Saturday 11 November 2017

Homes, Homelessness, Poppies and Patriotism

This month I’m participating in a writing challenge – a short story a day for the whole of the month. I’ve posted one on this blog previously. No Room at the Infirmary

Here are a couple more (linked stories) with a political focus.

I wrote Remember, Remember …. on the 5th

Remember, remember when it was only kids, proudly displaying a man made of paper, dressed in dad’s old clothes, that people gave money to on the streets. That was before an increased awareness of stranger danger; the favouring of the North America fancy dress accompanied candy-fest over bonfires and apple bobbing; and a more nuanced understanding of the gunpowder treason and plot.

I was one such child.

My sister was lauded by all as ‘the artistic one’ so it was she who was responsible for the PENNY FOR THE GUY sign, decorated with colourful drawings of firecrackers, Catherine wheels and fountains. Susan also had the job of painting Guy’s face. But, I could stuff as well as the next boy and I made sure that no newspapers were thrown out for weeks before. Complete with our effigy we’d walk into town, via the seafront, every afternoon once school was over and early on Saturday morning, for two weeks prior to bonfire night. We generally did pretty well and we always had enough to buy sparklers and some toffee to supplement the box of fireworks and the potatoes to bake our parents brought to the party.

Remember, remember the war that, many argue, won a prime minister and her government a further term or two in power. But less of the consequences of that and more of long-term personal impacts of conflict. Once abandoned HMS Sheffield continued to burn for six days until it sank. Twenty crew members were lost and more than that number suffered serious physical injuries. Others, lots of others, from that battle, from all the battles during the conflict, were left with wounds not visible to the naked eye. Post-traumatic stress disorder; just one of the legacies of military activity for more men and women than we like to admit.

I was and I am one such man.

My mental scars influenced by life from then on; my choice to leave the service, my inability to hold down a job, my increasing awkwardness in both intimate and acquaintance relationships. I felt such guilt you see. Guilt for my survival. Guilt for the opportunities which ironically I was ultimately unable to make the best of. Finding joy in nothing and in nobody I retreated from the individuals and the things I once loved. Even now when I experience a little pleasure from the kindness of strangers, an occasional hot meal, an overheard snatch of once beloved music I push it away; unworthy as I feel that I am.

Remember, remember when you next pass by a homeless person on the streets or in the park that you too, or someone you cherish, might be one experience, one crisis, one pay packet away from a life with no security and little comfort. Remember too that an estimated one in ten rough sleepers are thought to be from a service background.

I am one such statistic.

Poppy is today’s story

It’s my birthday today.

I’m eight years old.

My name is Poppy Rogers.

I was born at twenty past nine in the morning on November the 11th. Mum said if I’d waited a little longer we’d have scored a hat-trick. I think that’s a funny thing to say.  

Last year I had a party but this year I am going to a restaurant for a pizza instead. My friend Beth is coming with me. Mum is taking us but not coming in. I’m going to text her on my new mobile phone when we have finished our pudding. She says she’s going to go for a walk in the park to see the ducks. It’s raining so she’ll probably wear her old mac. Nan bought the phone for me as my birthday present and it’s got a whole five pounds worth of credit on it. I got some new shoes and a book from mum. I’m excited about going out. This place is too small for a party anyway. Mum and I live on our own in one room in a big house. I’ve never met my dad. We have a sink, a kettle and a microwave so we can make ourselves hot stuff to eat. My favourite is tomato cuppa-soup with bread. The other day we had tinned rice pudding which was nice too. Mum said that there was a whole box full at the food-bank. She hasn’t been eating much lately. I think she must be on a diet. We have to share a bathroom with three other lots of people which neither of us likes much. The boys in the room next door wee on the seat. We moved here just after Easter when the rent on our flat went up. Nan used to take care of me after school on the days that mum was at work but we live further away from her now. Mrs Barsar from the room across the corridor sometimes makes my tea. Mum says we are part of the hidden homeless. But we have a home, even if it’s not a very nice one, and everyone knows we live here so that doesn’t make any sense. Tomorrow we will probably go to church with nan to say a prayer for grandad. I’ve not met him either but mum says it’s not because he doesn’t want to see me but that’s he’s poorly and finds it difficult to be with people, even us. Nan doesn’t see him either and he is her husband. We don’t even know where he is. Grandad was in a war a lot of years ago and his ship was attacked. We learned about another war in school this week and wrote some poems about it. Mr Potts asked me to read mine out first. He said it was ‘fitting’ but I’m not sure what he meant by that. We made poppies out of red tissue paper, black wool and a safety pin. I wore mine all evening and asked mum why she didn’t have one. I was worried because when we walked home Beth’s mum said that everybody who loves our country and is patrotic – I think that was the word – wears one. Mum just snorted though and said that of course she loves the country and proves it when she pays her taxes, unlike some people. I don’t know what taxes have to do with anything.

Grown-ups are really weird. 

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