Dispatch from the Razor's Edge, the Blog of Michael Stephen Fuchs
2003.12.24 : Brightening Up London / Remembrance Day

"So if the sherry glass is full
But the day is way too young
You'd better sip today, sip today, sip today
Before it's gone."
        - Live

     So, Sir Bob Geldof, presumably running short of things to do, decided that London at the end of the year was a slightly too drab place for his taste and he got the idea of colourfully gift-wrapping a number of London's greatest buildings. And how could that be wrong? They came online on successive weekends leading up to Christmas: The Tate Britain, the Queen's House in Greenwich, the National Theatre. The themes were picked by celebrities, or by popular vote. I went out on one of the first weekends, it was deathly cold, I was alone, I was waiting for the sun to go down. So that I could see. I went to Hyde Park Corner, where broods Wellington Arch.
     While I waited and shivered, I couldn't help but notice that I was surrounded by a series of war memorials. Behind me was the Australian war memorial. It's probably passed a lot of people's notice, but Australians have fought and died in pretty much all the major wars of the last century. Tucked away down there at the "arse end" of the globe, they probably could have stayed out of all kinds of trouble. But instead they did their bit. Always have done. One of the inscriptions I read here intoned that this memorial:
"honors the commitment of Australians who served alongside Britain and her Allies in defence of freedom in the first and second world wars: Whatever burden you are to carry, we will also shoulder that burden."

     Feeling someone looking over my shoulder, I spun awkwardly – and found this altogether imposing guy behind me. Yes, those are artillery shells on his legs (four of them). I realised he's part of a memorial to the artillerymen who died in the two world wars. I'm dumbfounded when the first plaque informs me that 49,076 artillerymen alone died in the Great War. And another 29,924 in WWII. (Weren't those guys behind the lines?)

You may have noticed, as I did, that the base of the memorial was strewn with wreaths of poppies.

Remembrance Day

So, for several weeks late in the year, everytime I tried to enter or exit a Tube station, someone tried to sell me a poppy for my lapel. It seemed everyone else in London had already bought theirs, sporting them on coats and blouses and hats. I kept dodging poppy sellers on platforms – thinking they were for some awareness month or other. Prostrate cancer, perhaps. (Though I shouldn't joke about even that.) There were even posters put up here and there by the "Poppy Appeal". But neither they, nor anything else, explained to me what the poppies were for. As a silly immigrant, I needed explaining. It took another American (Josh, down from Edinburgh) to set me straight.

It turns out the poppies are a symbol of national respect in the run-up to . . . Remembrance Day. On (or around) that day, the whole nation takes a moment of silence to remember and give thanks to the millions who went off and fought and died so that they could all now live in spectacular freedom, security, and prosperity. Here's a whole nation giving thanks to the soldiers who gifted them with that nation, every year, for like two weeks of the year. And I felt so awed, and ashamed of my previous lack of understanding, and just thought it was so completely lovely. And such a statement on the British national character. (I don't intend to demean our U.S. Memorial Day, but it does really just involve a lot more taking a day off from work and grilling than it does solemn remembrance and gratitude.)

It was further explained to me (by Jacqui, this time, I think), that the symbol of the poppy comes from WWI. When the guns fell silent, and they went out between the lines to gather the dead, they found that the fields were spectacularly abloom with poppies – so well fertilised was the ground. And, suddenly, after 15 years, I understood the Sting lyric:

"Poppies for young men
Death's bitter trade"
     Anyway, after my survey of the momuments I turned again to find that Wellington Arch had been well brightened up (in a series of images that rotated every ten minutes or so):      Jacqui and Jonathan and I later went out, on Christmas Eve, to see the National Gallery and Buckingham Palace brightened up:      It's funny to me. It's as if London just has this complete commitment to being a magical city. "Hmm, London at Christmas-time isn't glorious enough. Let's gift-wrap it! Right, then." Though, I will note that magic isn't enough. Only love is, I think. (Enough and too much at once, often, it seems.)

I decided, by the way, to spend the holidays here, mainly because I didn't like to think of turning around and re-crossing the Atlantic so soon. It would have felt like day-camp, rather than real, overnight camp. It would be my first Christmas away from my family in about ten years – and, I think, my first really alone. I figured, hey, one year, how big a deal can it be? I sent gifts, and I called everyone on Christmas day, and I received gifts (in that order! ;^), and my few-in-number-but-huge-in-heart friends here were great. But it was a little lonely, and a little hard. It's a little bigger deal than I thought. And it led to my first period of being really down since I've been here. Of course, you can't be exuberant all the time – so much less so if you're me, I'm afraid. But, as always, and as someone or other is fond of saying, life could certainly be a hell of a lot worse. But it still seems quite sad. Enduringly so.


  the military     jacqui     london     photography  
about
close photo of Michael Stephen Fuchs

Fuchs is the author of the novels The Manuscript and Pandora's Sisters, both published worldwide by Macmillan in hardback, paperback and all e-book formats (and in translation); the D-Boys series of high-tech, high-concept, spec-ops military adventure novels – D-Boys, Counter-Assault, and Close Quarters Battle (2014); and is co-author, with Glynn James, of the bestselling Arisen series of spec-ops zombie apocalypse dark action thrillers. The second nicest thing anyone has ever said about his work was: "Fuchs seems to operate on the narrative principle of 'when in doubt put in a firefight'." (Kirkus Reviews, more here.)

Fuchs was born in New York; schooled in Virginia (UVa); and later emigrated to the San Francisco Bay Area, where he lived through the dot-com boom. Subsequently he decamped for an extended period of tramping before finally rocking up in London, where he now makes his home. He does a lot of travel blogging, most recently of some very  long  walks around the British Isles. He's been writing and developing for the web since 1994 and shows no particularly hopeful signs of stopping.

You can reach him on .

THE MANUSCRIPT by Michael Stephen Fuchs
PANDORA'S SISTERS by Michael Stephen Fuchs
DON'T SHOOT ME IN THE ASS, AND OTHER STORIES by Michael Stephen Fuchs
D-BOYS by Michael Stephen Fuchs
COUNTER-ASSAULT by Michael Stephen Fuchs
ARISEN, Book One - Fortress Britain, by Glynn James & Michael Stephen Fuchs
ARISEN, Book Two - Mogadishu of the Dead, by Glynn James & Michael Stephen Fuchs
ARISEN : Genesis, by Michael Stephen Fuchs
ARISEN Book Three - Three Parts Dead, by Glynn James & Michael Stephen Fuchs
ARISEN Book Four - Maximum Violence, by Glynn James & Michael Stephen Fuchs
ARISEN Book Five - EXODUS, by Glynn James & Michael Stephen Fuchs
ARISEN Book Six - The Horizon, by Glynn James & Michael Stephen Fuchs
ARISEN, Book Seven - Death of Empires, by Glynn James & Michael Stephen Fuchs
ARISEN, Book Eight - Empire of the Dead by Glynn James & Michael Stephen Fuchs
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