Well it’s been longer than I wanted between posts, but I’m still posting! However, it’s good timing as this one is about the poppies and the ones we ordered arrived yesterday. Unfortunately, the boxes were soggy and damaged as the courier just left them on the doorstep. As we don’t use our front door, we didn’t see them until the next day during which time it rained. So we are getting replacement boxes, which is great but I’m not happy that this will dig into any money that is being collected for the charities. That is unless they claim it back from the courier, I somewhat doubt that…
Anyway, the day we got close to the ceramic poppies! I am of course talking about the poppies that were planted in the moat of the Tower of London to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the start of the First World War and one was planted for each person killed in combat. I really wanted to see them but as more and more people heard about them, the busier it got and the less attractive it felt. In the meantime my husband spotted a call out for volunteers to pick them starting on the 12th November. So we signed up and got a slot on 21st November, 3 hours with a team of people in the moat. Once Remembrance Day was over and the poppies started to be picked, it became very clear that what was under the poppies was mud and lots of it. This seemed very poignant to me, the muddy fields of northern France had turned into fields of poppies, this display was doing the reverse.
We planned our day, a bag for our wellies, trainers on for a walk through London on our way there and back. On the morning itself we read the emailed instructions (nothing like being organised!) and found out there was nowhere to leave bags. And that is how we found ourselves one Friday morning standing with all the suited and booted commuters waiting for the train wearing our already muddy wellies!
We got off the train at Blackfriars and walked on the south side of the river to the Tower. On the way we saw a couple of Paddingtons. There was quite a queue of volunteers and we joined them. Everyone was in good spirits and there was lots of ‘Where have you come from?’, a happy way to spend our queuing time.
We had taken our own gardening gloves, having seen some pictures of those they were handing out I didn’t really fancy given them a go! (Yes, that is a pile of gloves on the left all worn, dirtied and waiting for the next wearer!) We also took some latex gloves to wear underneath which worked a treat keeping our hands dry and so much warmer. At last we walked through the doors and heard the words ‘welcome to the moat of the Tower of London’. I really was there. In the distance I spied a sea of poppies and quickly whipped out my phone for some pictures, I wasn’t sure if we would be allowed to take photos but it turned out not to be a problem.
We walked to where the poppies were and I felt a mix of joy at seeing them and a sense of loss that each represented a life lost too soon. There was not much time to sit and ruminate though as the day’s work began. We were shown how to dismantle the poppies, separate the washers and stems and delicately place the ceramic poppy head in individual boxes. There were essentially three teams, those picking and dismantling the poppies, those sorting the stems (there were three different lengths) which included removing any stubborn washers of which there were many! The third team was making up boxes and stacking the filled boxes on the pallets to be taken away and cleaned.
For anyone interested in group dynamics this would have been a fascinating observation. A group of strangers coming together for a common goal, quickly settled into an efficient and relaxed pattern of working. We did have limited time, but there was no storming (Tuckman’s model, forming, storming, norming and performing), but there was certainly lots of performing. The pile of boxes of poppies grew and grew, the pile of stems, neatly cable tied by length, did the same. There was little direction given, a suggestion to rotate teams so that everyone got the chance to actually pick the poppies, but that was all. Occasionally we paused to take a photograph or two but on the whole worked hard throughout the shift.
When the three hours were up we were tired and seriously muddy! I had carried bundles of the stems against my coat and looked like I’d been rolling round in the mud. Not being used to physical work (even though I do run a bit!) we both felt quite tired afterwards and were more than ready for something to eat. We were lucky as there were still quite a few poppies still in place yet largely the crowds had gone. So we ignored our rumbling tummies and took in the sights of the poppies in the moat.
Eventually we headed off and walked to St Paul’s Cathedral. We didn‘t go in, that really would have been too much. We looked most out of place, still in our wellies and covered in mud we would have been far more at home in the farmyard. Still needs must and we headed into a cafe for some lunch. Fortunately, being London, no one really took notice of the eccentric scruffy couple digging into their sandwiches. We headed home, tired but happy and threw our coats straight in the washing machine!
In about 36 hours from now we are off to Iceland, fingers crossed another on the list of 50 will be ticked….the Northern Lights!