by Chris Bertram on November 28, 2005

Never put off blogging something, or Matthew Turner will “beat you to it”:http://www.matthewturner.co.uk/Blog/2005/11/on-edgware-road.html ! Last year Carol Gould wrote a “piece about an alleged epidemic”:https://crookedtimber.org/2004/10/15/a-tsunami-of-anti-americanism-and-anti-semitism of anti-Americanism in Britain and the some of the “decent”:http://hurryupharry.bloghouse.net/archives/2004/10/15/does_she_exaggerate.php “left”:http://www.pootergeek.com/index.php?p=456 linked to it enthusiastically (one describing the piece “as a breath of fresh air”:http://jonathanderbyshire.typepad.com/blog/2004/10/a_terrible_and_.html ). When I dared to suggest that it was a load of old tosh, the “decents cried foul”:http://marxist-org-uk.blogspot.com/2004_10_01_marxist-org-uk_archive.html#109789785031862374 . Will they, I wonder, continue to accord heroine status to Ms. Gould when they read “her latest hilarious effort”:http://www.frontpagemagazine.com/Articles/Printable.asp?ID=20295 . Some choice excerpts:

bq. Last week was the culmination of that poignant fortnight in which people all over the world wear a poppy in the lead-up to Remembrance Day. Nothing is more dramatic than seeing the sea of red flowers in the lapels of British men and women as they make their way to the office in the early-morning rush hour. … On British television, every presenter and anchor wears a poppy. In keeping with the motto of the British Legion—“Wear your poppy with pride”—every shopkeeper, publican, hotel manager and cabbie wears a poppy…. It was therefore all the more astonishing last week when I took a long walk along Edgware Road, the most densely Muslim section of London, and discovered that not one person was wearing a poppy.

bq. It is worth noting … that London Mayor Ken Livingstone is trying to institute an initiative to bring ethnic minorities into the taxi fleet, to tackle its almost exclusively white domain. Keeping in mind that Washington D.C. has one of the worst taxi systems in the world, in part because most drivers can barely speak English and do not know the meaning of the words “cordial” or “polite”, especially where female passengers are concerned, one prays the Livingstone initiative will be approached with caution.

bq. I walked and walked that evening, stopping in to every hookah café, every electrical shop and every hijab boutique. Not one person was wearing a poppy.

[One worries a little that since Gould’s piece is destined primarily for an American audience there will be readers who take her factual claims about British society at face value. Needless to say, lots of people do not wear poppies, there are many sights more dramatic than lots of people wearing poppies, and breaking the strangehold of white males over taxis is a good thing.]

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PooterGeek » Blog Archive » You Turn Your Head For Five Minutes…
11.28.05 at 8:18 am



Anna in Cairo 11.28.05 at 5:07 am

Pardon my vast American ignorance, but what are the poppies supposed to represent? Is remembrance day like memorial day? How did it get associated with this particular flower? Perhaps recent immigrants just do not know this whole thing – and why is it an excuse to bash them? I find the person’s arguments to basically be a very thinly veiled excuse to rant about people of color and how they are debasing society.


chris y 11.28.05 at 5:09 am

Of course London cabbies are famous for being “cordial” or “polite”. Is there another major city in England where the majority of drivers are white (male is another matter)? Certainly in Sheffield the predominantly Kashmiri cabbies, though their English may be a bit dodgy, are unfailingly courteous to their customers, and in many cases go out of their way to help in ways that would be unthinkable in London.


dave heasman 11.28.05 at 5:14 am

As WWII gets further away from peoples’ experience, the poppy-wearing seems to get more prevalent. Much more so than in the early 60s, when it was satirically observed (I forget who by, Bernard Levin?) that the English religion was the worship of dead soldiers.
Any road, while she may be correct in her observation in the Edgware Road, which is a short-stay or plutocrat Arab (and their slaves) domain, there are other Muslim areas more populated by the familes of ex-soldiers from “Indian” army regiments where poppy-wearing was quite common this year, to my eyes.
In the case of non-“Indian” muslims (largely Turkish) it was less so, partly at least because they were on the other side in 14-18. That’s getting a bit nuanced for someone as batty as C Gould.


dave heasman 11.28.05 at 5:20 am

Oh , for Anna :- “Pardon my vast American ignorance, but what are the poppies supposed to represent? Is remembrance day like memorial day? How did it get associated with this particular flower?”

There’s a famous poem

noting the growing of hosts of poppies over the mass graves in Flanders.
Silk & paper poppies are made by disabled servicemen in England and sold for wearing on Remembrance Sunday. As noted above, mass war is sufficiently distant, and I’m sufficiently ancient, for the practice to now seem moving. 40+ years ago I considered it degrading for disabled servicemen to have to rely on sentimentality to fuel charity.


abb1 11.28.05 at 5:22 am

From Ms. Gould’s piece:
What Italian can live without Chianti? What Frenchman can live without wine? Germans have their beer, Russians their schnapps, and so forth.

