Urban Junkies - Get your daily fix
London Subscribe for free and get your daily fix
Emma Remembers
Emma Gets A Life

Emmaprovement Continues...

There are many things I miss about school.

My cosy Blackwatch kilt, for one. The fact that - by wearing such kilt - I was automatically a sex icon. But mostly, I miss being good.

At school, we had to give our seats up to old ladies on the bus, and collect cans to the food bank, and raise money for Gilbert and Ayla, the school's two African foster kids. We happily spent whole lunch hours writing letters for Amnesty International. (Mine were particularly heartfelt, I must say.)

And, also, I miss ceremony. As a childless adult, it's easy to let things slip.
I skipped Thanksgiving this year. I couldn't be bothered to walk to the park on Guy Fawkes night (let's burn a Catholic!). I'll know I've really gone to the dark side when I turn the lights off and hide on Halloween. But, it's easy, isn't it? To not bother.

And so, with that in mind - a year ago this week - I got up early on a Sunday. Little Emma, my flatmate, was shocked.

'Did you just get in?' she asked.
'No, I'm going to the Remembrance Day ceremony,' I said firmly.

She looked confused. I offered to wait for her - if she wanted to come with me - but she said she was planning on spending the morning reading the papers. I raised my eyebrows; as if to imply, 'millions of young men and women died so you could read the papers, the least you could do was honour them by going to the Cenotaph with me'. But she cheerfully slumped down on the sofa.

'Have a good time', she called, as I slammed the door. Seemingly, doing good things makes me indignant.

I figured there would be, what, a hundred people there. Getting off the tube, I was shocked. There were thousands of people lining the street. I tried to push my way closer to the Cenotaph, thinking perhaps this would be the moment I caught Prince Harry's eye, but there were just too many people.

I found a spot and leaned against one of the crowd-control railings. I regretted not calling my cousin, who works for Number 10, to see if I could get a VIP seat. Then, I felt bad. Wanting red rope service is not really the spirit of Remembrance Day. My fifteen-year-old self - the girl who wanted to change the world, who spat on women who wore fur - would hate what I've become.

It happened so gradually, I didn't really notice at first. As eleven o'clock approached, the crowd started to quiet down, like a mute Mexican wave - even the children stopped fussing, the babies stopped crying, as if perhaps in shock. Because, really, when was the last time you were anywhere in London and it was completely silent?

Standing there I got a little uncomfortable - it's strange being so still with so many strangers - so I looked up. There were seagulls flying overhead, white against the blue sky, and it was so quiet you could actually hear the flags flapping in the wind. And I thought about how, not that long ago, planes used to rain bombs down on this city. And people died.

And I got a bit weepy. It's pathetic, obviously, but appropriating other people's grief is a particular talent of mine. It's not like I know anyone who has ever been in a war - not even my grandparents.

The nice old lady next to me noticed me welling up. She reached over, so naturally, and patted my arm comfortingly, the way only old ladies can do. Then, I was in floods, choking back sobs, because nothing unravels me like the kindness of strangers.

We heard them before we saw them; the war planes racing overhead to signal the end of the two minutes of silence. People actually seemed a little reluctant to start speaking again, so strangely magical it was to be silent with so many people.

'You alright, love,' the lady next to me whispered, squeezing my arm.
She was in her eighties. She was probably my age during WWII.

'I'm fine,' I said, laughing a little. I didn't hug her. But, boy, I wanted to.

Remembrance Day November 11

by EC
Send this feature to a friend
Go to the previous day's feature
Go to the next day's feature
(c) 2007 Urban Junkies. All rights reserved.