Today should have been May Day Bank Holiday, but it was postponed – not for the obvious reason, but because it’s been rescheduled to coincide with the 75th anniversary of VE Day on Friday. Still, one can’t help but feel that a delay of four days isn’t long enough. It’s a bit like being one of those unfortunate kids born in the second half of December, those whose aunties hand them a present and say ‘This is for your birthday AND Christmas’. Most people are off work, and a Bank Holiday is a day when workers are given a treat by being given…a day off work. Surely it would’ve made more sense to have simply shifted the Bank Holidays that appeared smack bang in the middle of the lockdown to a later point in the year? But, one can’t really blame those whose job it is to plan public holidays for failing to anticipate a situation few saw coming; this situation is too strange for that. And it also continues to place the months, weeks and even days leading up to where we are now in a weird fabrication of immense distance.

However, history has taught us that this ‘optical illusion’ of memory has a habit of recurring whenever a life-changing event occurs and the world on the other side of the event suddenly feels much further away than it actually is. Think of how the last summer on the eve of the outbreak of the First World War is often portrayed as the golden swansong of an Edwardian age that was instantly plunged into luminous amber by those finding themselves on the Western Front. Of course what they’d left behind must have suddenly seemed magical. Certainly a conflict that began on horseback and ended in tanks did indeed serve as a watershed between one era of warfare and another, but this can feasibly be expanded to encompass a wider contrast between the world of 1914 and the world of 1918, one that stretches way beyond the battlefield. It’s no wonder the Edwardian age remains bathed in an alluring glow – though one perhaps viewed from the perspective of the officer class; war stopped play of a cricket match in which all the players were gentlemen.

Across the Atlantic, the three major bombshells that had the greatest impact on the American psyche between World War II and the present day were Pearl Harbor, the assassination of President Kennedy and 9/11. The first was undoubtedly a shock to the American public; it brought a policy of isolationism to a dramatic end overnight, though Roosevelt had hardly been detached from events in Europe behind the scenes; what the Japanese attack on the US Navy in Hawaii did was to curtail the facade of non-engagement. But the US officially entering WWII didn’t necessarily worsen life for Americans who weren’t drafted; compared to here, the home-front in the States was probably better than it had been before 1941, so there wasn’t much yearning for the lost world that existed prior to Pearl Harbor. If anything, looking back to the Great Depression from the perspective of an economy energised anew by the war effort negated the kind of nostalgic longing for the recent past that the British experienced during the First World War.

JFK’s assassination is another matter altogether. Today, it tends to be viewed through the prism of the conspiracy theory industry; had David Icke been around at the time, he’d no doubt have got in early – though his removal from YouTube over the weekend says more about the Google Thought Police and the intolerance of the Silicon Valley worldview than it does about a man that anyone with half-a-brain recognises as an irrelevant fruitcake. Anyway, as for the President who bit the bullet on 22 November 1963, the trauma that hit the US over the death of a man who represented far more than he ever delivered instantly mythologized the Kennedy Camelot in a way that has proven remarkably resistant to no end of damaging revelations ever since. The orphaned youth of America may have been coaxed out of mourning by The Beatles – whose landmark debut on ‘The Ed Sullivan Show’ took place just two-and-a-half months later; but as the decade unfolded with the black hole of Vietnam and further traumatising assassinations, looking back to the perceived innocence and optimism of the early 60s and harbouring a grievance that the nation was robbed of a hope it has never regained was a comforting illusion that endures.

With 9/11 – an event that dragged more than just the one nation into its toxic orbit – the rapid realisation that the world had become a less nice place gradually shone a more benign light on the 20th century’s last decade. All those truly horrible elements of the 1990s – from bloodshed in the Balkans to genocide in Rwanda – were overshadowed in reminiscences that airbrushed the worst from the picture, and the 90s was refashioned as the Indian summer of a safe, peaceful planet in which things could only get better. The end of the Cold War, the Kyoto Protocol, Gazza’s tears, Bill Clinton receiving blowjobs in the Oval Office – hell, we’d never had it so good. By 12 September 2001, it already seemed like a hundred years ago – a fun and frivolous era when all we had to concern ourselves with was whether or not Blur would beat Oasis to the No.1 spot.