Lol. This is very funny.


duane 11.28.05 at 5:36 am

Anna, poppies are worn as a symbol of rememberence for those killed in World War I especially, but also and increasingly for all war dead. I think it was chosen as a symbol because of the poem “In Flanders Fields”, which is learned by school kids all over the commonwealth, and perhaps elsewhere too.


Matthew 11.28.05 at 6:07 am

Chris, we must both read Melanie Phillips. let’s keep it quiet? Gould was immensely annoying me this week as I was reading Bertn Engelmann’s “In Hitler’s Germany” and her comparision of that time with London today is sickening. She does like her 1930s comparisons — here is her view on the Glazer takeover of Man U:

…the fury of the Manchester crowds over his purchase of the legendary Manchester United soccer team is a disturbing over-reaction that looks not unlike a Mosley Black Shirt rally in 1930s Cable Street

Anna – the poppy as a war memorial was invented by an American. There’s a nice article in the Telegraph here…



dave heasman 11.28.05 at 6:37 am

“Anna – the poppy as a war memorial was invented by an American”

How did I forget the Cap’n Beefheart song “Veteran’s Day Poppy”?


Chris Bertram 11.28.05 at 6:38 am

Actually Matthew it is worse that that. I first noticed it on FrontPage in an idle moment of surfing. Though I admit it was pleasing to see that Mel confirmed her lunatic status by linking to and commending the piece.


a software engineer 11.28.05 at 8:43 am

Over much of western Europe, if you disturb the soil and then abandon it; poppies will grow. This is true in my back garden, and in Flanders fields.


Brendan 11.28.05 at 9:18 am

Respect is due for remembering the Captain Beefheart reference.


‘I cry but I can’t buy
Your Veteran’s Day poppy
It don’t get me high
It can only make me cry
It can never grow another
Son like the one who warmed me my days
After rain and warmed my breath
My life’s blood
Screamin’ empty she crys
It don’t get me high
It can only make me cry
Your Veteran’s Day poppy.’

Better that ‘In Flander’s Field’s’ anyway, which is a bloody awful poem whichever way you look at it.


Hektor Bim 11.28.05 at 9:26 am

What is this “people all over the world” business? Do people really wear poppies in India or New Zealand or Australia or Canada? I don’t think so. They certainly don’t do it in America.

Frankly, it looks to me like Carol Gould is indulging in some anti-Americanism herself. I don’t think there is anything the matter with American cabbies.


Maynard Handley 11.28.05 at 9:29 am

Are this woman and the American “people who say Merry Christmas are being rounded up and shot by democrats” cribbing each other’s essays? This rant reads like a search-and-replace job on Bill O’Reilly’s annual christmas persecution specials.


jamesonandwater 11.28.05 at 10:05 am

Do people really wear poppies in India or New Zealand or Australia or Canada?

They do wear them in Canada, actually.


tom brandt 11.28.05 at 10:19 am

Do people really wear poppies in India or New Zealand or Australia or Canada?

They certainly do in Canada. Around 11/11, you see them all over in Canada.


Jon H 11.28.05 at 10:39 am

Mr. software engineer beat me to it, but I think the significance of the poppies is that they sprang up in the disturbed ground of battlefields and cemeteries.


Jim Miller 11.28.05 at 10:40 am

So Chris, did you wear a poppy on Remembrance Day? And, either way, what were your reasons?


P ONeill 11.28.05 at 11:03 am

The wingers are working on a new test of anti-Americanism — failure to go along with Bill “Dice” Bennett’s proposal that everyone do the purple finger in the runup to the Iraqi elections on 15 Dec:

The continued drumbeat against the war in our culture, high and low, can only serve to hurt the morale of our soldiers and our allies–including the Iraqis themselves. They, despite all we see and hear, are going to the polls next month–for their third election in a year, each election being a remarkably courageous demonstration. So how do we show them our support? How do we let them–and our soldiers–know we stand with and behind them? Americans should start putting purple ink on their right index fingers the week before their Dec. 15 election. And let Iraqis, let American soldiers, let our allied forces see that demonstration here. NBC, CNN, the New York Times want a picture to tell a thousand words? They want a picture of how the majority of Americans feel? Let ’em print our purple fingers–and let the Iraqis on Dec. 15 show even more.


soubzriquet 11.28.05 at 11:06 am

Hektor: I would say they (poppies) are even more prevalent in Canada than in the UK. This may be because the origin is a Canadian poem, or perhaps because of the complex national identity issues tied up in the “world” wars, particularly WW1. However, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if other parts of the commonwealth do this to. Here it is organized by the legion … so may be correllated to how organized vetrans groups are in a particular country.


