As last year came to a close I found myself being mercilessly teased by colleagues in the House of Commons over the four-part television adaptation of Trollope’s book, The Way We Live Now. The central figure of this nineteenth century drama is Sebastian Melmotte and many of you will have seen how stylishly this rather menacing figure was portrayed by actor David Suchet in the BBC’s Sunday evening series. A sharp, expansively articulate businessman, full of bluster yet essentially corrupt, Mr Melmotte comes to grief shortly after being elected to Parliament. Sadly – and this is why I was getting such a hard time from fellow Members – it depicts him as being the Conservative MP for Westminster. I should like to think that times have changed considerably and I am sure my constituents will be relieved to learn that the way the current Member for the Cities of London and Westminster lives now is somewhat different!
It all brought to my mind thoughts as to how last year will be remembered. I suspect that prime attention will focus upon the appalling events of 11 September. For all of us this has been a traumatic time and it was reassuring to see how many local folk wrote to me about their feelings and made suggestions as to the way forward. I am sure that Mr Melmotte would not have recognised such an outpouring of feeling in Victorian times. The devastation of the World Trade Centre was replayed many times as 2001 came to a close and is already being seen as a seminal moment in all of our lives. Everyone will surely remember precisely where they were when they heard (or in so many cases saw) these events unfold.
However, as time passes many of us will have a whole variety of very different recollections of 2001. Hopefully many of you will have many happy memories of last year even if it were just for small personal events. I must confess that going back a decade or two my own recollections of particular years are very different from those that apparently made the news. Take 1991 for example. Ten years ago the headlines were full of doom and gloom for the domestic economy whilst the Balkan civil war in Bosnia and Croatia had just begun to flare up. Yet I must confess that the first thing that comes to mind when I remember the events of ten years ago is the death of my father. That event alone clouds my memories of that year. Similarly, whereas in 1981 the national news headlines concerned rioting in the streets of England’s cities and record unemployment (or at least that is what a cursory glance at Whittaker’s Almanac for the year reveals). By contrast I recall 1981 as being the year when I took my O levels and watched with wonder as Ian Botham single-handedly or so it seemed turned around the fortunes of the England cricket team as England won the Ashes.
We should not ignore large-scale international events and in a sense the collective memory of such matters remains of key importance. Nevertheless, even in a world dominated by global communications it is surely those personal, minor, individual memories that understandably have a tendency to overshadow everything else. I reckon that this is the way it should be since however important our communal experiences it is surely our everyday activities which must continue to direct our lives. And so to the year ahead; who can tell as we start 2002 with a blank sheet of paper just what the future holds?