As another North Korean missile soars high over Japan and plops somewhere into the Pacific amid a global chorus of anger, I take a quick look at the calendar. My-oh-my! The Cuban Missile Crisis took place exactly 55 years ago this month! I was only fourteen years old back in October 1962 and I remember it well because our headmaster put on a very serious face and made the whole school sit down and actually watch the news on the telly. This was unheard of at the time—obviously something awful must have happened. I thought that the Queen might be ill or that Chelsea had lost the FA cup, but no—it was only maybe World War Three. Or something…
My mother thought about building a nuclear fallout shelter at the bottom of the garden and putting some stuff in it—just in case. My sister built a bed for our cat under the stairs “so at least Kitty will be safe” while my father and I made lists of useful things like spare batteries, bottles of water, rubber gloves, boxes of loo paper and tins of corned beef, baked beans and mandarin oranges. Unfortunately I forgot to include ‘tin opener’, so it was perhaps just as well that nothing happened, otherwise our family would have cut themselves to ribbons trying to open months of canned food in the dark with only a penknife! A BBC programme at the time told us ‘not to panic’ but this wasn’t helped by a newspaper article telling us we’d have to wait for up to three months until the radiation level had dropped and it was safe to go outside again. Quick! ‘Better buy some more cans of condensed milk…
55 years on, it still all seems a bit silly, particularly as both the main protagonists in 2017 have such appalling hair styles. Kim Jong-un has a thick cliff edge of a hedge while Mr Trump sports a calamity quiff of a blond explosion. Both of these creations are capable of causing nuclear fallout by themselves without the need for any missiles. However, am I the only one to laugh nervously when their talk is about ‘fire and fury like the world has never seen’ and Trump describes the USA’s nuclear arsenal as being ‘locked and loaded’? I suspect not. These are two leaders of their countries on a world stage, for goodness sake! Aren’t they supposed to be grown up and sensible and not shout like ten-year olds in a school playground?
I suppose we’ve all become rather too blasé over the years about the whole subject of nuclear war. The Bomb’s been around for so long, it’s become part of the establishment—if not the family. Banning the Bomb and Nuclear Armageddon is so yesterday, so sixties, so uncool… We hardly ever talk about it and the news rarely mentions it anymore, and yet it’s still there.
All the time, every hour of every day, there are submarines from Russia, China, the UK, France and the USA crisscrossing the world’s oceans crammed full of ICBMs and nuclear missiles. It’s a surprise they don’t bump into each other. In one, there’s a bunch of boys and girls from Nebraska and New Hampshire drinking Coca Cola and watching ‘Mad Max’ on video, and onboard another one—only a few kilometres away under the blue Atlantic—there’s a crew from Moscow and Murmansk drinking orange Marengo and watching ‘Mad Max’ with Russian subtitles. And they’re both probably telling the same Kim Jong-un jokes, and they’re both definitely telling the same Donald Trump jokes. And both of them are intent on keeping the peace of course, and there is an argument that says they’ve succeeded in doing so to date.
But I suspect the current news has made us all catch our breaths for a little moment or two. It’s as if a huge atomic elephant in the room has woken itself up after decades of lying quietly in the corner.
But enough of all this nuclear nasal pondering and gloom… We’ve got lots more immediate things to worry about such as rescuing a Taunton polecat that’s unfortunately fallen down a drain and the shocking news that Torquay United have appointed a new head coach. In any event, here in the southwest I don’t think it’ll matter very much because we won’t know much about it. It’ll just happen quite suddenly in a big white flash of light and then the rest of the world (if there’s anybody left out there) can argue about who fired the first missile and whose fault it was. Not that I will care. I’ll still be sitting under the stairs with the cat on my knee, calmly opening up mandarin oranges with my tin opener while I think how lucky I am not to have to do lots of Christmas shopping for all the family.