Julia Stephenson: The Green Goddess


I was watching The One Show, a lightweight early-evening BBC programme, and was surprised to see Jeremy Paxman put in an appearance. He looked strangely incongruous, sunk into the squishy sofa wearing his smart suit, crisp white shirt and blazing red poppy, his clipped accent seeming even more so when set against the impenetrable regional accents of the cheery presenters.

What could brainy Paxman be doing here, I wondered. The last time I had spotted him in similarly incongruous circumstances was 10 years ago, cycling through Kensington in a tweed suit. These days you see cycling celebs all the time, but back then I got the same sort of shock you'd get if you saw a nun smoking in the back of a taxi.

Paxman was there to endorse the Poppy Appeal, which raises money for the Royal British Legion. With quiet gravitas he introduced a very moving segment about war poet Wilfred Owen, which was followed by several interviews with injured serviceman in Iraq and Afghanistan and wives who had lost their husbands in conflicts that the majority of the British people never wanted.

As one young soldier discussed his terrible experiences, I was distracted by his unnaturally painted eyebrows. It transpired that his face had been blown apart and been miraculously put together again. He still needed to have more treatment, but government money had run out. (Surprise! A trillion available for Trident but not enough to patch up a soldier!) But the British Legion, which does excellent work taking care of injured servicemen and their families, stepped in with financial support.

It's ironic that in recent decades we've become increasingly risk- averse while the Government continues to instigate military conflicts resulting in the premature deaths of thousands of soldiers every year.

At home, conker competitions are banned, trees are ripped up outside children's playgrounds in case the leaves poison the kids, and endless directives appear extolling the terrors of alcohol, cigarettes and unpasteurised cheese. Public money is dished out for ludicrous compensation claims – earlier this year a man sued for slipping on a leaf outside a florist – yet no such largesse is forthcoming from our Government for brave soldiers killed and disfigured in pointless illegal wars. Out of sight, out of mind!

Cameron and Brown both want to extend Trident at vast cost, yet the Government does not provide sufficient funds to buy soldiers basic equipment to guarantee their safety. While Brown funds crippling, expensive wars and conflicts abroad, he is cutting subsidies – in real terms – to fight global warming, the greatest threat facing mankind. What have we done as a nation to deserve such "leadership"?

Poppy day is sometimes seen as an anachronism, but anything that highlights the barbarity, environmental destruction and wanton pointlessness of war must be a good thing.


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