Sunday, 9 November 2008

In which I attempt to show some respect but then immediately undermine myself with the usual twee trivia

Two important events on the world calendar which seem to regularly intersect on this day each year are the Remembrance Sunday commemorations at the Cenotaph, and my dear friend Miss R's birthday lunch. Today, as last year, I found myself walking out of Charing Cross Station against the mighty tide of former servicemen, their families, and random respect-payers, all of them engaged in a) taking photos b) effecting some kind of impressive near-march, even when at ease and c) looking extraordinarily proud and dignified. This year, as last year, it was all I could do not to arrive at lunch with my cheeks sluiced with tears and mascara. 

I was momentarily distracted, though, from my feelings of privileged youth, sadness and inadequacy by the glorious sight of a handsome young man arm-in-arm with a very frail elderly serviceman. I know not what their relationship was – grandson and grandfather, younger military man assigned to mind an older one for the day, neighbours perhaps – but, with numbing predictability, it did make me fall in love with Serviceman Jr a bit. 

Let me flailingly attempt to convince you that this should in no way detract from my respect and admiration for Those Who Served. I'm just being honest – which is one of the worst ever excuses used by people who habitually say utterly repellant things.

But still, it did make me think how ridiculously impressionable I am when it comes to such acts of perceived kindness and dotherightthing-ness. I could never imagine buying a calendar with photographs of brawny, built beefcakes, but I would be first in the queue for one that featured skinny/paunchy/balding/hirsute/geeky/freaky/average men involved in acts of charity and compassion. Naturally, I would be inviting today's hero (yes, yes, one of many, of course) to be Mr November, but I'm hastily brainstorming in anticipation of the others. I'm thinking:
  • Man doggedly rattling charity collection tin outside supermarket in driving rain.
  • Man carrying suitcase down very long tube escalator for elderly lady, struggling to disguise the fact that even he is finding it really fucking heavy.
  • Bus driver waiting for infirm geriatric to find a seat and sit down safely in it before flooring the accelerator.
  •  The man who jumped onto the railway tracks at East Dulwich station one morning to rescue my Birkenstock after it had fallen there during a train-boarding bundle from which I emerged very much the loser.
  • Man grinning broodily at stranger's baby on public transport.
  • Man giving up seat on bus/train/other for someone not necessarily over 80/nine months pregnant.
  • Man with cat in vet's waiting room, clearly about to cry at any moment. Actually, this might be a bit weird.
I am thinking a reality show. I am thinking a feature film. Mugs! Tea towels! Christ! I am sitting on a goldmine. But you understand I would obviously be donating all proceeds to charity.

Anyway, after lunch, I can only presume that a residual surge of hormones was responsible for me splashing out a ludicrous amount of money on what I can only describe as a Non-Essential Coat. I had put some money aside for a proper non-H&M, non-Primark, actually warm winter coat. By this I mean I had put the money aside in my head. By this I mean I hadn't put any actual, real money aside at all and had carried on frittering it away as usual on trifles. Real and metaphorical. So there was no money for a Proper Winter Coat, let alone money for a flimsy but incredibly chic mac that was also a little bit like a parka, but was unlikely to stand up to a light shower, let alone snow. But that's what I bought.

In my defence, however, a) I had liked it for ages – like, at least three weeks – and b) it is in no way modish or destined to be totally unwearable next season. Therefore, to invoke Shopping Lies We Tell Ourselves No. 426, it is An Investment. Another boon is that when I am wearing it, I feel as though I am channelling Mariella Frostrup at the Hay-On-Wye festival. All I need is a pair of Cath Kidston wellies, and my own Radio 4 show cannot be far away.

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