01 April, 2014

A Diplomatic Incident…Or "why we had to close the building last week"

Our new cleaner, David ran into some trouble...

You all know that we are commemorating the centenary of the First World War this year, a war that the USA wisely kept out of until they came to the rescue of the exhausted entente powers. Looking back on its origins, it was a silly war, prompted by moribund empires protecting every centimetre of their turf by crushing nationalist aspirations in the Balkans and central Europe. What amazes me is that so many people were keen on donning uniforms and showing the ‘Hun’, the ‘tommy’ or the’ poilu’ a lesson, get some souvenirs, and do a little touring on the continent to liven their drab lives.  In august 1914, the message seemed to be, “HAVE SOME FUN, GET HOME BEFORE CHRISTMAS, WITH STORIES TO TELL YOUR GRANDCHILDREN.” Few anticipated they would never return, or, if they did, it would be as mental and physical wrecks. No children, let alone grandchildren and a generation of women without husbands.

The silliest war of all, at least by its title, has to be the ‘War of Jenkins’ ear’. Robert Jenkins was the captain of the good ship ‘Rebecca’. His vessel was boarded by Spanish coast guards who severed his ear. He pickled the ear and returned to England where the PM invited him to parliament. The national mood was for vengeance; how dare the Spanish sever an English ear. Thus began the war of Jenkins ear which lasted on and off for 5-7 years in the1730s-40s.

Why am I bringing all this up? Well, over the past weeks, we almost had an even sillier casus belli at the London Centre.  Had it broken out we could have called it the “War of ‘Elsie’s Chair’, that’s right folks, a war named after a chair rescued from the Thames a few years ago by two student ‘mud larkers’. At the height of the recent troubles between Russia and the Ukraine, our cleaner, David, was doing his business hoovering, wiping down, dusting and washing.  He briefly moved the ‘Elsie’ chair to the front patio when our next door neighbours, with whom we share the patio,  the Russian mission to the IMO, protested that Ithaca was displaying Ukrainian colours at a time when the  mission was on red alert for unsympathetic demonstrators outside number 37. At 7.30 in the morning, when only David and Thorunn were here, a red police car drew up and two beefy members of the diplomatic protection squad emerged to have a ‘quiet word’. The officers politely requested that Thorunn desist from displaying Ukrainian colours [and sentiments] outside a Russian diplomatic mission. Thorunn, the essence of professionalism and diplomacy, explained that the chair was painted blue and gold which are Ithaca’s colours.  The police remarked that she might soon be working out of a much smaller office, with different vertically striped [as opposed to leaded] windows. With an air of disbelief, similar to that of a progressive Archbishop of Canterbury, she wisely agreed. Needless to say, the US Embassy added its tuppence and we had to agree to withdraw our ‘Ukrainian’ chair.
Our neighbours insisted they had the diplomatic right to inspect our building in case we had any other ‘offensive’ Ukrainian paraphernalia.  The day chosen for the inspection was Thursday March27th at any time between noon and 3pm.

Hence we needed to close the building and we used the convenience of a gas board metre reading to explain why classes were cancelled. The full story will appear in this Thursdays Ithacan.

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