We were out in the countryside at 11 a.m. today, so I wasn’t able to observe the two minutes’ silence that commemorates November 11th and the ending of the Great War. We were walking above Tunstall Reservoir when I looked at my watch and realised I’d missed it, and immediately remembered an earlier Remembrance Sunday in 2005. I was out alone in the hills near Rothbury, near my brother’s place in Northumberland. It was a perfectly clear, sunny morning and I stood amidst the bracken and the rocks, breathing deliciously cold air reminding myself how lucky I was to be fit and well and… alive.
I often think of the Great War and the millions who died, needlessly, in the prime of their lives, more so since the late 1990s when I was privileged to work on two separate collections of correspondence between soldiers of the 4th Battalion, East Yorkshire Regiment and their sweethearts back home. Can you imagine being given a tattered old suitcase, inside which are six or seven hundred letters, hand-written, in some cases smudged with mud or even blood, covering four years of hell in the trenches along the Somme, and to be paid to transcribe, edit and arrange them for publication? Destiny (see the rather poor picture above) was the result of the first such collection. Thank God I’m Not A Boy (see infinitely worse image, below) was the second. I was immensely proud, and honoured, to have been given the task of turning each into book form. I do occasionally compare their respective launches. Destiny was launched at 11 o’clock on Armistice Day in the Army Museum of Transport in Beverley, East Yorkshire. We had the press, the tv and radio, and a hundred guests. The second book, published by the University of Hull Press about a year later, was launched at the university with another sizeable gathering. All that was missing on this occasion was the damned book itself. The publisher had got his timing wrong. Badly wrong. There was talk of a van dashing up the M1 from London, but it never appeared. The press folded not long afterwards, and I for one was neither surprised nor sorry.
Our walk today was part of our ongoing education in the art of being grandparents. We’d had A’s grandson to stay the night and decided to give his parents a few hours’ extra respite. We popped him in the back-pack and took him for a two-hour hike.
Over the past few months I’ve probably said all that needs to be said about our exceptionally cold and wet “summer”, but it has given us one parting gift - as if to apologise. Some of the autumn leaves, particularly the beech, have been absolutely gorgeous, and today’s bright blue sky showed them off at their best. I dare say they won’t be around for much longer. A couple more frosts, a bit of a blow, and that’ll be that.
I suppose I’d better come clean about the York City game on Saturday. They were awful, right from kick-off - which followed a one-minute silence, impeccably observed, to honour the dead of all wars. The players just didn’t seem to be switched on, didn’t seem too concerned, lacked cohesion, didn’t even seem to be communicating with each other. So, no surprise that they were well and truly stuffed. Three-nil. A performance like that makes you think twice about a 120-mile round trip by rail. Still, arriving at my favourite city by train is always a pleasure. I spent some years working around York station in the 1970s, as a shunter, later as a freight train guard, and I don’t think I ever passed through the place without feeling elevated by its architecture. I still do. Built in 1871, it seems to owe as much to our ecclesiastical as to our industrial heritage.
Back to the day-job tomorrow, and more Mike Pannett stories.