Monday, 14 November 2011

Poppies and Aniseed Balls

Jennospot 43  Poppies and Aniseed Balls

One Poppy Day Winnifred gave Peter a bag of aniseed balls. Cripes, did that ever get 'im inter trouble. This is 'ow 'ee described it:

It was not often I was given money—least of all by my aunt—but this morning, before leaving for work, my aunt got out her purse, extracted three pence, and gave them to me.

‘It's to buy a poppy with,’ she said. It's the eleventh of November today; the day we celebrate the end of World War One and remember those who died or were wounded during that war. Earl Haig set up a memorial fund to help soldiers and their families. To raise money for it, poppies are sold every year. There will certainly be a poppy seller at your school. The money is for that.’

‘But why poppies and not other flowers?’

‘It's because Flanders, where much of the fighting took place and so many of our soldiers died, is renowned for poppies. They are also the colour of blood.’

Hardly had school started, than a large lady appeared in our classroom. She had a tray supported by a cord around her neck. She looked like an ice-cream seller at the cinema, except that instead of ice-creams, her tray was loaded with imitation poppies. They were of various prices from a penny for a very simple paper rosette, up to as much as half-a-crown for a small bouquet.

I thought at first of buying a penny one and keeping the remaining two pence for myself. But my conscience pricked at this idea. It seemed likely anyway that my aunt would probably be acquainted with the styles and prices, so I handed over my money for an honest three-penny one. It had a little leaf at the base of the stem made out of green cloth.

I tucked the poppy into my lapel and then forgot about it, the way one does.

When my aunt arrived home that evening, she peered at me critically.

‘Where's your poppy? Why aren't you wearing it?’

‘Sorry, Aunt— it fell into the river.’

‘Into the river? I thought I told you to stay away from the river.’

‘I was on the bridge, coming home from school. There was a boat in the water. I leaned over to see it and the poppy fell out of my buttonhole.’

‘A boat on the river at this season? A likely story.’

Thinking that an aniseed ball might sweeten her humour, I pulled the bag from out of my pocket and offered it to her.

‘Aunt— would you like an aniseed ball?’

‘Aniseed balls? Where d'you get the money from to buy those?’

‘Winnifred gave them to me.’

‘Winnifred? Winnifred King? Don’t you lie to me. Why should Winnifred King give you her sweets?’

‘She's a friend.’

‘A friend indeed— huh! Stop romancing— you're deceitful— just like your mother was. You took the poppy money to buy sweets.’

‘No, Aunt. I bought a three-penny poppy, but it fell into the river. Winnifred gave me the sweets.’

‘Enough of your lies. Give me those sweets— they were bought with my money. Now— I'll give you one more chance to tell me the truth or you'll be punished.’

‘But I have told you the truth.’

‘So you persist? Very well. There's no supper for you tonight. Instead, I have a job for you to do. I'll teach you not to lie.’

I had to force back my tears. Damned if my Aunt was going to make me cry.

‘I have told you the truth,’ I said defiantly.

“Gang Rivalry” Chapter 11

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