By the time we were awake enough to go outside (I had a photography assignment to finish) the streets were full of poppy-wearing people walking back from Botley cemetery. Men in suits, youths in Scout and Guide uniforms; for once the streets were full of people dressed neatly. I felt scruffy and out of place in my shambling woollen coat, one of my mum's from her hippy days.
"They're only beatniks -- that means people in need of a capable nanny and a good tubbing. Incidentally, that sort of thing is going out of fashion, thank goodness! One can put up with all sorts of whims and fancies from people in the teends, but beatniks are plain dirty and nothing else -- unless you reckon plain lazy and clearly untrustworthy."
"Why? -- untrustworthy, I mean?" Erica asked, startled.
"My dear girl! If you've so little self-respect you don't care what a sight you look you certainly can't be trusted to respect other people. At least," Joey modified her dictum a little, "that's the impression you give." [E. M. Brent-Dyer, Summer Term at the Chalet School]
I was looking for colours to photograph. I'd planned to head to the playing fields off North Hinksey Lane to take photos of primary-coloured playground equipment against green grass and grey skies, or somesuch, but when we got there I realised that -- it being a dry(ish) Sunday around lunchtime -- the playground was full of children, and one doesn't take photos around other people's children any more. Also, the playground equipment looked quite disappointingly dull.
By the time we went back past the cemetery, the crowds had dispersed, and it was threatening to rain. We headed to the Commonwealth War Graves and walked quietly between the rows of white stones. I say "white"; they're actually stained greenish on top and brownish at the bottom, with just the names and dates left clear in the middle.
Those that have names and dates, that is. Some only have an initial, some only have a date of death. Some have even less than that.
I wanted to take photos of the wreaths on top of the Stone of Remembrance, but there were still a few people wandering around nearby and I felt that it would be intrusive. For a moment I thought the coast was clear; then the Mayoress wandered over in a dark overcoat, her chain of office like a string of medals. I backed off to a respectful distance as she knelt in front of the stone... then I noticed that in her left hand was a digital camera; she was kneeling to straighten a couple of the wreaths, and having done this, she took a few steps back (I backed off further, no longer out of respect for the gravity of the scene but merely to make sure I was out of shot) and took a couple of snaps of the display.
Once she'd gone, I figured I was free to take my own photos. Close up, the poppies were horribly artificial, pinkish plastic petals. I know it's so that the paper doesn't disintegrate and leak red all over the clean white stones; these flowers are impervious to mud and rain. They never biodegrade.
In the evening, I sang in Evensong at Pembroke as usual. I wore a plain black dress and pinned my paper poppy to the bodice, expecting a Remembrance Day service. In fact it was mostly just a normal Evensong, though with a sermon about war (in the context of the Christian hope of eternal life), prayers for peace, and a solo trumpet playing the Last Post. We didn't sing Guest's setting of 'For the Fallen' (not compulsory, just expected), though we did sing "Jerusalem" and the National Anthem; and they didn't read out the names of Pembrokians who fell in the two great wars. Not everybody had dressed appropriately for the occasion (but I've had this rant before: different college, same issues). Most people probably didn't see it as an occasion. Maybe it wasn't: an occasion needs participants (the three or four members of the congregation wouldn't have stood a chance against the 20 or so choir members). Still, most people sat still through the sermon, and nobody took photos in chapel.
What am I trying to say?
It is impossible to say just what I mean.
Perhaps that's what silence is for.