From the optical illusion of the Russell Square aeroplane to the temporal plywood of anniversaries.
At one level, anniversaries are meaningless folds in the map – artifacts of an arbitrary time-system force-fitted onto the relentless drift of natural history.
An ocean liner strikes an iceberg and sinks. The-square-of-the-number-of-fingers-a-human-has multiplied by the-time-it-takes-for-the-Earth-to-circumnavigate-the-Sun later, we’re watching a 3d cinematic rendering of Leonardo DiCaprio clinging to damp wood.
But the angles at which these glistening shards of the past collide with present-day events can render them impossible to ignore.
London will have a special quality this summer as it hosts the Olympics Games in the sixtieth year of unelected Elizabethan head-of-state-hood.
For 2012 seems to have a particularly fine crop of anniversaries.
- From 1812, Luddites, Napoleon’s retreat from Russia and the world’s first commercially deployed steam locomotive
- From 1912, Scott and Oates in the Antarctic, the Titanic, and the Suffragettes
- From 1962, the Cuba Missile Crisis
- From 1982, the Falklands War
I am particularly struck by the way the Luddite bicentenary can be a flashpoint for different interpretations of the past, present and future of the English North.
The way these events ripple through history reminds us that we only ever live partially in the present. There may be a randomness in the way that past events bounce off each other and recombine, but that doesn’t make them any less real.