The Geography Class, Early April 1982

“Do you know how many people live in the Falkland Islands? A little over a thousand. To put it in perspective, that’s less than a quarter of the population of Breogan.  I could see the point of a task force if it was the Orkneys or the Isle of Man. But we’re going to war over a few tiny islands on the other side of the world.”

“But they’re British! The Falklands don’t belong to the Argies!” said Martin. He was succeeding in his efforts to sidetrack the teacher from the geography lesson. Speedy had strong views on the Falklands Crisis.

“To be honest, Martin, what you know about the Falklands could be written on the back of one of your Panini World Cup stickers. And when did you start feeling so British? I thought you hated England. Rule Britannia now is it? What’s so great about being British nowadays if you don’t mind me asking?”

Silence. Then someone came up with The Specials.

“The Jam.”

“Liverpool are no a bad team.”

“Torvill and Dean,” Aileen said.

“So it’s worth risking thousands of lives to promote your musical and sporting heritage is it? I’ll never understand you lot. But you’re right about one thing, Martin. The Falklands don’t belong to Argentina. In fact they were discovered by a Dutchman! Sebald de Weert sighted them in 1600 and they first appeared on Dutch maps as the Sebald Islands. The Argentinians prefer to believe that Amerigo Vespucci came across them in 1500. Maybe so, but merely claiming to see something isn’t a great argument from either a scientific or historical point of view. Many people say they’ve seen ghosts as you know.”

“Woohoohoohoo,” went Martin, Twilight Zone style.

Speedy continued. “I don’t know why they want the Godforsaken place when they’ve got more than enough barren wasteland in Patagonia. Don’t get me wrong, I’m no supporter of the Argentine regime. In theory, the country is a land of plenty. Loads of Britons went there early this century but like much of South America it has long suffered from notoriously bad government and a lack of democracy. Galtieri might be using this as a way of distracting public attention away from the awful mismanagement of the economy. Heaven knows what else is going on there but you must see that they have a good geopolitical argument. The islands are only a few hundred miles off their coast. How would you lot feel if Argentina was running the show in the Shetlands or even the Channel Islands?”

Silence again. Fists on chins looking at Speedy, wondering if he had a point and knew more than Brian Hanrahan. I made a mental note to look up Patagonia in Countries of the World.

“And if the islanders feel so British, I’m sure we could give them some cash to set themselves up over here. It would make more sense than going to war. Not to mention the cost of maintaining a group of islands where penguins outnumber people.”

Chuckles all round.

“Oh, I’m serious. It’s not a laughing matter. We might not have to bother saving face or making a point if we hadn’t sold them weapons in the first place. (More hilarity.) Well, where do you think the Argentinians got these Lynx helicopters that they’re flying around in? You’d have thought that somebody in the government might’ve thought twice about sending weapons to a military junta with no regard for its own people. Not the best of ideas, especially when they’ve been after these islands for years…”

Speedy paused for breath. His speech was way over our heads. This was all news to me although Harry had claimed it was “the Frogs” who had given them the Exocets.

“…Anyway, getting back to rock formations,” the teacher said, brushing chalk dust from his tweed suit.

Excerpt from Countries of the World © Steven Porter/Breogan Books 2011


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