Don't ask why I was reading the usually dire Daily Express yesterday, but I came across an article on the dying art of understatement. The day before they'd reported on a man who calmly went round to his neighbour's house and asked for help as he'd just cut his own arm off with a chain saw while pruning a tree. Said neighbour put the arm in a bag of frozen sausage rolls, as they calmly waited for the ambulance.
The article went on to recount various cases of sang-froid, which it describes as a great, but endangered British Virtue, ie: The Stiff Upper lip. My favourites were:
There's the story of Sir Thomas Blount, a traitor being executed by being hanged, drawn and quartered, who while seated "watching his own guts being extracted and burned, was asked if he would like a drink to steady him." His reputed reply was:"No, for I do not know where I should put it"
But my favourite has to be the unnamed British 2nd world war veteran Pilot, terribly scarred by a fire in his cockpit. He baled out into the sea, and while bobbing about his whisky flask slipped through his badly burned fingers: "At that point I was getting really pretty fed up"