Monday, 23 April 2012

Don't mention the War!

Life can sometimes produce some very odd situations ... and some downright peculiar results!

After leaving SALUTE 2012 on Saturday I had to hurry home in order to get ready for a black tie dinner at the local golf course. (I am a non-playing, social member of the club.) The dinner was to celebrate St George's Day (which happens to be today) and it was one of the club's main social events of the year.

My wife and I were seated on a table for eight, alongside two old friends of ours and two other couples. One of the other couples was approximately that same age as us, but the second couple was somewhat older, and I was seated next to the female member of the elderly couple.

I introduced myself ... and got not reply. I tried a second time ... and got a grunt of acknowledgement ... and decided that I was not going to get much conversation from my fellow guest during the evening.

The first course arrived, and conversation around the table ranged over a number of topics, including the recent cruise that my wife and I had been on. During the main course my wife was telling a story about a previous cruise when – during the sail-away celebration from a Spanish port – our ship had passed a German cruise ship. The sound of over a thousand Brits singing patriotic songs and waving Union flags was too much for some of the passengers on the other ship, and the sound of booing could be heard coming from it as we passed. My wife had just got to the part of the story where some of the Brits replied by shouting back 'Three-Nil, Three-Nil' when my previously silent dinner companion touched me on the arm and announced in a rather thick accent ...

'I was born in Germany in 1937, you know. Today is my husband's birthday.'

She nodded across the table to the elderly gentleman who was sat there ... and he smiled and nodded back.

A sudden hush descended upon the table ... and the immortal words of Basil Fawlty flashed through my mind:

'Listen, don't mention the war. I mentioned it once, but I think I got away with it all right.'

And we might have done, had the entertainment after the meal not been a singer ... and singalong ... of 1940s 'hits'. To make matter worse, the first song was the English-language version of 'Lili Marleen', at which my by now somewhat more chatty dinner companion announced,

'This is a German song, I think. No?.'

My mumbled affirmative answer was drowned out by the start of the next song, which was 'Its a long way to Tipperary'. The female singer who was leading the entertainment was encouraging people to sing by wandering around the room and sticking the microphone in front of people who were singing. It just so happened that she did so just as the song started, and I lustily got stuck in to singing the lyrics as best I could ... and hoping that we had got away not mentioning the war ... again.

I was wrong.

The entertainer was so impressed with my singing, that I was awarded a prize ... a DVD about a 1940s aircraft ... a 1940s German aircraft ... the Ju87 Stuka.

As the singer gave it to me, I wondered what on earth I had done to merit being in this situation.

I still am wondering.

As to my German dinner companion ... well either she did not notice the irony or she chose to ignore it ... but soon afterwards she and her husband left.


- o 0 o -

Oh! An in case you are wondering, the DVD was quite good.

24 comments:

  1. Bob

    Listen man, always carry a bayonet, you never know when a German will turn up... :-)

    Regards

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  2. I believe that the Scots wear a sgian dubh (the blade at the top of their hose) in case they meet an Englishman . . . but perhaps that isn't true.


    -- Jeff

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  3. Arthur,

    It the words of Corporal Jack Jones ...

    'They don't like it up 'em!'

    All the best,

    Bob

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  4. Bluebear Jeff,

    I believe that Scots do carry a sgian dubh as part of their national dress (this is allowed under English and Scottish Law) but as to the reason why ... well I have heard several different stories about the origins of the weapon, but it's wearing seems to have more to do with Victorian ideas of 'Scottishness' than anything else.

    All the best,

    Bob

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  5. My dad told me a story of two drillers he met in northern Manitoba in the late '50s. They got to drinking and talking about the war. To be brief one was Canadian the other German. Both had been wounded out in the same battle in the same small town in Italy. The Canadian, after his tank was shot up by an AT gun but not before machine gunning the ATG crew. The German, shot up by MG fire after taking out a tank with the ATG he crewed. There was a long pause then the situation was smoothed over by the application of more beer.

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  6. Pat G,

    I have heard similar stories.

    The interesting thing is that soldiers who have fought each other often seem to find that the experience of combat means that they have a lot in common. Civilians do not seem to share this 'link', and appear to be able to hold on to grudges much longer.

    All the best,

    Bob

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  7. My grandad killed 37 men during WW2. He was the worst cook the Army ever had....

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  8. A bit like this?


    http://www.hmbateman.com/images/watermarked/32_second_helping.jpg

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  9. Phil Broeders,

    The old one's are still the best!

    All the best,

    Bob

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  10. Benjamin of Wight,

    I must admit to a certain similarity between Saturday's black tie dinner and the one illustrated in the Bateman cartoon.

    All the best,

    Bob

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  11. Steve-the-Wargamer,

    In retrospect, it is funny ... but at the time, it wasn't!

    All the best,

    Bob

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  12. Bob

    I thought I was pretty much up on Brit-speak but the three-nil reference has me confused.

    I thought maybe it referenced World Wars but unless I slept through one, there have only been 2.

