Musing On History

Melanie, or possibly Karen reminded me the other day that those who forget history are condemned to repeat it. This seems harsh on a number of levels. Firstly, I am very forgetful and secondly I don't enjoy history except for some parts of history. For example regency period British history is quite good (it is all debts, drinking, madness, posh frocks and psychodrama[*]. It seems a lot like Whitby Goth Weekend but with taller wigs -- mind you I'm getting all this from just a couple of books and I don't remember them well). Nineteenth century British Empire history is also quite good -- in summary it seems to go: "The people who thought they owned the area rose up and slaughtered the British (with the sole exception of Sir Ponsonby Heroic-Survivor KGB VC HDTV who escaped with the loss of a leg). Roll a d6. On a 4-6 the British came back and slaughtered everyone in the area who survived. Later the queen was asked to apologise and the Daily Mail was horrified." This is all very interesting and quite heroic in its way though I hope I am not condemned to repeat it myself because it sounds no fun to live through (except for the parts where you drink gin while waiting for the native uprising which might be OK). Also, prehistory was terrific fun with exciting dinosaurs attacking each other and Kenneth Brannargh voice overs. Pedants may argue that this isn't actually history. That's pedants for you -- they wouldn't be saying that if they were attacked by a fierce (yet vegetarian) ankylosaurus.

In general, however, history is poorly plotted, the characterisation is at best weak, the episodes don't begin with a "Last week on History" potted summary to help you follow it. Worst of all we know how it works out: Current Affairs (which is at best muddled and depressing). However, history gets this terrific ad campaign "If you forget history you are condemned to repeat it."

For example, on Saturday, I forgot about pre-Norman British kings and, as a result burned my tea (I would have burned cakes but I didn't have any, nor any bread, having forgotten about the causes of the French Revolution earlier in the week). It was later explained to me that this was legendary or at best allegorical but it didn't help my tea which was ruined. On Sunday I forgot three of the reasons why Henry VIII was a bad king and was seized with a powerful urge to shag around and dissolve the monastries which (fortunately) I was unable to act upon. Then on Monday I forgot about the Schleswig-Holstein question (this was common even at the time) and am unable to adequately explain the consequences (one guy tried to explain it to me but he was patently bonkers).

It's unfair that history gets this boost when other subjects don't. Nobody ever warns of dire consequences if you forget maths. In fact everybody just says "Oh, I was terrifically bad at sums at school me. Can't add up for toffee. What's 43 times 22 then?" [**] (Which is why I never tell people I study Mathematics. I never tell people I study road traffic because I will die rather than hear another story beginning "I was in a terrible jam on the A43, the traffic lights there are terribly misconfigured..." or "The council really has no idea of how to deal with a road network... let me tell you about...". If you tell someone you study the Internet you will just end up reinstalling Windows 2000 for them and frankly I don't want to go through that again.) Anyway, I think it only fair to redress the balance with a series of catchy slogans for other subjects.

Those who forget food science are condemned to regurgitate it.
Those who forget art history are condemned to repaint it.
Those who forget interior design are condemned to replaster it.
Those who forget journalism are condemned to report on it.

I'm sure you can come up with your own.

Talking of advertising, I was thinking about Chlamydia (which would be a great name for your daughter if you would have called your son Clem but he turned out to be a girl). It seems unfairly chastised actually -- if you were going to get and STD it's probably going to be near the head of the list. Here are my slogans to make people rethink Chlamydia. (For the avoidance of doubt I'm not thinking of getting it myself).

Chlamydia, it's more fun to catch than a cold.
Do you love someone enough to give them your last Chlamydia trachomatis?
Chlamydia can help prevent unwanted pregnancy.
Men, make your whizz go with a fizz with Chylamydia.
Chylamydia, the gift that keeps on giving.

On an entirely unrelated note, someone was on radio four this morning talking about the paralympics. Previously this has been a matter of supreme indifference to me but (and this bit is true I swear) the guy was talking about his lightweight carbon-fibre foot which he used for the sprinting events. I'm sure this will appeal to anyone who is into motor sport and bored senseless by athletics. Better still (and again true), apparently his foot broke down before the big final and he only got a replacement foot at the last hour. Also they spend ages tweaking the foot suspension for better mechanical grip and so on. This is easily better than just watching some people running. It gave me some ideas for other olympic variant events. For example: the Mooselympics for terrifically ugly people. This could feature such events as the "long pull" where they stand at a bar and try to pick people up. Or the "100 metres gurn" where they make hideous faces while running. Also I would pay to see the Drunklympics which could genuinely feature pissing contests (the long piss and the high piss), the 100 metres free-stagger and the hop, skip and fall.

[*]Some people also say it features "porphyria" which is a terrific disease, probably even better than Chlamydia, because it allows you to urinate in different colours and behave peculiarly in public. Porphyria is one of those diseases that feature heavily in channel four documentaries about "the true reason why" some obscure thing in history happened (example: lots of things involving the British Monarchy). In this it is much like ergot (example: the Salem witch trials and the Marie Celeste). I'm starting to suspect that most of history actually happened because the people in question weren't right in the head at the time and the true lesson of history is "consult your local GP."

[**] Have you noticed that people are willing to say "I was terrifically bad at X when I was at school" where X is any subject except sex education?