Miles Kington: Beggars can't be choosers in the anniversary business

The biggest thing for the Italians this year might be the Peking to Paris car race, which took place in 1907
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The Independent Online

I was on a train the other day, staring out of the window, when I became aware that one of my fellow passengers had just pulled a diary out of his pocket. Nothing odd about that. What was odd was that he then pulled several more out of his pocket, all of different years, from 2006 through to 2010, and placed them on the table.

Why would anyone need four years' worth of diaries?

There was only one way to find out.

"Please don't think I am being inquisitive, but I would dearly love to know why you have got diaries for the next four years to hand. Are you much in demand as a dinner guest? Have you got a five-year plan of dental treatment? Or..."

He laughed.

"No, no," he said. "The answer is quite boring, I am afraid. I am in the anniversary trade."

"In the anniversary trade?"

"Yes. You know how every year we are greeted with centenary and bicentenary celebrations? How some years it's a big one like Mozart or American Independence? Or, last year, Trafalgar? And some years it's a lot of little ones?"

"Ye-e-es."

"Well, they don't just happen. Someone's got to research in advance to see what anniversaries are coming up, and to initiate the necessary machinery."

"Right."

"That's me. I get centenaries rolling. So whenever I come across a centenary I didn't know about, I put it in the apposite diary. "

"Right. So what have we got coming up next year?"

"Next year? Well, I did all my work on 2007 years ago - I'm well ahead on 2011 already - but let's see..."

He flipped through his 2007 diary.

"Are you interested in the abolition of the slave trade in 1807?"

"I didn't know slavery had been outlawed that early," I said.

"Not slavery," he said. "That went on for years afterwards. Just the slave trade. Bit like drugs, really. Slave-dealing became illegal, but not possession. Frank Whittle, inventor of the jet engine, born 1907. Also, Garibaldi..."

"Born in 1907?"

"No, of course not. 1807. But in the anniversary trade we tend to let centuries overlap a bit. Garibaldi is going to be big in Italy. So is Maria Montessori, born in Rome in 1907, if they want her. Actually, the biggest thing for the Italians might be the Peking to Paris car race which took place in 1907."

"Won by an Italian, I take it?"

"Won by Prince Scipio Borghese, who took with him his personal mechanic, Ettore Guizzardi, and a journalist, Luigi Barzini. Great story. It took them two months, which was pretty good going, considering there were no roads most of the way."

"So how did they...?"

"Well, in Siberia they actually drove along the Trans-Siberian railway for some time. There was one exciting moment when the car got stuck in the rails just as they saw a train coming in the distance. They only just got it off in time..."

"Wow," I said. "Should make a great film."

"Just after that," said the man, "their front left wheel fell to bits. They thought they were done for, but found an expert cartwright in a nearby Russian village who made them a new one out of wood."

I thought about it.

"Anything in 2007 that Britain can be proud of?" I said.

"Brooklands racing track opened," he said.

"Hmmm..."

"And," he said, "there's the centenary of scouting. It was in 1907 that Baden-Powell set up his first camp on Brownsea Island. Look, you will be able to get this next year..."

He pulled something out of his pocket. It was a packet containing something unidentifiable. It was labelled "Baden-Powell Centenary Woggle".

"Doesn't quite compare with carving your own car wheel in the Siberian forest, does it?"

He shrugged.

"Beggars can't be choosers in the anniversary trade," he said.

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