Jayne Dowle: Poppies become casualties of the year-round rush to get there first
I am certainly not arguing that wearing a poppy is wrong. Some individuals choose to disdain it to make a political point, but the Royal British Legion – through its annual appeal – raises millions of pounds to support ex-servicemen and their families. And with the conflict in Afghanistan, the cause could not be closer to our hearts; last year the Poppy Appeal brought in the record sum of 35m.
But it comes to something when even Remembrance Day is caught up in the mad dash to get in there first. The BBC says it is up to individual presenters to decide when to start wearing their own poppy, and Andrew Marr, Clare Balding and Colin Murray all took this as their cue to kick off last weekend. Is it just me, or does this suggest a rather cynical game of one-upmanship – I'll be the first and prove how patriotic I am?
It's not for me to say what presenters should choose to wear, but if a poppy is used like this, then surely it devalues the significance of this simple gesture of support for those who have lost their lives in defending our country. And also, it persuades the public to hunt out last year's poppy to keep up, instead of waiting a few days and donating for a new one. You can see why charity collectors are upset. It is as if their own cause, a cause which sees them standing for hours in shopping centres in the November rain, has been hijacked by a bunch of well-paid telly folk operating from the comfort of their nice, warm studios.
This impatience makes me depressed. It's not just the Poppy Appeal, but everywhere you turn. You know you are getting older when you start to complain about Christmas coming earlier every year, but I'm sure I saw Christmas cards for sale on August Bank Holiday.
I reckon we get more curmudgeonly about this sort of thing as we advance in years because time seems to slip away ever faster. But what happened to having to wait for something really worthwhile? What happened to enjoying the delicious sense of anticipation which we used to have, as the year gradually unfolded?
Go into any supermarket in September, and you'll find "Back to School" in one aisle, Hallowe'en in the next, and Christmas round the corner. But try and find a decent choice of school shirts at any other time of year, and you're likely to be disappointed. "We only do 'Back to School' once a year," an assistant in Asda told me the other week. I felt like replying that children don't use a calendar to decide when to grow or to spill green paint down the front of their school uniforms, but I knew there was no point arguing. We're trapped in an endless cycle of marketing overload.
No wonder the British Legion people are annoyed. Their noble cause seems to have been caught up in it, just another "event" taken over in the endless rush to prove a point. And no wonder our children seem to spend most of the year in a frenzied state of consumer-driven confusion.
My kids have a lovely old book by the children's author Shirley Hughes, which tells the story of the year through poetry and colourful illustrations. They love it when we have it at bedtime, and I go through each month in turn; the spring bulb show, Easter, summer holidays at the beach, Bonfire Night (no sign of Hallowe'en, mercifully, seeing as this was written before that hateful American import took hold), building up to the wonder of the toyshop window at Christmas. But actually get them in a shop and they are dizzy. We've not even got to Bonfire Night yet, and they're already fretting about their lists for Santa.
So can I just make a suggestion? With everyone facing the prospect of far less disposable income, wouldn't it be a generous gesture for retailers to hold off with the hype?
All this instant gratification does is put consumers under increasing pressure to buy stuff. I don't know anyone who will actually want new summer clothes in March, but I can guarantee that even when snow is still on the ground, all the winter coats will have been shifted off the racks to make way for sun-tops and shorts.
Can we all make a concerted effort to live in the moment, to respect each season and special event as it comes, when it comes, not weeks or months ahead of itself? I won't be wearing my poppy until I see that old soldier outside Marks & Spencer with his war medals and his collection tin. And I swear, if I see Easter eggs for sale at New Year, I'm going to hibernate.