There’s a girl, her curly ginger hair pulled to one side with a turquoise slide, wailing in the cloakroom, tears trailing down her freckled flushed cheeks. Beyond distraught, she’s on the verge of hysteria. A year older, having clocked up my fourteenth year that May, I look on, dry-eyed. This the only memory I can conjure from those anxious days in October 1962. Known in the USSR as the Caribbean Crisis, to us and the US it was the Cuban Missile Crisis.

A teacher may have come to comfort the child. Or it may have been the end of the school day, the blurry-eyed child hurrying back to the provisional safety of home and family. I have but this brief snapshot fixed in my mind for six decades. Which surprises me, since I was a bright child, already planning her ‘escape’ from childhood. One who read her father’s copy of The News Chronicle: a Liberal broadsheet that folded in 1960. The same outraged child who, six years earlier, had interrogated her father as to why no one had killed Hitler, insisting, had she been there, she would have done the job herself! The child whose younger self, five or six years before that, had stored up a memory of the fear she felt on seeing her mother enter her grandmother’s house to extinguish a chimney fire. These and several more anxiety-ridden moments of childhood were retained by my young brain, and yet, aside from the aforementioned cloakroom moment, nothing more remains of those two weeks in October that might have been our last.

 . . . I have not assumed that you or any other sane man would, in this nuclear age, deliberately plunge the world into a war which it is crystal clear no country could win, and which could only result in catastrophic consequences to the whole world . . .

President Kennedy wrote this in a letter to the Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev on October 22nd.The proposals contained in the letter subsequently rebuffed by Khrushchev. Even so, five days later, when a U2 plane was shot down killing its pilot, when it looked like this was the tipping point, when war seemed imminent, suspecting Khrushchev had not authorised this act, Kennedy refused to abandon diplomacy. Two days later, sending his brother to liaise with the Soviet Ambassador, both sides came to agreement over concessions, and the world let out massive sigh of relief.

Sad to think, having had the intelligence and good sense to save the world from a MAD act, within six years, both brothers would dead: murdered by mad gun-toting men.

It was 1962. There was freedom in the air. There was death round the corner. There was death all around, at home and abroad, it was just that I had yet to familiarise myself with this contradictory state of affairs, had lived for eleven years without giving the being and nothingness that is life a single thought.

This the beginning of a sprawling, overlong, muddle of a story I eventually abandoned – you might see why in the brief extracts above and below. Entitled Spooky on one draft,  Entanglement, Einstein and Me on another, it concerns schoolgirl Lizzie, her relationship with her dog Spooky, and a previously unknown aunt. And, yes, the dog it was that died. 

. . . I  looked down at Spooky, flaccid in Aunt Hen’s arms, looked over to the vet, holding his instrument of death up to the light, watched him flick the hypodermic syringe with his index finger as he prepared to administer the fatal shot of sodium pentobarbital.

Come, Lizzie, Aunt Hen repeated. He’s sedated now. He’s at peace. There, there, Spooky, she said softly. There, there.

It was Aunt Hen who went to him. Not me. Aunt Hen who boldly cradled Spooky’s resistant head in her lap. Aunt Hen who tried to sooth his poor addled brain as the sedative dulled his angry responses to a world that was holding its breath. A world that had chosen to end his short life. It was Aunt Hen who stroked Spooky’s silky black fur as the drug whooshed through his blood stream, as his breathing diminished, until there was no breath left.

Three days later when the world exhaled, I took no comfort from it. What did I care for the world? My world, the world I had been happy in until this dreadful summer, was no more.

Knowingly transforming fact to fiction can be difficult. And so it was in this case. Except, in reminding myself of this story now, I realise what I thought was a fictional timeline might well have been a factual one. In that, my own much-loved pet, who came to me when I was seven years-old, had her stroke, and subsequent final meeting with the vet, when she was seven and I fourteen. And, although I considered myself mature for my age, I’m wondering, now, if my treasured pet’s sudden death traumatised me to the extent that, as the world teetered on the brink of nuclear destruction, grief, clouding my mind, cushioned me from the potential horrors of the external world.

Sixty years on, perhaps those who purchased pandemic puppies pre or post lockdown, are enjoying the anxiety-reducing benefits of a furry friend now. Choosing to be a writer rather late in life, I prefer not to have an impatient creature scratching for attention at my door – so far, at any rate. But like many people in  recent weeks – those of us fortunate to live in peaceful, democratic country – that  undercurrent of anxiety remains.

Cry havoc and let slip the dogs of war! says Marc Antony in Julius Caesar, William Shakespeare using the metaphor other writers, Oliver Goldsmith, Tom Stoppard, Frederick Forsyth, would later pick up and run with. Unfair on dogs? Since it is mankind who wreak havoc across the world. The Ukraine crisis caused by one particular ‘dog’ of war. One that for the safety of us all needs to be, if not put down, at least have his tyrannical days as top dog brought to an end, tried for the mass murder of, in Chechnya, Syria and Ukraine, condemned, and locked away for all time. 

UNICEF Afghanistan:
Women for Afghan women:
The Afghan women’s support forum: