The Plastic Hippo

March 13, 2013

Bad wines

Filed under: History,World — theplastichippo @ 3:01 am
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Image via

¿Por que la cerveza bebida Britanica? Porque tienen mal vinas.

The hardy souls that inhabit the idyllic Falkland Islands have given an emphatic and overwhelming message in a referendum to decide their future. With a turnout of 92 per cent, 1513 voted in favour of remaining a loyal overseas territory of the United Kingdom and just three voted against. In the great scheme of things, this is comparable to offering penguins a vote on a Walrus cull. There has been some speculation as to the identities of the three dissenters who seem to think that being breakfast for an elephant seal is an option, but wiser heads realise that the errant threesome give credibility to the poll as 100 per cent in favour results only happen in places like Iran or North Korea or Zimbabwe or, until a few years ago, Argentina. Currently ruining our home nation, Cameron with a 36 per cent vote share of a 65 per cent turnout in the 2010 General Election, must look to the Falklands with envious eyes. Similarly, incumbent President Cristina Kirchner of Argentina who won with 50.2 per cent of the vote in the 2011 election with an impressive turnout of 81.4 per cent and, like Cameron, no stranger to Botox and air brushing, looks to Las Malvinas as a vote winner.

So, doubtful it stands; “as two spent swimmers, that do cling together and choke their art”. For all the bluster and jingoism and fighting talk, neither side has the capability to invade, occupy or retake by force of arms because both weak governments are too inept and, basically, skint. What`s Cameron going to do? Dispatch Harriers on aircraft carriers and throw a few Nimrods overhead for surveillance? Nuke Buenos Aires? What`s Kirchner going to do? Introduce horse meat into tins of corned beef? Stop Argentine footballers playing in the Premier League? All they can do is thump some very empty tubs.

It has been 31 years since the last unpleasantness and I still have vivid memories of the start of the Falklands War. I was living and working in Galicia in the north west of Spain, scraping an income by teaching English to the children of wealthy fascists and doing a bit of busking on the steps of Santiago Cathedral. My then partner and I decided to cross the border into Portugal for the weekend and had a lovely time. We arrived back on Sunday evening and went to our local bar in the old town. When we walked through the door, the crowded bar fell silent and friends looked away. In the corner, the television news showed a fleet of warships leaving port and I asked a friend, who was an Argentine post graduate student, what was happening. In English he said: “You are at war.” Nonplussed, I asked: “Guerra? Con quien? He looked me straight in the eye and replied: “Me”.

I didn`t know it then, but that night a distant cousin not seen since childhood was aboard one of the fighting ships. After a troubled adolescence he found his niche in the second battalion of the Parachute Regiment and survived Goose Green and the battle of Wireless Ridge. Years and years later, I met him at a family funeral. Having become a family hero on his safe return and having bottles of whiskey left on his doorstep like pints of milk and ten pound notes shoved through his letter box, I was keen to hear of his experiences. To be fair, he wasn`t a very bright lad but, like most heroes, he didn`t talk about the horror he had witnessed. Instead, he told tales of the idiocy of the command structure and its inability to control the dark humour imbedded in our fighting forces. He spoke of battlefield general orders.

It seems that the liberators of the Falkland Islands called the locals “Benny`s”. This was a reference to a character in a very popular soap opera called Crossroads, famous for its appalling production values and set in and around Birmingham. In the days when it was considered acceptable to depict people with learning difficulties as figures of fun, Benny was a slow witted buffoon portrayed as having the mind of a child. Thank goodness in these more enlightened days we can look to the brilliant comedy of Ricky Gervais and Mr Walliams and Mr Lucas who do such a good job in vilifying people without a voice to defend themselves.

When the officer class got wind of the soldiery calling the islanders “Benny”, a stern standing order was issued threatening serious punishment if the term was ever used again. Within hours, “Benny” had been replaced by “Still”, as in “still a Benny”. Another stern order was issued and within hours “still” had become “Andy” as in “and he`s still a Benny”. More orders and then both sides gave up and accepted more familiar terms of abuse.

At the end of our conversation in the bar after the family funeral, my war hero cousin described the Falklands as: “Like Wales, but worse.” I told him my first and only Spanish joke: “Why do the British drink beer? Because they have bad wines.”

He looked at me like I was a Benny.

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