I planned this night for ages but it was at first exceptionally disappointing.
I’d been looking forward all week to an event at Dunham Massey Hall, to be held tonight for armistice day. Not sure what I had envisaged for it really …perhaps some sort of service. A salute. Something to commemorate the soldiers who died for us.
We go to Dunham Massey Hall very often, sometimes 4 times a week. It is a place of great beauty. During WWI it was a hospital for the Soldiers.
As part of the National Trust, of which I am a member, it is open to all visitors most of the year. They regularly hold events and I try to get to some of them if I can. The night was exceptionally important to me as I wanted to say thank you to my great uncle Harry, who died on his 21st birthday on his first day at the front. Also to one of my brothers, Simon, who went to war in the gulf.
So I suppose I’d built up a picture what was going to happen tonight and how we’re all going to stand together and remember. But it did not turn out like that at all.
When we drove in the car park was full, and that was a good sign. But we could hear people walking around who seemed to be very, very, lost and that was perhaps because the NT had put no lights on at all in the car park. Now this car park is huge with lots of different arms off it and it was very black. Robin and I have been there are so many times we should know where we were going, but even we were disorientated. Now remember, this is an event that was supposedly going to attract, and did attract, quite a few people… Including new people on their first visit there. And they had no idea where they were going.
We decided to walk up to the actual path which should have been easier. Unfortunately we forgot about the bollards which were in Pitch Black. Robin cracked his leg on one quite hard.
The staff there are lovely though and greeted us with a smile when we reached the reception. However when we mentioned about the darkness and how everybody was lost out there, we were told some strange story about the fact there were no lights because it was an outside company and they didn’t put them in. Huh?
When we walked through, up the path and through the clock tower to the hall, it was beautifully lit up. The two red poppies, one on either side of the entrance, just looked amazing. But again, nobody knew what they were supposed to be doing, where they were going and it was very dark. The only lights they did have on were shining straight into your eyes so you couldn’t see properly.
They had a lady singing in a marquee…. we could see people all standing around her listening but we couldn’t see a thing. She wasn’t up on anything so that anybody could watch her so people were just standing around aimlessly. If you left your friends side it was difficult to see where they’d gone.
With no programme of events we weren’t sure what was going to be happening. Were they going to do something? Was somebody going to say something? Had we missed it? We hung around for a little while and we did think about getting a burger, but at £5 just for one we thought that was little bit steep. I heard a couple of younger people turn around and say they couldn’t afford them.
The queue for the coffee went from the building and outside, right around almost to the toilets, so it wasn’t even worth trying for one of those.
After taking a few photographs and hanging about in the cold in the pitch black, we made our way out to the car, and drove off to the shop to buy carrots for the dogs, and bananas for all of us and then home for coffee.
All the way home I was moaning about this event and saying how unbecoming of the National Trust it was. How it was almost like an afterthought. As we had walked out, not long after getting there, the gentleman was telling somebody else that they were going to be locking up very shortly and everyone would have to go out the side gate.
But Robin listened to my moans for a little while, then said, “but you can honour them anywhere. You can honour them in the car. At home. Anytime.”
And suddenly I felt very small. Very silly. And I realised he was right. It is a fact of remembering. Not how we remember. Or where, or when.
So tonight I lie on bed writing this, thinking of my great uncle Harry, and my brother Simon, and all the men and the women who have fought for our freedom through years and years of turmoil and trouble, and I thank them and I remember them with fondness and thanks.