If there's ever been a time to post this little slice of Scary's life - reminiscences of another September twenty-one years ago - it's not today. First class ticket to hell please.
I grew up in the shadow of The Bomb. My parents were married around the Cuban Missile Crisis, not knowing if there would be a world left to bring kids into. We lived in fear of the four minute warning, literally a few miles from the UK’s nuclear weapons factories at Burghfield and Aldermaston. We had a copy of Protect and Survive. And worst of all, America had just voted for Ronald Reagan - a cowboy with Minuteman missiles in his holster.
"Nucular. It's pronounced 'nucular'." - Homer J Simpson
We lived in a world of Mutually Assured Destruction. If anyone was damn fool enough to start a war, it was more or less acknowledged that civilisation as we knew it was doomed. Hence, a nuclear war was, by logic, well nigh impossible. Try telling that to a fifteen year old kid with an aversion to firey nuclear destruction.
I could just about live with this, if it weren’t for the fact that I’d seen a TV programme about witches. One of the stories featured a mad old hag who lived in a cave in the North of England several hundred years ago. She had made several uncannily accurate predictions, the last of which before they threw her on a great big bonfire was that the world would end in 1981. Bloody great. You know what that means: I’m going to die a virgin.
My brother’s best mate Giles had seen this programme too, and claimed to have read in Mad Old Bastard’s Almanack that Armageddon was due on September 12th. It’s a Saturday. The world doesn’t even have the decency to end on a school day. Giles was so confident in his boast, that he actually bet us money that he was right. We happily shook on it, and it took him several minutes to realise it was a wager he just couldn’t win.
As the End of the World approached, was I worried? Was I terrified at the thought of facing destruction on Biblical proportions with my cherry still intact? Too blummin’ right I was. For starters, my attempts to leave this mortal coil without my virginity were foiled by two simple factors: a) none of the girls I approached believed a word that I said, leaving me with a post 12/9 reputation for being “off my head” and b) I was a teenage geek of huge never-gonna-lose-that-cherry proportions. And I was blissfully unaware of point b).
Come the big day, I was a bag of nerves. It was actually Battle of Britain weekend, commemorating the one time in the twentieth century where we managed to save the known world without American assistance, and we went on a day trip with the Air Cadets up to RAF Abingdon for the airshow. The cream of NATO’s airbourne fighting forces screamed overhead in close formation, when they really should have been preparing to face the Red Menace that was pouring over the German border as we spoke. Giles was still confident, yet the forces personnel looked decidedly unruffled about the forthcoming call to arms.
I watched planes.
I went home.
I went to bed.
I woke up on Sunday 13th September 1981.
I was still alive. The world had not ended. President Reagan and Leonid Brezhnev had both stubbornly kept their fingers off the button. It was, I remember, a rather pleasant sunny day. It felt good to be alive.
On the other hand I felt bloody cheated. All those years of worry utterly wasted. I hadn’t bothered doing my school homework either, on the grounds that there wouldn’t be a school to go to on Monday. Now I’d have to spend a whole Sunday, nose to the page, writing a compare-and-contrast essay about William bloody Shakespeare. Somebody was going to pay.
And the next day, at school, it was Giles. To be honest, he paid up his bet with remarkably good grace for someone who’d been nailed in his first lesson for not doing his homework. He was rather proud of the fact that Mr Wallace had told him “That’s the worst excuse I’ve ever heard, boy”.
And as for the end of the world: “Give it a couple a days. These things take time.”
Seven minutes to midnight. I’m still waiting.