It was Remembrance weekend and we had a visitor on Saturday afternoon. My wife's friend and former work colleague came a visiting from North Yorkshire and stayed over until Monday. They'd planned a culinary weekend, visiting my wife's new place of work, a `soon to be award winning` bakery and bistro in a little Suffolk coastal village. It's owned and run by a young Canadian gal and her parents from England and Jamaica - what a combination!
Mrs HD's friend is Japanese and although she has made England her home for some years now, she has lived, studied and worked in Paris and is married to a New Zealander. She says she'll never return to Japan to live permanently as the culture doesn't agree with her. We have met her parents on a number of their visits from their home in Japan, recently re-built after the earthquake. They are good sports. Her father speaks some English, her mother none. He is a hoot and last time he visited produced a harmonica he had been learning to play. I have to admit that being serenaded by a Japanese man playing two verses of, "On the Bonnie Banks of Loch Lomond" followed by "Amazing Grace", on a mouth organ, in a Yorkshire cottage, was one of the more bizarre moments I have experienced.
Remembrance Sunday was the day I'd decided that I was not going to play any part in what the ladies were planning, unless you count eating and drinking by the log burner at the end of the day. No, I had other plans. I affixed a big red British Legion poppy to my motorcycle and headed off to the Norfolk coast, a 90 minute ride. The temperature was hovering just a few degrees above freezing when I set off at 10.30 but it was dry and the early frosting on the roads had melted. At just before 11.00 I pulled off the A140 into a lay-by, switched off the motor and, with another chap who'd pulled up in a car, I observed 2 minutes silence. The sun was blazing away doing its winter best against the cold wind and I felt its warmth on my face.
An hour and two minutes later and I had rolled to a stop in the main cemetery of the coastal town where the earthly remains of my Grandfather had been laid to rest in August 1914. He was a regular soldier of The Essex Regiment well before the war began. He died aged 31. I swept the leaves from his grave and placed the little cross bearing a single poppy, again provided by The British Legion, next to his headstone which in turn was provided by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission - two magnificent organisations. I had written the names of us, the six grandchildren that he never knew, on the back of the cross. I waited a while and wondered and wandered with my thoughts, then re-focussed and headed into town for a mug of builders tea and a fruit scone to sustain me for the return hop, due south, homeward bound.
The tea room was full to bursting with folks all wearing their poppies, many of whom had attended the 11am service at the town's war memorial. I managed to get the last vacant seat at a small table. Before I'd finished my scone the place had almost emptied (biker friendly, pure co-incidence :) leaving just me and two couples with small children, one of whom appeared fascinated by my flip front full face helmet, placed on the table in front of me. His eyes never left me as I paid up, jacketed up, buffed up, walked out the door and readied myself by the bike that was patiently leaning on its side stand right outside the cafe window. Little lad's eyes were like organ stops as I flipped the helmet's internal sun visor up and down a few times to add to his amazement. Switches on, dials alive and swinging, thumb the starter, gear, gone. I smiled inside my helmet, for I knew what that kid now wanted for the next 11 Christmases and birthdays. It was his mother I felt sorry for, remembering the look on my own mum's face when I told her I would like a motorbike for my 16th birthday.
The return journey was in falling temperatures with the sun lowering and giving me a few visibility problems as it's full beam hit me 20 degrees to the right of head-on. The thermometer on the instrument panel was showing 4C by the time I rolled into our village. I de-kitted and, having received a message that the girls were en route as well, I prepared the log burner and decided to put my feet up, put the TV on and watch a bit of the National Remembrance service I'd recorded.
It's at times such as this that the trusty Anglo Saxon general purpose word for frustration, disdain, contempt, resolution etc (I said it was a general purpose word) comes to my lips, and this was one such moment - "Bollocks", I snapped out of my unnecessary diplomacy, kept calm and carried on. This is what remembrance is all about.