There are two kinds of people in this world and I'm one of them.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Falk handles

The UK is one of THOSE know, the ones that own weird islands a million miles from where they are because of historic badness that probably involved offing a bunch of "aggressive" natives, wiping out a potnetially humourous bird species, that kind of thing.

One of our great possessions are the Falkland Islands, just off the coast of Argentina (obviously), which in 1982, we fought a short but fairly brutal war for against, er, Argentina (obviously). I don't know what the rights and wrongs of this were. They did invade, albeit peacefully-ish. We had to defend ourselves, but Thatcher DID need a war, and perhaps it was a slight overreaction to possibly illegally sink one of their ships that was running away from us, killing 250 Argentine sea cadets and also sacrificing 200 odd of our own boys just to prove a point. It's a bleak rock covered in penguins...I'm sure we could have come to terms somehow. And I do like the description of that war as being "two bald old men fighting over a comb".

Anyway, I went. You fly with the Royal Air Force which is like a normal passenger plane but much more expensive and without anything nice on it like basic comforts, nice food, a video screen that doesn't look like it's from 1985, etc. As you approach, some bad ass fighter jets come up alongside, and after you've stopped bricking it, you realise they're escorting you, which is vaguely cool.

As a press group, we were met at the airport and taken to the military facility. We were allowed to interview the Chief of Staff, even though I'm not sure any of us wanted to, but he was affable enough, until we started asking questions about what it was they did there.

There are roughly 2,000 military on the islands. All the guide books say this, most people you ask on the island know's pretty much accepted. But try and get that confirmed.

Me: "How many military are there on the island, roughly?"

Him (suddenly scowling): "Enough."

Me: "The guide books say around 2,000 - is that right?"

Him: "I say around ENOUGH."

Me: "..."

And then you get this nonsense.

Me: "What kind of alert are you on?"

Him: "Very high at all times."

Me: "So do you expect Argentina to..."

Him: "WHOAH! Who said anything about Argentina?!? I didn't say Argentina! YOU said Argentina!"

Me: "..."

Like we're preparing for Finland or the Maldives to take a pop at us. OK, as Oscar Wilde once said, whatevs. Then they showed us the bad ass planes, which, again, was vaguely cool.

Considering all I had in the way of memories of the islands were TV pictures from '82 showing men negotiating ugly, landmine-filled moors (in some ways, it was the last 'analogue' style war, where we had to actually go there instead of lobbing expensive bombs from 500 miles away), I thought the Falklands were really picturesque. A bit like the Scottish Highlands but with more penguins. The people were friendly, although you DO have to talk about The War a lot. Almost all the time, in fact, which is slightly wearing after a bit.

We were invited to the Governor's house for dinner, one of those impossibly posh nights where I spend most of the time feeling like a farmhand who has wandered into a royal wedding by mistake. There was a lot of talk about The War, and we had a formal dinner at a long table with about twelve pictures of the Queen looking down, checking we were using the right spoons. These outposts of the former empire seem to specialise in these overly-British throwbacks, all gin and tonics and cucumber cricket bats and earl grey tea served in wellington boots.

I do like to spend time on obscure islands, though. The last day, we took 4x4s out to the penguin colony, and ate some of the best home baked food I've ever had at the local cafe. The sun beat down (without the benefit of an ozone layer, my burns told me the next day), I got bitten by a penguin flea and I learned how much cute birds stink. And if that's not worth inappropriate military intervention, I don't know what is.

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