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Scots in Argentina
A Broadcast talk for the British Chamber of Commerce


(Given in July 1982 over Radio Excelsior L. R. 5, Buenos Aires, at the invitation of the British Chamber of Commerce Sir Herbert Gibson, Bart., Chairman).

I greet ye weel ma birkies, and
I’m michty gled tae know
That yir money ‘s huddin oot in
This expensive vale below.
Tak’ he’rt o’ grace, ma callants, and
I’ll hope tae meet ye where
The Scots will no hae rivals, for
The rest will no be there.
B.

My chief qualification for being the mouthpiece of the British Chamber of Commerce to-night is that I know little of Commerce and less of Finance. So I can look at affairs from a vantage-point apart.

When the Chamber’s Chairman (that expert, amongst many other things, on sheep) was made a Baronet, I ventured to send him felicitations in the form of two limericks. His reply came forthwith.

"You are known by more than your coat, sir,
And you may be a preacher of note, sir;
    But learn from this line
    That I win every time.
At telling a sheep from a goat, sir."

The point of all this (for I am leading up to a point) is that my one — and admittedly slender — claim to talk for the British Chamber of Commerce might conceivably lie in the gentle implication of that last line of the Chamber’s President. For — speaking ecclesiastically — it is part of my duty, not to divide, but to know the sheep and the goats, as also to warn the goats in good times — con anticipación.

With which introduction let me to the business of the night. The text is one which I rescued from the Autobiography of Harry Lauder. (Incidentally, it is the text of the Toc H Concert to-night and on Friday night on behalf of our two premier institutions of Helpfulness — the British Hospital and the British and American Benevolent Society —the one spending over $1000 a day, and the other over $250 a day — and both needing more). The text is short — two words —"Keep" (no, not everything You’ve got and everything you can) but — "Keep smiling". This is no counsel of ease. I know that as well as most. But at a time like this, to keep smiling is a duty to the Community and a most helpful obligation to yourself — perhaps even more to your wife, husband, family and friends.

At the foot of my street there’s an old Italian shoemaker and his little shop. He mends shoes and sells cigarettes. On both counts I visit him oft. He works from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m., and he whistles all the time. His cheerful concentration is an asset to our district. He preaches a rattling good sermon without opening his mouth. He’s got his worries — like you and me — but they don’t obtrude. I told him he reminded me of Longfellow’s Village Blacksmith

"Toiling, rejoicing, sorrowing — onward through life he goes;
"Each morning sees some task begin, each evening sees it close;
"Something accomplished, something done, has earned a night’s repose."

I wonder if you agree with me that the present times are doing for us what all the sermons of the century couldn’t do —they’re forcing us back on the homely virtues — pride in the humblest piece of work; gratitude for things we never were vocally grateful for before, such as food to eat and a bed to lie down on; the discovery that the most real, because most lasting, joys are to be found in our home and family circle. All of which, and more, is, I think, what a man meant when he said that the crisis would do us all good, if it lasted long enough. A few years ago any gratitude we expressed was only for the profits which our work brought us. To-day we’ve learned to be grateful for work itself, and accordingly our feet are treading firmer ground.

Some months ago a newspaper reporter asked the scientist Einstein if he could give him a formula for success in life. Einstein replied: "Suppose we call success "A" —the letter A. Then putting it mathematically A=X+Y+Z. X is work and Y is play." "And what is Z?" asked the reporter. "Z", said Einstein, "is keeping your mouth shut." If I might use a phrase which Professors were wont to use freely concerning essays which I wrote in their classes, I would say— "Good, as far as it goes."

To work and play and a shut mouth, I would, however, add for to-day—an open heart and a smiling face. No, don’t switch off in fear that I’m working up to a sermon. But many in our Community just now haven’t work, and others have so much that they can’t play. And the open heart, the word of sympathy, the quiet handshake, these are small things of big value to-day, and both the British Community and the British Chamber of Commerce are proving by their helpfulness that it is not necessary to be a Communist before you can call your less fortunate friend a brother.

Said a man some time ago to a father whose boy had been proving a bit of a rake "How is John doing now?" "John", replied the father, "is, I am afraid, going completely to the dogs." "Well," said the friend, "if he were my boy, I’d kick him out." "And if he were your boy, I’d kick him out," said the father, and then added "But my trouble is that he’s not your boy but my boy." There’s a lot of love’s wisdom in that little story.

Our English-speaking community, not only in the city, but in the far outposts of the Republic, is getting warmed up to the outlook that those threatened with eviction from their homes,—the children who have to be denied their education—those (hardest case of all sometimes) whose savings have disappeared in the struggle of to-day—that these are very much "our boys". And we who have food and a bed, and work to do, and the wherewithal to pay our way at the end of the month—we are (all of us) the better for the enlarged outlook of the open heart. What is sympathy after all but an enlarged capacity for brotherliness?

But perhaps I am still hovering dangerously near that nebulous borderline which divides a "talk" from a sermon. So let me to my point again. KEEP SMILING. That’s going to be easier for some than for others, and yet I would put it to you as your definite helpful duty to the community and to yourself to-day.

There are some folks, who, to an unknowing world that doesn’t look deep into the hearts of men, may appear to be somewhat unorthodox Christians. Yet I’ve noticed that they often have, and they often keep on having, what Robert Louis Stevenson called "a glorious morning face".

I would like to quote just four lines of his verse

"If I have faltered more or less,
in my great task of happiness,
"If I have moved amongst my race,
and shewn no glorious morning face".

Stevenson is right happiness is a task laid on us. You know I sometimes think that such cheery (if unorthodox) souls, when—at the end of the day—they reach the Pearly Gates and Golden—I sometimes think that they’ll pass the barrier unquestioned, while you and I (with longer if more orthodox faces) will have to stand in the queue.

We all know that there are plenty of things around us here which we would sometimes like to criticise to-day. When we feel like that, let us remember that even the sun has spots on it. And a study of the spots on the sun may be interesting, but the sun is not all spots it’s mostly sunshine. You’ll find that if you try to look for the spots.

On the material plane alone, we here in Argentina live with sunny skies over our heads and a fertile earth beneath our feet. We live in a country that produces prime necessities of life. Men must have food for their insides and clothes for their outsides, and boots for their feet beef, mutton and maize wheat and wool and leather. And the Argentine produces these in quantities that make it possible for her to live on something like 1/10 of her main products and to export about 9/10. I wonder if some statistician who is listening in, could tell us if this must not be nearly a world record.

And the Argentine too is, I understand, meeting all her foreign debts. The world may be taking off its hat to the Argentine soon.

But there’s a deeper reason than all this for keeping smiling, and it is that a happy face is, in itself, a thing of great commercial value. What is true in small business is true in great business. And if a smiling face be the top-story of our building, and an honest as well as an open heart the foundation, then we’re going to keep a tight hold of this great asset - "Palabra de Inglés". Grit and gumption with a little grace will work other wonders.

So keep smiling there are hundreds of warm, generous hearts in our community only two hours ago I received at my home a gift that will mean that some families that never have asked, and never will ask anything, are going to get a lift with some crying needs of their children.

Now my time’s up. But I’m sure the British Chamber of Commerce will allow me to wish (in their name) to the aged and the sick and the many who know not what a day may bring forth to wish to them especially a good night’s sleep, and their full share of the sun when it rises in the morning.

Good night and a Blessing on you all.


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