For VE Day, on the other hand, the frying of pink industrial meat is just the thing, along with ration-book offers and giant picnics and the world's largest hokey cokey and, of course, beer at 1945 prices.
No one will be more pleased at the arrival of the day itself than the Prime Minister, not because of any special enthusiasm for the clammy sandwich-filler, but out of simple relief that the anniversary business, with its endless opportunities for gaffes and embarrassments, is over at last. It has been a long, hard struggle.
First there was the period known to historians as the "phoney celebrations", when everyone braced themselves because they knew something was going to happen but not what, where or when - at least, not with enough certainty to pass on the dates of the bank holiday to the banks themselves, the manufacturers of diaries or, indeed, the entire population of Scotland.
Then there were the skirmishes around DDay, when the Government found itself locked in hand-to-hand combat with a cont-ingent of battle-hardened veterans headed by Dame Vera Lynn. The result of that was a tactical retreat, with the Government withdrawing from its original position - a marquee in Hyde Park - on the grounds that it was indefensible. And then there was the disastrous start of the VE Day campaign itself, with an "appeasement" crisis, when Mr Major suggested it might be nice to bring Chancellor Kohl's boys on board, followed by another retreat. War is hell; and so's the commemoration of it.
H H H
Now, though, the fighting's over. The only trouble is that the cork has been in and out of this particular celebratory bottle so many times that the contents have started to go a little bit flat. It really needs a quick shake-up to get things going. Perhaps that's what's behind the belated announcement of the universal "two-minute silence", Brookside permitting.
Interestingly, the word "celebration" doesn't appear at all in the list of "themes" for VE Day kindly supplied by the Government. They are, in case you'd forgotten, "Thanksgiving for the beginning of peace"; "International reconcili-ation and the coming together of Europe"; "Youth and the advantages gained by succeeding generations from victory in the Second World War." A curious mix, explaining why the centrepiece of the official effort - in Hyde Park, inevitably - is to be a weird collision between a Radio Two oldies concert, an agricultural show (minus the animals) and an inter-national Boy Scout jamboree. "Celebration of the end of the war", along with "Thanksgiving and commemoration for the sacrifices of the wartime generation" are reserved for VJ Day, and that's not until August.
The truth is that, 50 years on, celebration is not the uncomplicated matter it was when we had just won a war for national survival. Certain sensitivities have to be observed, and not just at home. Observe the dwindling of the "parade" element. First there was the idealistic suggestion of a "reconciliatory" march down the Mall by surviving veterans of the Wehrmacht. That swiftly gave way to a march by the modern Bundeswehr. That, in turn, became a "purely civilian" Youth Parade, "comprising bands and representatives from participating nations". Now, though, the official London Tourist Board handout in the Weasel's local library has lost the word "parade" altogether. Instead, there will be something called a "Pied Piper" event, in which bands march from Hyde Park to Buckingham Palace "taking the crowd with them". Trafalgar Square, which is where the real celebrations took place 50 years ago, doesn't get a look-in, presumably because our police no longer consider it a suitable place for crowds to gather.
H H H
George Steiner, the philosopher of language, has written that "of all evolutionary tools towards survival, it is the ability to use future tenses of the verb...which I take to be foremost". Prof Steiner clearly had not read the programmes for VE Day in London. There, the future tense is obligatory, and after a while it begins to sound faintly totalitarian: "Thousands of Young Performers from many countries will salute the Heads of State and the young people will invite them to go to the Great Floral Globe, which is the centrepiece of the site..." And so on, all of it uncannily like the kind of thing they do so well in Pyongyang and Beijing.
Thankfully, there is a long and noble British tradition of turning the most beautifully choreographed celebration of official "themes" into a good-humoured shambles. We are not, by and large, good in the mass. Other countries march, wear uniforms and hold torchlit rallies: we do silly walks, make sarcastic remarks and go caravanning. Each British family has its own memories, traditions and myths about the War and what happened when it ended. Fundamentally, though, they are private, not available for manipulation, either by governments or by commercial concerns. That has not, however, stopped them trying.
The instant nostalgia summoned up by the VE Day commemoration provides a wonder- ful environment for advertisers, especially those catering to the older members of society. You can see this at work in the Royal British Legion's official commemorative book of the VE Day events.
The first thing that meets your eye is an advertisement for Sainsbury's: "Serving the nation, then and now." The first editorial item, the Queen's message to her Royal British Legion, is shouted down by a message from Councillor Leo Madden, Leader of Portsmouth City Council: he bought the space opposite her. Mr Major's message, which comes next, competes with an advertisement for Eurostar. The convivial Mr Yeltsin, meanwhile, finds himself addressing an ad for the Salvation Army. Perhaps that's a joke.
Respect for past sacrifices takes on a curious form here. "If you remember this..." runs the slogan above an advertisement based around a picture of Winston Churchill (the wartime leader, not the Lottery winner), "You can have the home and motor insurance you deserve." After a while, you sense a theme developing. "With age comes wisdom," says the ad opposite the address from the president of the Royal British Legion, "and an extra 14 per cent saving on your motor insurance." A whole 14 per cent - now that's gratitude.
Those who had hoped that VE Day would mark some kind of high-water mark in the flood of nostalgia are clearly out of luck. Between VJ Day and the end of 1998, the 80th anniversaries of various First World War events will trundle past. Then, on September 16, 1999, comes the 60th anniversary of the start of World War II. Six years of that, and it will be time for the 90th anniversary of the start of the First World War. And so on, forever. It seems that the VE Day event is not the end, nor the beginning of the end. It's just the end of the beginning.
H H H
The conclusion of the War in Europe saw the last of Britain's global role. The world's policeman was no longer to be a man in blue serge with a kindly manner and a deft way with a length of polished hardwood, but a heavily armed American with a bad temper. Or so we have always thought.
In Oklahoma, however, people think differently. We know that now, of course, but just how differently still takes some grasping. Last weekend, Ambrose Evans-Pritchard of the Sunday Telegraph uncovered a spectacular conspiracy theorist among the Okie militiamen, who were quite convinced that, in no particular order, HM the Queen makes a large proportion of her fortunes from drug smuggling; that she has the international Jewish banking families in her pocket through complicated marital arrangements; that the Bank of England controls more than half America's federal reserves and is plotting a deliberate crisis in global currency markets; that Presidents Bush and Clinton have both been British agents; that the UN has a secret police force under the control of MI6 which will shortly be rounding up American patriots and imprisoning them, prior to seizing control of the Union; and that America's federal law agencies are all under the thumb of something called "British Interpol".
How the chest swells, to think that some-body, somewhere, no matter how sadly deluded, would imagine for one minute that the British establishment was capable of running a game of marbles, let alone a complete scheme for World Domination.
Clearly, though, if that's what they think, we should start now rather than wait for the year 2000, which will be much too busy, what with Millennium projects, more street parties and the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. We could start by rounding up obvious "patriots" on the streets of London, recognising them by their loud trousers and huge bottoms. Then we could send them off to be tortured with ironic remarks, Blur CDs and platefuls of jellied eels. At the same time, those who have attempted to hide themselves among us by apeing our self-effacing manners must be exposed. Ruby Wax and Loyd Grossman, for instance.
That should leave the coast clear for our nefarious plans, culminating in a full-scale invasion of America, supported by our powerful allies the Portuguese and the Finns. See you on VA Day: it's only a matter of time. TheWeaselReuse content