Neighbourhood Watch

I’ve had the title and outline of this blog posts saved in the drafts for several years now. It wasn’t that I was putting off writing it, it was simply that I was never really sure that I could do justice to the nuances of the subject matter. Now that we’ve been here for nearly 4 years and there’s been some recent developments, it’s time to address the elephant in the room. We need to talk about Argentina.

Image result for argentina falklands mapAs a historian and a resident of the Falkland Islands, it is hard not to talk about the fractious relationship that this territory has with its nearest neighbour: in one way or another it explains so much about life here; from the very internet I’m using to the strength of the economy through to social attitudes and even the size of the population (affected, of course, by the significant military presence). It’s a LONG history and it has been recorded in depth by Roger Lorton in his lifetime’s work on the Falklands Timeline, but his summary can be found on the timeline’s website.

This week, President Macri of Argentina faced a shock defeat in the primary elections there, beaten into second place by the team of Alberto Fernández and former President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner (who, interestingly, has been facing significant corruption investigations but is immune from prison while she remains in government: handy that). This hasn’t been viewed overly positively on a global context and Argentina’s currency and economy instantly suffered drastic further problems following the results. It is also no surprise that the Falkland Islands Association felt the need to issue a statement in the light of the results. So, what’s the problem and where does it come from? Here is MY brief (as much as I could) guide to the Falklands/Argentina relationship, with my openly declared British/Falklands viewpoint (a quick search online will reveal a wealth of things that disagree with me, though the same would be true if I declared that the Earth is round and vaccines save lives).

It is well worth mentioning that the recent…difficulties…are a relatively modern invention. Behind the scenes of the initial claims and counter claims bouncing around the various governments in the complex early years of Falklands sovereignty, there was a much-needed strong economic and social relationship between Argentina and the Falklands. Archives tell us of a number of families and businesses that came from Argentina to the Falklands and vice versa. Many of the early South American settlers and farms have Falklands roots. Understandable; there was no indigenous population on the islands so friends and support had to come from other pioneers around you in such trying conditions. Argentina was, for a long time, referred to locally as simply ‘the Coast’ and there has always been a small Argentine contingent among the population here. Argentina has, after all, got the largest English speaking population outside of the Commonwealth.

The issues stem from 1833 and this is where, as I understand it, the two versions of history part ways and cause the current stalemate. Argentina established a prison colony on the Falklands (then claimed by Britain following its earlier establishment of a settlement there). Britain found out and removed the prisoners and soldiers guarding them. Britain’s version of the story is that they removed the Argentine garrison but allowed anyone else present to settle under the condition that they would be living under British rule. Britain then sent settlers to the islands to join those already there and they all lived happily ever after (besides a brief 74-day interlude in 1982). Argentina’s version of the story is that Britain illegally removed the entire Argentine population, stole the islands from them and ‘implanted’ a British population. This means that, 9-10 generations later, the Argentine government’s position is that the current population here do not count as ‘a people’ and are an illegally implanted one. Here, some might point out the fact that this is all being said in Spanish while the rights and lands of the native South American people are ridden roughshod over. This is, apparently, besides the point. So too is the fact that this all happened back in 1833.

Anyway, by the late 19th century, the matter is essentially settled and the British population on the islands continue to establish themselves. All goes quiet for quite some time. All until 1946. General Juan Peron was elected President in Argentina on a populist platform, but bearing many hallmarks of dictatorial rule (including organised violence and a liberal attitude towards the application of the law when it came to his competition). Having made little mention of the islands since the 19th century, Peron’s government renewed old claims about the territory and used this to both unite and distract from issues at home. A pattern that would be repeated with frequency for the rest of the century. Fortunately for Peron (and those who succeeded him), the government controlled the education system and had a sound propaganda machine so they were able to push the ‘stolen from us’ myth upon generations of Argentines. Without going into the details of Argentina’s colourful political history, what follows from 1946 until 1983 were a series of either military dictators or Peronist Presidents. This period has been most famously characterised by the “Dirty War” which saw tens of thousands of opponents of the government disappear amid stories of the disposing of prisoners on one-way flights over the Atlantic.

