Thumb-twiddling in the Falklands

The Falklands feel considerably more British than Britain does. Think of all the great British icons... bright red, solid and reassuring lumps of metal... you are far more likely to come across them here than in the UK.

If you want to post a letter in Stanley for example, it's into the gob of a good old 19th century Victorian cast iron pillar box that you'll feed your envelope. Not that 20th century technology isn't gradually appearing too - we have postcodes down here now. Well, I say postcodes, I really mean postcode, there is just the one (FIQQ 1GG if you are planning on sending me any Christmas cards) and it covers British Antarctic Territory as well as the Falklands. That's like having one postcode for an area spanning Sheffield to Spitsbergen.

Or perhaps it was the phone box that sprang to mind? Yes, every one down here is the solid scarlet cast iron variety; no plastic and glass yet.

Or maybe you thought of a big six-wheeler scarlet-painted diesel-engined 97-horsepower London omnibus? There is a Routemaster here too as it happens. It trundles its lonesome way along the seafront, a number 38 that took the wrong turning off Picadilly Circus, accidently wandered into a wormhole in space, and is forlornly trying to find its way back to Hackney. The wormhole has also transported a small Victorian terrace to the High St. Just four houses, but they look bizarre amongst the low bungalows with bright corrugated iron roofs that make up the rest of the place.

I've been here a week now. It seems somebody screwed the propellors on wrongly on the Dash 7, the BAS plane that is due to carry us down to the Antarctic peninsula. After scouring the world for the replacement parts to get it flying again properly, it's just been mended and took off an hour or so ago on its first flight back to the Antarctic again. But that flight is full, and I'm scheduled on the next one - two days away yet if the weather is good.

The flight down from the UK was the usual long slog. The RAF operate a handful of rheumatic old Tristars to ferry military personnel around the world, but they are all busy shuttling back and forth to Iraq and Afghanistan at the moment, so the flights down to the military base on the Falklands have been chartered out. To whom, I never quite worked out. 'Welcome to MOD flight RR3200 operated by RAF / Air Atlanta / Icelandic airways' came the voice on the tannoy, but in fact the flight had been further subcontracted to some dodgy charter company, who in turn had picked up a truly ancient jumbo off a scrapheap, given it a light dusting, and pressed it back into service. It had no markings to reveal its previous owners, but all the signs on board appeared to be in Burmese, and all the seats were falling off. Still, we made it to Wideawake airfield on Ascension unscathed (a bit of a misnomer after a night at 33000 feet on an elderly 747), and were herded out into the equatorial sun to wait while it was refuelled.

Then it was on to Mount Pleasant military base on the Falklands (about as aptly named, unless you are keen on concrete and bored squaddies), and finally an hour-long drive along the dusty road to Stanley.

Stanley is OK for a couple of days, but it's pleasures are beginning to pall now. Very, very little happens here. Well, OK, there's the odd war, but that was nearly 25 years ago, and nothing of any import has happened since. The main news item on the radio yesterday was that the aquarobics class in the local pool was cancelled that evening. That really is about as exciting as it gets.

I've got out a bit into the nearby hills most days though, so that passes the time. It's amazing how many relics of the war you still come across here. Old tent pegs, rags of clothing, old boots, tortured pieces of aluminium or rusted steel, a heap of bleached cuttlefish bones that on closer inspection prove to be the remains of plimsols, with just a few tatters of the uppers still clinging to the rubber soles. Don't really look like the sort of footwear you would want to be wearing on the hills in the depths of a Falklands winter. And certainly not when people are shooting at you.

Apart from that, I've worked my way through most of the books I brought, and developed repetitive strain injury from twiddling my thumbs. Hopefully it will be just a day or two longer, else there is a real danger of twiddling them right off.

Click on the pictures on the right to see the full image.