“Yes, there could be a limited nuclear war in Europe.” President Reagan, 1981
I don’t really remember the seventies. I started to become aware of my surroundings in the next decade. My childhood was a blur, with snippets and memories blending into one.
I wasn’t a happy child.
I know where my obsession with pink and turquoise came from. They were the colours of the two scratchy blankets I had before being treated to duvets one Easter. Every night I wrapped myself up in them. Right up to the ears because I had a fear of vampires.
If it were out, my neck would most certainly be bitten.
I also remember that my most treasured outfit, used as a medium of punishment when it was taken away, was a pastel version of these colours. What I find as I get older; is that we never quite ever escape our childhood. Being an artist, my memories are steeped in colour as I retain information visually. Turquoise and pink still dominate my wardrobe, soft furnishings and even my artwork, although they have now become much richer in tone and depth.
Clothes still remain a medium of defiance, yet this time I am in control.
I also remember the threat of nuclear war.
This provoked stockpiling in my Nan. Our larder and storage facilities were like a shop. All produce neat and in rows: Labels out. We never ran out of anything.
I vaguely remember watching the advertisements about “how to survive a nuclear blast” and I was aware that a door should be placed against a wall in your house for protection. An external wall as I recall. We even had a large piece of wood in the garage to get out if there was a 4 minute warning. That kind of threat and danger becomes embedded in your childhood. The innocent years replaced with a dark and sinister cloud. My grandparents never spoke of it directly to me but it was there, a tangible sense of dread.
Being raised by Grandparents was different I imagine than by younger parents. I was exposed to quite adult viewing on television and films from a young age. No sexual content though. My grandparents did everything they could to avoid it as the atmosphere would become so awkward. My Nan had a love of sci-fi and remains with me.
Jasper Carrot was a big part of my childhood.
Not fully understanding how real the threat of war had been, I vividly recall the uncontrolled laughing of my Grandparents when he described in detail the absurdity of the pamphlet issued by the government.
It was joyous to hear such laughter. The only other times I had heard such guffaws were when my Granddad’s brother and his wife used to visit with stories of his caravan mishaps. I used to listen at the door to hear raucous screams from my parents as explosions, uncoupling on the motorway and a ridiculous array of events were described.
Recently I looked at literature explaining how to survive a nuclear blast. I was shocked at the placebo people had been led to believe.
“…to sum up, always remember that blast and heat are the two greatest dangers you face. The things that you do to protect yourself from these dangers usually will go a long way toward providing protection from the explosive radioactivity loosed by atomic explosions.
Whilst the lingering radioactivity that occasionally follows some types of atomic bursts may be dangerous, still it is no more to be feared than typhoid fever or other diseases that sometimes follow major disasters…….”
A guide for surviving Nuclear War (1950) Laura A. Belmonte
As a child I remembered innocently starting to watch “When the Wind Blows” by Raymond Briggs, but then being crushed emotionally as the cartoon figures slowly fell apart. I was aware too young that nuclear explosion would be a lot worse than Belmonte describes and the film still haunts my memories.
To this day, I occasionally dream of where the “safe” places are in my house. I have not dreamt of the bungalow where I grew up for some years now but it was almost a nightly occurrence for some periods in my life. Whenever I am unsettled, I dream of this place or an amalgamation of it and others.
I have often thought of what would happen to my children if there was indeed a war now and we were unlucky enough to survive.
The thought is too horrific to write.
My journey is not a romantic love story filled with hearts, flowers and deep messages but of a soul repeatedly crashing against rocks.
I endlessly craved love and acceptance.
My childhood was stable and my grandparents cared a great deal. They safeguarded us well from the atrocities of my parents I only learned existed in later life.
They could not shield me from the image of my father falling down drunk in our garden.
I never told them at 10 I had to clean up his piss from the toilet where he had been so intoxicated he had urinated all over the wall and floor.
I grew up in a haze. A distinct lack of innocence was real and tangible but I was also sheltered from real things like bills, money and everyday necessities.
My childhood had a big elephant in the room of oppression and it stood gathering dust right there, in full view, but no one spoke of it.