Oliver Cross: ‘I am fed up with them all talking about the Great War’

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THIS WEEK I’ve decided not to talk about the overdose of commemorations marking the centenary of the start of the First World War.

Firstly, I find the commemorations, especially as presented in the more noisy sections of the national press, constantly threatening to tip into a celebration of the war. Secondly, I’m bored by the whole thing – not by the war itself but by the establishment’s attempt to cudgel us all into a collective national response, complete with glamorous young royals, archbishops in their finery and 40-something politicians putting on funereal faces to mourn the lost generation they never met.

If the appropriate response to the events of 1914 is sober reflection, things would be helped by a bit more quiet, please.

I marked the anniversary by reading, to myself and not as part of a commemorative event, some poetry from the war, including Isaac Rosenberg’s very appropriately-titled August 1914, in which Rosenberg laments that a world once composed of iron, honey and gold has suddenly lost its honey and gold (representing, I suppose, sweetness and beauty) and all that’s left is cold, hard iron. Rosenberg was killed in action in April 1918.

I might also re-read Rudyard Kipling’s haunting short story The Gardener, an account of the grief of those bereaved by the war - Kipling’s only son was among the dead.

But since I promised at the beginning not to mention the war, it’s time to go off-topic – thank heavens – and talk about garden-party admissions policies, which are troubling me at the moment because my annual summer party is coming up and, as with war, it’s important to learn from past mistakes (“We’ve had no end of a lesson; it will do us no end of good,” as Kipling wrote after the Boer War).

Obviously, thieves, rogues and people who introduce themselves while texting, listening to headphones, scratching their bodies or chewing gum loudly enough to wake a cat will be instantly banned (as will cats). I will also endeavour to maintain a smart-casual dress code and am at present compiling a list of approved clothing available from Marks and Spencer and other reputable retailers.

To counter the possibility of violence, no football shirts will be allowed, particularly those of Manchester United or Leeds, although guests could possibly get away with wearing less provocative team shirts – those of Plymouth Argyle or Namibia, for example. For reasons which should be obvious, no shorts or sunhats will be allowed and all bottles of water will be confiscated on security grounds. I want to keep the party relaxed and informal, so I will also be circulating a list of acceptable party conversation topics. The aim will be to avoid a repetition of some unfortunate incidents from the past, such as the heated argument over who played Mr Lucas in Are You Being Served? which necessitated the intervention of a police community support office who, using Zen calming techniques, managed to persuade the guests that it was Trevor Bannister and they should put their weapons down.

The approved conversation topics must be unchallenging and non-provocative so, for example, they might include Downton Abbey but not EastEnders and certainly not (though this is mainly on boredom grounds) Celebrity Big Brother. And talking of celebrities, I might try and get one to head the party guest list. As I understand it, it’s now possible to be a celebrity without anybody knowing who you are or what you do, so it shouldn’t be difficult. Obviously I will have to make the celebrity wear a sign saying ‘Top celebrity’ or the guests might not know how lucky they are.

Caroline Verdon: Making mistakes is a really important part of learning