I must apologise to anyone who is waiting for another couthy wee story, in my usual style. This story is pure history from over 50 years in the past.
My part in it happened on Wednesday the 24th of October, 1962.
It was not a leading role ...
... not even '3rd spear carrier on left'.
I do remember the day, and I'll try to tell you about it.


When we come tae the skale that Wednesday, we kent there wiz somethin serious aboot that day. It wiz Buckhynd High Skale, we were aw aboot thirteen year auld, in oor class, an when we thocht aboot it, we aw felt that we w'd aw be part o' a great future. Technology wiz king. We were the smart anes fae the High Skale, an we knew hoo the world worked.
We wiz set fur life!
When we came to the school, that Wednesday, we knew that there was something serious about that day. It was Buckhaven High School, we were about thirteen years old, in our class, and, when we thought about it, we allfelt that we would all be part of a great future. Technology was king. We were the smart ones from the High School, and we knew how the world worked.
We were set for life!

But Wednesday wis troublin. We'd read the p'pers, an watched the telly fur the past week. We'd seen the photies. Wednesday was a difficult day. We had read the papers, and watched television, for the past week. We had seen the photographs.

"US aircraft discover missiles in Cuba"
"Cuba Blockade"
"The Line of Death"

We'd grewn up in 'The Cauld War': Berlin, Korea, Indo-China. Hauf the comics we read wiz aboot beatin the 'Commies', fechtin the 'Gooks'. Fresh fae the Second World War, an stiffened wi' tales o' valour an heroic deeds. Big John Wayne an Robert Mitchum on the pictchers. Aw guid stuff.
At hame, it wiz the same. The Govermint kept on pittin wee leaflets through yer door, tellin ye whit tae dae in the event o' a nuclear attack.
"Whitewash yer windaes, fill the bath, an hide under the stairs!"
We had grown up during 'The Cold War': Berlin, Korea, Indo-China. Half of the comics that we read were about beating the 'Commies', fighting the 'Gooks'. Fresh from the Second World War, we were strengthened, with tales of valour and heroic deeds. Big John Wayne and Robert Mitchum, in the cinema. All good stuff.
At home, it was the same. The Government kept delivering little leaflets through your door, tellin you what to do in the event of a nuclear attack.
"Whitewash your windows, fill the bath, and hide under the stairs!"

The telly tried tae recruit ye fur the 'Observer Corps'. Ye got an official-lookin uniform, a tin hat, an ye got tae sit in a bunker (naw, no a coal wan!) wi' a pair o' binoculars. Ye h'd tae listen tae this noise on a loudspeaker ...
"Tonk ... tonk ... tonk ... tonk ...".
Like a sort o' heartbeat. On it went, aw the time, an when it stopped, it meant that the country wiz under attack b' the Russians, an London wisnae there onny mair. No as a place ye w'd want tae visit in the next thousand years, that is.
When th noise stopped, ye watched aroond fur the big flashes an bangs, an then ye'd report which wey the mushroom clouds wiz blawin. They never actually mentioned wha it wiz ye'd be reportin tae.
Never mind. We aw thocht this wiz perfectly normal. At the time, onnywey.
The television showed recruitment adverts for the 'Observer Corps'. You were given an official-looking uniform, a steel helmet, and you got to sit in a bunker (no, not a coal bunker!) with a pair of binoculars. Ye had to listen to this noise on a loudspeaker ...
"Tonk ... tonk ... tonk ... tonk ...".
Like some kind of heartbeat. On it went, all the time, and when it stopped, it meant that the country was under attack by the Russians, and London was not there any morer. Not as a place that you would want to visit in the next thousand years, that is.
When the noise stopped, you looked around for the big flashes and bangs, and then you would report which way the mushroom clouds were blowing. They never actually mentioned, to whom that you would be reporting.
Never mind. We all thought that this was perfectly normal. At the time, anyway.

But Wednesday wiz still troublin. We'd seen Kruschev rantin, an bangin his shoe at the United Nations, the year afore. Aw the politicians were bangin oot speeches, an the 'They Shall Not Pass!' wiz a fav'rit. As fur President Kennedy; he'd mucked up in the 'Bay of Pigs' shambles, so he wiznae lookin s' guid as 'Big John's successor.
An noo, he wiz tellin the world that Russia h'd 'nucular missils' in Cuba, an it wiz time tae get them oot, an awa fae America.
Wednesday was still a difficult day. We had seen Kruschev ranting, and banging his shoe at the United Nations, the year before. All the politicians were banging out speeches, and 'They Shall Not Pass!' was a favourite. As for President Kennedy; he'd mucked up in the 'Bay of Pigs' shambles, so he was not looking quite so good as the successor to 'Big John'.
Now, he was telling the world, that Russia had 'nucular missils' in Cuba, and it was time to get them out, and away from America.

