This year I once again played at the Festival of Remembrance in Falkirk Town Hall on Saturday and then again at the Armistice Parade in Falkirk on Sunday. Sadly, this was also the first year I found myself rather uncomfortable doing so. It really feels that Remembrance Sunday has completed its transformation from a sombre event of respect and remembrance into something decidedly... other.
I have three reasons for this:
Firstly, there's a enforced respect agenda that has been gradually creeping up on us. It started a few years ago when we started seeing various guests being lambasted for the horrific 'crime' of not wearing a poppy while appearing on the BBC in the weeks before the event. It has now expanded to the point where even the Cookie Monster is festooned with a poppy before appearing on the One Show. (I'm also more than a little uncomfortable that the BBC apparently gets a bulk order of poppies for this season, and puts one on all guests as a matter of course. Which means that it's actually not a show of respect for people to wear them; it's just an extension of makeup. If we were actually serious about the matter, guests would be required to provide their own poppies for appearance.)
But more troubling than even that is the horror show of the newspapers turning Remembrance Day into a stick with which to beat Jeremy Corbyn - he didn't bow low enough, or his poppy wasn't big enough, or was too big, or he dared to dance into the street (while talking to an actual veteran; the newspapers cropped the photo in order to invent an offense). It's disgusting.
Secondly, there's the rise of poppy bling. Apparently, it's not enough for our celebrities to show respect the same way as the rest of us. Oh, no, they have to show how specially special their remembrance is with their special bejewelled poppies, with larger-than-life poppies, poppy cufflinks, poppy ties, poppy hats, or whatever other show of one-upmanship they can event. Because they're special people, so they need to show their 'respect' in special ways.
But, thirdly, and most troublingly, it really feels that the remembrance agenda has become increasingly hijacked by the powers-that-be for their own ends, and in particular the glorification of our military and their ongoing adventures in far flung lands. Here's a hint: if you're painting a poppy on a plane or a tank, you're doing it wrong - unless your next act is to immediately scrap that vehicle.
I find myself deeply uncomfortable even writing this, because Remembrance Sunday is a serious and important event, or at least it should be. The First World War was a mad exercise in throwing away lives for no good reason, and we've not actually become much better. We still send our troops to places they probably shouldn't be, don't equip them properly, and then fail to care for them when they come home injured. It's all a disgrace, and if Remembrance Sunday even helps to keep that in check then that's a good thing. But I'm increasingly uncomfortable with what Remembrance Sunday (or, rather, everything that surrounds it) is becoming.
I think, unless something changes, my days of wearing the poppy are numbered. I'll continue to make my donation, of course, but as for wearing the symbol... As long as Grandad remains alive, I'll wear it in recognition of his service. But once he passes, it will be time for a rethink.