Tuesday, December 31, 2013

That Blitz Spirit

It is little remembered these days, but Britain was bombed during the First World War. The cunning Hun used zeppelins, and some extraordinary aircraft that pushed the envelope of aviation to its limit, to deliver bombs to East Anglia and, eventually, London.

The British did not take it well.

It’s hard to blame them. Wars were always fought far away, in someone else’s back yard, and—insofar as was possible in the chaos of war—hostilities were limited to active combatants. Floating bombs over the Channel to drop them on civilians, well, that just wasn’t cricket. It was also jolly well upsetting, and the people, as they are wont to do when upset, called upon Parliament to do something, anything—including ceasing hostilities with Germany—to end the rain of death.

This, of course, was what the Germans were hoping for; and they nearly succeeded. Throughout the war, the Huns maintained a giddy advantage: the rudimentary anti-aircraft batteries and comparatively-primitive aircraft of the British were completely useless against the German Zeppelins and only a little less useless against their more advanced airplanes.

(Quick aside: Britain’s scramble to catch up in this critical arms race was given a huge boost when they managed to shoot down one of the German planes. The German crew managed to land the crippled plane and the British captured it before they could destroy it. The importance of this event cannot be overstated: here was a pristine sample of their enemy’s technology that they could reverse engineered and use to their great advantage. Experts were immediately dispatched and soldiers were sent to guard the site. Unfortunately, during the night, the soldiers began rummaging through the plane for souvenirs. One of them grabbed a flare gun and promptly (by accident, one must suppose) shot a flare into the aircraft’s fuel tank. All that was left for the experts to study, when they arrived the next morning, was a charred hole in the ground.

Shocked into disbelief after reading that passage, I laid the book down and looked at my wife, who was reading her own book. “How on earth did you people win the war,” I asked her with true amazement. Without looking up from her reading she said, “God was on our side.”)

But, despite this and other misadventures, the British prevailed. The victory was not, however, assisted by cool heads and bravely in the face of adversity on the home front.

WWII, we are told, was different. This was when the Brits pulled together and displayed the grit and can-do spirit that shone like a beacon throughout their finest hour. Some would dispute this, but then there are always people who, after the fact, enjoy raining on everyone’s parade. I, personally, can’t vouch for the fortitude of that era as I was not there, but the few people I have talked to who were all seem to remember it as a jolly good time.

Hard times 1942.
But, fiction or not, that spirit is clearly in the past, for we are currently suffering through a crisis that makes the Blitz look like a fireworks party (the power has gone out) and the population appears stretched to the limit.

Perhaps you have been too busy playing with your new xbox 360 or streaming dodgy movies over the iPad mini but Britain is in the midst of a climatic crisis. Wind and rain, followed by wind and rain, followed by more wind and rain have resulted in widespread flooding and great swaths of the country plunged into blackouts. Add to this the fact of Christmas and you’ll understand why this is a problem so monumental that we need to get Parliament involved.

Or not.

Granted, not being able to cook your turkey on Christmas day, or having your vacation plans interrupted, or having to play solitaire/patience with a real deck of cards because the laptop is out of juice and you can’t recharge it is not a lot of fun, but from the way some people are complaining you’d think the EU just outlawed sausage rolls and forced UK brewers to triple the price of a pint.

I won’t go into specifics—just turn on any chat show if you want to hear details—but, after listening to Radio 4 while having a pint in the pub just now (yeah, those are the kind of pubs I go to) I am left wondering when WiFi became an essential commodity; it didn’t even exist a few years ago but apparently now it’s a God-given right that people will perish without.

Hard times 2013, but here's someone making the best of it.
C’mon folks, buck up! Take out those scented candles you have stashed in the back of your wardrobe, fire up the barbecue and, while the turkey is grilling out on the pavement/sidewalk, hunt up half a dozen mis-matched dice and play a game of Yatzee. And talk to each other! Remember when you used to do that all those years ago? You might find that you like it. And—worst case scenario—if you find out you would really rather not talk to each other, then you’ll appreciate your ipad that much more when the WiFi finally comes back on line.

And, above all, have a happy and safe New Year’s Eve.

Happy 2014
PS: To be serious for a moment, the recent weather has sucked hugely for a lot of people. If you are someone who was flooded out or had a tree fall on your home, I feel for you, and hope you get the help you need in a timely and efficient manner. But if you are one of the Radio 4 call-ins complaining about the wifi being down, get some perspective, really.


  1. I'm not going to say anything (except I agree!!) Happy New Year.

    1. Happy New Year to you, too.

  2. I recently learned that a family of my acquaintance makes a practice of getting a large picture puzzle each year for Christmas and then work it together. How quaint is that?

    1. I used to LOVE doing jigsaw puzzles. Alas, I haven't the time, or the space, to do that now. Maybe there's a jigsaw puzzle app I can get for my tablet PC ;)

      **Oh my. I said that in jest but then thought I should check to see if there really was such a thing. It should not have surprised me to discover that there are thousands of them. Yes, you can do a jigsaw puzzle on your iPhone. Now I'm sitting here, slack jawed, not sure whether I want to laugh or weep for the human race.