The outcome of all of this was that, from 1946 until December 1981 (when General Leopoldo Galtieri became the latest military dictator to take the top chair at the Argentine table), the people of Argentina had been subject to a program of state-controlled education and propaganda which insisted that the Falklands rightfully belonged to Argentina and had been occupied illegally by the British since 1833. In fact, the British had claimed the islands long before Argentina existed as a country, but that’s a story for another day.

Galtieri.jpg

Galtieri

Moving on from this, then, General Galtieri began his turn at violent military dictatorship by facing a dire economic situation at home. He really needed a cause that would unite and distract the people of Argentina. Something universally accepted by the people. Perhaps something they had been forcefully told for several decades. Luckily, at the same time, the British had recently been taking steps to indicate that they didn’t really want the hassle of the Falkland Islands (such as handing transport and fuel supplies on the Falklands over to Argentina). So, he gambled and invaded the Falklands in April 1982. He gambled on Thatcher not doing anything, he gambled on the UN not doing anything and he gambled on the USA not doing anything. He was wrong on all 3 counts and the rest, as they say, is history (see the tab at the top for the 1982 documentary).

Days after Argentina’s forceful ejection from the islands, Galtieri was deposed and Argentina suddenly became a democracy. As other certain countries are lately discovering, democracy is based on the will of the people. Never mind if that will has been dictated by clever lies, propaganda or the beliefs of others for far too long. Said the British guy. So Argentina is now democratic but, because of the preceding political history, no politician could ever hope to win an election by declaring anything other than the Argentine claim over the Falklands. That isn’t what the (majority of the) people believe and therefore that isn’t what will win votes. Tricky.

There was, inevitably, a period of cold relations between the two countries immediately post-conflict but by the 1990s, relations began to improve out of necessity (in spite of Argentina maintaining its claim to the islands and not apologising for its actions). I admit to finding it hard to fathom the continuing internal popularity of Argentina’s actions. An unpopular right-wing military dictator with a proven history of murdering his own citizens invades and occupies a peaceful neighbouring country and mass support for this action continues well beyond his lifetime. Parallels are not easy to find elsewhere in history. I had a fascinating discussion with an Argentine journalist last year and she admitted to not being able to explain it either: evidently the Falklands occupy a place in the Argentine national consciousness that stretches beyond my understanding. Tenth generation Falkland Islanders would argue that it stretches beyond logic or reason, too. There’s a reason why one of the first actions that all evil dictatorships (and Michael Gove) take is to attempt to control the state’s education: decades of it can yield results

This period of diplomatic warming (met by fierce and emotional resistance on both sides) did yield some progress: the reinstatement of the weekly flight between South America and the Falklands, for example. It was not to last, however. In 2003, Peronist Nestor Kirchner was elected as President and he was followed by his wife from 2007 until 2015 (nepotism: know your place).

Like their Peronist predecessors, Nestor and Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner (CFK) were nothing short of fanatical about the Falkland Islands and Cristina, in particular, began a policy of attacking the islands in any way that she could. She took an interesting diplomatic stance by doing things such as:

  • publicly called the islanders “squatters”
  • threatening to do all she could to prevent the discovery and exploitation of oil in the islands
  • removing Argentina from talks over oil extraction (that could easily have benefitted the Argentine economy)
  • restricting the use of Argentine ports and waters to island ships (and the occasional cruise ship that included the Falklands on its itinerary)
  • publishing an open letter in the Guardian calling for the islands to be Argentine
  • publicly objecting to the deployment of Prince William to the islands as an aggressive move (he was a Search and Rescue pilot, but OK).
  • giving state pensions to the terrorists who hijacked a passenger plane at gunpoint and landed it on the islands in 1966
  • introducing a new law in Argentina to dictate that all public transport must carry the logo “Malvinas son Argentinas”
President Cristina Fernandez unveiling the Condor Operation flag in Congress

CFK publicly unveils a flag on display in Congress used by the armed hijackers in 1966

NOTE: This list is, by no means, exhaustive. There will be many other instances that can be recounted, but this is sufficient to get the point across (I think).

