I guess we have all been shocked in different ways by the fallout from the Grenfell Tower fire. Many have been astonished at the seeming inability of the State to react to the disaster. I guess this is understandable. After all we all still fresh out of yet another election campaign where parties of all colours did their usual thing and promised us solutions to everything. Those of us who work quietly away on the front line of Britain's social nightmare, the hopelessness of the State came as little surprise. You see, this is what we see every day.
Over the last few years millions of lives have crashed and burned and it has been left to the voluntary sector to do our best to pick up the pieces. We have had to become the safety net for those who fall off the ladder. The complicated people. The messed up people. The chaotic people. The people who don't fit neatly into the new zero hours, winner takes all culture. Successive Governments have tried to sub-contract out the job of looking after these people to the private sector. Maybe it looked like a good idea on paper to the bright young things in Whitehall. In practice the private sector did what the private sector always does. They took the money and they ran.
All the way to the British Virgin Isles.
And now we are all left with a shell of a system which relies on the ridiculous dedication of over stretched firemen and para medics and a whole bunch of volunteers.
One line in particular jumped out at me. It came in Theresa May's speech where she apologised for the woeful performance of the State in the wake of the fire. This is how the line in question was reported in the Guardian
'The government would look at a new “strategy for resilience“ in major disasters, which could include a civil disaster response taskforce.'
A civil disaster response taskforce? A new outfit to deal will serious catastrophe?
Maybe it is just me, but I thought we were supposed to have this kind of thing already. After all, Parliament has recently voted by a large majority to spend over £100 billion of our shrinking resources on the next generation of Trident missiles. They voted in favour of the nukes on the back of a very particular kind of satanic logic. Basically the message we are determined to send out to any of our potential enemies is very simple: if you nuke us then we will nuke you back.
Tit for tat, right? An eye for an eye. Mutually assured destruction. For sixty years we have gone out of our way to make it clear we would never fire off our nukes as a first strike. Oh no. Our nukes are a defensive weapon. A revenge weapon.
This madness relies on accepting a cold, hard fact - we might be nuked ourselves. And this was something which was talked about a lot back in the darkest days of the Cold War. Back then it went under the name of Civil Defense. We looked back to bad months of 1940 and tried to learn the lessons of how we managed to withstand the bombers of Hitler's Luftwaffe.
I remember some pretty bleak public information from those days. We were tutored into creating our own personalised bomb shelters using tables and mattresses. There were instructions of what to do with the corpses of the ones who died first. Not many punches were pulled. The message was clear enough. A nuclear attack would be game over for most of us, but there were plans in place to try and make sure there would still be a semblance of life once the radio active dust had settled.
Back then I had two accidental insights into what the post nuclear world might have looked like had the Cold War ever gone hot. At the time I was involved in the animal feed game - our family business made and distributed cattle and sheep feed all over the north of England and Southern Scotland.
We did a lot of business with an outfit called Massey Brothers from Cheshire. They were a truly superb company, the absolute epitome of the best kind of family firm. Their products were excellent, their service was second to none and they were seriously profitable. The boss was Richard Massey and he was as fine a man as you could wish to meet. His reputation went before him as being a guy whose handshake you could trust one hundred percent. I liked him a lot. Just about everyone did.
One night we were at some sort of trade dinner. The formalities were over and the clock had ticked by midnight. Ties were off and the table was cluttered with empty bottles and over flowing ashtrays. Richard told me about a call he had once received from the Home Office. Might he be able to pop down to London? For a chat?
He could. He did.
They asked him if he might be willing to step up. For the country. For the Realm. For civilisation as we knew it. As we still know it. Just about.
They painted a picture of the North West of England in the months following a nuclear attack. Millions would be dead. But millions would still be alive. Just about. And the millions would need to be fed. Somehow food would need to be distributed in an organised way. Well they had been looking about a bit. And they had come to the conclusion that Richard was the best guy to do the job should it ever need doing. To take charge. To pretty well achieve the impossible.
Of course he said yes. And for years he had been attending training sessions. How to survive the apocalypse.
I remember feeling oddly encouraged. The Home Office had chosen well. In fact they couldn't have chosen better. They had looked beyond the career beaurocrats and given the job to a guy who had spent his whole life actually doing the job. Richard knew how to move thousands of tonnes of food from A to B. Fair enough he had cut his cloth feeding cows rather than human beings, but in the wake of a nuclear strike we would all be as helpless as a herd of cattle. There would be no food to be found in the shops. Only the government feeding stations would keep us from starving.
