steepholm (steepholm) wrote,
steepholm
steepholm

Oh mountains, fall on me!

I turned on Radio 4 while in my car this morning, and caught a few minutes of Midweek. At the point where I came in, Libby Purves was halfway through interviewing a man who turned out to be Thomas Buergenthal, Auschwitz survivor, judge at the International Court of Justice in the Hague, and all round impressive person. I clearly wasn't the only one who thought so, and one of other guests felt moved at the end of the interview to launch into a speech in praise of Mr Buergenthal, but also of the Polish in general. He had a deep respect for the Polish character, he said. He remembered the Polish aircraftmen who had been stationed with his family during the War - so brave, so courteous, so gallant. Wasn't it for the sake of the Polish that Britain had entered WWII in the first place? And the Poles had proved staunch friends, more undaunted than any other nation you care to name. Only the Poles, he concluded with a flourish, had ever had the guts to ascend Everest in the winter!

At the end of this moving peroration, there was a small but very sticky silence, before the hapless Purves explained that Mr Buergenthal was, in fact, a Czech.*

I was so embarrassed on the guest's behalf that I had to turn the radio off and sing loudly to myself to blot out his awful humiliation. How could he live with having made such an ass of himself on national radio? Surely he'd want to crawl away and die? It's true I'd heard the beginning of a booming laugh before the radio cut out, but that, surely, must be no more than a sounding brass, to mask his terrible anguish?

Later in the day, I found out who that guest had been, and it was, quite literally, a blessed relief.



A Brian Blessed relief. (The mountaineering reference should have been a tip-off.) Blessed is, perhaps, the most pachydermous man in Britain, and the only person I can think of guaranteed not to give a hoot at having got it so wrong. I feel not only relieved on his behalf, but also strangely grateful to him for being that way.


*ETA: Of course, it turns out to be more complicated than that. His parents were German, the part of Czechoslovakia he was born in is now Slovakia, he grew up in Poland, and is now a US citizen.
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