Hektor Bim 11.28.05 at 11:41 am

I’m deeply skeptical that any country where the majority of the population is not British descendants follows this tradition. So, Canada, I can believe, and maybe Australia and New Zealand. But India, Pakistan, Nigeria, South Africa, etc. I doubt it. It seems this is a British thing, not a Commonwealth thing. It certainly isn’t done in the ROI, for example.


Thlayli 11.28.05 at 11:50 am

My poppy story:

I was in London for the Spurs-Arse game on Oct 29th, which is outside the “one week” period, but the poppy flowers were available, so I got one. The day of the game, two Spurs fans told me I shouldn’t have worn it because it’s Arse red.

I wonder if Everton and Man City fans feel the same way….


Brendan 11.28.05 at 11:55 am

‘The continued drumbeat against the war in our culture, high and low, can only serve to hurt the morale of our soldiers and our allies—including the Iraqis themselves.‘(emphasis added).

Pardon my incredulous laughter. Since when did the Iraqis become our allies?

‘Only a third of the Iraqi people now believe that the American-led occupation of their country is doing more good than harm, and a solid majority support an immediate military pullout even though they fear that could put them in greater danger, according to a new USA TODAY/CNN/Gallup Poll’. (from 2004!).

Oh wait, perhaps you mean the Iraqi political class: not the Iraqi people.

‘The participants in Cairo (note: the Cairo National Reconciliation Conference) agreed on “calling for the withdrawal of foreign troops according to a timetable, through putting in place an immediate national program to rebuild the armed forces … control the borders and the security situation” and end terror attacks.

“The Iraqi people are looking forward to the day when the foreign forces will leave Iraq, when its armed and security forces will be rebuilt and when they can enjoy peace and stability and get rid of terrorism,” the statement said.’


soubzriquet 11.28.05 at 12:18 pm

Hektor: Fair enough… I hadn’t meant to suggest that it would be done all over the commonwealth, only that I could think of other countries in it, that might (but I don’t know). Agree that for many it is unlikely. Only those who provided (and lost) large numbers of troops in WW1 have the obvious connections.

I know that it (the poppy drive) is a significant source of funds for the legion/vetrans groups here, anyway.


JR 11.28.05 at 12:20 pm

“In Flanders Fields” is a pro-war poem. More particularly, it is a pro-conscription poem. In it, the dead urge the living to continue the fight:

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.

It was written in opposition to the peace movement that had developed in the second year of the war. Published in December 1915, it became immensely popular and played a major role in rallying public opinion in favor of universal conscription, which was passed into law in January 1916.


dave heasman 11.28.05 at 12:26 pm

Hang on, she’s lying through her teeth. ” I took a long walk along Edgware Road” and got a cab back to Marble Arch. The Arab area only stretches up to the flyover at the tube stations, or a few yards past it. 500 yards tops. And it’s only a block or two, east to west from Edgware Road, too.
“along the miles of pavement I trawled ” my arse.


FYI 11.28.05 at 1:48 pm

“It seems this is a British thing, not a Commonwealth thing”: You’re probably right. But as for: “It certainly isn’t done in the ROI, for example” – er, the Republic of Ireland isn’t a member of the Commonwealth.


Matthew 11.28.05 at 1:52 pm

I can explain this bit. She lives in St Johns Wood, on the corner of it and Edgware Road (where that road begins after it stops being Maida Vale). That it’s not ‘densely Muslim’ (more Irish, if anything, at least at first) for about a mile south appears neither here nor there for her.


Errol 11.28.05 at 2:10 pm

Do people really wear poppies in India or New Zealand or Australia or Canada?

They certainly do in Canada. Around 11/11, you see them all over in Canada.

In Oz and NZ they are worn from just before ANZAC Day (April 25th), which is a public Holiday in remembrance.


jacob 11.28.05 at 3:36 pm

Keeping in mind that Washington D.C. has one of the worst taxi systems in the world, in part because most drivers can barely speak English and do not know the meaning of the words “cordial” or “polite”, especially where female passengers are concerned,

Washington, D.C., has one of the worst taxi systems in the world because it is denied basic homerule. The system is designed by Congress (to which Washington elects no voting representative) in order to facilitate the cheap and easy movement between the office of lobbyists and those of congressmen. If Washington were permitted to design its own taxi system, it would have a sensible one that allowed tourists and Washingtonians to use a taxi easily and cheaply without worrying about “zones” and such, but rather watching a meter like in every other city.

The idea of blaming immigrants for the absurdity of the DC hack system (as if the cabdrivers of other American cities are well-known for being native-born), when it fact is is the fault of all the native-born congressmen who insist on micromanaging the city, is laughable.


Daniel 11.28.05 at 4:22 pm

thirty comments and nobody’s done:

“I had that Carol Gould in the back of my cab once”

so now I have.


