I remember being in England last November and having difficulty finding a poppy to pin to my coat lapel. The British Legion Poppy Appeal used to be everywhere. Their volunteers even sold them door-to-door. We’d buy them by the fistfull. Then gradually they became less visible. Some stores didn’t like poppy-sellers standing in the doorway chunging their collection cans and they were asked to move along. No one could tell me why. But I suspect it’s no coincidence that poppy-sellers started getting a cool reception at the same time Muslims began making aggressive anti-troop demonstrations on British streets.
So when I eventually did find a poppy I decided to hang on to it, in case I never found one again. I like to wear a Remembrance poppy even though I’m abroad, partly because remembering is good and partly because it interests people. One Frenchman pointed to my jacket and said, ‘Aha! You are commemorating Guy Fawkes!’
But the point of my story is Derbyshire County Council who sent out a directive to its libraries that this year poppies were not to be sold within their precincts. They said they had to treat all charities equally and if they let the poppies in there’d be something every week: Distressed Donkeys; Homeless Hamsters; ASBO-related Stress Research.
In their Gadarene gallop towards Equality the council committed a disgraceful gaffe, but I’m delighted to say one of the library employees got up on his hind legs and told them they had better reconsider. The Royal British Legion takes care of those who once took care of us. Its annual Poppy Appeal raises money for the greater comfort and rehabilitation of injured soldiers and bereaved families. In two world wars more than 13,000 Derbyshire men gave their lives so that we might live in peace, speaking English and free to sit in a council office and dream up derisory rules.
Well, Derbyshire Council have now circulated another directive. Stung by criticism, they’ve agreed to let the poppies in. Yey! Go librarians, go! And poppy-red faces all round at County Hall.