Thomas Jones

The house I grew up in, and where my parents live still, is on the Aldermaston Road, a mile or so north of Basingstoke Hospital, where I was born, and five miles south of the Atomic Weapons Establishment. From its founding in 1950 until 1987 (when I was ten), AWE was known as the Atomic Weapons Research Establishment (AWRE). The joke that they’d finished the research and could now get on with building the weapons was almost, but not quite, too obvious to be made. The renaming actually had to do with the privatisation of most of the Royal Ordnance Factories, not including the two that made nuclear weapons, ROF Cardiff (closed in 1997) and ROF Burghfield (just down the road from Aldermaston), which were combined with AWRE to form AWE. To say that I grew up in the shadow of AWRE seems melodramatic. But it was a pervasive presence. I don’t remember a time when I didn’t know about it; most of the patients at my father’s NHS dental practice seemed to work there, as electricians or MOD police officers if not as nuclear research scientists – and it was an obvious target if ‘the Russians’ ever decided to go ahead and bomb ‘us’.

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[1] The 1986 movie of When the Wind Blows was rereleased by the BFI in January.

[2] Cambridge, 370 pp., £90, November 2016, 978 1 107 13628 1.

[3] Profile, 502 pp., £25, September 2017, 978 1 78125 719 7.