What did you do in the Falklands War, Daddy?

My earliest and fondest memory of the Falklands War is not of the war at all. It dates from 1966

Miles Kington
Wednesday 28 October 1998 01:02

"TWO BALD men fighting over a comb" is how the Argentinian writer Jose Luis Borges described the Falklands War, and I never heard a better description.

The only hopeful thing about the Falklands War, in my opinion, was that it set a precedent for future wars - if two countries wanted to go to war, they should choose some barren island on which to fight, like two blokes slugging it out behind the pub, so that only the Falklands Islands got damaged and Argentina and Britain remained unscathed. Sadly, this has not so far happened in the same way again.

Actually, the Malvinas were not the only things to get damaged during the war. I clearly remember that an Argentinian restaurant had just opened in Covent Garden, called Tango, and was the first place in London to offer gaucho food. It was not perhaps the best time to open an Argentinian restaurant in England, though the owners were not to know that Britain and the Argentine were to go to war in a moment.

I had already been there once and much enjoyed their Argentine Stew, so when the war broke out I decided to go back and see how they were faring. They were not faring too well. Indeed, Argentine Stew had vanished from the menu, though there was now something called Spanish Stew.

"What's the difference between Argentine Stew and Spanish Stew?" I asked the waitress.

"None at all," she said. "It's the same dish. We just took the precaution of renaming it."

It was not a very helpful precaution, as the restaurant closed shortly afterwards, and it took years for the tango to return to Britain in any form at all.

Another thing damaged by the Falklands War was a Bristol-based BBC-TV quiz game called Scoop, which was one of the first attempts to transfer the News Quiz idea to the small screen. I remember it well, because I was one of the regular panellists and because I met my future wife there, as she was working on the show.

I am exceedingly glad to have met my wife, but I am sorry to say that in all other respects the Falklands War was very bad news for the programme. The news headlines contained nothing but Task Forces and Belgranos and Exocets, which doesn't make for jolly subject matter, so we had to avoid the Falklands War altogether.

Unfortunately, there wasn't a lot of other news. So the programme slowly starved to death.

This happily gave my (future) wife and me a chance to go on holiday together, and we spent two weeks that spring blissfully touring the hedgerows of Normandy, staying for a while at Honfleur, home of Erik Satie and also of the greatest humorous writer France ever produced.*

I don't think the French were much interested in the Falklands War, even though they had made a great contribution to it in the shape of the Exocet, and I can remember that the proprietor of one restaurant we ate at in Honfleur was much more worked up about the fact that they didn't speak French in the Philippines.

He had just come back from a holiday there, and was incensed that the common language was English, not French.

"Why English?" he moaned. "Why not even Spanish? But why not French? French was once the universal diplomatic language! It's not fair! Ce n'est pas juste!"

No, it's not, monsieur. I can only apologise. But I do remember one cartoon about the Falklands War in the Canard Enchaine, which showed Mrs Thatcher, naked, astride a rocket, whooping through the skies like a mad cowboy, or like the guy riding the rocket in the last frames of Dr Strangelove. I don't think that cartoon could have been reprinted in Britain just then. Or even now, perhaps.

Yet my earliest and fondest memory of the Falklands War is not of the war at all. It dates from 1966, the year that England won the World Cup. I was going through Parliament Square one day, past all the statues of forgotten statesmen, and noticed that someone had laid a wreath at the base of one of them. It was Canning. Who on earth would lay a wreath at the statue of a British statesman who died over 100 years ago? Well, luckily there was a label on the wreath, so I could easily find out. It said: "In gratitude from the Argentine football team".

I wonder if the England football team has enough sense of history to have ever laid a wreath at the statue of a former liberal benefactor?

Or, indeed, of anyone?

* The humorist I mean was, of course, the late great Alphonse Allais...

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