In the face of all of this, the Falkland Islanders decided to send a clear message to its fellow democratic neighbour and the wider world: an internationally monitored referendum. The result was predictable: over 90% of the electorate turned out and 99.6% of them voted to remain a British overseas territory. Similarly predictable was the Argentine response: it didn’t count as it is the territory they care about, not the people. An interesting stance for a democracy to take.

Image result for falklands referendum

Falkland Islanders celebrate the referendum result being announced

Thankfully for the Islanders, the Kirchners’ questionable economic policies led to defeat in the polls in 2015, losing to the capitalist Macri.  He was open about improving relations with the United Kingdom and stuck to that. For the reasons already identified, he was unable to go too far in undoing the ‘Malvinas’ claim, but he remained largely silent on the matter and diplomatic relations were warming. Joint scientific collaborations concerning studies in the South Atlantic (cancelled under CFK) resumed, talks led to many of the unknown war dead in the Argentine cemetery being identified by the ICRC and, most recently, it seemed that a second flight to the Falklands from South America (Sao Paulo) would go ahead. Argentina still refuses to allow the Falkland Islanders to be present in any discussions (as they don’t view them as a people and they see all discussions as being between Argentina and Britain) so these kinds of agreements still haven’t been met with full support in the Falklands, but it does signal a diplomatic easing of tensions. The perceived compromises being made in the name of diplomacy are also often unpopular on both sides. The flights to the islands are, as far as I’m aware, the only instance in the World where a government dictates that a flight must land in its country in order to gain access to its air space and this, on principle, is objected to by some.

Macri’s defeat in the primaries and the threatened reinstallation of CFK as Vice-President could, then, usher in a new (another) era of economic and diplomatic bullying. It is likely that the second flight would be under threat and the diplomatic progress made so far undone.

Whether CFK returns to power or not, it is this writer’s view that the unique histories of the Falklands and Argentina mean that a ‘normal’ relationship is highly unlikely for many, many years to come. The claim to the Falklands is still enshrined in the Argentine constitution (and it would require majority support in their senate to remove it: highly unlikely). All sides are still mourning their war dead and all sides are democracies so they will be unwilling to lose public support by being seen to insult the sacrifices of their soldiers. The Falkland Islanders are distrustful of many Argentine or British attempts to build closer ties (that happened once before and they remember where it led…). Each year, the countries involved send delegations to the UN decolonisation committee to make, what is in essence, the same speeches and each year the UN votes that all sides should work toward a peaceful resolution of the dispute. Then they all go home and return the next year for the same thing. This repetitive outline of the stalemate seems to summarise the current situation well. For their own reasons, neither side can or will budge. It now becomes a matter of just how militant Argentina wishes to be in its claim.

This is, of course, a very simplistic breakdown of this intricate and highly emotive part of local history. The Falkland Islands Government summarises its position here and it is worth a read. Much of the above is, of course, hotly contested in many circles and will remain so for many years to come. I have simplified many things out of necessity so I can only hope that nothing that I have said or cut short has caused offence (to anyone with a valid, evidence-based, historical argument) but this is the situation as I read it. Just in case you’re interested. If you weren’t, I’m sorry you had to sit through all of that without a single reference to penguins or Milo Sheep. Normal service will be resumed shortly.

 

 

 

Milling Around

Last weekend was Han’s Birthday (and the last one we’ll spend as a twosome in this little family of ours) so it seemed right that we marked the occasion. Unbeknownst to Han, I decided that we should have a weekend away from the hustle and bustle of Stanley (I know Stanley’s not exactly a metropolis but there’s always so much going on e.g. we missed the Winter Ball, dinner with friends and a Treasure Hunt just over those 3 days).

After making the decision to try to surprise Han with her Birthday present (not an easy thing to do: she has the thwarting mix of both nosiness and diligence), I set about plotting the trip. In part, this was to treat my wife but, mostly, it was because I knew it would offer the chance to use the word ‘unbeknownst’. Ladies: if your husband is surprising you, that’s probably the reason why.

