Sunday, January 29, 2006

British sang-froid

I do like British understatement. On BBC Radio 4, World at One, Nick Clarke, a reporter who had been away in hospital, sent a reply to listeners who had wished him well. He said he'd had a large tumour and this had meant that he'd had to have one leg amputated up to the hip: "So a pretty miserable Xmas." - as if the in-laws had been a bit boring!

Then there's children's unsentimental curiosity; his kids had asked what had happened to the leg. Had it been put in a bin, was the bin big enough? !

He reported that a doctor had said to him: "'Look, how many legs do you need to be a radio presenter?' - I took his point."

I remember hearing about soldiers' black humour during the Falkland's War, possibly apocryphal, during an artillery bombardment, one called out: "I've lost my leg!" One of his pals said: "No you haven't; it's over here." It might be an update of this:

'In 1815, on the eve of Waterloo, Wellington extended Paget's command so as to include the whole of the allied cavalry and horse artillery. He covered the retirement of the allies from Quatre Bras to Waterloo on 17 June, and on 18 June led the cavalry charge of the British centre, which checked and in part routed D'Erlon's corps d'armée (see Waterloo campaign). One of the last cannon shots fired hit Paget in the leg, necessitating amputation. According to anecdote, he was close to Wellington when his leg was hit, and exclaimed, "By God, sir, I've lost my leg!" -- to which Wellington replied, "By God, sir, so you have!"'

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