Miles Kington: An anniversary nightmare come true

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The Independent Online

Ready for some more? You're very brave. Here we go.

Chairman: ... So Pride and Prejudice, published in 1805, will take over most of September. Good! Any other brainwaves? Sir John?

Sir John: Think there's any future in Gibraltar?

Chairman: I don't know much about Spanish politics.

Sir John: No, I mean the bicentenary of our acquiring the place. From 1705 onwards we were in possession.

Chairman: Did we acquire it in 1705?

Sir John: N-o-o-o. We went in in 1704 and took a year to secure it.

Chairman: Fudge. Try something else.

Bruce: Sir, may I suggest Robert Fitzroy?

Chairman: You may, Bruce. Who the devil was he?

Bruce: Naval officer, born in 1805. Given command of the Beagle in 1831 and asked Charles Darwin to come with him, as naturalist. The Beagle had already been on a trip to South America, mapping and charting the Chilean coast. It was so cold and depressing that after two years the captain, Commander Pringle-Stokes, shot himself.

Chairman: Strewth.

Bruce: Quite so. Anyway, Fitzroy and Darwin spent five years together on the Beagle, then Darwin went off to sort out his theories and Fitzroy invented the weather forecast.

Chairman: Really?

Bruce: Really. Became first head of the Meteorological Office. He used wireless telegraphy to transmit reports of weather conditions from one place to another so you could forecast what was coming.

Chairman: Did it work?

Bruce: Not all the time. He got a lot of flak for faulty forecasting.

Chairman: No change there, then.

Bruce: At the age of 60, he also committed suicide, just like old Pringle-Stokes.

Chairman: Good God! Just because his weather forecasts were criticised?

Bruce:No, sir. Theory is that Fitzroy was a very religious person and when The Origin of Species came out, he felt it betrayed God, and as he had invited Darwin along in the first place, he felt responsible.

Chairman: Well ... great story, but I'm not sure if anyone actually remembers old Fitzroy.

Sir John: They should do. He's on the forecast every day.

Chairman: How so?

Sir John: The weather people renamed Finisterre as Fitzroy in 2002.

Chairman: No kidding! ... Well, before we make any decisions about old Fitzroy, any other suggestions? Yes, Dorothy?

Dorothy: Nobody has mentioned 1755 yet. 250 years ago, after all. Or will be next year.

Chairman: Tell me the worst, as long as it's not too depressing.

Dorothy: The Lisbon Earthquake of 1755, sir. Sorry, sir.

Chairman: Great. Anything else?

Dorothy: Publication of Dr Johnson's Dictionary.

Chairman: God save us. I'm not sure I wouldn't rather have an earthquake. Dictionaries are so damnably dull. So is Dr Johnson, come to that. People go on and on about what a great writer he is, but nobody ever reads anything he wrote. Nobody can actually put a name to anything he wrote. Except for his dictionary. The best thing about Johnson was always Boswell, who wrote all Johnson's best stuff anyway. ...

Sir John: I think we ought to take a break there, old boy. It's getting to you a bit. Have a rest and come back fresh.

Chairman: Yes, perhaps you're right.

Sir John: Then we can start preliminary talks on Ibsen's centenary in 2006, perhaps.

Chairman: Oh God! I can't bear it!

The Anniversary Planning Authority is currently looking for a new chairman. Why not get in touch if you are interested?