Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Diplomats Behaving Dumbly

There are some second rate, no, tenth-rate minds, employed in Her Majesty's Diplomatic Service. I make this gross generalization because I had the misfortune to mix with some of these philistines and numbskulls from 2003-2012.



Is sharing this in the public interest? Yes: those in power need to be checked and a light needs to be shone on gaffes and blunders that would otherwise never see the light of day.


The diplomat is an enigma to the British citizen, and with good reason. Servants of the crown are anonymous, politically impartial, permanent and secret. And We the Taxpayer have an image of them as the best of the ruddy old best, doing their bit for Queen and Country, trade and industry and the balance of payments deficit.




In our mind's eye, they are all the things that we lesser mortals are not:  jet set, hyper-intelligent, multilingual, sophisticated and, most of all, diplomatic. When I was posted to the Kingdom of Thailand as a "trailing spouse" I soon learned otherwise. The FCO entrance exam is meant to be tough but I met many civil servants in sore need of a refresher and/or a boot up the backside.






The setting of my first true crime tale is Cheap Charlie's. A street bar on Soi 11 popular with expats, and nubile English language teachers. It was near the UK Mission on Wireless Road. And around the corner from Tapas Cafe a restaurant frequented by FCO staffers. One steamy, stinky, sweaty night in 2007, I bumped into some jumped up town clerks from the Political Section.  One of them was the Head of the Section. A weedy, chippy, oleaginous twerp. Like most men, he was a pussy freak and a piss head. When it came to women, he was always batting out of his league. And not hitting but swinging.


Tonight, the Napoleon sized diplomat was trying his luck with Segolene, a voluptuous French gal.


"Segolene," he said, "what kind of a name is that?"


The diplomat was being Asperger's rude. Hardly a good start to a pull. I put it down to the heat. Or the drink. Or maybe the bleach from the dodgy hair job seeping into his grey matter?  I stopped speculating, and jumped in to help my fellow countryman avec le bird.


"Segolene," I said, "like Segolene Royal?"


The man from the FCO went boss eyed.


"Who's that?" He asked.



"She is the leader of the French Socialist Party," I said.


"She is?"




"How do you know that?" He asked.


Before I could respond, the object of his advances, who had remained silent throughout, answered on my behalf.


"It's because he reads the newspapers.


The pupils of his eyes sharpened into points. He had been pulped by his own tongue. And I had shown up the Head of the Political Section for not knowing anything about the French general election. I could see in his whiteboy face that he would never forgive me. But I had done nowt! He was the one who opened up his gob and betrayed his own ignorance! It was all over the News, how could he have missed it? But it then occured to me that he was just like the other British diplomats that I had met.  Supercilious. And only knowledgeable within their brief. Nothing more. 


Another occasion, I was talking to a knave from the same office about the numerous alphabet agencies of the USA at "Wine and Wankers" the once a month piss up at Plaza Athenee, a hotel opposite the British and American Embassies on Wireless Road. I was boring on about "competing bureaucracies like the DHS and NSA" when the knave, a strawberry blonde with creepy, pike fish eyes, stopped me in my tracks."You mean the DHSS?"



"No," I said, "the DHS, the Department of Homeland Security..."


"I thought you meant the Department of Health and Social Security back home."


"That doesn't exist anymore."




The Man from the FCO was not joking. Without sticking the boot in, I told him that the Department of Health and Social Security got split into two separate entities in 1989 and the Department of Social Security was later rechristened as the Department of Work and Pensions


This kind of pig ignorance was not restricted to international affairs and defunct bureaucracies.  The diplomats that I knew were bereft of culture and arts. Only interested in Premier League football, the tawdry shenanigans of Coronation Street and Eastenders and ultraviolent computer games.

I once made the mistake of airing my prissy little views with two DFID mandarins.  


"My work is so hard," said Mandarin 1, "and challenging and so intellectual that when I come home, huh, I don't want to read anything highbrow or watch anything arty farty! I just want to play violent computers games and watch action films!


Mandarin 2 agreed with him.


"I'm so frazzled after work. I just want to go home and get to the next level on the computer game."  

How do these types slip through the net? Is it because we, the greedy, decadent and artistic of the UK, pursue the illusion of wealth and leave the reality of governance to the unimaginative and the uncouth? Maybe there's some truth in politics being Hollywood for ugly people (and steady work for good Nazis). 


It was half amusing to see your illusions shattered about the intellectual superiority of the British civil servant. Disheartening, too. For I had long overestimated them. These people worked for the Government. These people were the Government.  And they were dunderheads. Just like all the highfalutin Conservative and Labour MPs I had met back home. No wonder the UK is going down the tubes!


Thankfully, the Male Trailing Spouse does not have to mingle with those types anymore. The diplomatic life is dead and buried in the duffel bag next to Gareth Williams. But far and asunder from the past, and the old post, I can't help but think that Her Majesty could do with better help