Saturday, 11 January 2014

Some hoped that the war which engulfed Europe in August 1914 would be over by Christmas. Some hoped that the 2014 centenary of the outbreak would be commemorated with dignity and unity. Both aspirations now seem as foolish as each other. Leaving aside the squabble between Michael Gove and his political enemies, it now seems that the contribution to the war by Australia, New Zealand, Canada and South Africa is being marginalised. Evidently, a Whitehall spokesman told Australian journalists that there would be no focus on the ANZAC, CEF or SA part in the war, rather that officials were "concentrating on promoting the role played by those Commonwealth countries that achieved independence after 1945, such as India, Bangladesh and Nigeria." The official went on to say that this is to promote ‘community cohesion’ in the UK. Of this, more later.
While seated one night at the computer,
I was weary and ill at ease;
My fingers wandered idly,
Over the silent keys…
I knew not what I was writing,
Or what I was dreaming then,
But I dream'd a vision of hell, 

With the sound of a great Amen
(apologies to Adelaide Ann Proctor and Sir Arthur Sullivan)

Here's my recollection of that  vision of hell. And yes, I had been drinking. Since 1801hrs (getting the ice cubes out took longer than I thought)
Imagine the scene. Forget Hellraiser I, II, III or The Human Centipede. This is much, much worse. Danny Boyle has been commissioned by the BBC to direct the official opening of UK's 1914 Great War centenary commemorations. It's the O2 Arena. Cue dry ice, laser beams, the works. 

Scene 1 -  African dancing troupes and people in wheelchairs playing basketball, accompanied by some Benjamin Zephaniah poems.
Scene 2 - Anjem Choudary goes into an elaborate dance/rap routine with backing choir made up of BBC Question Time audience.

Scene 3 - the sound of artillery fire: more dry ice, and pretend smoke; a back projection of abused Edwardian feminists; an octet of obviously homosexual WWI infantrymen mince and camp their way around the stage to the music of the 1917 hit, A Bachelor Gay Am I  from The Maid Of The Mountains.
Scene 4 - A mock-up of the BBC Radio 4 Today studio. Guest editors George Galloway, Len McLusky and Dame Polly Toynbee of Tuscany recreate the outbreak of The Great War as it might have been covered by a 21st century news and current affairs show. A live link is established to a British trench, wrecked by a direct hit from a German shell. Ace reporter Rachel Burden asks a dying infantryman, "Give our listeners at home some idea of how it feels to have your legs blown off.."
Scene 5 - An awesome finale. A mixture of transgender awareness ribbons and white poppies flutters down on the audience. The audience gasps as Owen Jones and Diane Abbott appear, and enact a sensuous and passionate tango, symbolising the plight of workers in the third world. Finally, the audience is asked to stand and join in a rousing chorus of Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika, led by The Choir of The Gay Postal Workers' Rainbow Collective.

SATIRE IS NOT DEAD. Well, judging by the previous few hundred words, it may still be breathing, but it is pretty terminal, and a priest has been summoned. My serious point. In August, one hundred years ago but one million tears ago, tens of thousands of young men from England, Scotland, Wales, and both ends of Ireland went to war. Small contingents from various colonies and allies threw in their lot against German expansionism - India and Portugal to name but two - but our greatest support came from Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa despite their having no dog in this particular fight. Their death toll: Canada - 62,000. Australia - 61,000. New Zealand - 18,000. South Africa - 12,500. Still, as I mentioned at the top of this blog, we wouldn't want any of our more recent guests to feel left out, so let's just forget about the lads from Toronto, Ottowa, Melbourne, Adelaide, Christchurch, Wellington, Jo'burg and Pretoria.
One Of The Old Platoon (Will Dyson, Australian War Memorial)
And then we have France. La Belle France. Frequently vilified by the ill-informed and partially-educated, the men of France were not 'surrender artists', but bore the brunt of German aggression. Alsace-Lorraine, Craonne, Verdun, Champagne - village after village was flattened. Britain's dead were numbered in the hundreds of thousands. Les Morts de France were numbered in the millions.
In conclusion, if someone is unwise enough to approach you with the suggestion that the 1914 centenary is an opportunity to celebrate gender awareness, diversity, the green agenda, multiculturalism, rainbow nations, or some other chattering-class, Sunday supplement conceit, I suggest you gently but firmly separate them from their reduced fat latte, upend the drink over their head, and kick them sharply where their balls would be, if they had any.