As it’s the middle of Winter, most of the regular islands are closed to tourists (Carcass, Sea Lion, Pebble etc) so I decided that we’d head West to somewhere I knew was open all year and I knew would be a good call. Regulars will be familiar with the appeals of West Falkland from several previous posts. I settled on the stunning Coast Ridge Cottage in Fox Bay West (the settlement is divided around the Harbour). The ferry that we would usually to the West was making its annual slog to Chile for service and repairs so a brief exchange with FIGAS (the government air service) had our lift there chartered. As flights are drawn up on a daily basis on demand, flight schedules are a somewhat last minute affair. All FIGAS flights are read out on the radio the day before departure to inform passengers (as well as, now, posted on their Facebook page). This makes surprising someone a little tricky, but they’ve thought of that! The public manifests can be altered to include pseudonyms. So it was that Mrs G. Inge and Mr T. Allman were publicly announced on the schedule. Now that I know pseudonyms are an option, I feel there is a lot more fun to be had with that in future.

Fox Bay is a beautiful area and there’s a lot to explore in terms of both wildlife, scenery and even a little fossil hunting (if it’s not the middle of Winter and you’re not 6 months pregnant).

 

The vast majority of land in the Falklands is taken up by farming and the surrounding area of Fox Bay is no exception. One thing that had been puzzling me since I found it out was that the Falklands produces a huge amount of extremely high quality wool but it is almost all exported in its raw form for processing elsewhere. So, for example, the majority of the wool from the Falklands is sent to Eastern Europe for cleaning and carding (lining the fibres up) and then some of it is sent back for local crafts people to work with. That all seemed a bit convoluted so I wondered why no-one had set up even a small mill here.

Turns out, someone had. From 1983 until 1997, the Falklands Wool Company operated out of Fox Bay in a series of Nissen Huts and processed some of the fine wool coming out of the Falklands into, what I’m told was, a high quality product indeed. Unfortunately the operation ultimately failed to become profitable. I am reliably informed that this was thanks to the involvement of various agencies insisting on scaling up the process and drawing it away from its original sustainable intention (so often the way with well-meaning aid agencies). The result is that Fox Bay still houses the old mill and we were lucky enough to get permission to investigate it.

Anyone who has ever been to the Cabinet War Rooms in London (if you haven’t been, do!) will understand the eerie atmosphere that results from an old building being simply locked up at the end of a working day and left for decades as a time capsule to its former life. Such is the case at the woollen mill. Machines are still loaded with wool, a coat was still left on the counter top and the tools are where they were downed 20+ years ago. It’s a strange feeling, to wander around there. It’s sad to see it all sitting idle and you can’t help but think of the missed opportunity.

I only hope that this operation’s failure doesn’t put others off the idea of processing wool right here in the Falklands. With such high quality product, it seems a shame to see it all sent away and I hope to one day be sporting a Falkland Islands jumper shorn, processed and manufactured once more in the islands.

Interesting faaact of the daaaay:

This is a World map. In the words of REM: “that’s me in the corner”:

world map

Let’s be a little more specific (thanks to OpenStreetMap), we’re just here in Stanley and here’s the layout of the area to get you more familiar:map

If we take 15 minutes to drive out of our house, onto Stanley’s bypass (Airport Road) and zip past Stanley Airport, we reach the area called Cape Pembroke. It’s a nice area, with one gravel road running through it leading to the Lighthouse there, which sits on the most Easterly point of the entire Falklands archipelago. It’s also a National Nature Reserve, though that hasn’t stopped the government recently going against the consensus of their own public consultation and refusing to ban off-road driving there; explanation unknown). True to the Reserve’s purpose, the bird life is always nice to see and quite a few other things besides. If you look VERY carefully, you’ll see a female sea lion in the water in the picture below:

I could wax lyrical about how lucky we are that we can access the place so easily, but you’ve had all that before from this blog. What I do like about Cape Pembroke is that you can wander around the coast there and look out at the Billy Rocks; the doom of many a passing ship in the age of sail and since:

DSC_8096

And you can stand at this spot and look East, this time of year also brings the odd other attraction as occurred Friday afternoon:DSC_8099DSC_8101That’s a Southern Right Whale (there were two there on Friday) and we’ve talked about seeing them off Cape Pembroke before, but this time I’ve been doing some maths just to improve the sense of location here and it leaves you with an inexplicably odd feeling when you stand there. If that Southern Right Whale were to swim directly East from where it is, it would be able to continue swimming for over 14,000 miles. It wouldn’t hit a single piece of land until it came to Chile (which is just a few hundred miles from where it is shown here). I wonder how many places there are on this planet where you can stand and for that to be true. And I wonder if I’ll ever stand at another one again. I like that little factoid because we’ve been to Cape Pembroke hundred of times, but that removes the sense of routine from the spot.

