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Part 20

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About me
1980 4 idiots
Shpshd 4 dummies
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The Bomb and Citizen Monk

There is no doubt about it, we live in difficult times politically. Iran, North Korea, Iraq, Afghanistan, 9/11, British soldiers being killed almost on a daily basis. However the world felt more scary back in the 1980's believe it or not? Maybe it was because I was a child? Throughout my time in Shepshed, I lived in the constant fear that my beloved village was going to be nuked into oblivion by some granite face Russian dictator.


We were living in the shadow of what was known as "The Cold War". It was Breznev who was at the helm in the Soviet Union when the 1980’s dawned. I read somewhere that many Historians dubbed this period “the second cold war”, the first being the rise of Communism after the second world war and the Cuban missile crisis in 1963 where the world was apparently just moments away from a devastating third world war. It was before I was born so this piece of history does not give me many sleepness nights.


But events in the 80’s did. The fear was so real you could touch it. Tensions inenvitably mounted when Brezhnev invaded Afghanistan in 1979. Indeed folks, back in those days Bin Laden was a friend of ours, a bit like Saddam Hussien who we happily supplied with arms during the eight-year Iraq/Iran war (1980-88).


Following Brezhnev’s invasion, the then US President Jimmy Carter ordered the infamous US boycott of the Moscow Olympic Games in 1980. According to Keesing (1980) a total of 62 countries including the US did not go, most in protest at the invasion but some citing economic reasons.


Our policy in the UK was that our athletes could choose whether or not they went. Alan Wells was glad he did, as he became the 100m sprint gold medallist.


In the same year, Democrat President Carter was replaced by Republican Ronald Reagan. No doubt Historians would fiercely debate my words here and probably take me to task, but my interepretation was he took a much more hardline approach on the “Soviets” and dubbed them “the evil empire” when a Korean passenger plane that had strayed into Russian airspace was shot-down on September 1st 1983 (BBC News).


So in Shepshed, we had good reason to believe that tomorrow may never come and the bomb would end it all.


The bomb. Note the singular reference and not plural. I was convinced that there were a zillion Russian warheads pointing at Shepshed alone. If you go to the National Archives website, you can watch and read about “Protect and Survive” whih was a series of public information films and leaflets produced by the government between 1975 and 1980 on what to do if the red-button was ever pressed.


Ian Dury sung a song called “Ban the Bomb”, in the Smiths song “Ask”, Morrissey laments that it will be “the bomb that will bring us together”. Again, note the singular term! There was a film “Letter to Breznev” (1985) starring Margi Clarke about two lovelorn Liver-birds who enjoy a brief fling with two Russian sailors docked up in Liverpool. However a film that scared the pants off me was “Threads” written by Barry Hines, who studied at Loughborough to become a teacher before writing classics such as “Kes” and the aforementioned film about a nuclear bomb falling on Sheffield. I have recently acquired a copy on DVD of this film and can laugh about it now, but 25 years ago it terrified housewives up and down the nation.


On the subject of which, my Gran and my Aunty Margaret from Sutton Bonnington would often hold council in my Gran’s back-kitchen and once, I recall, being terrified to death when Aunty revealed she had read somewhere that the Reds under the Beds, Commies or it might have even been the Chinese or North Koreans were not going to bomb us, but send a rocket up to the sun instead and wipe out the planet. My protests that it would A) melt and B) they would not be so daft were waved away. These were madmen we were dealing with.


I had to do something. As I had no interest in following Wham or Duran Duran, I became politically active aged around about 13. Loughborough Hospital was in danger of being closed,so I painted out a placard and begged the bus driver to allow me on the bus. Jokingly he threatened to charge me 37 p for the sign, but I was undeterred. Forget Citizen Smith and the Tooting Popular Front, Citizen Monk and the Shepshed Popular Front had arrived.


Loughborough Hospital, to me, was a cause worth fighting for. After all, two close relatives had been treated by the skill and dedication of its fine surgeons so I had a personal interest. Admittedly the pair (who shall remain nameless for obvious reasons) had only undergone operations there to remove a boil from their bottom and the other a routine contraceptive sterilisation op. It seemed unthinkable that a town the size of Loughborough could survive without a proper hospital.


On arrival in Loughborough, I joined the throng in Baxter Gate outside the hospital, soon to be doomed by Thatchertite NHS costs and opposite Stephen Dorrell’s then constituency office. “Maggie Maggie Maggie! Out! Out! Out” the chant went, I yelled along with all my might and thrust my placard so violently I nearly took the marcher next to me’s beard off!


Nowadays, you would never see anything like this in Loughborough or anywhere. As a very close friend who was at Greenham Common tells me, “We don’t protest any more”. Although it is something far from my politics and I would never endorse what they stand for, I recall a National Front march coming to Loughborough around about 1985 and a picture appearing in the following weeks Loughborough Echo of these horrible looking skinheads stomping past De Franco’s Cafe. On our Saturday though, the police shut down Baxter Gate and Leicester Road and allowed us to march up for a rally in Southfield’s Park.


Everybody opposed to Thatcher had turned out. I donated 20p to the Miners Striking Fun and received a sheet of “Coal Not Dole” stickers and jokingly stuck one on my Tory voting Dad when he arrived to pick me up later.


For the price of just 50p, I also became a CND member. They guy who was recruiting was Chris North. Chris became a friend of mine during the 1980’s, I would often meet him up at the Dovecote, home of Shepshed Charterhouse FC (Now Shepshed Dynamo). Chris was (and probably still is) a fascinating character, a vegan and I believe he was also a Buddist. I admit I was quite fascinated by Chris because most of my male mentors were only interested in something if it had "tits or came out of a barrel" (Bleasdale, Boys from the Blackstuff 1982).


But for half a quid, I received a stream of CND publications through the post, badges, stickers and soon I became the target for jokes from my class-mates. However I was and still believe I was, despite being very young and naieve, supporting a good cause intead of day-dreaming about poncy pop-stars insisting that ooooh baby life was good!


I never got round to getting a Frankie t-shirt though! "Relax" was pretty dull and at the time, the homosexual undertones of the song were lost on me! However on a family holiday to Mablethorpe in 1984 there were some cracking t-shirts on sale, including one what said "Frankie says....arm the unemployed!". I was well impressed and wanted one for my Grandad, who had been made redundant in 1983. However my Dad would not buy it! It was akin to anarchy, in his book, arm the unemployed indeed!


"How dare they bomb us off the planet?....or even think about shutting down our hospital for that matter?"

Life in Shepshed, 1980-1986