Knitting tributes in Otley

Otleypoppy

There’s been a bit of a rush on red wool in the market town of Otley over the past few months. The knitters and natterers who click their needles at the parish church have produced 16,000 poppies which have made a magnificent tribute to mark the 100th anniversary of the end of World War One.

Most of the poppies are draped on and around the church, but they are also prominent in the rest of the town, where there is a trail of poppies painted on the pavement, leading to the memorial gardens where there are the silhouettes of two Tommys, soldiers from the war. It’s beautiful.

In and among the sea of red are white peace and purple poppies to commemorate animal victims of war. White poppies were first worn in 1933 after being introduced by the Co-Operative Women’s Guild to stand for peace and commemorate all casualties, including civilians and non-British casualties.

According to the report in my old paper, the Telegraph and Argus, the town will also be taking part in the international Battle’s O’er event on November 11, Armistice Day, where pipers and buglers will start commemorations starting early in the morning. Here in Calverley, the piper will play the lament at 6am. I’ll set my alarm, I really will. Later in the day, beacons will be lit, church bells rung,  and 100 Town Criers, including Otley’s, will join together in an International Cry for Peace around the World, it will be a very loud cry indeed.

Crying with a stranger

IWMN.CR2

Today I cried with a stranger, proper tears trickling down my face, carrying little blobs of mascara. We were both in the Imperial War Museum North contemplating the Lest We Forget  exhibit marking the 100th anniversary of the end of World War 1.

Actually, the tears came as soon as I went through the door and heard the deeply sad Abide with Me, followed by the tolling of a single church bell. The first photos set the theme of the exhibit which outlined how the dead lay where they fell on the battlefields, covered in mud and the blood of others. Some were hurriedly buried, but there were too many to mark and mourn.

It was thanks to Fabian Ware, a man ruled out of active service because he was too old, that the Imperial War Graves Commission came into being. He went with the Red Cross to the Front and saw the lack of mechanisms to record the graves, so he set one up. From there came the memorials we have in our cities, towns and villages and of course to commemorate the signing of the Armistice on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, the two-minute silence we observe every year as a mark of respect and remembrance.

The elderly gentleman contemplating the information board about poppies looked sad, I felt compelled to strike up a conversation. I do that a lot, I am that mad woman who talks to anyone, even on the Tube. You’ve probably avoided me on more than one occasion.

It struck us that there was no-one alive who had fought in the Great War and very few who had seen combat in WW2. He was part of a group of ex-servicemen who met from time to time, but there were so few of them now, they had stopped. His eyes filled with tears, so did mine. Again. I asked if he’d ever visited the battlefields near the Somme, he hadn’t, but had driven past with his wife on the way to the Alps, his wife had passed away not long ago. More tears. Alps? I asked, that’s where we drive to go rock climbing. Rock climbing? He asked, that’s what I do… We swapped climbing stories, we’d climbed in many of the same places, seen the same sights, enjoyed beers in the same places afterwards.

He looked at me and said. ‘It’s been so good to meet you, I’ll be leaving here with a big smile on my face’. I replied. ‘Me too, me too’. It’s good to cry with a stranger, but it’s even better to smile.

See the art. Run the art. Be the art

PoppyArt

Training can be trying, especially when it involves steep hills tackled at speed again and again and again. I’m halfway through my personalised programme, prepared for me by Women’s Running to get me on tip-top form for the Gower Half marathon, and I need a bit of inspiration.

Calverley cutting has lost its attraction, I’m now on intimate stumbling terms with the steeper-than-steep drop from the village to the canal and to be quite honest I’d be very happy to never see it again. Seriously, I’ve huffed and puffed up there until my lungs have nearly burst out of my chest, wondering how 90 seconds can be so very very long. Fair dos, the training works, I get further up each session, I know I do, I count the stones and tree roots.

So for a change, and as I wanted to see the Poppies Wave at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, and because they do decent coffee there, we headed over there. I love the YSP, we had our impromptu wedding reception there with a picnic in the grounds. I always feel very arty when I go there, inspired to to creative things, so I dressed the part, choosing my brightest running gear with the idea that I could be a running art installation, or something like that. Noel donned his usual black, shook his head in what looked like pity and set off ahead of me, I think he was pretending we weren’t together. No-one really noticed us, all eyes were on the poppies, and the queue to see the poppies.

The Poppies Wave, part of the installation set in the Tower of London last year, now cascades from the bridge at the upper lake, it’s an impressive site, all the more poignant to see the poppies emerging from the mud, as they did on the battlefields 100 years ago.

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I might have dressed artily, but my hill training is no picture, so  we chose a slope in the country park, away from the crowds. and gave it our best, the new watch chugging out data as if there was no tomorrow, as times I felt as if I would have no tomorrow. But the watch never lies and there were the ups and downs of my little heartbeat as I pushed onwards, upwards and downwards.

It was a massively enjoyable way to train, and the coffee and cake afterwards were very welcome. I’m now on the look-out for more arty hill training, though may tone down the running gear.

Knitted poppies fill the library

Poppies among the popular fiction
Poppies among the popular fiction

As the Tower of London remembers the fallen of the First World War with 888,246 ceramic poppies spilling out into the moat, up here in Yorkshire, we’re sticking with our textile heritage and placing knitted poppies with the books in the local library.

The Knit Wits, the group of knitters who meet fortnightly at Calverley Library, have set their needles to the task of knitting poppies to raise money for the Royal British Legion’s annual appeal.

They don’t have a number of poppies in mind, though we’re talking tens rather than tens of thousands, which is just as well because it’s only a small library. But they’ll knit as many as they can in the time available with any red wool they have donated.