Sometimes Squinter hits the bull's-eye, and this week is just such an example. He returns to the recent 'poppy season' and describes the fruits of some of his spontaneous research.
"Squinter trawled through back issues of what might broadly be termed the unionist press – carefully turning pages from the 60s and 70s, dry and flaking already even after just three or four decades. The thesis for which Squinter sought vindication is simply this: That the poppy’s latter-day unionist ubiquity is part of the cultural war launched by unionists at the time of the Anglo-Irish Agreement of the mid-80s – the “new battlefield”, in the unfortunate words of David Trimble, hastily identified after the Anglo-Irish Summit made reference to respecting and promoting Irish language, games and music. And so unionists threw themselves into parades, poppies and, um, Ullans."
Of course, some unionists will loudly complain, and claim that the poppy has been a sacred symbol since the dawn of 1 July 1916. But, unfortunately there is evidence to the contrary. Lots of evidence:
"There they are on the pages of the past, the Prime Ministers, the Lord Mayors, the civil servants, the burghers, the men and women on the street. Not a poppy to be seen. Anywhere. Not only in the latter days of October was This Here Pravince a poppy-free environment, but in the very days leading up to Remembrance Sunday, there they are, the unionist great and good, the workers in dunchers and the housewives in headscarves, with not a poppy between them.Ouch! But this is something that Squinter will return to, as he promises:
A meeting of the Craigavon Commission sits to consider the making of the new town with Remembrance Sunday only hours away, all Brylcremed and British, smiling for cameras, bare-naked lapels to a man. Ballymena army officers proudly display their MBEs amidst colleagues and friends one November 9th – only medals and bars on their tunics. A lorry sheds its load in Chichester Street with only hours to go until the two-minute silence and the city centre public stand and gape, utterly poppyless, as are the stern RUC men directing traffic. The Lord Mayor has remembered to wear his chain to the opening of a new building, but unfortunately he has neglected to don a poppy. Even the rotund hero of the Ulster cartoon strip, More Fun With Bunion, neglected to pay tribute on his ample chest to the men who fought for the freedom which made his hilarious antics possible."
"Squinter will return to the library shortly and, of course, he’ll keep you apprised in a further chapter on the Brief History of the Belfast Poppy. For their part, it’s up to unionists to explain why they didn’t bother wearing poppies in the 60s and 70s – and why they’re calling for the very few people in public positions who don’t wear one to be sacked. Plenty of still-active unionists who remember the time well. Or perhaps they’ve decided to forget."Of course, in this context as elsewhere, Newton's Third Law of Motion applies: "to every action there is always an equal and opposite reaction: or the forces of two bodies on each other are always equal and are directed in opposite directions". Those unionists who thought that they could bury nationalist demands for cultural parity under an avalanche of unionist symbols and pageants – parades, flags, poppies, dates and sports – while suppressing the equivalent symbols of nationalism were clearly not familiar with Newton. But his Laws have stood the test of time, and so it is quite likely that unionists will have to get used to opposition to their cultural aggression.