    I thought it might be sports, but can't recall the Brits winning a team event since of 1966.

    Care to enlighten me?

    I enjoyed the story immensely. I have to say that a Stuka DVD is a very odd door prize for such an event.

    Cheers

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  13. Interesting encounter.

    Good thing they didn't launch into Spike Jones and ask you to chime in with "Heil Heil right in the Fuehrer's face".

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  14. Peter Douglas,

    The ‘Three-Nil’ chant comes from England beating the Germans three times; twice in the World Wars ... and once in the 1966 Football World Cup.

    The Stuka DVD was very good (it was all original archive film) ... and I suspect that it was on sale in a local store, hence its choice as a prize by the young woman who presented it (she was all of about twenty five years old and probably had no idea what the video was about other than it was from the 1940s!).

    My wife thought that it was a very odd prize to hand out ... especially as I was the only person in the room likely to be interested in the subject of the DVD. As to the thoughts of my German companion ... well they have gone unrecorded.

    All the best,

    Bob

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  15. Ross Mac,

    I had forgotten this famous Spike Jones song ... and since looking it up on YouTube I can't get it out of my head!

    All the best,

    Bob

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  16. Having spent two years in a relationship with a german girl and, by extension, her friends and family my advice is:

    .....go for broke. They take it pretty well really.

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  17. Arquinsiel,

    You might have been lucky. The impression that I had was that my table companion had little or no sense of humour, and as she was a guest at a club of which I am a member, I thought that I ought not to push my luck and appear to be unfriendly and unwelcoming.

    All the best,

    Bob

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  18. Whist, we can be proud of our history of fighting against tyranny there is nothing worse , as we would know from wargaming against victorious teenagers,than a bad winner!

    The Germans might have been fighting, in WW2, for a questionable, dark cause but they fought well; they lost because they were out -numbered.

    ilso,It might have turned out differently had they not been governed by Nazis as even more of the Soviet population would have gone over to the invaders of Russia than the large numbers that did.

    Actually, the Soviets were at least as vicious as the Nazis and we don't make too many war jokes about them, probably because they were our buddies.

    And as for WW1 (which also led to WW2 because of the way the peace was handled) the Germans might have 'started it' by invading Belgium but they had to do something unexpected and fast to try to neutralize having enemies on both sides of them, before they were attacked first.

    So, while we can be proud of most things I do have some sympathy for Germans, who have done their best to suppress Nazism since WW2, who are subject to too much jingoism. Which doesn't mean I don't still have a laugh at the odd Hitler joke! James

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  19. James O'Connell,

    You make some very interesting points in your comment, and I agree with a lot of what you have written.

    I have met Germans who had a great sense of humour, and who actually told me jokes about the war ... but I have also met some who I would rather have avoided, in the same way as I would rather have not met some of the racists I have come across in the UK.

    I don't know any jokes about Russians, although I have been told one or two by Russians about the old Soviet regime ... but that is another story!

    All the best,

    Bob

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  20. I'm lucky that my best friend grew up in St Petersburg, so I've got all kinds of fun stories of the CCCP days.

    Oddly enough, thanks to the current corruption he's managed to dodge his national service because he's on the books of the reserver army as a Colonel....

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  21. Arquinsiel,

    I would love to hear some of the stories ... and how your friend managed to become a Colonel!

    All the best,

    Bob

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  22. Well the short version, without all the "and then THIS happened!" is that he was working as a tourguide here for Russian speakers, and the majority of his tourgroups were wealthy middle-aged businessmen trying to improve their English and mostly just wanting pubcrawls.

    One of them asked him if he ever visited home and he mentioned that he'd like to, but he got his draft notice when he was 17 (which is illegal apparently) and hasn't been back since then because he hears Chechnya is unpleasant all times of the year.

    The guy turned out to have a significant amount of influence and pulled a few strings. He's a Colonel because it's a rank high enough to browbeat any border guard who'd be dumb enough not to spot that the nerdy guy with long hair and glasses isn't "officer material" and also not high enough that anybody would ask questions.

    His mother is even more full of stories, like the time they bought a second hand TV from a hotel and it died when the KGB bug shorted it out, or the numerous times people were snipe from the roof of her office block and she was late getting home from work.

    His Grandmother... THERE is a terrifying woman. She learned how to play Warhammer 40k in an afternoon and beat everyone without speaking a word of English, just pointing at things and rolling dice.

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  23. Arquinsiel,

    The stories all sound very plausible!

    I was in St Petersburg on Navy Day some years ago, and in amongst the grey warships was a very large, white vessel that looked like a small liner. It had a helicopter landing deck, and one of the people asked our guide if it was a hospital ship. 'No,' came back the reply. 'It is Mr Abramovich's yacht.'

    Whilst taking us around the city on a coach, the same guide pointed to a large, grey building and said, 'This building has best view in whole city. It is said you can see Siberia from basement. It is old KGB building. Now FSB. Different name, same bas*ards!'

    All the best,

    Bob

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