(This piece first appeared last year on that estimable blog http://www.cafestocontemplate.com)
The sign read ‘Last Cup of Tea for 4,000 Miles’ and I was gagging for a cuppa. My last had been at RAF Brize Norton and the next, if we got there, would be in Port Stanley, capital of the Falkland Islands. When it comes to the British military, refreshments aren’t quite British Airways standards, even though I had been flying in a VC10.
The next leg of the flight would be in a rattling, uncomfortable Hercules transport and the best you could hope for was a carton of orange juice and a packet of sandwiches.
It was March, 1983, coming up to the first anniversary of the Argentine invasion and I was on my way to the islands, representing the Sheffield Star, as a sort of ‘consolation prize.’ I’d missed the big event but not by much. My name had been put down for the one slot to represent the regional press and I’d come third. I was told to keep my bags packed and not go anywhere that Easter as the fleet sailed south.
I moved up one when the nominated reporter was flown home early from Ascension Island and Derek Hudson of the Yorkshire Post took his place. It was Derek who in the Upland Goose, the islands’ sole hotel, memorably saved the skin of the Daily Telegraph’s Max Hastings who had made himself unpopular with some fellow journalists.
Someone waved a bayonet around and Derek grabbed him with the words “This isn’t the time or place to kill Max Hastings.”
So that was why I was on Ascension and in a queue, about the only one not in uniform, for the NAAFI tent serving the tea. I was really looking forwards to it until I took a sip and spit it out onto the ground. Nearby squaddies looked on horrified.
I was to learn later that there was not enough fresh water on Ascension so it had been chlorinated like that in a swimming pool. There was no fresh milk either so it was powdered. And as soldiers invariably like their tea sweet it had been pre-sugared. It might have been a nice cup of tea by army standards but not mine.
After the NAAFI we were given a choice, a climb up Green Mountain, the highest point, or a trip to the free bar. I was still thirsty so opted out of the nature ramble.
I palled up with a squaddie and we drank and drank and drank. At some point we must have passed out for I found myself lying on the beach, waking up to hear a cultivated voice saying: “You chaps will get the most awful sunburn if you stay there.”
I opened my eyes to see a blazing sun up in the sky and an army chaplain looking down, concerned. My drinking partner, by now very red in the face, stirred. He did, indeed, get severe sunburn. I didn’t. I put it down to having a naturally oily skin and not drinking the tea.