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Wear your poppy with pride

PUBLISHED: 08:11 07 November 2008 | UPDATED: 21:42 05 July 2010

ARE you wearing a poppy? Do your children know why we wear them?

Do they know what happened exactly 90 years ago next Tuesday and why, on Sunday at 11am, silence will fall at ceremonies and memorials across the country?

It's our responsibility to make sure they do.

ARE you wearing a poppy? Do your children know why we wear them?

Do they know what happened exactly 90 years ago next Tuesday and why, on Sunday at 11am, silence will fall at ceremonies and memorials across the country?

It's our responsibility to make sure they do.

Our village poppy seller knocked a couple of Sundays ago with his tray, like he does every year. Swathed in a vast yellow oilskin, he battled against heavy rain on his annual mission.

My 11-year-old answered the door.

“I feel sorry for him trudging around. Why does he do it?” he asked, watching him cut through the sheet rain considering it a sad sight.

Out of decency, I said, of remembrance to people who gave their lives and out of respect for those sent to fight on our behalf but never came home.

Despite our chats, brief lessons at school and Terry Deary's Horrible History books, my sons' understanding about the circumstances which gave us Remembrance Sunday was limited.

I've told them how boys not much older than they are were sent to war never be seen or held by their families again. They both wanted a poppy.

Twenty years ago, I got heckled for wearing a poppy on my university campus. Heckled by people who were my friends - or “political allies”, or so I thought.

I was, they said, wearing the symbol of a “warmonger”. The poppy glorified war and celebrated its worth in resolving international disputes, they said. Poppycock, was the obvious retort .

They argued that wearing a poppy was as bad as starting a war and sending servicemen and women to die. I was as bad as the lily-livered politicians who had never experienced the horrors of combat but abused their power by sending our forces to assert British might.

This was the era of white poppies. Pacifists wore them for peace, they insisted. But all they really did was offend the old guard, soldiers who had fought and lost friends and brothers.

But that was 20 years ago. Since then the poppy has seen a revival, especially among the young, prompted by the loss of military lives in modern times.

These people aren't wearing one to declare “I'm a war supporter.” It's a solemn act of remembering the human cost and waste of war.

It's a symbol to show we haven't forgotten and will not forget those who perished in the trenches 90 years ago, and any conflict since, not least the names and faces flashed up on our screens almost weekly, killed in the name of duty in Afghansistan.

Most of us loathe the idea of sending soldiers, sailors and airmen to battle and sincerely believe that recent military actions should never have been.

But that's not the issue. Remembrance Day isn't about politics, protest or even opinion. It is what it says it is - a day of remembrance and quiet reflection, of praying for peace and looking forward with hope to a world without war and conflict.

Almost a century has passed but marking the anniversary of 1918 Armistice is as poignant and vital today as it ever was. It's the duty of my generation to maintain its meaning and ensure it's not consigned to history.

Each and everyone of us - whatever our beliefs - has a duty this weekend to respect those who went to war - with none of the choice we enjoy today - and died for us to live as we do today.

And for every serviceman and woman who has died since, protecting the global community, whether we agree they should have been there or not.

ONCE upon a time women “fell” pregnant, carried on as normal for nine months with a swelling midriff - apart from the odd “confinement” - and gave birth.

Ignorance was bliss about the internal goings on until out popped the baby.

Today entering into pregnancy is as confusing, terrifying and bewildering as being launched into space unassisted.

Every other week a “new report” warns pregnant women of the dangers to their unborn child of a normal daily activity. This week it was killer coffee - caffeine consumption should be limited to two cups of coffee a day or risk under-weight babies.

What should be a natural and wonderful process has been turned into a petrifying ordeal of risks, danger and caution.

Pregnancy tests should come with a health warning. Pregnancy can seriously damage your mental health.

My advice is to read nothing and sail through the nine months listening only to your sensible midwife. Look for encouragement at the strapping people all around, gestated and born in times when women barely knew how a baby got there let alone what soft cheeses they needed to avoid.

