25 January 2013

Harry's 'Game'

Much has been made in the news in recent days of Prince Harry's remarks about his time in Afghanistan as a gunner in an Army helicopter.  He has admitted to killing Taliban fighters, and you could hear raised eyebrows in the news reader's tone even if the actual facial expression was successfully suppressed.

Some of Harry's remarks have been seen as glib, if not actually offensive; 'Take a life to save a life,' for example, or '...taking [the enemy] out of the game.'  I really wonder what's wrong with people.

Whatever the rights or wrongs of our troops being deployed in Afghanistan, the fact is they are there.  Not only are they there, they are being attacked by the Taliban with the unmitigated intent to kill as many of them as possible.  What are our troops supposed to do, if not defend themselves?

My grandfather fought in the First World War.  On one of the rare occasions he talked about it, I asked if he had killed any Germans.  He admitted (not confessed) he had in hand-to-hand combat, not just with his Lewis gun from a safe distance.  His explanation was that if he and his comrades had not killed the Germans, the Germans would have killed them; 'It was them or us.'

So, Prince Harry has killed Taliban fighters.  I am sure this young man does not take pleasure in the taking of life.  I deplore war and its consequences but the equation is an easy one to understand: if he did not fire his machine gun at the enemy and 'take them out of the game', you can be sure that the Taliban would be taking the Prince's comrades out of the game.  The killing of the Prince himself would be seen by them as an illustrious triumph.  It is either British troops who die or Taliban fighters; it is British mothers who must grieve or those of the Taliban.  Would it were neither but fanatics such as the Taliban are not in the least offended by the death of their enemies.

Nor should we take offence at the expression 'taking them out of the game.'  This is not a sign that our Prince is a jingoistic warmonger.  I think of World War Two fighter pilots who talked of fallen comrades as having 'Gone for a Burton' (Burton's being a brewery).  These men were not being facetious in the face of tragedy, they were putting a psychological distance between themselves and the horror of their losses and what must have seemed, for some of them at least, their own inevitable demise.  I wonder how closely those who are critical of Harry would hold the realities of war were they in his shoes . . .

Prince Harry is a soldier.  He is doing a dangerous job in a dangerous place.  Many of our front line troops have killed Taliban fighters; in that respect, Harry is but one of the many.  How many people would complain if Harry had not done his job and allowed British troops to be killed?

Prince Harry is a soldier.  What do you expect him to do?  Really?

'Harry's Game', by the way, is the title of a Gerald Seymour novel: an excellent read — but then, most of his novels are.

08 January 2013

Yuletide Meanderings of a Humbug

Well, that's all my bah-humbugging done for another year.  Christmas is packed away, the New Year has swept the old aside and replaced it with something surprisingly similar.

I have enjoyed a multi-centre holiday.  First I went to Birmingham to visit my Dad and meet up with my brother and his family and my cousin and her Husband.  We enjoyed a splendid curry at the Shabar on the Coventry Road in Sheldon.  This is blatant advertising but I make no apologies: the food is superb and the portions generous.  Less enjoyable were the two nights I spent sleeping on cushions on Dad's floor.

On Christmas Eve, I drove to Worthing to be reunited with my Beloved who had been there for the previous five weeks to provide post-operative care for her Mum. 

Christmas Day always has a certain ambivalence to it.  On the one hand, there is anticipation of things wrapped up and, on the other, disappointment.  We do well to remember the real meaning of Christmas, which is never a let-down. Nevertheless, we enjoyed a good family time at my brother-in-law's.

I seem unable to escape DIY (or, from my father-in-law's perspective, GYSTDIFY - Get Your Son-in-law To Do It For You).  The spring-loaded arm of my Outlaws' loft ladder was flapping about loose and I was asked if I could fix it.  Of course I could.  The platform it had been attached to had fallen apart and been re-assembled in a very strange and ineffective way.  I had to dismantle and reconstruct it using screws instead of nails and the oldest set of tools known to man.  Anyway, it now works perfectly.

My father-in-law had a couple of toilet problems ...  'Do I want to know,' you ask?  I'm going to tell you anyway.

The first problem occurred after a short walk on Boxing Day and a visit to a public house to use the facilities.  He went in and failed to come out for a considerable time.  Since he is elderly and somewhat infirm, I went in to check he was still alive.  There was no sign of him in the loo but my finely-honed skills of detection noticed that the WC door was closed;  my enquiry into his well being brought a response that both confirmed my suspicions of his whereabouts and reassured me that all was well.  I returned to the car and continued to wait ...  Eventually, he emerged with the news that he had had a mishap (I will persist in telling you this story).  The chain had come off in his hand and most of his absence had been spent trying (successfully, good for him) to reattach it.

The second problem arose later that day.  After a visit to the bathroom back at home, he announced that the toilet seat had broken when he sat on it.  More GYSTDIFY.  As soon as B&Q re-opened, it fell to me to reupholster the Parental Throne.

My mother-in-law continued to make a good recovery from her heart surgery.  We could measure her progress by the level of annoyance she expressed (and caused).  When a woman is well enough to reassert herself in her own kitchen, she is well enough.

My Beloved and I saw in the New Year with a bottle of champagne (the Outlaws having gone to bed before midnight) and the London fireworks on the telly.  New Year's resolutions?  Nah.  That would break the last one I ever made many years ago, which was never to make New Year's resolutions.

We packed up our car on Wednesday and headed back up-country to spend another night on Dad's floor and to eat all his delicious, home-made mince pies and seriously to deplete his sherry and whisky supplies by way of compensation for our lack of a proper bed.  Then, on Thursday, it was home via Leeds.

During our time away, the neighbour who was keeping an eye on our house had called to tell us there had been a  three-and-a-half hour power-cut on Christmas Day, and the internal sounder of our burglar alarm had been going off.  It did so repeatedly, needing to be reset several times until our return.  So, our New Year at home began with yet more DIY to rectify the fault, assisted by advice from my brother and a very good friend with a ladder.

We finished off our holiday with a trip to the cinema on Friday (The Life of Pi, in 3D) and an outing to the theatre in Keswick on Saturday (The Railway Children, at the end of which I almost blubbed).

And now I'm back at work and the holiday is drifting into the distant recesses of my memory.  Oh well, only fifteen months to retirement ...