Is there anywhere that you visit/have visited hundreds of times but has some added ‘thing’ that makes you consider it differently?

The Lowest of the Low?

In case this blog hasn’t done much to turn your attention to the intriguing attraction of the Falkland Islands, the New York Times listed the Falklands on their 52 Places to Go in 2019 list. Yet again, the New York Times is way behind me on current trends (see also: fashion – I think).

Things like this give me (and many people) quite mixed feelings: on the one hand, it’s nice for the local tourist operators to get promotion and for there to be more awareness about the Falklands. After all, the ongoing dispute with Argentina is unlikely to get solved by World powers if 99% of the World population has never heard of the Falkland Islands. But it’s the same old story with tourism, isn’t it? It has the potential to make vast sums of money for (usually a select few in) the community but it can also truly ruin the feel of a place (see also: pretty much every major tourist destination in existence and most of the minor ones, too). The impact of this is often more noticeable in the numerous small communities across the globe who have seen vast shifts in their way of life (and environment) occurring as our increasingly globalised society seeks new and unusual travel destinations. The very attraction of the Falklands is in its remoteness and it will be hard for this community to keep its bearings or regain that once, like so many other destinations, the allure of the dollar has taken hold. This potential hazard won’t be helped by the incoming second flight (to Sao Paulo once a week, with a controversial stopover in Argentina once a month; possibly the only example of a country dictating a scheduled stopover for an international flight in exchange for passing through its airspace).

That being said, the Falklands are nowhere near as desperate for the tourist dollar as many other unusual destinations (they maintain 2.5 years’ worth of their entire national budget in the bank, have no national debt, no unemployment and no homelessness). There’s also definitely a less immediate danger of that happening while the restrictions (both financial and logistical) on the flights are in place. There is, too, very much a high and a low season here as the wildlife and weather dictate the attraction of the islands. We’ve had some recent short-term arrivals on the islands and have often expressed pity for them arriving at such a time, only getting to experience this place in the depths of Winter. As much as we can handle the season and there are things to see and do, it’s definitely not the Falklands at its best! It was with a little surprise, then, that the NY Times decided to follow up on their listing of the Falklands by sending their correspondent to visit at the Winter solstice. I’ve often shared the works of others here to communicate a sense of the place from other perspectives and it’s nice to be able to offer an honest perspective from the NY Times in this instance, with some pretty pictures to boot: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/07/23/travel/52places-to-go-falklands.html

I will add, with a little bias, that he never visited the excellent Historic Dockyard Museum (ranked in Trip Advisor’s top 25 Museums in South America, don’tyouknow), so his one week trip clearly wasn’t enough. Still, you get the idea.

Happy Anniversary

Don’t be ridiculous! As if I would put soppy things about our marriage on here! No no no, this blog is reserved for penguins, history and other Falklands oddities. Today marks FOUR YEARS since we began keeping Pengoing South!

These 127 posts (not including this one) have resulted in 72,796 words receiving 4,557 visitors from The UK, Ireland, Laos, United States, Australia, Falkland Islands, Italy, Canada, France, Denmark, Hong Kong, Argentina, Sweden, Chile, South Africa, Vietnam, Brazil, India, Croatia, Germany, United Arab Emirates, Brunei, Spain, New Zealand, Portugal, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, Singapore, Belgium, Jersey, Kuwait, Philippines, Russia, Switzerland, Norway, Netherlands, St Helena, Austria, Serbia, Turkey, Poland, Malaysia, Thailand, China, Cayman Islands, Greece, Romania, Bahrain, Peru, Costa Rica, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Mexico, Pakistan, Zambia, Georgia, Malawi, Indonesia, Isle of Man, Finland, Japan, Uruguay, Slovenia, Bahamas, Colombia, Ecuador, Hungary, Bangladesh, Paraguay, Malta, Maldives, Honduras, Qatar, Montenegro, Belarus, Albania, Haiti, Barbados, Slovakia, Cuba, Tunisia, Vanuatu, Armenia and Ukraine all looking at the blog a surreal 26,380 times. It’s a little bit mad, that. We know it’s not huge numbers in the grand scheme of the interweb (some blogs receive millions of views a day) but we only began this to keep our friends and family up to date on what we get up to and the Falklands is a pretty niche topic, after all! We wonder what percentage of the World even know the islands exist? Now it’s being seen by people all over the World; some we know, some we don’t. Hello to you, whoever you are! Thanks for logging on. Don’t forget that you can sign up for updates by email using the box on the right. All this for free. You’re welcome.

