I was born on 26 January 1962 in a small upstairs bedroom at 8 Fairview Road, Norbury, South London. Towards the end of that year the world held its collective breath as, courtesy of the Cuban Missile Crisis, it teetered on the brink of nuclear oblivion. I have always wondered if the two events were connected. The year 1962 also saw the first publication of Betty Hope’s Survive with Me by R.G.G. Price, illustrated by Ionicus. I found my copy earlier this year in the local Oxfam shop, lurking between a suntan-oiled copy of The Da Vinci Code and an early example of Jamie Oliver’s literary oeuvre entitled, I think, It’s Beans on Toast, Mate. Mr Price’s book was clearly lost. Equally clearly the Oxfam shop needed to sort out how it arranged its books. I’m all in favour of serendipity, but if books in Oxfam shops are being shelved willy-nilly, surely the country’s in a far worse state than even that nice Mr Cameron would have us believe.
Struck by the coincidence of our birth years, I picked up Mr Price’s book, and I am glad that I did. One glance at the cover and I knew that this was going to be a subversive gem. On the left is an illustration of Betty Hope, a cheery woman in her late forties. In her arms is a collection of things that might prove useful in a domestic emergency – a first-aid box, a kettle, a bag of groceries, a pair of shoes with sensible heels, a hot-water bottle and a Union Jack on a pole. On the right, illustrating just what sort of domestic emergency we’re dealing with, is a meticulously cross-hatched picture of an atomic mushroom cloud.
Inside the book we are soon introduced to Betty and her family. Her husband Jim is a costing clerk at Universal Valve and is ‘keen on hobbies’. Sylvia, her daughter, is 16 and ‘very fond of dancing and riding pillion’. Andy is a year older and works in a garage, and Tony is still at school. Tony came seventeenth in his class last term, ‘hel
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