It's November and something always annoys me at this time of the year. The notion that poppies should somehow, through an unwritten rule, be worn as a compulsory homage to fallen service people. I get the reason for poppies - remembrance, respect, honour, a national salute to men and women who have given their lives over many conflicts.
The poppy is a noble and visible symbol of solidarity and gratitude for the military victims of wars. I understand the apoplexy of committed poppy wearers towards those who choose not to wear a poppy, to those who are too miserly to buy one, to those who don't give a damn and to those who ignore poppies for personal and political reasons. But, when all is said and done, there is freedom - hard won, in many ways - to choose to get involved or not. In addition, the poppy is seen by some as politically incorrect in this era of thin skins and instant outrage, this age of tiptoeing on eggshells and teetering on thin ice lest one human offends another, lighting the social media fuse and witnessing the world demonstrate levels of bile and bitchiness that almost cancel out any hint of calm reflection.
Every year, and increasingly so, poppies seem to divide rather than unite, mainly because they are mistaken as endorsements of war when they are no such thing. In recent years, the emergence of poppies as items of jewellery, ornate brooches glinting in the November sun, has introduced a level of arguable tackiness to a ritual that was both sincere and harmless in times gone by.
It is not the fault of service people that they end up in battlefields. Politicians decide on wars and conflicts. The dead and injured return home and the same politicians say nice things about bravery as they put on their solemn faces, their dark overcoats and, yes, their poppies to stand at the Cenotaph and other monuments across the country and lay wreaths to the sound of the Last Post.
We can all find our own ways to protest against politicians, not least to give them a severe kicking at the ballot box but we shouldn't confuse the wearing of a poppy with the supremos who declare war. It is not a political symbol, in my view. The poppy is a badge of remembrance for fallen service men and women, individuals who had little choice but to follow orders and do what they signed up to do.
This is not to ignore the horrendous numbers of innocent civilians that have been slaughtered in history's bloody conflicts. There are other ways to remember them and to express regret, and if anything should be compulsory, it should be the embedded fact gnawing away at our consciences that innocent people killed in battle zones are the stark reasons why war should never be a political toy to make leaders look tough and to enhance their CVs.
I will wear a poppy this year for a couple of days - unlike the BBC et al who display them on presenters and guests from October. It will be my choice for my reasons and my reasons are none of your business. I will not sneer at people who choose not to wear a poppy. I will buy my poppy from one of the young cadets in town because it reminds me that one day this kid might end up in a war zone and might never come home alive.