The Guardian has just started a new series of its excellent booklets about World War One. You should really read them. This is a war we should all know about and understand, because it surely amounts to one of the largest and most pointless loss of human life in all history. I wonder how Gavrilo Princip
would have felt if he had known that his actions would precipitate a war that would cause the deaths of 10 million people, the destruction of the Tsarist regime in Russia and created the conditions for another massive conflict some twenty odd years after this one. Maybe his hand would have been shaking a bit had he realised. Maybe he might have thought twice about it. But if he hadn't done it then doubtless war would have somehow been fomented over some other issue. But Princip did something which had an almost unequalled influence on history that summer's day in 1914. He did at least get his wish of an independent Yugoslavia, though by somewhat convoluted means and he didn't live to see it (I can't believe he wasn't executed for his crime).
I had made the mistake of taking a friend to see the Westfield shopping centre this afternoon. It was like entering an outer circle of Hell, even more crowded than on day one, almost impossible to move along some of the walkways dues to the sheer volume of people. The echoes of tens of thousands of conversations echoed off the roof and it was impossible to even get a coffee without queueing for 15 minutes. It made me feel queasy and gave me a headache and we had to leave withing twenty minutes of getting there. You can't help but feel in circumstances like these that there are too many people in the world and maybe wars are nature's way of trying to keep numbers down. In the olden days when fighting was more based on physical prowess and skill (rather than using computers) perhaps it also helped the survival of the fittest. Of course it's horrible to start thinking this way, but half an hour in this place just gave me waking nightmares about a world where there were so many people that everywhere you went was a sea of disgusting humanity. There has to come a point where we slow our reproductive frenzy down a little. Or just make up a stupid war about nothing and let the populace cut each other down so the survivors can have a bit more space.
And tonight again I was surrounded by people, though in rather more enjoyable circumstances (at least until everyone tried to leave at the exact same second) as I attended The Ravenscourt Park fireworks display
for the first time since 2004
(it really doesn't seem that long ago). The bonfire was particularly impressive this year, it was an intense inferno, sending flames shooting high into the air, looking almost like it was a computer generation expertly played by Andy Serkis.
Bonfire nights will always send my mind backwards in time (as the last entry about this display shows), but I was reminded of my childhood fascination with fires. How I used to stare into the coal fire in our holiday cottage on the Isle of Arran and make up stories about what I imagined I saw inside (this was the 1970s, long before TV was invented - that's how we had to make our entertainment back then. How I loved it when my dad would build bonfires in the back garden. I was always keen to be involved and even played games on the edges of the blaze with my small plastic soldiers - enjoying the effect that the flames would have on their meltable bodies. Seeing the flames licking the sky filled me with child like awe at the power of this unpredictable force.
And it's always great to have a night where religious hatred is sanctioned and encouraged, even if the Catholic who goes on the bonfire is sadly just an effigy these days (I don't really want to burn living Catholics - any religious person will do. I am not prejudiced). But I love the fact that we are celebrating Guy Fawkes over 400 years after his death. And it is a celebration of him, rather than of the safety of the people he tried to set alight himself. Even though it has the veneer of being a celebration of his lack of success, the common people can't help but admire him for trying to actually do what we have only dreamed of, and wipe out parliament. If he had succeeded then it probably wouldn't be fun to have a celebration, but because he tried and failed, we English can really identify with him. It is quintessentially English. We love him because he dared to dream, but because like us he was a total and rubbish failure.
As the proceedings were held up by an entertainer who insisted on trying to get us all to sing "Daydream Believer" for some reason and then by the Mayor of Hammersmith and Fulham who wanted to give a speech, we, the crowd of the ordinary became united in our common desire for those idiots to shut up and fuck off and for the bloody fireworks to begin before the drizzle that was falling on us turned to rain. It was us against them and the cheers that sprung up as the Mayor spoke were very much behind the destruction of authority rather than out of respect for his position. How we wished we had the guts to throw him on the bonfire and the stupid entertainer with his weak puns, hopeless attempts to create a community singalong (yet ironically uniting us in disdain) and constant self-name check and boasts (possibly a joke) that he had appeared on Midsommer Murders (hopefully as a corpse).
At this moment it felt good to be amongst loads of people, all united, enjoying the explosions in front of us (unlike those poor men ninety years ago cowering in their muddy stinking holes). My favourite was one that sent a legion of giant sperm swimming into the sky trying to impregnate the darkness, before fizzling out, impotent.
I loved humanity again and didn't want a war to decimate us. Until I couldn't get out of the quagmire we'd been celebrating failure in. If I'd had a machine gun I would have done my bit for eugenics.