It is peculiarly satisfying that the word ‘remember’ rhymes with November. The clocks go back, we close the curtains earlier, and suddenly a number of opportunities appear which encourage us to draw in on ourselves and reflect.
Our local firework display gets bigger and louder every year, prompting family discussions about the few simple and probably damp squibs carried out to our childhood gardens in a brown paper bag. Fifty years ago we were happy with sparklers and Roman candles. The token Catherine wheel didn’t usually work. A couple of rockets in milk bottles – now, stand well back! – were reserved for the grand finale. I don’t think they banged and popped at all, but we oohed and aahed at the string of three or four stars in the sky and were very satisfied.
Guy Fawkes was one of the things I used to have to explain to my foreign students.
‘So you celebrated someone blowing up your parliament?’
‘Well, I think we celebrate that he got caught …’
Some of the foreign students I refer to came from former East Germany; they worked with me as foreign language teaching assistants. And as I write this on Remembrance Sunday, I am thinking about another anniversary and another occasion for fireworks; it is 25 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall. When I first stood at the Brandenburg Gate in 1972 and could not cross, I never imagined the Wall would ever come down. But it did, and nine young people came to work for me, expanding their own horizons while giving us so many insights into the Germany that once was and the Germany that was developing. In 2006 I walked through the Brandenburg Gate with a school party, all clamouring for Starbucks. It was hard to explain to them how it was for me in 1972.
This year, remembrance is focused particularly on the World War 1 Centenary, and I look forward to an evening of music and poetry which my choir is staging to commemorate this. But I also reflect on my father’s experiences in World War 2 and his words as described in ‘The First of Foot’, the history of the Royal Scots. He spoke on Armistice Day at Dryburgh Abbey, 1946.
‘Quiet air, brown leaves on an ageing sward, the silver Tweed and red poppies on a great soldier’s grave.’
That is November.