Miles Kington: 2006 is the first anniversary of the Ashes win

A centenary programme is self-defeating, as anyone who was there is dead 100 years later
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The Independent Online

We all looked round the pub. It looked exactly the same as usual. The sign saying: "Book now for Christmas lunch." The two farm implements on the wall that nobody could identify. The fireplace with the genuine blazing imitation log fire in it. The sign in the window saying "We are in the Good Pub Guide 1997." The six books on a shelf. The...

"No," said the man with the dog. "I can't see anything different."

"Not in the pub," said the Welshman testily. "Not in here! In the world around us. Something has changed since August. Something has disappeared."

"Michael Howard?" somebody ventured.


"Cricket? The old Pope?"

"No !" said the Welshman. "It's the Second World War! All the Second World War celebrations have dried up! Being 60 years since 1945, we have had endless anniversaries of the last year of the war: VE Day. VJ Day. All that. But Japan surrendered in August, so that was the end of the war, and it has been physically impossible to celebrate anything else since. Two months without any World War celebrations or programmes on TV or anything. It's been wonderful."

"I suppose it will all come round again in 10 years time," said the man with the dog gloomily.

"No!" said the Major. "Not in 10 years time! In four years time! Because in 2009 it will be 70 years since the start of the war in 1939 and we'll begin the whole cycle all over again."

"Why can't we just keep it to 50th and 100th anniversaries?" said the man with the dog. "What's so special about these fiddly little in-between figures like 60 and 70? Who cares?"

"People who make TV programmes, that's who," said the Welshman. "It's their only source of ideas. But the programmes are all the same, because they all use the same old archives. A centenary programme is self-defeating because, by definition, anyone who was actually there at the time is going to be dead 100 years later, so you're never going to get first-hand testimony. It should all be done way way in advance."

"How do you mean?" said the man with the dog.

"Well, take some big event which has got its centenary in about 20 years time, something like... like..."

"The General Strike?" said the Major.

"Thank you, my friend," said the Welshman. "In 2026 all the general strikers will be dead. But there are still plenty of them now. So interview them NOW and keep the stuff on tape till then! Smash hit!"

"I'm not so sure," said the man with the dog. "To be old enough to get involved in the General Strike, say 18, you'd have to be born at least by 1908 or 1910, so you'd be pushing 100 already. Not great telly. Loads of wrinklies saying they'd stayed home from work. Not as dramatic as loads of wrinklies saying they'd bombed hell out of the Germans."

"You've got one thing wrong," said the Major. "We haven't finished with war this year yet. I was over in France for my summer hols, and they had commemorative stamps out celebrating the year 1805."

"They were celebrating Trafalgar?!" said the Welshman.

"No, no, no, no. They were celebrating the Battle of Austerlitz."

"What's that, then?"

"One of Napoleon's greatest victories. About a month after Trafalgar. In December. Napoleon defeated the Russian and the Austrian armies on the same battlefield. Brilliant tactics. Left him master of mainland Europe."

There was a silence.

"How do you know all this?" said the Welshman.

"After seeing those stamps I looked it up. I even found websites with organised trips to the battlefield coming up this December. From England. To Austerlitz."

There was a stunned silence at this display of knowledge. Then the lady with the blue hairdo said: "I tell you one thing. I am so disappointed that England has qualified for the World Cup. I prayed and prayed we would be knocked out, so that we could have concentrated on the cricket next summer..." And we were off on sport again.