The Americans h'd got yaised tae h'vin 10 minutes warnin afore their big toons were turned intae even bigger car parks, an didnae fancy getting blootered withoot a chance tae doon a 'Big Mac' an a 'Coke' afore they went. Cuba wiz too close. No even a chance tae clog the phone system tae say "Goodbye".
Us british? We were telt that we'd h've fower minutes, an that wiz jist aboot time tae smok a 'Woodbine', or pey back the half-croon ye owed yer pal.
The Americans had become accustomed to having ten minutes warning, before their cities were turned into even bigger car parks, and did not fancy getting obliterated without a chance to gulp down a 'Big Mac' and a 'Coke' before they went. Cuba was too close. Not even a chance to clog the phone system, saying "Goodbye".
We British? We were told that we would have four minutes, and that was just about enough time to smoke a 'Woodbine', or repay the half-crown that you owed your friend.

Normally, at the High Skale, discipline wiz stricht. Onny laudie no wearin a tie wiz reportit, an if a lassie turned up wi' high heels or jewelry, then it wiz aff tae the Heidmistress tae be lectured on the evils o' strumpetry an loose morals.
Bring in a tranny radio? Unthinkable!
An yet, on that Wednesday, when wan o' oor class brocht in a wee tranny, nane o' the teachers objected.
"Just don't turn it up too loud."
Jist loud enough fur them tae hear, ah reckon. Awboddy wiz listenin tae the soond o hearts beatin.
"Tonk ... tonk ... tonk ... tonk ...".
Normally, at the High School, discipline was strict. Any boy, not wearin a tie, was reported, and if any girl turned up with high heels or jewelry, then it was off to the Headmistress, to be lectured on the evils of strumpetry and loose morals.
Bring in a transistor radio? Unthinkable!
And yet, on that Wednesday, when one of our class brought in a small radio, none of the teachers objected.
"Just don't turn it up too loud."
Just loud enough for them to hear, I reckon. Everybody was listening to the sound of hearts beating.
"Tonk ... tonk ... tonk ... tonk ...".

The BBC h'd it calculated that the US Navy w'd stop aw Russian ships, an the furst wan w'd be intercepted at wan o'clock. An ifn' it didnae stop tae be searched ... they w'd sink it.
Y'sterday's p'pers had shown missiles, raised t'fire on Cuba's north coast, an the airfields were fu o' Russian bombers.
American bombers were flee'n aboot the skies, waitin fur the 'Fail Safe' code.
The BBC had calculated, that the US Navy would stop all Russian ships, and that the first one would be intercepted at one o'clock. If it refused to stop and be searched ... they would sink it.
Yesterday's papers had shown missiles, raised to fire, on Cuba's north coast, and Cuban airfields were full of Russian bombers.
American bombers were flying across the skies, waiting for the 'Fail Safe' code.

In the mornin, in the 'Physics' class, the teacher was mair inclined tae tell us aboot the 'Blitz', an hoo the bombs these days were much bigger - an better! Jist tae mak shair we wiz thinkin along the richt lines.
B' lunch time, ah think a lot o' appetites were missin, an the usual rejoinders tae "Eat up! It's good for you!" h'd slipped awa the same wey.
In the morning, in the 'Physics' class, the teacher was more inclined to tell us about the 'Blitz', and how the bombs these days, were much bigger - and better!. Just to make sure that we were thinking along the correct lines.
By lunch time, I suspected that a lot of appetites had gone missing, and the usual rejoinders to "Eat up! It's good for you!", had slipped away in the same direction.

Come wan o'clock, it wiz a bit tense. Then five past, an ten past come an went, an the knots started tae ease aff a bit. Efter aw, ye cannae stay wound up forever.
B' twa o'clock, folk wiz startin tae think o' ither things.
Half past twa, an things were easin jist a bit mair.
The radio wisnae sayin much, but that wiz fine by me. Time tae head off tae 'Biology' - which jist happened tae be the same classroom an the same teacher as Physics, that mornin. Mr 'Bigger an Better Bang'.
Come one o'clock, everything was a bit tense. Then five past, and ten past, came and went, and the knots started to ease off a bit. After all, you can't stay wound up forever.
By two o'clock, people were starting to think of other things.
Half past two, and things were easing, just a bit more.
The radio wasn't saying much, but that was fine by me. Time to head off to 'Biology' - which just happened to be the same classroom, and the same teacher as 'Physics', that morning. Mr 'Bigger and Better Bang'.

"Tonk ... tonk ... WAAAAAWAAAAAWAAAAA!!"