If the nightmare had ever come to pass, then it would have been on Richard to find a way to get food to the surviving millions. The Home Office went up a long way in my estimation. They had chosen the right guy. I was happy enough for my life to be in Richard's hands.
Next, a sunny afternoon amidst the towering dunes of Royal Birkdale. Lightening quick greens and memories of a teenage prodigy called Seve Ballesteros announcing himself to the world. My host for the day was a wide boy Scouse commodity trader called Billy who was touting for our trade over eighteen holes and a long session in the bar afterwards. He was completely buzzing and not remotely bothered by losing ball after ball in the thick rough.
It was the early 90's and he had just struck gold. Well, sort of. He had got wind of some semi secret intelligence. The Cold War was over and the Government was busy cashing in the peace Dividend. As The Soviet Union collapsed into gangsterism, the threat of nuclear attack was quickly fading into becoming yesterday's news. The Government was shutting down all of the deep bunkers where the likes of Richard would have tried to keep a semblance of civilisation ticking over in the months after a Soviet strike.
All kinds of stuff was being brought into the sunlight having spent decades in the bowels of the earth. Not surprisingly the Government wasn't very keen on this being done in the public eye so most of the stuff was auctioned off on the quiet. Billy had managed to find out about one of these discreet auctions and he had turned up with his cheque book. They hadn't been very happy to see him but once he was there he wasn't about to leave. A few hours later he got into his car like a dog with two tails. He had managed to buy 24,000 tonnes of tinned biscuits for an absolute song. I seem to remember he paid something like a fiver a tonne: at the time wheat was well over a £100 a tonne, so a fiver was indeed a serious bit of business.
The gloss soon came off the deal when the first wagon turned up at his warehouse. The apocalypse biscuits were sealed into enormous tins which weighed about ten kilos each. The Scousers on the shop floor looked at the tins and realised the next few months were not going to be much fun. He actually had to get an engineering firm to come up with a bespoke tin opener.
I mentally turned Billy's haul into wagon loads. It was a thousand artics. Bloody Hell. A window on the vast, secret underground world the Government had ready and waiting for the day the Kremlin pressed the button.
So what is my point here? Pretty obvious I hope. In the 70's and 80's were were by no means 100% prepared for dealing with the aftermath of a nuclear attack. But we were at least doing something. Grenfell Tower was one building. The fire was massive and it spread with terrifying speed. We all saw it.
And the Government was more or less incapable of dealing with the aftermath.
One relatively small nuclear bomb would set alight a thousand fires as bad as Grenfell Tower. Much worse in fact. And instead of a few hundred survivors, there would be hundreds of thousands, all in dire need of food, shelter and medical attention. Once upon a time our leaders accepted this ultimate nightmare might happen as a result of their nuclear adventurism.
Now? Well it would appear this is yet another responsibility that has been quietly dumped. If our capital city is incapable of dealing with the fallout from one fire in one high rise block, then God help us all if a nuke should ever fall from the sky. We are told we haven't got the money to pay for the kind of emergency services it takes to deal quickly with this kind of disaster. And yet it seems we do have the money to run four submarines and a hundred and fifty Trident missiles.
We can find the cash to retain the ability to burn alive hundreds of thousands of people in a land far away. Sadly we can't find the cash to make sure we can look after our own people when the sky falls in.
And Richard and Billy? I haven't spoken to either of them in years. Both will be long retired. The 24,000 tonnes of apocalypse biscuits were all eaten up by cows, pigs and chickens years ago. The bunkers are all long gone. And it would seem all our ability to deal with the aftermath of a nuclear attack has also long gone. Our leaders have hung onto their weapons of mass destruction like spoilt kids clinging to favourite toys. Had they decided to spend £100 billion on making sure we can be properly looked after in the wake of a crisis, then the residents of Grenfell Tower would have been in a much better place right now.
Trident is supposed to be a deterrent. I wonder. I think Vladimir Putin will have taken a different picture of Britain on board as he watched the Grenfell Tower story unfold.
Just look at them. Just look at how weak they have become.... how hopeless... how utterly useless.... it would only take one bomb.... one small bomb and they would completely fall to pieces......
One small bomb......