One thing that struck me having perambulated around the Big Smoke fairly extensively on Friday and Saturday was the number of foreigners wearing the Poppy. Huge numbers I overheard were Spanish-speakers. Others were Italian and French. The Frenchies I talked to were up to speed as Armistice Day itself is a major day in the calendar over there.
What I found intriguing was that when I asked them how they got their Poppies was that our overseas visitors almost all said they had seen Brits wearing them, asked why, and upon learning of the significance decided to wear it themselves.
In Chinatown, the Mall, Trafalgar Square, around Parliament, Whitehall - there were hugh numbers wearing the Poppy. Again, on Saturday at noon in the grounds of Westminster Abbey where a service took place, many of the overseas punters were wearing them. In this case lots of Poles, Czechs and Americans visiting the small plots set aside for miniature crosses and tributes to be placed in small plots dedicated to various regiments and national formations - the Czech Legion, Polish airmen, etc.
At the Cenotaph on Sunday what seems like an ancient ritual took place - thousands chatted and laughed beforehand until the 11th hour approached and then with the sound of an artillery round marking the start of the silence heads were bowed. A peculiar sombre fellowship surrounded us as we prayed, sang Our Help In Ages Past and thousands recited the Lord's Prayer in the open air.
After the wreath-laying by the Queen, the chiefs of the Defence Staff, the politicians and the ambassadors the march past of the veterans and the youth organisations began. The mood changed from the solemn to the jaunty as the bands played and the parade marched past - they were there to remember their old pals but they did it with a smile - the crowd definitely has their favourites - the Scots, the Paras and the Ghurkas all got an extra cheer. The youth organisations taking part is a nice touch - a symbol of those who died too young whilst serving their country.
Whilst I love the sense of history we have in the UK and the Cenotaph is a marvellous event we should not allow our history and traditions to be preserved in aspic. The Cenotaph itself, now the centre of our remembrance of the dead, was only erected in 1920.
Last week I was struck when two punters I had texted got back to me saying - sorry, had the phone off for the two minute silence.
Growing up the 11th of November, Armistice Day, was not the main focus, nor even a minor focus. For me it was always Remembrance Sunday - we paraded as the Boys Brigade, hymns were sung, tributes given, the silence observed and the bugler played. I think that the decline in church attendance has seen the rise in recent years of the collective will to remember finding it's outlet in other communal gatherings - in the workplace or at sporting gatherings. It's a healthy development.
WHY DO I REMEMBER?
Growing up I was surrounded by family and friends who if their parents had not lived through the Second World War then their grandparents certainly would have. Family history records a grandfather who served at Gallipoli, my dad in the 8th Army, uncles in the RAF, Uncle Bill Campbell captured by the Japanese and aunties Jenny, May and Joey all working in the shipyards. "Daddy" Law was an elder in the church who lived in Erskine Hospital - he wrote poetry for all the newlyweds in the church. My old man as a motor engineer had a reserved occupation but waived that in order to join up - he wasn't ideological he just thought the Nazis "were bad bastards" and wanted to do his bit. These are the memories that I have and the experiences that formed me, it's that sort of collective decency and humanity the Poppy symbolises.
As well as personal experiences there's an obvious pride in our country and the fact that for hundreds of years we have, by and large, been a beacon of liberty. Some will no doubt, genuinely and with cause, throw up examples of less than democratic behaviour from Britain over the years but on the whole the historic truth is that the UK has been foremost in the promotion of liberty and democratic ideals.
THE POPPY AND THE TWO WORLD WARS
The Poppy itself is, of course, a particular symbol of the lost youth of the First World War who fell "in Flanders field." But it's more than that - both the 1st and 2nd wars were fought not for economic gain but actively for liberty and democracy - the First for the "rights of small nations" and the Second against the scourge of Nazism. So, it's not a case of "my country right or wrong" - it's a symbol of fighting for the right reasons.
We should also be careful to make the point that the current British Army is a volunteer army - not one made up of conscripts. And even in times of conscription the British Army is not a political force in and off itself - it is always the servant of the elected government - so our servicemen and women are responsible for their own conduct and good discipline not for the decision on where they serve.
In short, the Poppy symbolises service to the nation and not any one political outlook.
God how I hate that phrase, It sums up the intellectual dishonesty of those who despise the Poppy. It is a phrase that insults the fallen, it insults those who actually fought real fascism. It is a fashionable phrase but it has a deeper meaning - it is designed to be offensive and destructive. It's a deeply sinister phrase.
My view on those who don't want to wear the Poppy is simple. Good. You don't want to wear it then don't wear it. Just spare me the tortured dishonest tripe that often goes with it.
THE POPPY POLICE
Another offensive term but one which does some up the rather hysterical reaction to spotting someone not wearing the Poppy. I would far rather hear about positive acts of remembrance - like veterans visiting schools - rather than that some brain-dead celebrity or football pundit hasn't got the Poppy on. It's counterproductive - we should always strive to be positive in connection with the symbol. By constant negativity you do the work of the devil for him.
FOOTBALL AND THE POPPY
Football is our national sport - the UK is the home of football - and we all have a civic responsibility to pay back something into society - especially for the freedoms we enjoy and even more so from time to time to those who are charged with physically defending us from aggression.
RANGERS AND THE POPPY
For as long as I've been going Ibrox has seen collections for Erskine take place. The massive support for the Rangers Supporters Erskine Appeal - over £170,000 in the last few seasons - shows the affection in which our fans hold the armed forces.
If there is a better outlet for the patriotic feelings of our support than the Forces charities then I'm all ears.
I'm proud as a Rangers that our club has taken on board it's responsibilities and provided tasteful and thoughtful activities for the fans and provided practical help and tributes to the troops - not much different than most of the the professional clubs in the UK. It's the right thing to do.