Remember, Remember ...
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.