Yet there was something evangelical about our youthful blue berets, even while they were being trained to expect the worst. A bestubbled Cockney sergeant at Salisbury training village hectored his recruits about the lethal "ruses" that foreign johnnies might play. "Don't be surprised if the ruse is a sexy lady," he leered, "wiggling 'er 'ips, showing 'er wares... and you think: 'Phwoooar! I'll chat that one up!'" It ran fruitily on, but in precis: bang - you'd be dead, my son. The women soldiers in the line-up looked a bit bored.
Boredom, in fact, was a problem all round. Once Britain had agreed in principle, a reconnaissance group flew to Angola to check out the preparations. There hadn't been any. No transport, no rations, no decent airfield. So Colonel Harry (straight out of prep-school, it seemed, with glasses nearly bigger than his face) and Colonel Sandy (a soft-spoken Scottish Marine who reminisced sweetly about crawling through jungles with a knife between his teeth) glad-handed suspicious Angolan officials, while the rest of the soldiers mooched around anxiously, impotent.
Meanwhile, in London, discussions were being held over expensive tables, various fruits and bottles of water. Malcolm Rifkind, hawkish behind some faintly erotic red-rimmed spectacles, was adamant: "The Angolan government has to realise they're not doing us a favour." Nicholas Soames, for whom the description "larger than life" might have been freshly minted, chuckled about his tussles to prise open the purse-strings. "It's my experience, with no disrespect to my esteemed colleagues in the Treasury, that they always say no to everything."
Waiting for money, waiting for Number 10. This film was less crassly gung-ho than last week's Harrier outing. Still, just as the tasteless saxophonist John Harle's tub-thumping title music remained, so the film crew had to intrude. They ambushed desk-bound Whitehall captains, bathed in the azure light of their PC screens, and asked them ingratiatingly if they didn't feel a tad frustrated. To these siren voices, wafting soothingly from out of picture, the officials couldn't help but answer "yes". They said "yes", that's all, but the tight smiles, the creased brows, the certain kinetic tension rippling beneath the tight uniforms - these were far more eloquent. Something like: "Why don't they get off their rather well- padded seats, actually, and bloody well get on with it?"
Eventually they did. The Salisbury troops were flown to Africa, and loaded incongruously into a bus (presumably armoured), on the way to the pine trestles and lap-top computers of British HQ. Expecting your standard poverty and misery on their motorised journey, the soldiers were touched at the raucous, welcoming yells from people lining the roads. "This is not what we were trained for," one said in bafflement after his first happy, meet- the-people outing. He looked vaguely disappointed, as if the luxury of being pleasantly surprised were not part of his contract with the Forces.
The Hollywood-style end-credits told us that the demon "mission creep" did not materialise, and our troops were out after three months. Mission accomplished. The ceasefire is still holding. As if to say: once Britain actually arrived in Angola, things were smooth as silk. Not worth reporting. The top men may be a bit squiffy, sir, but get us in there, on the ground, and all will be right with the world.Reuse content