Queen and country article

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For Queen, country and me
Martin Campbell

It's that time of year again. The weather finally turns, the spring growth is well established, we start disappearing on holidays and life generally seems lighter, easier and more fun. And then that little voice in your head, drowned out since last summer by all the noise and rush of losing your race to rats, suddenly gets heard again…

"What am I doing with my life?"

It's that old work/life balance chestnut falling on our heads, again. Normally when enjoying some time off on holiday, you suddenly find yourself asking: "Have I got it right?" And like 97% of us, the unfortunate and seemingly inevitable answer is: "No".

I have just had my annual experience of this phenomenon, but made all the more poignant given where and when I took my annual break.

At the end of May I took my family off to Normandy, to join an almost complete family reunion: parents and two of my three brothers and their families; some from England, some from Canada.

Given that we were staying right where the Second World War finally turned in favour of the Allies following the D-Day landings - the Falaise Gap - we spent quite a bit of time visiting museums and memorials, going to the beaches where the landings took place and generally trying to get our heads around the carnage and sacrifice that happened in this now beautiful, lush, picturesque countryside.

On the anniversary of the D-Day invasion itself we went to the beaches where the landings took place. The whole experience was more emotional and real because we encountered large numbers of veterans, dressed in uniform, revisiting the places where the most traumatic moments of their lives took place. The weather was perfect: hot and sunny, with huge blue skies and the Channel doing a good impression of the Med.

I found myself wanting to go up to the veterans and thank them for what they did, but was far too English to do so. Instead I thanked them - and their fallen comrades commemorated at the memorials - privately in my own thoughts.

Being made so tangibly aware of the efforts and sacrifice they made for the freedom we all enjoy now, made my annual 'work/life balance' review feel much less like sun-induced self-indulgence and more like the duty it should of course be.

On top of the usual conclusions about needing to turn down the volume on my work and spend more of my precious time with my wife, two daughters, friends, camera, guitars and the outdoors, I also found the trends in Barmy Britain all the more hard to swallow.

Did our parents and grandparents really go through all that they did so we can work like slaves, rage at each other on roads, drink to distraction, pull knives in schools, resent the neighbour's new BMW, live vicariously through soaps and reality TV, neuter our ability to deal with crime through PC politics and soft judges, worship 'B' and 'C' list celebrities like gods, etc, etc.

If people like me can feel so incredulous about where it has all gone and indeed continues to go, imagine how those veterans feel. I bet you could measure their disillusionment on the Richter scale.

As I relaxed each evening with my wider family around me and too much good wine and cheese inside me, the context of where all this reflection was taking place had another perspective to add. Even casual observation showed France to be like what most of us would prefer England to be.

Now I know Normandy is hardly Paris with all its problems, but I live in Norfolk, so the comparison was not at all unfair. The local people were open and friendly - passionate about life and what they loved and openly touched that we tried to speak French. The place was quiet, with relatively few cars, and rush hours were busy not insane. There was almost no graffiti, no vandalism anywhere, and I think we saw about four yobs in two weeks (and they were probably tourists).

Shops shut at midday so people could go home and have lunch with their families. And half the shops were independent, not part of some over-branded, over-priced, homogenised nonsense screwing their suppliers into the ground. Restaurants and cafes were many, varied, and offered excellent value for money and elegant, friendly and efficient service. They welcomed children with open arms and patient smiles. The most expensive restaurant we went to - about the same cost as Café Uno - produced the most delicious meal I can remember eating.

People led modest lives - comfortable, balanced and in touch. There were far fewer big new cars, mobile phones, designer everything, people tearing around like stressed puppies on speed with faces like thunder. As you walked around people said "bonjour", not "get the f**k outa my way".

To be clear, I dislike most French politicians as much as most Brits do. And I am well aware of the big helping hand the Common Agricultural Policy gives to the French - especially in the region we were staying. But at least their politicians defend it, in the interests of their people, while ours are busy giving our taxes away to build an underground system in Bucharest.

I couldn't help feeling as we walked and drove around Normandy that maybe the collective will of all those Allied soldiers who had sacrificed their lives here in 1944 had created an instinct in the local inhabitants to stay sane, enjoy what matters in life and reject what doesn't.

What's so sad is that the very country where so many of those soldiers came from has lost its way so profoundly. As we all compete ourselves into the ground with stress, drink and drug addictions, chavdom, cynicism, violence, and worship of the superficial, I can't help but think of those men and women turning over in their graves at the latest turn of events in Barmy Britain.

I think it's time we asked fundamental questions of ourselves, our institutions and our politicians about where we are heading and what kind of country we really want. Getting the work/life balance thing right individually is a great first step; something we can each tackle ourselves. But so much more needs to be done. Looking back to what our countrymen did for us in 1944, isn't it our duty as well as in our own best interests?
Hear hear - for many years now I have wondered what the hell is going on in this country - at times a great place but at others time Barking and PC gone Mad.
Last weekend I attended a reunion of one of ouur former county regiments - it was a humbling experience for even a serving soldier like myself to speak and listen to them - just a shame those in civvie street slightly inconvenienced by their slower than normal march past did not see it that way - rather than the inconenience it was to them!

Talking to these guys each knows their time is short and while they would love to go on - this year they honoured 18 of their number who had passed away within the last 12 months - that was 18 missing from their ranks as they marched a real shame - and most feel the reunion will be no longer within the next 2 years.

God bless them all

I wish this whinger Campbell would shut up.

If sending your child to a school where he doesn't do any sport, isn't allowed to climb trees and has to be driven there in case he gets mown down or fiddled with and where he may be stabbed, to sit in a classroom of 30 plus and do "course work" until he gets a grade A for getting his name right; if sending him to a "university" which will cost him/you 10 grand to get a job in a drab faceless firm where he will spend hours of his life in a barely functioning transport system to get him to and from the house for which he will be paying 50% of his income for a hundred years (that part of his income that is not taken by a state which believes it can cure every ill and every misfortune by spending money on civil servants, focus groups, initiatives,target monitoring and tsars of varying descriptions) if exposing him to a culture where only genuine human vulnerbility and anguish qualifies as entertainment, where he will be governed by an elite as self serving and as detached from everyday life as any in history, if none of this is good enough for you then go and live somewhere else.

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