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On this day in history

sunny 12 °C

I have had a little time on my hands lately so thought I would start off todays post with a brief lesson. After conducting a quick Google search (how did we ever do things before this?? I seem to recall a big building with lots of books in it but I could be mistaken), I have discovered the following events that happened on this day in history, December 18th.
In 1406 Anton van Bourgondies became duke of Brabant;
In 1716 Thomas Fleet published "Mother Goose's Melodies For Children";
In 1892 Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky's ballet "Nutcracker Suite," premiered;
In 1917 the Soviet regiment (Stalin/Lenin) declared Finland Independent,
In 1930 Bradman scored 258 for NSW against SA in only 289 minutes;
In 1941 Japanese troops landed on Hong Kong;
In 1956 an Israeli flag was hoisted on Mount Sinai;
In 1969 Britain abolishes death penalty;
In 1974 my parents gave birth to me (well actually my mother did all the actual birthing. Dad got to smoke cigars and drink whiskey with his mates in the waiting lounge if movies and images of the 1970’s have taught me anything). Yaaay happy birthday to me, happy birthday to me, happy birthday to me etc etc.
It is quite interesting to see just what happened on your special day. I am sure that any of these events would have been equally important had they happened on any other day (unless of course you were scheduled to be executed in Britain on say the 18th Dec and it was abolished on the 19th) but they were all gathered together on this one, my one, and so I claim them as mine.

I have been feeling a little old lately, though I am not old by any stretch of the imagination. It’s just that I have reached the point in my life where things that were once my field are starting to be left to the younger and more capable among us. There are no professional sportsmen running around at my age for example, or at least not in any sport that requires a level of speed, strength, reflexes or stamina. There are a few exceptions of course, and a few who should have retired but refuse to let go (do you read this Ricky??), but for the great majority it is now up to the younger lads as we are left to pursue golf, darts, snooker and lawn bowls like the rest of the aging brigade. It seems I will never now open the batting for Australia and that to me is a little sad, though I honestly couldn't be any worse than Phil Hughes. It was always a possibility before, albeit extremely remote, but now will never happen. Other indicators are are that injuries seem to linger, hangovers can apparently last for a week (another reason I am glad I gave up drinking) and I have started to really really hate young people. I finally get now what my father was on about for all those years. Young people are really starting to bug me, like a persistent fly that really wants to taste the inside of your nostril but is quick enough that you can't ever kill the bastard and instead spend a lot of time slapping yourself in the face and swearing. Just like that. I do believe the next step is to buy a cane so I can hit out at them and call them bloody kids before wandering off and muttering to myself about how nobody has any respect any more. There are upsides to getting older after all.

I have been working in Iraq now for a few weeks and, one flu and a bout of food poisoning later, I feel that it is time to put some thoughts down on paper. It has been, as is often the case, an eye opening experience and not in the “hope my will is up to date this is really going to hurt and I really wouldn’t look good in an orange jumpsuit thanks all the same” kind of way. I have been pleasantly surprised by Iraq. The people are for the most part friendly, welcoming and display a great sense of humour once you get to know them. Sure I have been issued body armour and weapons, I live in a secure compound guarded by men with guns 24 hours a day and I travel around in a seriously beefed up armoured car, so I wouldn’t recommend coming here for the casual tourist just yet. This can still be a very dangerous place and if it gets serious it gets very serious, but for now I have had nothing but good experiences.

I have security details that are assigned to me and they are a really good bunch of blokes. They are starting to warm up to me now, I am able to joke with them a little bit and I am getting more of a chance to see what they are really like. One of them, Ali (most of the population seem to be called Ali or Mohammed) does a seemingly hilarious impersonation of Saddam Hussein (he has the moustache for it I must admit) and will put on a beret, strut about waving his arms and barking orders while the rest of the group roll around laughing. It is by all accounts a rather good impression. The rest of the lads (I have dubbed them Ze Boys. This is an obscure reference I will admit and if it helps my nickname is Dogs) are just like men the world over. They kid around with each other, share jokes and cigarettes, light a fire and then spend an awful lot of time poking and rearranging it while everyone else comments on how to do it better, simple everyday things that everyone else does with their mates. They just do it in body armour and AK-47’s. They also sit down to morning tea every day and always invite me in. At first I didn’t want to impose and wished to leave them to enjoy their food. At least until it was pointed out to me by my interpreter (also called Ali) that the tradition in this part of Iraq is to share your food and be hospitable to your fellow man. To refuse would mean that I; didn’t like them, didn’t want to sit down with them or didn’t like their food. This is a traditional thing and really quite nice when you think about it, at least up until I got food poisoning from it. The food is delicious (don’t eat the fish) communal and plentiful. It has become the highlight of my mornings and I hope to learn enough Arabic to convey how much I appreciate it to them.

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Me and Ze Boys. Have a guess who does Saddam.

I brought my contribution to the mat today in the form of a jar of Vegemite, claiming that it was an Australian delicacy and I would like them to try it. So I placed down the jar, bread was eagerly broken, black grease was spread and mouthfuls were taken. As I looked around I could see expressions changing quite dramatically as the crowd were desperately trying to figure out exactly how they could get this stuff out of their mouths and still make it look like it was tasty. I always enjoy this part, and it is a true test of just how polite people are. This is, in fact, a popular pastime for Australians – watching the rest of the world eat Vegemite. Vegemite, for those of you who have not tried this awesome foodstuff yet, is a malty yeasty black paste with a taste that has to be tried to be appreciated. It is a taste that you really have to grow up with and even then, a lot of people just can’t stand it. There is no middle ground with Vegemite. If the whole reason behind World War II was to decide whether Vegemite was an edible foodstuff even Switzerland would have joined the Germans, it’s that divisive. It would be the rest of the world against us, and maybe the Poms who eat Marmite (which is really not the same thing I don’t care how many people say so). Anyway after a few moments I explained that they didn’t have to pretend to like it, I would understand and not be upset.

To a man they all said it was very nice and thank you for bringing it along, but it really wasn’t necessary in the future as they always have plenty of food. I offered the jar around again and it was quietly passed from hand to hand before ending back up in my lap. Funnily enough, nobody went for seconds, but they all did it with a smile. I am going to like it here.

Posted by Dangermouse 08:44 Archived in Iraq

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