The Cuban Missile Crisis

Friday, 1 June 2018

The WRVS woman said that we must tape around our windows so that the radio active dust doesn’t seep in, and we must not, on any account, turn to look at the blast. She told us to tell our parents to make sure we had candles, tinned goods, bottled water and some house bricks. The house bricks are so that we can put them around a candle in a jam jar and make a stove on which we can heat baked beans and even, if we’re not in a hurry, boil water. We should draw all the curtains and take shelter under a table and stay there until the radio tells us that it’s safe to go out again. 

She talked to the whole school in the hall, and all the teachers came and sat at the end of our rows. Someone asked her where our nearest Army base was, because that’s what the Russians would be firing at and she didn’t know. I chirped up ‘Warminster. And the whole of Salisbury Plain is an Army training area.’ Someone started crying because it’s only a few miles away. I said that what was even more worrying was that the Army had a lot of armoured units on the plain, tanks and armoured vehicles and all sorts, and the School of Infantry and a whole load of laboratories where they were working on neutralising chemical weapons, so the Russians were bound to go for them. My Dad had been stationed there so I knew, for sure. Some other girls started crying and a first former said her Daddy was in Salisbury and she didn’t want him to die. Beth said ‘Don’t be daft, our tanks will shoot the bomb down before it lands’ and that cheered her up a bit. I was going to point out that this wouldn’t help because the damn thing would still explode but before I could, Beth said her Dad could work a Bofers gun and they can shoot down anything. Now everyone was asking us questions instead of the WRVS lady and she clapped her hands and said maybe we should go back to talking about the present crisis and something about cool heads diverting disaster. Beth told everyone about the time the Army transport plane taking me and Mammy out to join the Regiment at Cyprus crash landed at Orly airport and how we had all remained calm and slightly heroic. She said that was a case of wise heads. She got some of it wrong so I told the story again, how all the Mums didn’t believe us children when we told them the wing was on fire and my Mammy saying ‘Yes, ok, we heard you the first time. Finish your colouring in.’ And how the Captain came on the loudspeaker and said that an engine was on fire and how all the Mums felt really stupid. And how there were great streams of ambulances and fire engines racing along beside us as we landed. All that. I told them about going down the big emergency shutes, like slides, but I don’t think that bit really happened. It just made it all a bit more exciting. When I finished everyone clapped. Miss Campbell told me to sit down and button it. She is very tall and smart and always says things like ‘button it.’ She wears one turquoise stocking and one purple one sometimes, and very short skirts and huge glasses and she’s our Art teacher. She is the epitome of glamour. She bestrides the corridors like a colossus and I think Beth might have an embryonic crush developing. 

Before I buttoned it, I asked the lady what we would do if we were on the train when the siren sounded and she didn’t know. She said that someone would give us instructions. Mary rolled her eyes and whispered ‘Because the guard has a direct phone connection with the White House, je ne sais pas.’ and we got the giggles. Mrs Ash gave us a hard look. A girl in 4X asked if it was true we’d bleed from every orifice if we got fallout sickness but the lady didn’t know that either. Nicky said all the babies would be born with no heads and that was it, we were off, in total hysterics. Mrs Ash, completely unamused, said we’d asked enough questions as the lady had other schools to visit. The lady said we were all very lively. Une euphemism, je pense. 

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