Friday, 27 June 2008
Today, after I had spent a while on what is laughably called my 'Get Fit' routine, I wandered across to the public gardens to sit in the sunshine and read my book. Some selfish, thoughtless pair of individuals had taken my usual bench, as if it was there for anybody to use, and were wasting their time instead of doing something useful for society. I do not understand how some folks get away with it, I really don't!
Anyway as I was lounging here in the sun I decided to sneak a pic of a wonderful scene. Behind me in the bright green conifer some small bird was chirping, and little ants were meandering across the bench, and me, searching for fodder. For once the squirrels kept their distance and only a pair of blackbirds came near. The benches to my right each contained one person intent on pretending no-one else lived in this overcrowded world. Indeed each and every person you meet in the gardens works on the basis that greeting a passerby , especially a male, could lead to leprosy or the plague being passed on.naturally with such nervous folks around I always say 'hello,' and leer kindly.
The quietness of the great green slab in front was broken only by the two distant dim (well they appear to be students) figures soaking up the sun and recovering from a needless hangover. And quiet it was today. usually there are a crowd of neds lying around noisily, and even the kiddies were further away in the shade of the trees behind the empty tennis courts. Only the occasional few minutes girning was heard when the brats ran off in my direction and whined when brought back by the brutal mother in charge. The rest of the place stayed quiet.
In the far distance, not visible in the picture stands the war memorial. Thirty or so feet high it contains the names of over two hundred souls lost in the great war and those who died in the second. In such situation as today's I often compare the tall structure and it's imposing silence with the sights and sounds that greeted those who's lives are commemorated there. Clerks and shopkeepers, factory hands, skilled and unskilled, volunteers and conscripted, how they would have liked to be sitting here in the gardens instead of lying under some strange foreign soil. Most with little real idea of where they actually were when they met their end! The sun drenched grass with the distant sound of a child's laughter contrasts with the muddy brown shell holes of Picardy. In summer they too would have been bothered by bees and other beasties crawling all over them as they stood on sentry duty and stared into a bleak empty nothingness. Rats of course would have bothered them less than the lice that never seemed to leave them and which took up so much of their free time burning off with cigarettes and pipes. Their lives, ended by loud callous shell fire or rattling machine gun, amid noise and confusion is forgotten by most who sit there in the sun.
Of course, whatever the rights and wrongs of the wars and how they came about, without those men we could not sit here in the silence. Political mistakes and selfish ambition, Empire building and jealousy of another's possession, madness and folly all combined over the years to leave us with a twentieth century of pain and woe. Was it all necessary? No. Could it have been avoided? Yes. But if so another war would have taken its place. Human nature is like that. The men looking down from those great slabs full of names can be happy that this gardens pleasure is one folk can enjoy because of their sacrifice. Had they not fallen the jackboot would sooner or later remove such pleasures from most of us. They did not die in vain.