Oh my Goad! It wiz a siren. Ye couldnae hear yersel think! Eight hundred hearts stopped beatin at the exact same moment.
They'd gone an done it! They'd sunk a Russian ship, an started a bloody war. An we aw h'd fower minutes tae think aboot it ...
Faces went white. Whit d'ye dae? Ah could feel the knot in mah stomach twist an tighten. Don't know how, but as we aw streamed oot o' the classroom, ah wiz able t' watch awboddy aroond me. It wiz better than thinkin. Much better.
Oh my God! It was a siren. You could not hear yoursef think! Eight hundred hearts stopped beating at exactly same moment.
They'd gone an done it! They'd sunk a Russian ship, and started a bloody war. And we all had four minutes to think aboot it ...
Faces went white. What can you do? I could feel the knot in my stomach, twist and tighten. I don't know how, but as we all streamed out of the classroom, I was able to watch everybody around me. It was better than thinking. Much better.

Some rushed tae get ootside. Some tried tae hing back, as though the cardboard wa' o' a modern skale w'd stop the blast.
Ithers laughed, an threw awa their skale bags. Nae mair worries on that score. Ah saw ithers carefully pack aw their books tae tak wi' them. Mebbe, they thocht t' preserve somethin.
Some fainted. Some screamed - an some went tae comfort them. Mebbe some cried fur their mithers, while some jist lay doon on the gress, an waited fur the sky tae fall.
Some rushed to get outside. Some tried to hang back, as though the cardboard walls of a modern school would stop the blast.
Others laughed, and threw away their school bags. No more worries on that score. I saw others carefully pack all their books to take with them. Maybe, they thought to preserve something.
Some fainted. Some screamed - and some went to comfort them. Maybe some cried for their mothers, while some just lay down on the grass, and waited for the sky to fall.

We wiz aw scared. Ah feel it noo, as ah'm writin this. Ah feel the tears o' eight hundred bairns an teachers, an ah'm no ashamed tae admit it. We were all scared. I can feel it now, as I'm writing this. I can feel the tears of eight hundred children and teachers, and I am not ashamed to admit it.

Fower minutes. Jist fower minutes. No enough time tae dae onnything. Shairly Goad meant fur us tae hae mair than that. It's no fair. It's no bloody fair! Four minutes. Just four minutes. Not enough time to do anything. Surely God meant for us to have more than that. It's not fair. It's not bloody fair!

An then we had five minutes. Then six. An then, ye c'd hear eight hundred hearts beatin again.
Whit wiz happenin?
And then we had five minutes. Then six. You could hear eight hundred hearts beating again.
What was happening?

The announcement on the Tannoy explained it aw. Somebody, some practical joker, h'd set aff the fire alarm. The fire siren.
It wiz a false alarm.
Go back tae yer classes.
Everythin wiz awricht.
The Americans an the Russians pu'd back fae the edge o' darkness, an settled thing ower the comin week.
Evrythin wiz awricht.
The announcement on the Tannoy explained it all. Somebody, some practical joker, had set off the fire alarm. The fire siren.
It was a false alarm.
Go back to your classes.
Everything was alright.
The Americans and the Russians pulled back from the 'edge of darkness', and settled thing over the following week.
Everything was alright.

It took me twenty years, afore ah c'd listen tae a siren without the adrenaline rippin through me. It took me aw that time tae come tae an accomodation wi' that Wednesday.
Twenty years tae catch up wi' fower minutes.
An anither twenty years, afore ah c'd write this story.
It took me twenty years, before I could listen to a siren, without the adrenaline ripping through me. It took me all that time to come to an accomodation with that Wednesday.
Twenty years to catch up with four minutes.
And another twenty years, before I couldd write this story.

Ah never hated the silly eedjit that set aff the siren that day. Ye see, he h'd missed oot on something really wunnerful.
Eight hundred folk went tae the end o' the world that day, an spent the fower maist precious minutes o' their lives. Together.
An he h'd missed oot.
I never hated the silly idiot that set off the siren that day. You see, he had missed out on something really wonderful.
Eight hundred people went to the end of the world, that day, and spent the four most precious minutes of their lives. Together.
And he had missed it all.

He wisnae there! He was not there!


When I started writing this story today, I didn't know how it would turn out. It seems that my sense of humour never left me, even on that day. Sometimes, a wee laugh is all that keeps you going.

On October 10 2015, the boy who had pushed the button, all those years ago, read this story, and sent me a wee note. The 'End of the World' was just an accident.
"I leaned against the wall, tilting the glass in at the front of the alarm, in the Technical Block whilst waiting to go into a Technical Drawing class. Pulled the glass back out and the siren stopped."

After 50 years (and a bit!), I am glad to report that the one person who was missing, has been found at last ...
... a bit late, but he finally made it. He was there as well!

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Original material © Dave Sloan 2005, 2016
'tachras' and 'Winding Yarn' © Dave Sloan 2005, 2016

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