OCCASIONALLY, when I was younger and he was alive, my grandfather would stick his head round my bedroom door and cast a disparaging eye over me.
“By Christ,” he would exclaim. “I fought a war for the likes of you...sometimes I wish I’d lost.”
It was, I grant you, an unorthodox way to greet someone you’d not seen in six months or more but, as opening insults go, it always made me laugh.
Or at least it did the first few times.
He was never a man to knowingly under-use a joke.
I sometimes think of the old bloke this time of year.
He was the first person to ever pin a poppy on me.
He knew well – more well than probably I ever will – what it meant.
I have worn one since. It is an honour to do so.
It is an honour to say a small symbolic thank you to men and women I will never know but who sacrificed their lives and youths for...well, the likes of me.
It is not forgotten that my freedom was twice their fight.
Their hardships are appreciated more than I could say in 500 words.
It is remembered.
And yet, this year, that poppy sits still on my desk.
For the first time ever, it makes me feel uneasy. For the first time ever, I’m not sure I want to wear it.
Not because I no longer care for what was done; nor that I no longer believe it right to help ex-servicemen injured serving their country.
But because I am no longer sure I want to be part of a tradition being hijacked by an increasingly intolerant mob; a mob which demands everyone must wear a poppy to prove their rememberance, and that those who don’t are in some way against the whole idea of remembering and deserve to be castigated.
What cretinous cultural fascists, all; from the Daily Mail to Roy Hattersley; from every viewer who demands Jon Snow be sacked for not wearing symbolism on TV to each football fan who insists England don a poppy-fied shirt in contravention of perfectly reasonable Fifa rules.
Their world view is despicable: we must do what they demand – that is, partake in collective grief – or we are disrespectful of the brave and the dead.
To remember privately, it seems, is not enough.
Well, forgive me, but no-one – and certainly no-one as despicable as some scummy man working on a newspaper which once praised both Hitler and the Kaiser – tells me how I should pay my respects.
Because isn’t such mob mentality and totalitarianist insistence all a little similar to the very concepts which were fought against?
Here’s what they don’t get: not wearing a poppy isn’t the same as not remembering those who died – but demanding someone does wear one is akin to the very principles they died opposing.
How sad it is that those tireless old blokes – which, yeah, once included my grandad – selling those pins, plastic and paper for such a worthy cause are being let down by people who should know better.
So, will I pin mine to my coat? Yeah, ultimately, of course I will. For them and for him.
But it makes me wonder what the old boy would say of that mob? Perhaps that he fought a war for the likes of them – Christ, sometimes he wished he’d lost.