I guess the Photo Highlights page gives a sample of what we’ve been doing and seeing in that 4 years, but how on earth we summarise these past four years I do not know. Even now, in the middle of Winter, there’s always more going on. And that’s if the scenery and weather aren’t enough to please you:

DSC_7842DSC_7828DSC_7826DSC_7418The Winter makes things feel a little different, inevitably. The wildlife really drops as seasonal migration takes place but there’s still things to see, as you’ll have read before. The casual conversations and attitudes you come across make the Winter feel far more accepted and embraced here, rather than feared or worried about:

Mid-Winter’s Day, for example, sees people go for a charity swim. Our friends couldn’t make the public swim so held their own private one. Han’s pregnancy made her thankfully reluctant to take part but we were there to will them on:

The dark nights also provide a twist on typical events, so there are highlights like the unexpectedly brilliant Museum at Night event, which I decided to capture with some long exposure shots and a little help from some of the school children that I know:

The pattern here is that, much as Winter can be dark and bleak, it’s also a fun time of the year to experience some of the things that even the people who visit for many weeks or months in Summer don’t get to see.
Four years has flown by and, while we have seen many changes taking place here, there is something reassuring and attractive about the simplicity and stability of life in the Falklands, hence our extended stay. We have few worries here; Brexit, for example, is a worry but doesn’t really make the news each week (which is lucky, as it seems we haven’t actually missed any real updates since the referendum so it’s feeling a little like all that reporting every day has been for nothing).
There ARE changes going on in town, mind: Stanley now has a cinema!!! 54 deluxe seats now mean that we can visit a cinema without a 45 minute drive down the gravel MPA road to have to return in the dark!img_1133 We’re very excited at having something else to do of an evening and it’s proving popular already. They’re even importing BrewDog beer to the bar so this particular ale fan is pleased about the 21st century luxuries making their way to these remote corners (other ales are available).
I don’t know why I’m bothering writing all this, though. I know all you REALLY want to know is how Milo is doing. We’ve visited him and had reports from others who have been out to see him (including a Parachute Regiment patrol, who wanted to adopt him as a mascot). He’s doing extremely well, he’s looking good, enjoying the company he’s getting and he’s following his new carers around like a dog so perhaps some things don’t change after all:

img_1050

MAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHH

Liberating

Image may contain: one or more people and outdoor

The Union Flag is raised at Government House, Stanley

Today is Liberation Day in the Falkland Islands. A public holiday, of course. 37 years ago today the Argentine surrender was signed by General Menendez in the Secretariat, ending 74 days of armed occupation for the population here. It hadn’t come easily: 255 British servicemen, 3 Falkland Island civilians and approximately 650 Argentine servicemen (exact figures aren’t known) all lost their lives. Then, of course, there were the countless on all sides who bear the scars of War (both physical and mental).

There is a tangible build-up here in the days and weeks preceding Liberation Day. As the British forces closed in on Stanley and the war in the air and at sea raged on, one anniversary follows another at an ever-increasing pace. In the past few days, the key battles and major events have all been marked: the taking of Mounts Kent, Harriet, Two Sisters and Longdon, the advance across Wireless Ridge, the Exocet attack on HMS Glamorgan and the infamous battle for Mount Tumbledown last night. The course and events of the War are well-known (see the documentaries, there is one in the tab at the top), but it’s hard to put into words the sheer scale of the effects it had (and continues to have) on the islands.

