A Chernobyl moment

Mrs S and I went out to get a small treat today from a Tim Hortons drive through. Also to have a general chin wag and to set the world to rights as we often do. Something she said touched off a memory flashback which took me all the way to a rainy UK midlands industrial estate in 1986.

That day I was outside, bareheaded in the rain with water trickling past the collar of my sodden heavy wool coat, doing the job the new foreman had sent me out to do. This new foreman hated my guts for some reason. No idea why, some people are naturally ill disposed to others and there seemed no obvious rhyme or reason to it. My previous boss had been booted upstairs for being too efficient and we were stuck with a new ignoramus who did all the petty things low level managers are not supposed to do, like play favourites and take out his frustrations on his most junior subordinates. Of whom I was one. We got all the shit jobs. Me because I was (and remain) reasonably well spoken and modestly educated, traits which will always get you into trouble with a certain sort. This particular task was something he’d given me because my face offended, so outside I was sent. I think I was checking serial numbers or something, sorting out gear in the yard for bringing inside the workshop later. It’s not important now.

I heard that specific foreman died of a heart attack in the early 90’s. Don’t ask me to be sorry about that because I’m not. He was a very unpleasant man.

On that afternoon the air tasted of something like burning tin, but I thought nothing of it at first since there was a flame cutting shop over the way and we used cutting discs and plasma cutters a lot, so I was used to that kind of smell. But you get to know the taste in your mouth when hot metal is being cut. After a while you can tell which material is being cut and what it’s being cut with, be it copper, steel, or aluminium by flame / laser or plasma cutter. They’re like power chords in a heavy metal number, brash but distinctive. Once you know what they are, some of that gets hard coded into your senses and it never leaves you.

This was different. It was akin to the harsh stink of galvanised steel being cut with a flame cutter, but not quite. I remember sniffing and glancing curiously at the workshop over the road where the guys were busy setting up a jig for a new contract. Their cutting gear was cold so it couldn’t be them. So I sniffed again, then licked rain off my top lip and spat it out. The smell was in the downpour.

I remember looking up at leaden clouds, which seemed to have an odd yellowish tinge to them. The sun, where its shape shone through, was a parody of a badly poached egg. The rain felt heavy, the kind of steady, solid English downpour that soaks you to the skin no matter what you wear. At the time I couldn’t get any more miserable than I was and I’d catch hell if I didn’t complete the task, regardless of the weather. And it wasn’t until watching the news at ten that evening that I realised what I’d seen that afternoon was probably the radioactive fallout cloud from Chernobyl passing overhead.

Just over seven years later I was under the knife, having a growth in a lung removed. Took me six months to recover. I used to wonder if that was because I’d breathed in something nasty on that afternoon in 1986.

Doesn’t matter. Shit happens and we have to adapt.

What really struck me this afternoon, and it’s been going around in my head ever since, is this one thought;

This is Communist China’s Chernobyl moment.

Never mind anything Trump or Johnson are doing in response to this event, that’s irrelevant. A chain has been set in motion and the world is changing before our very eyes. This is fall of empires stuff where not quite all the major players die at the end. Governments will fall. Two empires will collapse. I’d tell you whose heads I expect to tumble, but that would spoil the surprise. Although I’m sure my one remaining reader can hazard some reasonable guesses.

I believe the regional economic fallout will last as long as the ban on Welsh and Cumbrian Lamb after Chernobyl. Perhaps much, much longer.

Now that’s a very sobering thought and I now need a very large whiskey to counter it.

8 thoughts on “A Chernobyl moment”

    1. No I haven’t seen the show. I do remember watching grainy images of masked up volunteers on the reactor roof shoveling radioactive debris.

      When you’ve seen something happen in real life, fiction no longer does it for you.

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  1. I worked at Sellafield for 22 years and I was there when all the radiation alarms started going off.It would not be fair to say that panic set in,but there was a great deal of excitement which became relief when it was realised where the nasty stuff originated.

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  2. Good old Bill! One the few bright spots in this virus business is the increased frequency of your posts. Btw, don’t be discouraged by a lack of responses; there’s quite a few blogs like this where the blogger has said all there is to be said on his subject, and his reader feels there’s nothing useful to be added.

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  3. The Chernobyl cloud drifted over Godstone Farm in Surrey, where my wife, 15-month old daughter and I were, outside. A yellow-brown deposit was left on the cars (& us) from the brief rain which fell. Being somewhat scientific, I had us all change all our clothes and shower as soon as we reached home. My radiation monitor clicked happily away at the dust!
    Ten years later (remember the band?) my wife developed an extremely rare melanoma within one eye (10 cases a year on average, all others in Wales), which I believe could have been caused by a speck of that dust. And some Welsh lamb still glows in the dark.

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    1. Yes. I didn’t have the luxury of showering or even changing that day after being outside. I sometimes wonder if that foreman knew about the cloud and really hated me that much, or worse, thought it was a joke to send someone out into a heavily contaminated area without protection.

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