The dawn of a new age’s first task is to instantly distinguish itself from what immediately preceded it; but when that new age is a dark one, what immediately preceded it inevitably appears shiny and bright – and better – by comparison. Naturally, the Edwardian era seemed preferable to the carnage of WWI; naturally, the young President cut down in his prime felt like the murder of the American Dream he’d embodied; and naturally, the 1990s came across as a less bleak and far more hopeful period because it was a brief bridge between one Cold War and another. And now we find ourselves in a fresh time of uncertainty and unease that is painting the normal we knew before Covid-19 decided to extend its influence beyond China’s borders as not only eminently desirable, but as something we lost a long time ago – far longer ago than is actually the case.

It may well be that the only thing in 2020 that we have to fear is fear itself; but the abrupt loss of so much we invariably took for granted and the sudden change to the majority of lifestyles has had the effect of making many feel as though where we were pre-lockdown was some dim, distant Golden Age we can never get back to. It’s amazing how quickly one becomes accustomed to the changes, too. Just in the way a scene from a movie barely a decade old might already seem strange should it feature characters smoking indoors, I’m starting to marvel at the absence of social distancing in any drama I watch and have to remind myself that this situation hasn’t always been the case. It just feels like it has. To claim that the past is beautiful and the present is beastly (nice turn of phrase to justify the title, eh?) might be stretching the truth; but if it were in my power to turn back the clock, I probably wouldn’t say no.

© The Editor


I’ve seen so many over the years, so forgive me if I cite the wrong one as an example; but I think it was a programme broadcast in 1990, marking the 21st anniversary of ‘Monty Python’s Flying Circus’, in which Eric Idle was asked what his plans for the future were; he replied that he was looking forward to marking all the Python anniversaries in the years to come. Tongue may well have been in cheek, but he had a point; there seems to have been a retrospective Python TV documentary every ten years ever since, though it was telling that this time round – when we reached the half-century – BBC2 chose to mark the occasion with a glut of repeats produced for previous Python anniversaries. Very confusing as a viewer in 2019, but I guess there’s only so much more that can be added to what’s been said before; and the individual Pythons have probably reached that age where they say the same thing more than once in the space of fifteen minutes, anyway.

When it comes to marking anniversaries of cultural events, I know I’m as guilty as yer average issue of ‘Mojo’; but I’m hardly unique these days. There was a R4 doc on the subject just last Saturday, and the growing appeal of anniversaries could be that they act as a refreshing and welcome breather from such a notoriously unstable present day. There’s certainly a steady supply of them as well; as soon as one’s been commemorated, another one quickly comes along. Indeed, the nostalgia bus service that is the anniversary industry appears to be travelling on an increasingly congested route. Today’s calendar is cluttered with anniversaries marking national and international events or the birth/death of significant cultural figures; and there seems to be an upsurge in official anniversaries of the safely-unalterable past whenever the contemporary feels so unnervingly unpredictable.

Anniversaries have a nice dependability to them that means each individual occasion can be celebrated once a decade without fail, even though there is a downside. Time has a canny habit of moving the goalposts of perception (no, ‘The Goalposts of Perception’ wasn’t the little-known sequel to Huxley’s lysergic manual); and every time a particular anniversary comes around, the goalposts have shifted again. We might look forward to marking an event we’ve marked before, but when what we got used to as ‘forty years since’ is eventually rebranded as ‘fifty years since’, it merely serves to remind us we’re all ten years older than we were the last time we marked it.

Just as each day takes us one step nearer to meeting our maker, it also takes us one step further from all that we choose to remember; the past is no more a fixed point than the present; it moves backwards at the same steady speed as we move forwards, and we cannot halt that progress. Maybe marking an anniversary is a subconscious attempt to briefly reverse the journey in both directions and bring a cherished moment close again. And if the event being marked was a cherished moment rather than some awful tragedy ala 9/11 or 7/7, the sentiment is perfectly understandable.

