This item was written on 27 July 2017
I had a depressing hour recently with a gloomy young chap who had been sent by his firm to mend a small water leak in my garage. No sooner had he got his tools laid out than he asked if he could have a drink because he had left home without breakfast. I took him through into my conservatory, made him some coffee and put an unopened packet of Jaffa Cakes on the table. He told me that he was feeling particularly depressed with life because of all the bad news in the media about the ‘confused’ state of British politics, Brexit, the current wars, potential wars, victims of wars, refugees, immigrants, and arguments about whether or not the UK should be sending our troops here, there and everywhere instead of simply minding our own business.
“I bet it wasn’t like this in years gone by,” he said gloomily looking at my garden through the conservatory windows. “You had the good times, with nothing much to worry about - but now there’s no future for any of us. I'll never be able to own my own house - I can't even afford to go to the dentist!”
I felt I had to tell him that in spite of what he might think, I had been born into a poor working class family and had worked hard throughout my life. I added, not entirely convincingly I fear, how the world had been in a dangerous state for most of my life. I rattled off just a few of the military ‘adventures’ the UK and I had survived since the end of the 1939-45 war including:
# The end of the British Raj in 1947 and the appalling events marking Indian independence;
# The Berlin Blockade and airlift (1 April 1948 – 12 May 1949);
# The Malayan Emergency, a guerrilla war fought from 1948–60 between Commonwealth armed forces and the Malayan Communist Party;
# The Mau Mau Uprising, a terrible military conflict that took place in British Kenya between 1952 and 1960;
# The Suez Canal 1956 fiasco, for fiasco is what it turned out to be, that led to the humiliation of the British Prime Minister (Sir Anthony Eden) – but not before Britain had deployed troops and RAF bombers. (I seem to recall that at least one RAF pilot was court-martialled because he had refused to fly.)
# I explained to my visitor that the Middle East has long been a problem for the UK. In 1958 Britain airlifted troops to Jordan in response to a request for aid from King Hussein of Jordan who had felt threatened by the political union of Syria and Egypt, as well as the violent revolution in Iraq in which the Iraqi king, a member of Hussein's family, was brutally murdered. After that situation calmed down, British troops left Jordan but how many people today remember the ill-fated and short-lived United Arab Republic (1958-61) that followed?
# UK forces were in Cyprus on a war footing between 1955-59 because of the protracted EOKA campaign. EOKA was a Greek Cypriot nationalist guerrilla organisation that fought a bloody campaign with the twin aims of ending of British rule in Cyprus and for the subsequent union with Greece (ENOSIS). The mainly Turkish northern part of Cyprus, and especially Nicosia, had been a very dangerous place for British troops. Sadly even today, 59 years later, beautiful Cyprus is still a divided island.
# I next went on to tell my visitor about the Palestine/Israel problem that had been brewing since the end of WW2. This still unresolved matter actually dates right back 100 years to the 1917 Balfour Declaration, which stated that: “His Majesty's Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.” What a lot of trouble that Declaration by Arthur James Balfour caused however well-intentioned it probably was. Was this the earliest example of the Law of Unforeseen Consequences - much quoted by the media of the 21st Century?
# While all those events had been going on, the Cold War between the Soviet Union and the rest of the world ensured that for decades the entire world had been on the brink of mutual annihilation. My visitor thought MAD was a popular magazine, not Mutually Assured Destruction. In the UK, we had the so-called four-minute warning which assumed that there would be a period of increased tension before a surprise Soviet nuclear attack might be identified heading our way - I mentioned the Cuba Crisis of 1962 but he had not heard of that and I was not given time to elaborate.
I didn’t get around to mentioning the ‘Irish troubles’ either because by that time the coffee was cold and he had consumed all the Jaffa cakes. The plumber, although unconvinced by my short history lesson, said he was feeling even more depressed than he had been when he'd arrived! When the job was finished (to my complete satisfaction) and I had settled the invoice, he perked up a bit as I offered him a rather too generous gratuity for his work and the chat. He quickly stuffed the cash into his pocket, without a thank you, looked at his watch, and grumbled: "I'm late for my next job now" - and was gone.