Reminisces and Confessions of a Poppy Seller – oh dear!

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In Flanders Fields Poem by Canadian World War 1 physician Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae (c1915)

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

SERVICE NOT SELF

You have had to have been a street Poppy Seller these days to have really experienced life!

You go out full of hope that you will get massive encouragement & support from the general public, so collect hoards of money for the Royal British Legion (RBL) to help with their work supporting those who have given so much for the rest of us and our lives. It is about respect, not about approving, supporting, or ever glorifying war; it is about caring for those whose families have suffered colossal hardships through such conflicts. Some people choose White Poppies, rather than Red, as a statement against war (this has been going on since the 1930s) – a sad manifestation really. You, as a Seller, come back a bit deflated, because most of the UK public don’t give a dam – it’s the “I’m all right Jack’ syndrome!

The Poppy Appeal started (in about 1920) a bit after the First World War, in which millions of people died or were badly damaged (nearly forty million military & civilians), so their families were sadly impoverished. The Appeal has continued since then (so nearly a hundred years now!), and was boosted following the further horrors of the Second World War (another sixty million people killed – the deadliest conflict in human history). Smaller wars now unbelievably continue around the world, incessantly it seems – why does man continue down that destructive path? The remembrance Poppy is a major symbol, which is associated with Remembrance Day itself, assigned to the 11th November each year (not just in Britain of course, but in other countries in the world – Canada, Ireland, & USA), and is revered in church services and other memorials held on Remembrance Sunday.

Poppies are made of paper these days (used to be material) – so of no use to cocaine users! The funds raised goes through the RBL (and the Haig Fund) towards the welfare of the armed forces away from the battlefield. Over forty million pounds are raised each year (and with other income they gather in some £140million!)

Anyway, I have got good news for MI5 and the CIA – I’ve sussed out how their operatives can become ‘invisible’ – no hi-tech, no drugs or whatever. Just put a Poppy tray round your neck, and have a collection tin to hand – suddenly you are totally invisible to most people! Magic.

As a Seller, you think that standing on the corner or outside shops, will get you some punters. Wrong! You hope that those going INTO the Betting shop will be generous. WRONG! (You know there is no chance when they come out – they will have lost all their money!). You think that the women coming out of the expensive Hairdressers, with their confidence restored, will dip into their purses – Wrong (all spent on hair and tips!). What about the Off-Licence? No chance there, all gone on booze! Well then, how’s about the Dry-Cleaners – that is a costly service; they come out with their smart dresses or dinner suits in clear plastic coverings, without a second glance! Try standing outside the Butchers – out they come clutching their fillet steaks at £35 a kilo, but no change for a £1 Poppy! Bakers (the price of bread these days!) & Newsagents (no good news today!) & Post Office (the price of stamps even before privatisation!) are equally baron. Convenience store then? Afraid not – no loose change! Try the Chinese takeaway – you must be crackers, the customers are spent out (fortune cookies cost them their riches!). Chemist then? No, ill people and cosmetic buyers have more on their mind. Try the obese coming out of the Fish & Chip shop at lunchtime with their large cod and double portion of chips – they would only buy an edible Poppy!

There is nothing to compare to the excitement and expectation you feel when a potential punter dips their hand in their pocket to get some coins or even rummages in their handbag for money; and nothing compares with the disappointment you feel when you realise that you have been totally ignored and all they are doing is going into the shop!

As a collector for the Poppy Appeal you can’t do the hard sell unfortunately – bad for the image you see. No harassing people sadly, no market trading calling out – “get your poppies here, today’s best bargains, not £5, not £2, to you only £1! As a seller you get used to accepting coins for Poppy goods less than the ‘list price’ (well to be strictly accurate a recommended ‘donation’ price!), particularly from young children, who want the most costly trinket, but don’t have enough money (just pray the organiser doesn’t find out – or put some extra cash the tin in yourself!). Can YOU afford to be a Poppy seller next year?

They come and go in their posh cars – Jags & BMWs & Land Rovers. Expensive to buy and to run, so no spare cash for the needy. Is there any hope? Well yes! The people who buy Poppies are the people who you know are the least well off – particularly the old & infirm. A massively encouraging event though is a gaggle of teenage schoolboys, just out of afternoon school, who spend some of their pocket money on a Poppy or a Poppy badge and are pleased to do so –their parents should be proud of them. Not school kids from the posh schools of course (a chip off the old block!).

Ah well, might have more luck next year!

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