memoirs, art and fragments by Thomas Milner

Posts tagged ‘wellington’

flying to Lisbon (1)

So there I was, waiting in the transit lounge at Manchester Airport that last Thursday of September 1980. I think I must have been still a bit sand-happy from the desert, for I felt curiously numb with no sense of expectation or anticipation whatsoever.

I had bought a pocket Portuguese phrase-book at a stall in the airport and during the flight to Lisbon I was flicking through it. My neighbour, a pleasant-looking round-faced man, saw me consulting the book and asked me in decent English if this was my first visit to Portugal. I said yes actually it was and made some general enquiries about restaurants, (the subtext being: like, what’s your country like?) He gave me some useful advice about taxis, restaurants, the house-wine being OK, tipping and so forth and then he shyly revealed that he was the curator of the military museum at Buçaco near Coimbra.

Now I had little idea about Portuguese society in general but one of the few things I did know about was the British army’s involvement, under lord Wellington, in the Peninsular Campaign, so I did some serious showing off and went into a spiel about the French Marshal Massena’s right flank attacking uphill through the forest of Buçaco with the British troops entrenched along the ridge and so on and so forth and indeed in one of those rare moments of perfect aptness,  as the pilot announced that we were flying over Corunna in Northern Spain, I managed to get in a quote from the first line of Charles Wolfe’s famous poem, The Burial of Sir John Moore after Corunna: Not a drum was heard, not a funeral note … (Moore had been the commander of British army in the peninsular before Wellington).
The curator looked bemused and gratified and invited me to visit the museum if ever I was in the neighbourhood.

I looked out of the window as we gradually descended the narrow strip of land that was Portugal … as we gradually sank into my future.

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