AWE Aldermaston – Final Part
Posted on January 31, 2011
At 9.00am everyday at the AWE a man would announce through the P.A system the time, the day and the date before testing the nuclear air raid siren which would send a chill through my body even though it was just a dummy run and it happened every morning. This announcement also signalled when Anne would ask for any office joviality to end and for working in silence to begin. Of course any real work I had to do would last me until about 10.00am then it would be a two or three hour wait in tedious muffled silence for lunch to begin.
The sound of ticking clock and the odd alarming clanking noise from the complex called A1.1X which was behind a wire fence within our own wire fence were the only noises breaking the silence. If I knew what went on behind that fence I wouldn’t say, as I might get knocked off by some government agent, but I didn’t actually know anything and I didn’t want to, that place gave me the creeps. All I ever saw were vacant looking people coming and going in blue and grey buses which had come from the outlying towns and villages in Hampshire and Berkshire. I had signed the official secrets act but in reality the only secret I discovered was that 80% of AWE admin staff did fuck all, day in, day out, day in, day out.
In my little office things were now going from bad to worse as Fran resigned and moved over to the industrial sector of the site. Fran had become a staunch ally in what was rapidly, along with Nobby, becoming a three man crusade against Anne, and seeing her leave was a savage blow. Thatcher had destroyed the unions two years previously, and this was like a mini replica event, with Nobby and I seeing our rebellion crushed by the evil dictator in a tartan skirt and cork lined tights. I began ignoring Anne and showed her less and less respect, but it was a battle that I feared couldn’t be won and I was sanctioned to a meeting with the top brass where she gleefully presented me with a full written warning. After reading the detail I cried with rage because of injustice of it all, it was documentation that was one sided and bordering on libellous and there was nothing I could do about it other than send her a copy of Razzle in the internal post, which I did. When I told Nobby his reaction was not what I expected and he skillfully intercepted my prank and gave me an almost parental bollocking before urging me to get out of the AWE for my own sanity.
One other way to annoy Anne was to go to the Civil Service Union meetings which she utterly deplored, but rather than inspiring to become the next Billy Bragg, they just depressed me further with there content. I was hoping to make a case for a more interesting working environment, or at least a working environment that meant doing some work, but these fuckers wanted less work, more money, more self certified statutory sick pay and more holidays. Years of being in the same place had convinced many people in the AWE Admin teams that they actually worked hard when in reality most of them were in there as a way of keeping the unemployment levels down. If I had made a case for more interesting and challenging work to improve the dull existence we were all living in, I would have been in no mans land, stuck in a hideous vacuum between a dictator and militants, I decided at the second meeting that I was leaving for good.
Then fate took an almost literal twist. That same night I broke my ankle whilst being chased by the Police after trespassing and breaking in to the Hurst School Swimming Pool. I was rewarded with several weeks fully paid sick leave and just a caution from the Police. Never in history has a broken ankle had such happy consequences, it was Summer 1987 so I could relax in the garden for several weeks whilst getting paid and there was nothing the old bat could do about it. Nobby told me she was livid. I returned to work in late August for a week or two before going on Holiday for two weeks in Ibiza which made poor Anne now apoplectic with rage as for once, I totally and legally had the upper hand. Hooray for the Unions!!
When I returned my relationship with Anne had sunk to a level that meant she would happily farm me out to a records office next door which featured eight women who were all kind to me and had a mutual hatred of Anne. They found and created jobs for me as a way of keeping me away from next door, It was a bit like being in a Barnados rescue home for Civil Servants, they nurtured me, fed me tea and biscuits and made me laugh by reading out loud their rather graphic erotic novels about ladies of the manor getting taken from the rear in pottings sheds by tanned torsoed handymen. There were darker moments as well, I was not good at women’s talk and when they started talking about their fading appetite for sex or the menopause I was torn as to where I was better off, In silence with Anne who didn’t know what sex was, or with friendly women openly talking about the stagnation of their periods? It was a tough call. Then when I found out one of them who was the main purveyor of erotica was a Mum of a school friend, it was back to Anne like a shot. Sitting in silence with Anne was an easier option than hearing graphic tales of passionate and rampant sex featuring your friends mum as the narrator.
I put up with Anne for a few further months until the spring of 1988 when I handed in a months notice. I attended several meetings where I was told that I was wasting an opportunity and a career for life, but something in their voices told me that they were jealous and that decades ago they had once thought about escaping, but the fear of the unknown and the safety of Big Brother watching them kept them there, I could see it in their eyes. My leaving party consisted of a couple of pints at the site bar with Andy, Jacqui, Fran, Nobby and some members of the menopause gang (Anne couldn’t make it she was busy) and I was kind of sad to say goodbye as I liked all of them immensely. Andy and Jacqui are still there, I don’t know what happened to Fran apart from hearing she had a couple of kids, I guess Nobby is long dead, the fags would have got to him years ago.
When I first walked behind the wire fence at the AWE it was November and it was grey and depressing. The day I left it was April, the sun was shining and there was blossom on the trees and as I tossed in my security pass to the police guard and walked through the gate I immediately felt the impact of freedom, I was a happy young man once more. I didn’t know where I was going, but at least it wasn’t back there.