 2 children; they were brilliant. Then I was presenting to the Key Stage 1 pupils, reception and early years children aged between 4 and 7 years old. I was in full flow, coming to the end of my session, extolling the virtues of books and reading and I was asked what inspired me about books.

‘Books are great,’ I began, ready to continue when one little chap in the back row, who was about six, shouted out.

‘Boobs are great!’

‘No,’ I replied. ‘I said “Books are great.”’ Luckily none of the other children picked up on what the kid said. Then, the little nutter lost the plot altogether.

‘No, BOOBS! Boobs are great. Tell us about boobs!’ he started shouting. ‘Tell us about boobs!’

His teacher was swift to move in and the boy was whisked out of the classroom faster than a rocket on roller-skates. Amazingly, the rest of the classroom seemed oblivious to the disturbance and I managed to keep going with a straight face.

At the end, the teacher came up to me and apologised for the interruption, saying she was surprised he’d kept quiet for almost an hour; he could be a bit of a handful. Then the lad came back into the classroom and apologised, quite sincerely. Someone had had a word in his ear and hopefully he’d learned his lesson.

This blog began in a sombre mood and ended with a seaside postcard moment of madness from a very cheeky six year old. My only justification for including this today is judging from that diary, and the black humour of the British ‘Tommy’ soldiers in that POW camp in northern Germany, they’d be laughing their socks off right now.

Lest we forget…