Things to re­mem­ber

Re­mem­ber, re­mem­ber the an­niver­saries of Novem­ber, writes Rowan Man­tell


Ahun­dred years af­ter the ap­palling slaugh­ter of the First World War, with mil­lions of young lives sac­ri­ficed in scenes of al­most unimag­in­able hor­ror, we con­tinue to prom­ise to re­mem­ber those who died.

There is al­most no-one left alive who re­mem­bers the ac­tual peo­ple, but there are still those who re­mem­ber the hu­man­shaped holes they left in fam­i­lies and com­mu­ni­ties.

And we can all take time to con­sider how priv­i­leged we are to be here, now.

An­niver­saries are im­por­tant, although the drama of a war fin­ish­ing at the 11th hour, of the 11th day of the 11th month came at the cost of deaths con­tin­u­ing right up to that, lit­eral, dead­line.

“We will re­mem­ber,” we have been say­ing for a cen­tury. And we have – this year in peals of bells as well as pop­pies and pa­rades, in barely-there sil­hou­ettes as well as stone war memo­ri­als and si­lences.

Even be­fore Re­mem­brance, Novem­ber was a month for re­mem­ber­ing.

“Re­mem­ber, re­mem­ber the fifth of Novem­ber, gun­pow­der, trea­son and plot,” we chanted as chil­dren. For 250 years there was ac­tu­ally an Act of Par­lia­ment en­forc­ing cel­e­bra­tions on Novem­ber 5. It was more to do with re­li­gious ha­tred than a gov­ern­ment de­ter­mined to en­sure fam­i­lies gath­ered in gar­dens across the land to watch mum ob­sess over sparkler safety while dad rein­vented mea­sur­ing sys­tems to prove that the dis­play-grade fire­works would be an ex­cel­lent fit for an ur­ban court­yard.

Most of us are at least vaguely aware that we are wav­ing sparklers and eat­ing hot dogs in hon­our of Par­lia­ment sur­viv­ing a bomb plot, but the pass­ing cen­turies have stripped bon­fire night of its solem­nity, so that a cel­e­bra­tion sparked, al­most lit­er­ally, by re­li­gious in­tol­er­ance, is to­day, in most places, closer to an­cient fes­ti­vals to re­mem­ber the dead and mark the be­gin­ning of win­ter.

Talk­ing of an­cient we had an an­niver­sary in our fam­ily re­cently. A 10,000th an­niver­sary. If 50 is gold, 60 di­a­mond and 70 plat­inum I dreaded to think what 10,000 would be. It turned out it was cake and sparkling wine as we staged an im­promptu cel­e­bra­tion of my daugh­ter’s 10,000th day on earth.

Ap­par­ently (and I as­sume my son has an app to work these out) there is an­other fam­ily an­niver­sary this month - my hus­band’s 20,000th day.

The won­der of Wikipedia has just re­vealed to me that the land­mass which would one day be­come Nor­folk was in the grip of an ice age 20,000 years ago, so I’m won­der­ing about call­ing it an ice an­niver­sary.

By the time of my own (far dis­tant) 20,000th I’m hop­ing an­niver­sary in­fla­tion will have trans­formed this into a trip to Ice­land (the coun­try.) For this im­mi­nent 20,000th an­niver­sary it will al­most cer­tainly be cake and sparkling wine again, this time with ic­ing and ice.

Most of us are at least vaguely aware that we are wav­ing sparklers and eat­ing hot dogs in hon­our of Par­lia­ment sur­viv­ing a bomb plot

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