It’s possible to claim an anniversary doesn’t really gain gravitas and properly qualify for the honour until we reach a nice round number like 10; but I’d argue the first anniversary is as significant as the tens, twenties, twenty-fives et al, for the first lays the foundations for all the anniversaries to follow. And if the event being marked is a death, one whole year is the point whereby the late, lamented person suddenly ceases to inhabit a present tense within reach and is absorbed into the lineage of history – or that’s how it often feels. Once we bypass that twelve month signpost, we may as well henceforth be talking about the Georgians or the Victorians; that’s the kind of company the person in question now keeps. They have permanently slipped from our contemporary grasp. Also, when years supersede months as the method of measurement dividing now from then, the gap between the subsequent anniversaries seems to diminish with each one; we mark five years, and then it’s ten before we know it, then twenty…and on and on it goes, carrying us further from the event with ever-accelerating speed. A trick time plays on us, of course; but a potent one.

The disappearance of the frail WWI soldiers in their wheelchairs, who had become such a familiar poignant sight on one day of the year, is a reminder that some anniversaries can only retain their real relevance whilst the events they commemorate remain within living memory. When this ceases to be the case, the nature of their marking changes and arguably loses the personal touch that kept them prescient and genuinely moving. The Duke of Wellington used to mark the Battle of Waterloo by sharing a celebratory dinner with fellow veterans for a good 30 years after departing the battlefield, but the last time the end of the Napoleonic Wars was marked – the 2015 bicentenary – it was a very different kind of occasion. After all, Wellington died in 1852, and the last survivor of Waterloo passed away in 1898.

Yes, the public anniversary can be simultaneously personal if some of those present were also there when the event being marked actually occurred; but when there are none left, it transforms into something more choreographed, something in which an emotional response feels closer to an enforced duty, as though adhering to rules laid out by some sort of ‘grief committee’. It’s hard for those of us raised in a pre-Diana era to cry on cue, however, and whilst the public anniversary can be very seductive if one’s buttons are easily pressed by grand ceremony, in most cases it pales next to the exclusively personal anniversary – and the exclusively personal anniversary is often the only one we really make an effort to observe.

For many, the exclusively personal are the anniversaries we do remember and try to mark in a memorable manner. We respectfully tip our hat to the official public anniversary in which we have no intimate investment; but when it comes to our own lives, we all have our own little occasions to mark in our own special way that means nothing to anyone other than the parties involved. It would indeed be a bit weird, say, if the wedding anniversary of a non-famous couple was commemorated with a parade down Whitehall, a flypast from the Red Arrows, and live TV coverage with accompanying reverential commentary by Huw Edwards. I’ve a feeling I’d still tune-in, though.

Like their public counterparts, these ‘private anniversaries’ can also be imbued with as much sadness as joy; they can cause us to pause and recall those who are no longer with us. Melancholic commemorations aren’t the sole property of Remembrance Sunday, and while laying a bunch of flowers at the grave of a loved one may lack the communal element generated when wreaths are laid at the Cenotaph on a chilly November morning, sometimes the intensely private matters more. Sometimes, whether celebrating a joyous event or taking a moment to remember the dearly departed, the intensely private is what can make marking anniversaries a worthwhile aspect of what it means to be human.

© The Editor


poppiesAn older guy who was a regular visitor to the residence I shared twenty years ago once returned from the corner shop visibly incensed, having just being lectured by a student beside the samosas on the moral crime he was apparently committing by wearing a poppy. A man whose own father had fought them on the beaches was surprised to be challenged and patronised by a university-educated girl whose opinion that the remembrance poppy endorsed ongoing conflict was one she clearly couldn’t keep to herself. The right to choose whether or not to wear one evidently didn’t come into it; and this seems to be a permanent aspect of the contentious poppy topic on both sides.

