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Anniversaire de Gordon Martin: Les souvenirs du Doyen de la Presse à l'ONU.

Publié le, 14 novembre 2011 par Gordon Martin, O.B.E

Gordon Martin (O.B.E), Officer of the Order of the British Empire, permanent correspondent at the United Nations in Geneva.

I know that many witty things have been said about birthdays, and old age.

An eighty year old lady called Nancy Astor, said: I used to dread getting older, because I thought I would not be able to do all the things I wanted to do. But now that I am older, I find that I don’t want to do them.” The American actor Bob Hope said: “I don’t feel 80. In fact I don’t feel anything till noon. Then it’s time for my nap.” And he added: “You know you’re getting old when the candles cost more than the cake.”

Gordon Martin’s speech on the occasion of the celebration of his birthday by UN Correspondents in Geneva

As you can see, I’m carrying three sheets of note-paper. And you’ll be pleased to see, I’m not going to make a long speech. Over the years, I’ve become wary about speaking impromptu, so I like to have a few notes. One occasion I was forced to speak off the cuff came in Havana, where I was attending a conference of the Non Aligned Movement. After the conference, the Cubans asked me what I would like to see.

 

Now I am a life-long non-smoker, but I had been told that the finest Cuban cigars were finished by being rolled on the thighs of beautiful Cuban girls. So I said I’d like to visit a cigar-factory. They took me to the best, H.Upmann. But instead of our tour of the factory, I was shown into a large hall, where they had assembled the work-force, including some really gorgeous girls. For a moment, I wondered if they were going to give me a mass demonstration of cigar-rolling. No. The manager announced… we have the honour to have with us Señor Gordon Martin de la BBC de Londres, who will speak to us on Anglo Cuban friendship. So, I had to stumble through an off-the-cuff speech in my bad Spanish.

 

I know that many witty things have been said about birthdays, and old age. An eighty year old lady called Nancy Astor, said: I used to dread getting older, because I thought I would not be able to do all the things I wanted to do. But now that I am older, I find that I don’t want to do them.” The American actor Bob Hope said: “I don’t feel 80. In fact I don’t feel anything till noon. Then it’s time for my nap.” And he added: “You know you’re getting old when the candles cost more than the cake.”

 

And a verse from that great author and actor Noel Coward:

 
We talked about growing old gracefully

And Elsie, who’s seventy four

Said A. It’s a question of being sincere,

And B. If you’re supple you’ve nothing to fear.

Then she swung upside down from a glass chandelier,

I couldn’t have liked it more.”

 And, finally, a Lady in Oscar Wilde’s novel A Woman of No Importance:
 

I delight in men over 70 … they always offer one the devotion of a life-time.”

 

One sad thing about getting old is that every month seems to bring news of the passing away of dear friends. Here, I think of Alan McGregor, at whose desk in the Press Room I now sit. And people like Ronn Farquar, Bob Kroon and Leon Davico.

 

And old age is also a time to look back on one’s own survival. My own first narrow escape came in 1960, when Reuters sent me to the Congo to help cover its independence from Belgium in that year. I was in Katanga, then being run as a breakaway province by Moise Tshombe.

 

I travelled one day in one of his planes carrying supplies to a beleaguered community in the North. On the way back, we landed to refuel, at an airstrip under the theoretical control of a UN detachment from Mali. As we landed, hundreds of men burst out of the forest, firing poisoned arrows. I heard the Mali officer say into his field telephone… “ils attaquent, je ne sais pas quoi faire.” I said to the UN observer which every plane was obliged to carry”, did you hear that? He said: “I don’t speak French.”    I said: “We’re about to be killed, get into that UN jeep and drive us away.”… Fortunately he followed my request. I should add that the attackers were particularly frightening… stark naked , they were all painted white, with a substance the witch- doctors had told them would protect them against bullets. We got away, but I then spent three months in hospital in London. Reuters thought I was going to die, because one evening I woke up to find the top executives, all dressed in black, gathered round my bed.

 

In Lebanon, I was arrested on suspicion of being an Israeli agent. The Israelis had sent in a hit squad to kill three Palestinian leaders, and next morning the hotel manager, who knew me well, rang to say the police were coming to get me. I said I would be at my desk in Reuters office, where the police duly arrived. They had a copy of my passport, which the Israelis had left behind. They had obviously photographed it when I was in Israel. This is a typical Israeli trick which they are still using.

 

In Syria I had other close calls, and in Afghanistan in 1988 when the Russian were there.

 

Here in Geneva, life is less risky. I think it’s a good place to work, and we have a ringside seat at the UN, and information on many events elsewhere.

 

And I want to thank you all for your help and consideration and friendliness to me, as I stagger about with my walking-stick. I think there’s a wonderful esprit de corps among the Press. We’re fortunate in having such a charming and decisive person as Corinne to guide us through the labyrinth of UN affairs. And I think we’re also lucky to have such a hard-working and effective Swedish lady as Gunilla as ACANU President.

 

I have some first-hand knowledge of Scandinavia, since I was Reuters Correspondent in Oslo in the late 50’s. In those days, relations between Norway and Sweden were a bit strained… The Norwegians regarded the Swedes as having been basically pro- Nazi during the War. I learned some Norwegian, and I’d like to end by saying “Tusen Takk for i kveld… Det var så hyggelig” … A thousand thanks for this evening, it was so pleasant. Thank you.

 
 Text typed by El Hadji Gorgui Wade NDOYE- Senegalese Journalist- Director of ContinentPremier.Com