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Send My Conscience Home in a Taxi

Externalised Memory

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Rewatching Tumbledown
Recently I re-watched the BBC TV movie Tumbledown from 1988.

Tumbledown is an evocatively named craggy mountain in the Falklands, scene of one of the largest and bloodiest, and nearly the last, battle of the brief Falklands War back in 1982.

That little war is almost forgotten. My partner, who was three at the time it happened, knows barely its name. I'm old enough to remember it happening, but to not really understand it at the time. There seemed to be headlines every few days about ships being sunk - The General Belgrano, the SS Atlantic Conveyor.

The "television play" Tumbledown concerns the plight of one Lieutenant Robert Lawrence, who leads his troops through the crucial parts of the battle on that mountain. And just as they're victorious, Lawrence was shot through the head. Miraculously he survives, eventually loosing 43% of his brain and being partly paralysed.

The film is remarkable for its brutally honest depiction of the war and its casualties, and the remarkable story of Lawrence's recovery. And indeed the indifference with which he was treated after the war was over.

I remember being quite struck by the it when it was shown on the ABC back in the late 80's. Several scenes from it have stayed with me, for example almost the last scene where we finally witness the shooting itself.

What's remarkable about re-watching more than twenty years later is how well made and acted the film was, and how there was a whole lot of subtlety to it that I entirely missed when watching it as a teenager. Several scenes I recalled feeling like the lead character was being mocked or bullied were nothing of the sort - he was a tough cookie, not about be pushed around. The scene's with his girlfriend were also had a dimension I didn't catch back in the day.

It's well worth looking up. It's brutal and unvarnished, and remarkably honest. Most docos or movies about war have a heroic or reverential tone to them, whereas war is both dull, brutal and finally very damaging to the people who survive it. Even "little" wars like the Falklands leave the combatants physically and emotionally mangled for life.

Here's the first part:

Robert Lawrence recovered enough to lead a relatively normal life. He lived in Sydney for a few years in the 90's, but is now back in the UK. He's still remarkably candid about his experiences and his opinions of the war and its aftermath.

And here is a strange little historical oddity. This piece was composed by the Scots Guards bagpipe player to commemorate the battle of Tumbeldown while the battle was happening. He jotted it down on the "back of a fag packet" is how he put it. This musician composed music on top of a miserable cold mountain at night during a pitched battle, then performed it at dawn on the mountain!

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I remember when the war was happening; I was about 13 or 14 at the time? I also remember late night talk-back radio (you know what they're like) and a young girl rang up and asked, with beautiful insight. "There's two islands. Why don't they just share and have one each?"

I can't get over how they're still bickering about it. Two shitty cold islands with a lot of sheep on them...

National prestige is a strange thing; it's apparently worth dying for and worth killing for.

Go a hundred miles into space and one would be barely able to even see the damn islands.

A wee bit off-topic.. But happy birthday!

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