As someone who is neither old enough nor has lived in the Falklands long enough to recall the occupation, it is nevertheless an important day for all of those who live here. Ultimately, the families of those men lost their loved ones to defend the rights of the people here and to defend the wider principles involved; no aggressive state should be able to invade another against the wishes of its people. Still, the sacrifice is a burden that weighs heavily on the collective mind of the population here. As a result, there is a sombre mood that hangs over the day and almost seems to physically do so as Winter brings its oppressive climate to the day. There is also, however, an undoubted joy at the liberation itself and a sense that this should be celebrated, for those who suffered. So, I’ll shortly leave to attend the parade and service at the Liberation Monument, before the government invites all citizens to a Reception.

We will remember them.

A Starkey reminder

It’s no secret that I’ve carved myself something of a niche in Falkland Islands history. It hasn’t been altogether deliberate but born more out of a mixture of insatiable curiousity and the need to teach the students here about their past. In some ways it’s an unfortunate specialism; like our in-depth knowledge of the habits of different species of penguins, it’ll be of little use if/when we live elsewhere, bar the odd pub quiz. In the meantime, I’ve been trying to make the most of it: giving tours to friends and family, my guiding on Sea Lion Island and some museum lectures for the local population.

Recently, I decided to channel my inner David Starkey and paired up with our local(/national) TV station to record this little gem for the Falkland Islands Museum and National Trust:

You’re welcome, Earth.

(Re)collecting moments

In 2015, when we made the decision to move the Falkland Islands, we knew this would mark some change in our lives. Like any significant relocation, deciding to uproot and transport ourselves to another country (albeit an English-speaking one) was likely to have some consequences and many (but by no means all) of those have been mentioned throughout the last 4 years’ worth of blog posts. Still, I think neither of us could quite have expected the extent to which this place would affect our lives. At various times, we have seen these islands affect our personalities, our hobbies/interests, our relationship (now marriage), our financial/career prospects and, I suspect, our future too.

Among the strange experiences that the islands have thrown up there’s been a few odd highlights. To name a few, there’s  been:

  • Walking in the minefield (with guidance, don’t worry)
  • Picking-up a young albatross and two types of penguins
  • Being attacked by a globally endangered bird of prey (Striated Caracaras)
  • Having King penguins swim around my feet
  • Driving our car to the top of a battlefield hill
  • Eating eggs from birds we hadn’t thought we ever would (namely: an upland goose and a Gentoo penguin)
  • Wandering among harems of 3-4 tonne elephant seals
  • Running from wild sea lions
  • Finding whale ribs taller than me (and I’m 6’5″)
  • Firing bullets left over from a War
  • Flying a plane
  • Whale-watching in our lunchtime
  • Climbing a lighthouse
  • Scrambling on 19th century shipwrecks
  • Owning (and walking) a pet sheep
  • Han creating a shawl from said sheep
  • Recording a history piece for the national TV station (watch this space)
  • Swimming with wild dolphins
  • Getting stranded on islands

and the list goes on and on. None of the above should be all that surprising to regular followers of Pengoing South but it helps us to remind ourselves sometimes of what a time we’ve had here. Similarly, regulars will know that I spent the Summer just gone working on the unforgettable Sea Lion Island. The reason I bring this up at this point is that last week I had another unpredictable thing occur: I was unexpectedly credited in a Belgian Porsche magazine.

Allow me to explain: while I was working on Sea Lion Island I had the pleasure of meeting and guiding guests from all over the World and from all walks of life. We saw tour guides, photographers, reporters, TV crews, researchers, biologists, military servicemen/women…you get the drift. Inevitably, I built up some great relationships with some of the most memorable guests and two of my favourites (I’m probably not supposed to have favourites, but you know…) were the fascinating and charming couple Sven and Kathleen. They have the highly-enviable job of traveling the World seeking out obscure locations of Porsches and writing about their adventures as they go. Yes, I did ask them, but I’m still not 100% sure how to go about getting this dreamy employment. Anyway, they managed to find a Porsche here in the Falklands and so they came a-hunting. Their Island issue is now out and available at the Porschist website HERE.

