November 10th, 2013


I Love Hastings

We went to Hastings and it rained tremendously. There was a downspout across the street from the restaurant where we ate lunch in which the pressure was so great that the water escaping from a crack was fountaining  five feet up into the air.The restaurant was a family business- mother taking the orders, one older red-headed girl waitressing, a younger one sitting in the corner eating frites. We had moules marinieres- the mussels fresh in from Rye that morning. We were the only customers. An American woman came in and explained that someone had booked a table for her but she wouldn't be eating there because she was a vegan and it was against her principles to eat in a place that served so much fish.

When the rain stopped we went and did our Christmas shopping. The old town in Hastings is full of quirky shops- junk shops, new age shops, a shop selling ceramics in which the guy behind the counter turned out to be one of the potters, a wonderful shop selling, rocks and crystals and fossils. Afterwards I went and stood on the stony beach for a few minutes. By this time the rain had stopped and the sun was beaming sideways between cloud banks. The tide was coming in and the waves were quite big and smashing up in huge explosions of silvery foam and I got too close and a wave came for me and I found myself paddling. 


We're in for 4 years of hard remembering. Longer, because it's already started.

But, of course, it's not really remembering because no-one who was there is still alive. The Great War belongs as much to history as the wars against Napoleon. How about "re-imagining" or "re-visioning".

It'll be wearisome, but not nearly as wearisome as the thing itself.

All sorts of people and institutions will try to own it.  A government minister (forget his name, don't want to remember) said it was a crying shame that most people got their picture of the war from Blackadder because  the reality was different. I don't know how it was different. I wish he'd explain. If he wanted to imply it was less horrible than we think and the people in charge were less clueless he's no friend of mine. With excellent timing the Mail (not always evil) printed extracts from a recently rediscovered war diary- all about trenches thigh deep in rancid mud and people being buried alive or having their legs blown off by grenades- and how you were always dog-tired but could be shot for falling asleep on sentry-go: all very Blackadderish, I think.

A couple of days ago a British sergeant was found guilty of shooting an Afghan prisoner in cold blood. He got life. We have this idiotic sentimentality about soldiering in this country. You'd think two filthy world wars might have cured us of it, but it keeps coming back at us like the hydra. Put on a uniform and you're a hero- no matter what. And you're defending your country- even when it's clear that what you're actually doing is stirring up a hornets' nest. It's a line that everyone in authority feels duty bound to push- though I suspect the soldiers themselves detest it. Soldiering is a foul business and soldiers sometimes behave foully. Of course they do.

In a few minutes they'll be laying wreaths at the cenotaph. The Royals, the politicians in their suits, the massed uniforms.  Putting a gloss on the business. Making out there's some dignity in it, some glamour. The TV is on in the other room. I can hear the skirling of the pipes.