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TUESDAY 27  FEBRUARY 2024

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Today’s world troubles have echoes of Cuban missile crisis in 1962

The perfect Saturday, chilly, sunny and a day out with my daughters and 13-year-old grandson James. Wrap-up-well weather. First stop, Borough Market In the lea of Southwark Cathedral for life’s essentials from the cheese and olive merchants and then a wee dander along the swollen Thames to Tower Bridge and a late lunch at Gunpowder for excellent Indian tapas.


After the last mouthful of soft-shell crab, beetroot croquettes and perfectly cooked lamb came the knockout question (we had exhausted ourselves by our rage over the Post Office scandal.)


‘Grandad, will the Middle East crisis lead to WW3?’


My spluttered answer began with the usual platitude ‘I hope not’ followed by some more reasoned thought along the lines that the sides in this awful horror show are all fragmented (said more in hope than anything) and that the last time the world was at war there was a clear Satanic enemy, Hitler. 


The current conflict embraces a myriad of hateful people (including Netanyahu) who have yet to venture outside their immediate arena.

James is a bright kid and had just completed an essay on the Dunkirk evacuation for his modern history studies so knows of Hitler’s wicked madness. Then I suddenly realised that his question was identical to the one we were all asking in 1962, 50 years before he was born.


It was of course the Cuban missile crisis in October of that year and without doubt was the nearest point at which the Cold War became far too hot. I had just started in the lower sixth at Methodist College and after school a group of us studying history at A-level stayed behind for one of those oh-so-earnest chats teenage boys have when they think they know it all.


Those were the halcyon days before social media when newspapers, BBC radio and the three TV channels delivered all the news. And from October 16 for the next 13 days the reports got increasingly grim. Most readers of the Drone will know the events because we lived through them but the televised address half-way through the crisis on October 22 by the recently-elected and boyish Kennedy was the most important of his life. And ours too.


What we now know, but didn’t at the time, was the extent of the negotiations between JFK and Khruschev going on behind the build-up to what appeared to all of us as certain nuclear Armageddon.


We had passed through the grand gates of Methody at 5.30 on Friday, October 26 1962 not knowing if we would ever again see our chums, the boarders in School House. And when we reached the bus stop my pal Chris and I said our goodbyes with ‘See you on Monday. Let’s hope so.’


The following day Khruschev blinked, pulled his ships back from the US blockade around Cuba and agreed to dismantle his nuclear arsenal on the island aimed at Florida. It seemed a great victory for Kennedy but in fact we all owed the rest of our lives to the realisation by the Kremlin that neither it nor the world could survive conflict. 


Khruschev wrote a letter to the US leader that bears repeating:

‘Mr. President, we and you ought not now to pull on the ends of the rope in which you have tied the knot of war, because the more the two of us pull, the tighter that knot will be tied. And a moment may come when that knot will be tied so tight that even he who tied it will not have the strength to untie it, and then it will be necessary to cut that knot, and what that would mean is not for me to explain to you, because you yourself understand perfectly of what terrible forces our countries dispose.


‘Consequently, if there is no intention to tighten that knot and thereby to doom the world to the catastrophe of thermonuclear war, then let us not only relax the forces pulling on the ends of the rope, let us take measures to untie that knot. We are ready for this.’


Worthy of Chekhov. And we all breathed again.

 ***** 

 

The Times today runs a piece by its Dublin-born fillum critic Kevin Maher on the Irish hunks who dominate our screens, big and small. Named are Colin Farrell, Paul Mescal, Jamie Dornan and Cillian Murphy. I’d like to propose three more, a trio of schoolfriends who had lunch in Oxford last week and talked over old times. They are pictured here (l-r Alan McKelvey, Paddy Coulter and a Random Jot. Feel free to agree.

 













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Top marks to Dickie Dismore for his great scoop on the resignation of Mirror editor Alison Phillips. The Grauniad, The Times, and Roy Greenslade in a tweet, all followed up his story giving the Drone the credit as the original platform for the story. Radio 4 has just run the story in a news bulletin but without accreditation.


There is even greater recognition in the offing. My piece on the Post Office scandal in which I introed on the importance of our village post office when we moved into little Tatsfield, high up on the North Downs, is being reproduced by another fine organ. I refer of course to next month’s Tatsfield Parish Magazine.


Lord Drone, the Press Awards beckon.


ALAN FRAME


16 JANUARY 2024