Tuesday, 1 November 2011


Keats once said "great poetry should surprise by a fine excess".

That goes for great guiding as well.

Today - November 1 - is one of those days when the whole country turns a corner. Quite simply, Remembrance Day comes into view. You can sense it - and see it (the poppies). Come November 1st the country starts getting ready - forming up - for November 11th. It's "all march one way" time once again. And by all I mean all - the whole country. The poppies, the ceremony at the Cenotaph, the minute of silence at 11 o'clock on the 11th.

And that's meet, that's fitting, because, as the War Graves Commission reported, in 1931, "were the dead of the Empire [in World War I] to form up in Trafalgar Square and march four abreast down Whitehall to Parliament Square - it would take that ghostly column three and a half days to pass The Cenotaph."

Today, 80 years later, it would take longer - because Remembrance Day remembers - and honours - the "fallen" servicemen and women of all our 20th and 21st century wars, not just The Great War.

So, yes, meet. And fitting. Last year David - who regularly meets Keats' "surprise by a fine excess" gold standard - marched just slightly out-of-step. Remembrance Day 2010 was 70 years to the day that two young London Transport [as we'd call them today] workers lost their lives in a German bombing raid that, in a split second, turned Sloane Square station into a Dantesque vision of hell.

David in a sense dug those two victims out.* Remembered them. Honoured them. Told their story. Movingly. Beautifully.

A year on he's done it again. This one's shorter - and a few days earlier - but it's just as arresting, just as powerful. Here it is.

Double vision. It's the guide's blessing. (Though sometimes it seems like a curse - you think, 'once, just once it would be nice to see something the way everybody else sees it'.)

Not to be, though. As today - Remembrance Day minus 10 and counting - has well and truly driven the point home.

Which is by way of saying, yes, it's November now, so I'm right there with everybody else in the country - getting ready, getting aligned. Counting down to 11 am on November 11th. Getting ready to remember.

But I'm also remembering something else. And no it isn't a shopping errand. It's something that shouldn't be Lone Ranger remembered - it damn well should be remembered by all six billion of us.

Won't be though.

It's what happened exactly 100 years ago today.

Which was this: on November 1, 1911, Giulio Cavotti, an Italian airman, flying over Tripoli, dropped a hand grenade on rebellious Arabs.

That moment, that action, that grenade - dropped from a primitive flying machine - was the beginning of bombing.

Here's an image. It isn't Tripoli. It isn't 1911. It isn't even World War I.

But I think it'll do.**

*He found them in a "primary documents" search: mortuary records, for example.

**For the record, it's a propaganda leaflet the Japanese dropped on Hong Kong a few days before they attacked it (on December 8, 1941).

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