Bro. Bartleby 11.28.05 at 4:41 pm

Oh my, I do think all you fellows have it mixed a bit — England, poppies, rememberance — what do they all have in common? Opium, of course! Or have we forgotten, 1830 England, the major drug-trafficking organization in the world! Growing opium in India, of which the East India Company shipped the produce into Canton, for further processing, thereby keeping the good fellows of China in a prolong pipe dream. I know, I know, Americans in Iraq are also trafficking in dreams. Dreams of liberty, dreams of freedom. Perhaps we could sell the Iraqis on the idea of wearing a red poppy on their hijab … over the right ear of course.


a different chris 11.28.05 at 6:23 pm

>They, despite all we see and hear, are going to the polls next month — each election being a remarkably courageous demonstration.

I don’t think that sounds the way he thinks it sounds. When you are trying your third election of the year it starts to seem a bit futile, no?

“The triumph of Hope over Experience”, as somebody once said on another issue.


JR 11.28.05 at 6:26 pm

Jacob is correct that DC cabs have no meters, and that rates are set by “zones.” For locals who know the zone boundaries, this works well. It also makes sense. Trips within busy downtown areas are cheaper- and drivers don’t mind, because they don’t have to dead-head back downtown for their next fare. Trips to distant residential areas are relatively more expensive, because of the need to return downtown without a passenger. It’s a good system once you understand it. For out-of-towners, though, it’s confusing. You’re pretty much at the mercy of your driver. (Although fares from the airports are flat fee, no confusion there.)
The reason DC has no meters is not Congress. DC has a taxicab commission that has the power to impose meters. But the owner-drivers don’t want meters. Without meters, only the driver knows how much he’s making. With meters, fleets become possible. Corporate capital comes in, and independent owner-drivers are driven out.

There’s an interesting lesson here. Congress did bar meters up until 20 years ago. But in the mid-80’s Congress got out of the taxi business. Everyone thought meters were on the way. But by then an independent class of small business owner-drivers had developed political clout, and they have kept the meters out. The result? DC, unlike other cities its size, has no major cab companies, and drivers have remained independent.


washerdreyer 11.29.05 at 2:34 am

I’m sure I won’t take part it in it, especially because it would be perceived as supporting Republicans rather than Iraqis, but I don’t see anything wrong with the purple-finger stunt.


Martin Wisse 11.29.05 at 3:25 am

The purple finger shows that you support the war on Iraq.

That’s what’s wrong with it.

I was in Plymouth around 11/11, a navy town, and only about a third of the people I saw in the streets was wearing a poppy. So much for that thesis.


Anna in Cairo 11.29.05 at 4:40 am

Thanks for the education. I’m off to read the poem now. You really do learn something new every day, even from nutty racist xenophobes (although Ms. Gould was merely a catalyst and all of you are the ones who provided the actual info) – anyhow thanks to all of you for the historical context.


johnhayter 11.29.05 at 5:43 am

anna in cairo,

After you’ve finished reading In Flanders Fields, you might try another poppy poem by way of antidote: Isaac Rosenberg’s Break of Day in the Trenches. It’s written from another place entirely.
Break of Day in the Trenches.


soru 11.29.05 at 6:27 am


In Britain, Australia and New Zealand the poppies are the flat Earl Haig variety and in Canada the poppies are curled at the petals.



Brendan 11.29.05 at 7:08 am

Wouldn’t it be great if the war memorials were based on the Beefheart lyric above rather than that rotten Flander’s Field crap? Then, instead of a poppy, we would all have to wear squids eating dough in a polyethylene bag on remembrance day. This would provide much needed comic relief in what is otherwise a rather sad and depressing occasion.


lemuel pitkin 11.29.05 at 11:44 am

I always had the notion that London handled cabs much better than American cities, in that it regulated supply through strict tests of competence rather than by issuing a fixed number of permits that, inevitably, are monopolized by speculators.


Kriston 11.29.05 at 5:12 pm

A good number of DC cabbies are homegrown residents. And they’re perfectly nondescript: neither as rude as New York cabbies nor so polite as London cabbies.


Ray 11.30.05 at 7:51 am

London has the famous test of “the Knowledge”, but its not clear how relevant this is when most cabs these days are linked by radio to a dispatch office.


Michael Mouse 11.30.05 at 9:18 am

one prays the Livingstone initiative [to break the white male stranglehold on London cabs] will be approached with caution

She doesn’t get out much, does she? (In the sense of ‘out of London’.) I’d be surprised if there’s a single major city in Britain apart from London where the drivers of taxis and minicabs are overwhelmingly white.

And to pick up ray’s point, “The Knowledge” also looks less vital in this era of satnav systems.


david tiley 11.30.05 at 10:31 am

Australians have the poppy thing too, though I think less and less. And Armistice Day has yielded to Anzac Day in popularity – a sad thing.

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