On Duty

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We have attended the Remembrance Sunday service at the Dulwich Chapel every year since the Boywonder joined the Combined Cadet Force at school. Seeing my teenage son in his cadet uniform really brought it home to me about the millions of mothers over the generations who have seen their sons go off to war and never come back again and about the whole generations of young men completely wiped out in the last century of armed conflict. Having once been a trainee pacifist, member of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and defiant wearer of a white poppy, the strength of this feeling of, not patriotism exactly, rather empathy has taken me by surprise. I certainly haven’t become a card-carrying jingoist but rather someone who feels that these young men and women are sent off to do on our behalf the dirty work that most of us cannot bear even to contemplate, and that this stoical contribution should be recognised. I explained my feelings more fully in last year’s Remembrance blog posts, so there’s no need to go into this again here

The Boywonder is no longer a Cadet, having parted company with the officer training scheme under sad circumstances. He now volunteers every week in a local school for children with severe disabilities and it seems that this kind of service to the community suits him better. One of life’s sceptical questioners, he never was any good at doing as he was told. But my daydream of seeing him play The Last Post solo in full Officer Cadet uniform has evaporated.

It has been a year of facing demons for the Boywonder. Not only has he belatedly realised the enormity of the challenge of working to gain good GCSE and A level grades, not only has he had to leave the Cadets but he’s also been confronted with the effects of his long struggle with his trumpet embouchure. I’ll probably explain this further in another post but, long story short, the Boywonder got too good at the trumpet too soon and, as is common with trumpeters at a more advanced level, has had to reset the way be holds his trumpet against his lips (his embouchure) in order to achieve a consistency of sound at the high notes he has to conquer at advanced level. This issue has dogged him for almost three years, and it has been disheartening and heart-breaking for all of us. There have been times when he almost gave up playing the trumpet, something he has wanted to play since he was 2 years old, and from being a star prospect in the Bromley Youth Music Trust organisation, he had had to watch several of his previously less advanced trumpeting colleagues leapfrog him and progress to more advanced levels and bands, leaving him to play a minor role. It has been almost unbearable to watch this and, along with being intimidated by the prospect of huge amounts of work necessary to obtain good sixth form results, he has had rather a lot on his plate, wall we say.

Now, a month ago, I was reluctant to pay the deposit and sign the forms for next year’s Youth Band concert tour to Prague and participation in the Kerkrade World Music Festival. I had a feeling that the Boywonder would just buckle under the enormity of the task in hand. Further I didn’t think we’d go anywhere near the school Remembrance service. So when he received an email from school asking him to play at today’s service, I forwarded it to him washing my hands of the decision. After all the tussles with the technicalities of trumpet-playing and embouchure change, not to mention the politics of trumpeting hierarchy both at school and in band, it would have been quite understandable if the Boywonder had simply walked away from the hassle. Most of us would have been tempted, I think.

But he didn’t. He has stayed and fought. He played this morning and also in this evening’s BYMT concert. He played willingly, without having to be cajoled, and he played well. And this to me is the point of all of it. Sometimes, we have to do our duty and do things that make us feel uncomfortable that are not necessarily enjoyable, that fill us with fear, because we are trying to help and serve other people in the wider community. Marking Remembrance is important to me because I want my children to understand about duty and responsibility. I want them to understand the sacrifice of other young people and to feel gratitude that they have the freedom to act as they see fit. With each passing year, as my children become a year more mature and a year more responsible, it is important to me that they assume these values, just as so many other people seem to be letting go of their sense of responsibility for their actions.

So, well done, Boywonder. You are growing into a mature, responsible young man and I’m really proud of you.


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