Tuesday, April 03, 2012

You don't know what it's like

I am enjoying White Heat more than M, who was the same generation (more or less) as the protagonists, and is therefore jarred by the inconsistencies in a way that I’m not. The scene between Charlotte and Jack after Thatcher was elected, for example, where she was claiming it was a milestone for feminism and he was arguing that the new Prime Minister’s vagina was irrelevant in the wider context of her evil political agenda.

Now, I remember being greatly cheered, as a nine year old girl, by the fact that our new Prime Minister was a woman. It was made a big deal of in my primary school, where we debated what it might mean for us when we grew up, and whether or not she would be called the Prime Mistress. M, on the other hand, already married and a father by 1979, can only remember the despair which flooded the left, with the feminists as gloomed as the men who still expected them to make the tea.

In a similar way, I remember the Falklands conflict very differently to anyone who was an adult at the time. I can remember it, but I was 12. My mum worked nights and I used to go shopping for her in the holidays while she was in bed – I remember holding my shopping list at the Booths meat counter and quizzing the staff over the provenance of the corned beef. They assured me that it was form Uruguay, but I remember not really believing them. I remember sitting on a beanbag in my nightie in front of the TV, watching Brian Hanrahan as he ‘counted them all out and counted them all back’. I remember yomping, and Goose Green, and Gotcha. I remember being absolutely amazed that there were still actual foreign wars where actual soldiers from Britain actually died. (There was Northern Ireland, of course, but nobody understood that).

And then it was over. When it was actually announced on the news I had already gone to bed, but my mum came and woke me up and gave me a Kit Kat. I remember wondering if she’d got them in specially, anticipating the inevitable supremacy of our Paras. I also remember learning that most of the Argentinian soldiers were conscripts, and that some of them were begging for food from the islanders, some of whom fed them. I didn’t understand how a government could send soldiers somewhere without sending plenty of food with them. I was so young.

Thinking about it now, I probably have a worse understanding of that war than someone either older or younger – the former had a sense of context and nuance, the latter have the benefit of hindsight and history teachers. I hadn’t lived through any wars, hot or cold, and the axis of evil hadn’t been invented yet.

So I am finding out about it all over again as a grown up with the 30th anniversary commemorations, and it’s quite a revelation. Over 250 British soldiers killed in 74 days – that’s astonishing. And I cried into the pan as I was cooking dinner yesterday while listening to Fathers and Sons: From the Falklands to Helmand on Radio 4 – the story of two men from very different backgrounds who fought in the Falklands conflict whose sons both followed them into the army and ended up in Afghanistan. It’s worth a listen.

This all makes me think about the newest word in my vocabulary: Umwelt – which arrived on 1 April courtesy of xkcd. The definition is in the image text (what you see when you hover over the image). The joke may still elude you (it did me), but a good explanation can be found on reddit. But it’s a great word. We are each the sum of all our parts, and only the sum of all our parts.


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