Why America is like a man let loose in the kitchen

Click to follow
The Independent Online

"This war..." said the man with the dog, as he ordered a pint, and stopped in mid-sentence.

"This war..." said the man with the dog, as he ordered a pint, and stopped in mid-sentence.

It's his new technique for getting people's attention. The annoying thing about it is that it works. He used to talk loudly to get people's attention. It didn't often work, because everyone else was talking loudly. But when he talks softly and stops in mid-flow, people are afraid that they might miss something, and they pause to listen to him. I don't know how he does it. Nor does he. He just does it.

"This war..." he said again.

"What war?" said the lady with the grey hairdo. "There isn't a war going on that I know of."

"The war against Iraq."

"Oh, that war. That's all over now. We've finished that."

"Not in Iraq they haven't. We may think it's over, but they don't."

"Well, it doesn't matter what they think. We've won, haven't we?"

"The Germans had won against the French in 1940," said the resident Welshman. "But the French never agreed to be the losers. You have to agree to be the loser before the other side can win."

"Maybe," said the man with the dog. "But the thing about the war is..."

"It's a funny thing," said the resident Welshman, shooting off at a tangent before anyone could catch him, "but wars don't get given a name until afterwards. While a war is being fought it's just 'the war'. I bet during the Boer War nobody called it 'the Boer War'. I bet it was just 'the war'. I'm sure that's true of the First World War. I don't think anyone ever called it anything but 'the war'."

"I don't suppose it was ever called anything but the Great War afterwards," said the Major. "You couldn't call a war the First World War until you'd started the Second one. Until 1939 the Great War must have been the Only World War."

"Does that mean that George I was called King George until there was a second King George?" said the grey-haired lady. "Was Queen Elizabeth I plain Queen Elizabeth until the present one came along and made numbering necessary?"

"Of course she was," said the Major. "After all, we don't call Queen Victoria 'Queen Victoria I', do we?"

There was a pause. It wasn't often that the Major made a thought-provoking contribution to the talk. It was a moment to savour. Then the man with the dog took control again.

"This war..." he said.

"Get on with it," said the grey lady.

I think I may have mentioned it before, but she always has her hair the same colour as her current tipple. There was a slight ripple the first time she came in with grey hair. Nobody could think of a grey drink. Until she ordered a lemonade. Of course! Proper lemonade (not the factory-made clear, fizzy stuff) is grey. You don't often think of that.

"This war seems to be dragging on and on," said the man with the dog. "How can America get involved in another war before they've finished this one?"

"Another one?" said the Welshman. "They don't want another one! They had the chance in Liberia the other day. The Liberians were longing for the Americans to get stuck in and sort the fighting out, but the Americans said: No way - no more wars for us! No - if you want my opinion, the way they're carrying on in Iraq is designed to prevent more wars."

"How do you mean?"

"It's a horrible, terrible mess in Iraq, right? The Americans went in and did a good job of toppling the regime, but they have made a very bad job of clearing up afterwards. Now, why is that?"

"Because they are not very good at clearing up? Because they are like men let loose in the kitchen? Because someone else always has to clear up after them?"

"No," said the Welshman. "My theory is that this time the Americans are making a huge mess of things so that nobody will ask them to get involved in another war. The next time some country says, let's get the Americans in, everyone will say: 'Oh no, not them! They make such a terrible mess and they never put anything back where they found it!"

There was a pause. Then the Major spoke.

"And Queen Anne was never Queen Anne I, was she? Just Queen Anne."

Poor old Major. Once he makes a good point, he can't leave it alone. With one accord we decided to change the subject and speculate on what had happened to the Countryside Alliance.