What comes next...

And how to like it

Country Life Every Week - - Another Country -

HERE on the Suf­folk prairies, the death of Fidel Cas­tro has mostly gone un­no­ticed. There are no Cuban refugees in Bury St Ed­munds, al­though there are prob­a­bly some third­gen­er­a­tion Cuban-amer­i­cans sta­tioned at Lak­en­heath, the Amer­i­can base 45 min­utes from here. Still, the news switched on one of those home movies that re­side in the back of my mind.

My men­tal news­reel of the Cuban Mis­sile Cri­sis is eas­ily re­trieved be­cause we had daily drills at my el­e­men­tary school in case the Rus­sian mis­siles sta­tioned 200 miles from the Amer­i­can coast­line came our way. We had plenty of rea­son to be scared be­cause any mis­siles aimed at Wash­ing­ton or New York had to go right over our Mis­sis­sippi heads.

My main mem­ory of those ‘duck and cover’ ex­er­cises was the dis­cov­ery of crops of chew­ing gum stuck un­der­neath the desks, grey wads the size of the ticks we pulled from our dogs. I was a squea­mish child and my dis­gust out­weighed my fear.

My other mem­ory was the bomb shel­ter built a year ear­lier by our neigh­bours, the Ri­leys. My par­ents were scathing about this shel­ter. My fa­ther’s ap­proach to the end of civil­i­sa­tion was to buy a cou­ple of cases of Jim Beam and store them in the gun closet. He made no pro­vi­sion for his chil­dren, un­like Mr Ri­ley, who thought of ev­ery­thing.

Vis­its to the bomb shel­ter were for­bid­den, but their son Jim knew where the key was kept. We would sneak down and gaze in won­der at the neat rows of flash­lights, lanterns, matches, tins of tu­nafish, Vienna sausages and pineap­ple chunks, Chee­rios, Gra­ham crack­ers and pow­dered milk, a stack of Na­tional Geo­graph­ics, a metal first-aid cabi­net and shelves of bot­tled wa­ter and Dr Pep­per.

The Ri­leys were Bap­tists, so there was no Bour­bon, but there were two bunk beds, a crank that would pro­vide ven­ti­la­tion and two buck­ets with a bag of lime in a corner. ‘That’s the bath­room,’ Jim told me. This was long be­fore I read Anne Frank’s di­ary, but the shel­ter had an ad­dic­tive spook­i­ness.

One day, I no­ticed a shot­gun propped up in the corner. ‘Is that to shoot the Rus­sians?’ ‘Nope,’ came Jim’s solemn re­ply. ‘It’s to shoot the peo­ple who try to get in here. All the folks who don’t have a bomb shel­ter.’ I must have got the mes­sage be­cause I never went back.

The Cuban Mis­sile Cri­sis lasted only 13 days and the rage for bomb shel­ters wound down af­ter a cou­ple of years. All the same, it’s pa­thetic irony that the un­re­pen­tant Cas­tro is de­part­ing his earthly rev­o­lu­tion as Pres­i­dent-elect Don­ald Trump takes of­fice. Cas­tro tried to turn his small is­land into a con­ti­nent and Mr Trump wants to turn his hunk of con­ti­nent into an is­land. With­out Fidel hov­er­ing in Ha­vana, how­ever, I’m less wor­ried about Mr Trump’s threats to over­turn Obama’s restora­tion of diplo­matic re­la­tions between Cuba and the USA af­ter five decades: ‘Obama got a bad deal! I could’ve got a much bet­ter deal!’

The Pres­i­dent-elect has al­ready checked out sites for ‘Trump Cubana’ and I sus­pect he’ll qui­etly ig­nore the re­sent­ful el­derly Cuban-amer­i­cans who gave him their vote. If I read that Trump buys Guan­tanamo Bay, bull­dozes it to the ground and builds Mar-a Lago II, I won’t think it’s ‘fake news’.

I’ve now had nearly a month to get used to the idea of a Pres­i­dent Trump. Thank you for ask­ing, but, no, I’m not feel­ing bet­ter as time passes. I’ve lis­tened to Ra­dio 4’s Letters from Amer­ica and Points of View and read thou­sands of words about how Trump heard ‘the voice of for­got­ten Amer­i­cans’, but Hil­lary lis­tened to Beyoncé and Cher; how Trump held mass ral­lies in the Rust Belt, but Hil­lary held fundrais­ers in Hol­ly­wood. I feel like an earth­quake vic­tim who can hear the ra­dio, but can’t hear the voices of res­cuers.

The truth is that nei­ther can­di­date was good enough. I re­alised that when the black church in Greenville, Mis­sis­sippi, was set ablaze and large white letters painted on the side read Vote Trump. I didn’t ex­pect him to show up (he’d ap­peared in the state a cou­ple of months ear­lier at an all­white rally with Nigel Farage), but I wish Hil­lary had.

‘I’ve had nearly a month to get used to the idea of a Pres­i­dent Trump. No, I’m not feel­ing bet­ter ‘Cas­tro tried to turn his small is­land into a con­ti­nent and Mr Trump wants to turn his hunk of con­ti­nent into an is­land

My friend Ray­mond emailed from Dublin: ‘Robert Kennedy would have can­celled his sched­ule, headed south and given the mem­bers of the burned-out church and the coun­try the two things miss­ing from this cam­paign: com­fort and elo­quence.’ Re­mem­ber­ing Kennedy’s words on the cam­paign trail—‘that hu­man his­tory is shaped each time some­one stands up for an ideal or acts to im­prove the lot of oth­ers or strikes out against in­jus­tice’— makes the ab­sence of grace and ideals in this cam­paign feel even sad­der.

I’m more em­bar­rassed than ter­ri­fied that this petu­lant nar­cis­sist will have the nu­clear code in his pocket. I also re­alise that my lib­eral elit­ist’s bomb shel­ter—a wine cel­lar with a few good bot­tles and the last case of whisky my fa­ther-in-law bought be­fore the 1983 Bud­get—might not get me through the four years ahead. I’ll add to it—two stacks of COUN­TRY LIFE and a box of can­dles— as soon as I fin­ish the book that ar­rived this morn­ing. Called What Comes Next and How to Like It, it’s a med­i­ta­tion on age­ing, fam­ily, dogs and life’s woes. I’ll let you know if it works.

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