THE glitz and glamour of Strictly Come Dancing is doing wonders to banish the winter glum.

It's like a throwback to an era long lost, of grace and grooming, poise and posture, charm and manners. I defy even the hardest cynic not to be entranced as the couples swirl and twirl.

Switch channels to ITV and the grottiness of the present hits you between the eyes. X-Factor contestants clumping and gyrating their way across the stage with all the elegance of heffalumps. The contrast couldn't be greater.

Even the Strictly judges are more articulate and polished.

Simon Cowell might well have looked on in disbelief as Strictly trounced the X Factor at the TV awards. Strictly just gets better and better as the X-Factor stales.

A FRIEND was shaken and upset the other night after a nasty confrontation with two foul-mouthed hoody-wearing louts.

She was driving slowly in the dark when she suddenly saw the pair in the road in her path, dawdling so slowly they might as well have crawled across in front of her.

They had stepped off the kerb deliberately to make her stop then laughed and taunted her as they inched across.

She slammed on her brakes - she was lucky to have seen them as they were dressed head to toe in black - and they started to abuse her with a list of expletives still in the road, as if, arrogant as they were, it belonged to them.

If, by chance, she had struck them with her car she would have been hauled before the court for dangerous driving. Just a thought about provocation and cause and effect.

I LIVE in dread at the prospect of being colour-coded or whatever those colour consultants do to women in exchange for a week's salary.

Every woman I've known who's gone through the humiliating process of no make up and hair scraped back to be told they should dip into the colour palette of a certain season always wear end up wearing jaunty cerise scarves knotted fussily at their necks.

But, apparently, colour-coding 400 intelligent, high-achieving and independent women from leading accountancy firm Ernst & Young in image sessions was an “integral part of the company's business strategy.”

Business strategy? To be told that a plunge bra with a low cut top is unsuitable for client visits, to leave the sequinned clutch for evening and aubergine isn't for red-heads.

But the company's “head of diversity” - head of diversity? - said that while men could simply opt for a uniform of dark suit and tie, office wear was more fraught for women. You don't say.

"You don't want to be remembered as the woman with red lips, or leave people wondering, 'How does she walk on those heels?'," she told the magazine Personnel Today.

No, you want to be remembered as the woman who did a cracking job.

But apparently doing one's job needs colour consultants to advise them to "think of their colour palette and wear colours that bring out the best in their skin tone and hair colour.” Almost handy in an audit.

Anne Freden, chairman of Ernst & Young's women's network, said firms didn't view the session as “something that is nice to have, but as an integral part of the business strategy." Nice work if you can get it.

AT last, a breastfeeding campaign that does more than bang on about the benefits of breastfeeding.

A new drive to promote breastfeeding is holding up a strapping, handsome, picture of fitness as the end result of long-term breastfeeding.

Arsenal's Theo Walcott is the campaign figurehead. Theo didn't get where he is today without the breast, his mother says.

Lynn, a midwife, says his silky skills on the pitch are down to her banning the bottle. That's what I like, a mum taking all the credit.

Theo said: "I have always been healthy and my mum says it is down to the breastfeeding. And she is always telling me that one of the reasons I'm such a good footballer is because I was breastfed."

Lynn added: "I always like to claim that Theo's speed, coordination and eyesight and all those things are down to being breastfed. I like to think it set him up for life."

The DVD - From Bump to Breastfeeding - offers support and tips to pregnant mums using real-life stories.

Breastfeeding - still the subject of some bizarre societal aversion - is so obviously best for babies but sometimes so hard to achieve.

Often it takes weeks to master the art and get settled into a routine but that's something midwives don't always tell you. New mothers feel an instant failure if their babies don't latch on and they need support but are too scared to ask.

“Growing” a son like Theo might be the encouragement needed.

Never give up without seeking help first from a breastfeeding counsellor. Trust me, you'll never regret it, you'll have a healthier, happier baby in the end and a flatter stomach.

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