It is well worth a read for both the accurate descriptions and the stunning photography. It does a great job of capturing that inexplicable something that those of us who have been here find so hard to communicate to the curious. It’s also always interesting for Han and I to hear the views that other people have about our home. It’s certainly not for everyone, but we have this place to thank for a lot and we look forward to seeing what other memories the future will hold for us here.

Speaking of which, we’ve decided to stay for (yet) another year and we’ll have yet another reason to remember our time here:penguin egg

No, not off Scotland

As previously explained, I quite like to share the odd tidbit of Falklands trivia. This appeared on Facebook this week and it rings true of many visitors’ comments that we’ve heard here (along the lines of “you don’t realise how big the Falklands are until you get here”). Now comprehend the following with a population of 3,300 people (about the same as a UK village).

Contrary to popular belief the Falkland Islands are not somewhere off the coast of Scotland but this is how big they’d look if they were. The Falklands are actually about the size of Wales (UK) or Connecticut (USA)

No photo description available.

That Monday feeling

Not long ago, I posted a video made by a travel blogger. As a historian, I know all about how projected images can and do often (usually) skew reality: it is, after all, the basis of all social media and the reason why such platforms are so toxic at a social level. Still, we take part in it and, hopefully, remember that everything that we are seeing is what the creator wants us to see (or we don’t and our mental health has been repeatedly proven to suffer). It’s nothing new: I recall running a lesson on images of a monarch from over 500 years ago. My class of 13 year-olds were able to create a set of criteria that was being used to project a particular image (facial expressions, clothing, background, objects etc) and it took a surprising amount of time before they realised that the very same criteria could be applied to almost all of their friends’ social media profiles to prove that we have always and likely will always project images in a way that benefits us. Thus, this blog is just like one such object that happened to be in one of those images: a double-edged sword. On the one hand, we want to keep friends and family members up to date on what we’re doing and preserve our own experiences for future reference (already it is nice to look back on). On the other hand, we live in a small and isolated community with many close links and are contractually obliged by Falkland Islands Government (the largest sole employer in the country) to not say anything negative in public media about said employer. If you’re thinking that, perhaps, such a policy could stifle innovation or accountability then my only response can be an ambiguous “who can say?”. So this IS a projected image; a highlights reel of our life in another place. Why doesn’t this matter to me today? Read on:

There are, of course, downsides to living anywhere (especially Milton Keynes). While the Falklands is an amazing place to live, it can also be very frustrating as the potential of the place doesn’t always match the reality. When you see what some other small islands are doing taking advantage of their small populations to make mind-blowing progress on environmental issues, it gets a little irritating: taking Orkney as a case in point. Today, however, such irritations were kept well in check. I finished work and was driving home when I noticed what a nice evening it was (nothing unusual so far, the winter sunrises and sunsets are often the best) so I decided to check out a tip-off that I’d seen about some sightings off of Cape Pembroke so I extended my commute by about 15 minutes (that’s four-fold, mind). I soon pulled over at the edge of the road, halfway to Cape Pembroke Lighthouse to see several Southern Right Whales in the shallow waters between the Cape and the nearby Tussock Islands (I tried to photograph the coast so you can get some scale):

southern right2southernright3southernright4The mighty Southern Right Whales  (an excellent infographic on them here) are distinct for the calcification on the head and for the time they spend in comparatively shallow waters, so it was stunningly close to shore to be watching these mighty giants.

As if an after-work free whale-watching session wasn’t enough, they were joined by other cetaceans along for the experience (Commersons Dolphins) :Southern Right and DolphinSouthern Right and Dolphin2southern right and dolphin3Here I was thinking that just the sunset in this maritime setting was going to be cool enough:ladylizAs the blogger in the video so rightly put: there is something about this place that makes the outside world drift away. When you’re standing in a shirt and tie 20 minutes after finishing work watching whales and dolphins from the roadside on a cool Monday evening as the sun leaves an amber hue on everything around you, it’s hard to think about anything negative at all. We do live far from some of our friends and family and this place does have its daily irritations, but for all of that we can have other-worldly experiences like this. For nothing. Regularly. I’m finding it hard to argue with that projected image today.