Miles Kington: Slavery, the Ashes and other sorry international affairs...

'Wasn't moving convicts to Australia a kind of slavery? I wish they'd kept Shane Warne's ancestors back here in Britain...'
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The Independent Online

"Anyone here feel sorry about slavery?" said the man with the dog suddenly.

It was early evening in the pub, and the man with the dog had armed himself with his first pint. The dog had been awarded a cheese and onion crisp. Wisely, he had ignored it.

"I mean," said the man with the dog, "now that Tony Blair has expressed a deep sorrow for the existence of the slave trade, he clearly wants to get a national debate on it going, so I thought I'd help him out."

There was a deep silence. The lady with the green hairdo (to match the whisky macs she turns to drinking in the winter season) volunteered that she didn't think much of slavery.

"Do you mean," said the man with the dog, "that you don't ever think about it much, or that you don't have a high opinion of it?" She thought for a moment.

"Both," she said.

"Well, I think apologising for historical things is a load of nonsense," said the Major. "I wish slavery hadn't happened. I also wish the Black Death hadn't happened, and the Crimean War, and the eruption of Krakatoa, but I'm damned if I am going to go round wringing my hands about it."

"There is a difference," said the resident Welshman. "The Black Death and Krakatoa were natural disasters. The slave trade was not. We British moved tens of thousands of natives from their own land to a different part of the globe just to have cheap labour. That's indefensible."

"People have always done indefensible things," said the Major. "The Greeks and Romans had slaves. The Incas had slaves. The British Empire was always moving slabs of population from one part of the world to another. How do you think those Indians got to Trinidad? Or Fiji? And what about moving convicts to Australia? Isn't that a kind of slavery?"

"I wish they had kept Shane Warne's ancestors back here in Britain," said the man with the dog.

"If you are against slavery," said the Major, warming to his sermon, "then what about the Arabs? They were serious slave-runners. You don't hear them apologising. What about the African slave traders, the ones who sold their fellow humans into slavery? When are they going to say sorry? What about the poor bloody Africans who are still in slavery today...?"

"Yes, yes, yes, yes," said the resident Welshman. "It's all true. But these are the arguments you always hear when historical injustices are brought up. It's the same old suspects' parade of grievances - the Highland clearances, the Irish potato famine, the Crusades..."

"Were the Crusades an injustice?" asked the green lady.

"The Muslims thought they were," said the Welshman. "Huge army of westerners descended on Jerusalem on 1099 and slaughtered all the Islamic inhabitants. Not very multicultural, was it?"

"There is one historical injustice I'm quite surprised we haven't heard about so far," said the Major. "And that's the Welsh being driven out of England."

"Ah," said the Welshman. "I was coming to that. You're right. After the Romans left Britain, the Saxons arrived and drove the British, as we then were, into the mountains of Wales, and we had to become Welsh and put up with all the rain and sheep. Well, we'd like the return of our country, please. We'd like a bit of sunshine. We want England back."

"Come and get it," said the Major, putting his fists up.

"That's a very unhelpful attitude," said the Welshman. "Tell you what, though. I'll take a pint instead."

"Fair enough," said the Major. "Landlord, give my friend a pint. The Welsh nation has agreed on the scale of reparations for historical injustices."

"With an option on a further pint," said the Welshman.

"Bloodsucker," said the Major.

International peace having been restored, we then talked for the next 50 minutes about the historical injustice of nobody being able to beat the All Blacks at rugby.

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