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Lest we forget

451612597We finally made it to see the poppies at the Tower of London on Saturday. Trite as it may sound, just getting to see the poppies shows just how different life is for the children growing up in our street today from those who were growing up 100 years ago. Rather than risk a fruitless trip to the Tower of London, where the huge crowds and the pouring rain conspired so that many people – especially children – couldn’t get near enough to the moat to see anything of the extraordinary installation of 888,246 ceramic poppies, we came up with a wizard wheeze to avoid the crowds. I bought tickets for a London By Night tour bus and Liz and I bundled up Jack, Katy and Katy’s friend – Pearl, who was staying for a sleepover – packed a winter picnic and headed out into the dark and rain. The tour started in Piccadilly, just outside The Ritz Hotel, and as we got there early we couldn’t resist a look through the windows. “Are we allowed inside?” asked Katy peering up at the marble steps and impressive revolving doors. “Come on!” cried Liz, shaking her brolly and gliding up the steps like a 21st-century Mary Poppins as the kids gaped in her wake. She made a beeline for the tallest smartest looking doorman, fixed him with a 500w smile and nodded conspiratorially towards the Palm Court, “I’ve come to show them the most beautiful tea room in the world.” The doorman gave her a, “Right you are ma’am,” nod, and reached a gloved hand out to open the door.

Ten minutes later, suitably wowed, we were on the top deck of a tour bus driving past Harrods, Westminster Abbey, St Paul’s Cathedral and eventually London Bridge to see The Tower of London and all its magnificent poppies from our lofty position. It was cold, dark and wet but we felt a million dollars as we sipped our hot chocolate from our £3.99 Poundstretcher flasks, gliding past paparazzi staking out The Dorchester in Park Lane and the remnants of the Lord Mayor’s Show outside St Paul’s Cathedral.

By the time we got off the girls were desperate for the loo, so off we trotted back to our favourite hotel, The Ritz, where Liz explained how we’d spent the last hour. He may have felt like rolling his eyes and saying, “Not you again,” but, again, was the perfect gentleman, directing us, “Through the double doors and straight on.”

Our bus journey home was punctuated with descriptions of The Ritz bathrooms and calculations of how many Xboxes Jack could buy for the price of a night there. “They call it The Powder Room,” explained Pearl, “and it’s covered in pink marble.”

I don’t know how many children were living in our little corner of London 100 years ago, or how many of them got to look round The Ritz just two or three miles away, but I doubt many of them had that chance or would have been welcomed in so graciously. I do know that of the boys who headed off to fight in WW1 from one street round the corner, ten didn’t come home. There are only 23 houses in the whole street. The names of the ten who died are carved into a simple white stone fixed just above head height between two of the houses. Yesterday morning, on impulse, I dragged the kids out (Katy and Pearl pulled their coats on over their pyjamas) just in time for the two minutes’ silence. Dog walkers stopped to join us as another neighbour dug out a yellowing newspaper cutting and read out the names of the ten men from the street who died in France and Belgium between 1914-18.

Would we have had the luxury of creating a stir in The Ritz or running back home to enjoy tea and toast in front of the TV if it hadn’t been for them? Probably not, but that’s not what it was about. It’s about remembering what happened, respecting those who were caught up in it and hoping that those memories will enable all of us to do what we can to ensure that such terrible horrors and waste of life never happens again.

Posted by Amanda Blinkhorn

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