Friday, February 3, 2017

Simple, beautiful words

Sometimes I accidentally bump into written or spoken words that have the power to take my breath away. Such words might generate pride or respect or sadness or great, bubbling mirth. There is incredible power in such words, and they are a thing of wonder.

Language itself is amazing. These noises we make, the chicken scratches of real or electronic ink, all of them represent and transmit thoughts and ideas and concepts of breathtaking complexity. We would have no past, present or future without language. We would exist as smelly, grunting, parasite-infested ape things, occasionally learning to poke twigs into termite mounds and then immediately forgetting how we pulled off the trick. We would have no society at all, let alone a modern one. When I think about it I get a shiver. It boggles the mind.

And then every once in a while a human mind can turn a phrase that transcends the mere miracle of language.

I was looking at the interwebs this morning and came across a great video. In May of 2015 General James Mattis gave a talk at the Heritage Foundation. He was talking about a firefight at Ramadi, and told the story of walking up to a group of Marines who were busily exchanging fire with the enemy.

"I said, 'hey guys, what's goin' on?'"

The squad leader replied, "General, not to worry, we're just takin' the fun out of fundamentalism."

"I turned around and walked away smilin'," said Mattis, "one more riotous excursion of the human spirit."

One more riotous excursion of the human spirit.

God, what a phrase. Goosebumps it gives me.

Here is the video.

It's an hour and change, and that represents a serious chunk of one's finite quantity of time, but I think it would be time well spent. YMMV, but what the heck, you're gonna be looking for something interesting to do one of these cold and dreary February evenings. Sunday evening from about 6:30 p.m., perhaps?

So anyway, there I was, 1430 local at Regional West Medical Center, reading my Kindle while waiting to see the surgeon for my last follow-up. The book I was reading is "Down South: A Falklands War Diary," penned by Chris Parry, or more properly, Rear Admiral Christopher John Parry, CBE, Royal Navy (Retired).

The first time I ever heard of Chris Parry was when I watched the BBC series "Sailor." It's a remarkable series, in my opinion, and I recommend it highly. You can even watch it for free on the interwebs! It's a twelve-part series (13 parts if you watch the follow on "where are they now" episode) so it'll take an investment of time. Hmmm, Sunday at 7:15 perhaps? :) Here's a snippet. Who doesn't love the Buccaneer?

At the beginning of each episode the narrator says,

"This is the story of an old ship, and of the young men who sail in her."

That phrase gives me goosebumps, too!

The series follows the 1976 deployment of HMS Ark Royal.
HMS Ark Royal (R-09) alongside USS Nimitz (CVN-68) at Naval Station Norfolk, circa 1978. S

Chris Parry is one of the sailors showcased, at the time a 20 year-old, shiny new Sub-Lieutenant (famously pronounced Lef-tenant by the Brits). For some reason I really get a kick out of being able to watch that young fellow as he was then, and knowing now how his career turned out.

Let's see, where the heck was I? Oh yeah, waiting room and "Down South."

One of the neat things about the book is that it's pretty much a verbatim publication of Parry's daily diary about his experiences during the Falklands War. Diary keeping was officially forbidden for the sailors deployed during Operation Corporate. Parry obviously failed to scrupulously follow orders in this instance, but so did Rear Admiral Sandy Woodward, the Task Force Commander. Just sayin'. Anyway, Parry's unvarnished observations give us a very interesting first-person account of the war, just as Woodward did with his own book, and such observations are gems indeed.

So there I was (again), waiting in a waiting room filled with gimpy orthopaedic patients. I was reading Parry's description of a Royal Navy Taranto Day celebration. The attack on Taranto is a BIG DEAL to the RN, and particularly to the Fleet Air Arm. It's somewhat similar to the importance placed on the Battle of Midway by the air arm of our own U.S. Navy. Indeed, Parry called the battle "Our (Fleet Air Arm's) Trafalgar."

As you may have heard, such celebrations are perhaps a bit, er, enthusiastic. Think Bull Meechum at the O Club.

Yeah. Great Santini. On steroids!

As Parry recounts it, a British Army General was rather more exercised than the Captain in The Great Santini. The antics of the FAA aviators celebrating Taranto Day happened at the Officer's Mess of a certain British Army base.

Parry's description is pure gold, and far better than anything Hollywood or Conroy (may he rest in peace) could ever invent.

"I command men of honor, professionalism and loyalty;" declared the General as he was berating the aviators following a rather noisy and kinetic celebratory hijink, "you are just a bunch of hooligans and..." (struggling for another insulting epithet) "...naval officers!"

"Now I really admire a man," Parry added, "who can say that and keep a straight face, when he has fragments of cabbage in his hair, in his rank badges, and in his medals."

The General of course complained to the RN Brass, and all of the aviators were subsequently called on the carpet individually. When it was Parry's turn in the barrel, he was questioned by a very serious and highly irate Captain.

"Did you touch the cabbage?"

"No," said Parry.

"We can probably get fingerprints, you know."

At that point, said Parry, he was having a very hard time in remaining suitably solemn.

"I had seen how small those pieces of cabbage were and even a gnat's fingerprints would not be available for detection. I got into one of those irrepressible fits where anything sets you off. Just like the Roman soldiers in the scene with Michael Palin, talking about his friend Biggus Dickus, in The Life of Brian.

"The Captain looked at me, coldly grave -- I anticipated a thunderbolt and career termination -- "and then burst out laughing himself.

"'Sorry, sir...' I gasped, immediately corpsing with suppressed laughter.

"'Don't worry,' he said, 'it was worth a try. We've all been there. You're not going to tell me who threw the cabbage, are you?'"

Got a lot of funny looks from the gimpy denizens of the orthopaedic waiting room, I did, as I tried to suppress my own guffaws and tears and snot ran down my face. Those who looked closely would also have seen goose bumps dotting my arms.

Language. It's just the best thing ever.


  1. The soup scene, the scene from Life of Brian...

    You're on a roll. Great post, I'm a bit of a language chap myself you know.

    - Nautius Maximus

  2. The whole being a human being thing is simply amazing.

  3. Thank you for the great post and the additional reading material you have referenced for me.

    Paul L. Quandt

    1. Thanks Paul!. So much great reading, so little time...

  4. Paul - how do you do?

    I am glad that you enjoyed 'Down South' and am pleased to make your e-quaintance. Chris

    1. I'm surprised and very pleased that you stopped by Chris. Amazed that you found my silly little low-traffic blog. I very much enjoyed 'Down South.' I was riding Sea Kings as a USN paramedic/swimmer in 1982. The Falklands was a big topic for discussion and we were impressed by what we read of your helos and crews. We really had no idea though, did we? Thanks for sharing your account.

      Oh, and it's Shaun here btw. I don't suppose I make that very clear in these posts...

    2. Shaun - sorry about the mis-ident. It was late at night here and I should have done better. Well done on your commitment and service to your country and our way of life. Do let me know if there is anything else you would like to know about the Falklands etc. All the best to you and your family, Chris

    3. No problem Chris, comments in this format can be a bit confusing. As for the late night, I have farmer friends in Hereforshire and we frequently communicate via WhatsApp which leads to interesting late night and early morning comms, some of which are hysterical. I would like to ask a couple of questions about the Falklands and about your time in the Ark. Perhaps you could contact me at , which might be easier than communicating via comments on this post. At any rate, thanks very much for stopping by and BZ to you for your service as well.

    4. That was impressive! Well Done, that fellow from Nebraska! You have been Noticed! I am jealous!