Posted by Tania Kindersley.
At breakfast, as we are eating our boiled eggs and sourdough toast, the youngest of my small relations says: ‘Are all the good men dead?’
‘The good men?’ I ask. I frown and concentrate. I always do my best to follow her lightning trains of thought.
‘Yes,’ she says, looking straight at me. She is curious but not upset. ‘The good men died.’
She looks more closely at me, as if wanting me to understand. ‘You know, in the war. So people wear the poppy.’
I am quite astounded. I of course think her the most gifted and remarkable child, but she is my tiny cousin and I am biased in her favour. I don’t always know what children might do at what age, what is advanced, what is only to be expected. I think three is quite remarkably young to know about war and poppies.
So then we talk about the poppies and the fallen and that kind of thing. There is something very restful in talking to a small child about death, because it is not something they yet put much drama around. It seems to be a fact of life to them. They are amazingly philosophical and clear-eyed about the whole business.
‘Is he old? Is he going to heaven?’ she had said, earlier, of one of my dear octogenarians.
‘Probably quite soon,’ I said. ‘But not just yet.’ (I say this more in hope than in the spirit of empiricism.)
Anyway, my little cousin H is very interested in this life and death stuff. So we speak of the soldiers and the wars. I find myself not sanitising for her, but keeping it very clear and simple. I hate patronising children, but I don’t want to baffle and confuse either.
Then she says: ‘Is there still war?’
‘Yes, ‘ I say. ‘In somewhere called Afghanistan. It’s very far away.’
‘It’s very far away,’ she agrees, as if she knew that all along.
She thinks about all this for a while. She writes something in her special notebook. She looks up suddenly at her mother and me. She smiles her blinding smile. She seems to have it all sorted out in her head. She is wonderfully present, and vivid, and in the world.
At quarter to eleven, the Beloved Cousin and I put on our smart coats, with our scarlet poppies on our lapels, and drive to the little Cotswold town up the road, to gather among the ancient pillars of the old cornmarket for the eleven o’clock silence. We did this last year; it has become an important thing for us. I am not sure why. We do not have fighting men in our family; we have no brothers or cousins or even friends in the dust of Helmand Province. It’s age, perhaps; we find it increasingly proper to pay our respects.
I always think of my old, dead grandfathers. My mother’s father flew in the First World War, and called the aeroplanes in from the control tower of RAF Benson in the second. He wanted to fly, but they said he was too old. He was an actor, and the pilots liked his voice, so that was part of the reason why he was chosen to guide the Hurricanes and the Spitfires home. My father’s father fought in the Second World War, mostly in Italy. They were of that generation, almost all gone now, who did not have to be professional fighting men to see active service. They saw things that I cannot quite imagine, even though imagination is my business.
Last year, the gathering was very small, perhaps no more than twenty people. This year, the cornmarket was full. There were the old people, smart in their spruce poppies, but, this time, the young and middle-aged too. A little canon went off; we all stood to attention, silent with our thoughts. Down the high street, shopkeepers came out onto the pavement and stood still; pedestrians stopped, and bowed their heads. A lorry went past; I felt a sudden fury that the driver could not have pulled over, on the stroke of eleven. But then I thought life must go on, deliveries must be made, jobs done.
I thought, suddenly, brutally, viscerally, of my departed father. Must not cry, must not cry, I thought. This is not about me. This two minute silence is about the war dead, and everything they fought for. (In my more sentimental moments I think: it was so that my generation can be free.)
Then the canon sounded again, and that was that. The group shifted and smiled politely at each other and dispersed. The gentleman with his flag from some Veterans’ association lowered his standard. The Cousin and I went across the road and had a restorative espresso.
‘I wish there had been The Last Post or something,’ I said. ‘I could have done with a trumpet.’
Later, in the dank afternoon, we took the dogs to the arboretum at Westonbirt and looked at the acers. Whatever else happens, the magnificent trees remain the same. I always have a profound gratitude for the trees, but today I felt it more keenly than ever. I love their stillness, their history, their beauty. There have been moments, this year, when I have really thought: whatever happens, I have the trees.
So, for the pictures. I promised you photographs of acers, and so you shall have them. Sadly, it was a dark day, and we went late, and everything is blurred and out of focus, because of the light. As I snapped, rather fruitlessly, I hoped that the wonky effect might just give an impressionist look, as if they were pictures painted by Monet. Instead, they are just rather substandard pictures. But at least you can see the colours:
Now for some slightly better ones I took earlier, of the garden. It always amazes me to come south and see a euphorbia as green as if it were springtime:
And a perfect autumn rose:
And my favourite astrantias. How can astrantias still be in their pomp? In my neck of the woods, such a sight is quite out of the question:
And a little lavender:
Here are the windfalls in the old orchard:
And wonderful moss on an ancient apple tree:
And the glorious twisted trees themselves. My fruit trees are still so young; they do not have this old, historical aspect:
I made all the dogs pose in a trio. I think they look so splendid together that I took a stupid amount of pictures. The Cousin's dogs are ten full years younger than my Pigeon, but I think she does not suffer by comparison. Here she is, in the middle, putting on her most regal air with the youngsters:
And on the left, lying down, as befits her great age and gravitas:
It still feels strange not to finish with my hill, but I am in the south now, in the flatter lands. By next week, I shall be quite used to it.