With the poppy predictably promoted in characteristically aggressive fashion by the likes of the Mail and the Express as some skewered symbol of patriotism as potent as ‘God Save the Queen’ or Britannia, refusing to play ball obviously places such traitors alongside Lord Haw-Haw. Any public figure appearing on television bereft of a poppy pinned to their lapel is basically pissing on the corpses of our brave boys. They probably voted Remain, are soft on ISIS, and are no doubt gay too, the lefty pinko socialist scumbags. In this case, the poppy is reduced to little more than a badge of reactionary jingoism; and I don’t believe it was ever meant to be that.

The victorious nations who’d fought the First World War adopted the poppy as a mark of respect for their fallen countrymen in the early 20s, following the campaigning of American YWCA volunteer worker Moina Michael, who had been inspired by Canadian Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae’s poem ‘In Flanders Fields’. Production of the artificial remembrance poppy began with Frenchwoman Anna E Guerin, whose poppy-sellers in London caught the attention of Field Marshal Haig; his prominent role with the Royal British Legion ensured the poppy would henceforth be taken up by that organisation and equivalent ones throughout the Commonwealth and North America.

The white poppy is often portrayed as a newfangled pacifist alternative to the traditional red poppy, yet its origins almost stretch back as far as the senior one. Its birth reflected the strong anti-war sentiment of the 30s, when the prospect of being dragged into global conflict again was vehemently opposed by a generation still getting over WWI. The Co-operative Women’s Guild introduced the white poppy in 1933, viewed as a way of remembering the dead without creating the climate for more; even then, some regarded the red poppy as possessing an inherent glorification of military valour, employed as it was by politicians seen as dangerously warmongering, such as Churchill. Critics of the white poppy at the time of its introduction associated it with, at best, lily-livered appeasement and, at worst, the British Union of Fascists. Its divisive symbolism hasn’t really changed much in 80 years, with Mrs Thatcher famously dismissing the white poppy in the 1980s.

Recent military adventures with less black-and-white clarity than the Second World War have seen veterans of previous conflicts claim the poppy is all-too frequently used as a political tool of virtual emotional blackmail, pressurising people into wearing them even if they disagree with British interventions in the likes of Iraq and Afghanistan. This opinion was supported by the last survivor of the First World War, Harry Patch, whose quote ‘War is Organised Murder’, was emblazoned on the outfits worn by these veterans when they laid a wreath of white poppies at the Cenotaph in 2010.

In Northern Ireland, the poppy has an especially incendiary image; worn with pride by Unionists and regarded by Nationalists as glorifying an army they have always viewed as oppressors, the sectarian controversy has even stretched to the sports arena in Scotland, when Celtic (Glasgow’s traditional Catholic giant) took to the field for a match in 2010 with poppies on their shirts. It has even crossed the border with players plying their trade in England. West Bromwich Albion’s James McClean is a Catholic Ulsterman, and his refusal to wear a poppy on his shirt around the time of Remembrance Sunday emanates from his roots in Derry, scene of Bloody Sunday. The online abuse he, and Channel 4 News anchorman Jon Snow, have received for not wearing a poppy in the run-up to November 11 reflects the continuing arguments over choice when it comes to the poppy.

The so-called ‘poppy garden’ surrounding the Tower of London in 2014 was a powerful visual statement on war during the centenary of World War I, yet was utilised as convenient propaganda by David Cameron’s Government at a moment when the Coalition were quietly cutting funding for the Imperial War Museum. Again, any criticisms were cannily shouted down as politicians exploited the response of the public to the display, which seemed a little too close for comfort to the floral excess outside Kensington Gardens following Diana’s death to me. This year, the decision of FIFA to ban the England and Scotland teams wearing poppies on their shirts for the upcoming World Cup qualifier has provoked the kind of outrage from the usual suspects, but it really should be down to the individual if they choose to remember the fallen that way, not a corrupt governing body hardly in a position to lay down the law, nor, it has to be said, a tabloid newspaper.

I personally haven’t worn a poppy since I was a child, but does that make me an Enemy of the People (as the Daily Mail would say)? I don’t think so. Wearing a poppy is optional, not compulsory. If the public have to be told how they have to remember the dead, they’re deserving of the emotional manipulation they receive.

© The Editor