Born to survive
The current situation is more than a little scary, within a few weeks our world has changed due to the arrival of some pretty crazy germs. It’s no longer safe to watch overpaid people kick a football around for fear that we will be struck by the craziness of one person earning more than an entire hospital. We are no longer able to gather together to sing and dance for fear that we stop buying things. Thank fuck Netflix and Amazon are here to save us from this most anti-capitalist of diseases.
But selfishly on the plus side disease and mass death was what I was raised on. Finally all those hours of studying the fear of a global apocalypse are coming into their own. Those lessons in how every moment was laced with deadly potential are finally coming good!
So the anxiety that many now seem to be struggling with as educated adults is the very same fear that I grew up with as a child. The fear that a scary dangerous end, a final apocalypse of death and chaos would be coming was what I was fed as a child. Not by the media and government but by my parents and everyone I was allowed to hang out with. So I’m now re-living my childhood…but without the flares and with some honesty.
A Star Wars duvet
An impending fiery finale was drummed into me as a child. Three times a week I would attend meetings where the only adults I trusted told me about coming destruction of all the people I knew, who weren’t Jehovah’s Witnesses . The message I had learnt from birth was that all non-believers would be killed by Jehovah God at his holy war of Armageddon. Actually Jesus would be responsible for leading the army of deadly angels, presumably while God moved Jesus figures around with plotting rods on a global map up in heaven. Make no mistake though this would be a crazy shock and awe deal. Fireballs from heaven and angels with blazing swords riding flaming horses that kind of thing. Although reflecting on it now, surely God could call on the destructive power of particle physics; resorting to hailing down molten fireballs, heavy rain and lightning seems a little primitive. However for apocalyptic images to keep a child awake at night – meteors, giant sinkholes and tidal waves definitely trump theoretical science.
I remember many nights lying in my bunk bed, the light blue wood-chip papered ceiling inches from my face and Luke Skywalker pulled up tight around my neck wondering if tonight would be when Armageddon started. I comforted myself that it probably wouldn’t, as a lot of the signs and prophecies I spent so long looking for in news reports hadn’t occurred. But we were constantly reminded God’s day would come like a thief in the night, so you never knew.
I spent a lot of time as an eight year old thinking about bible prophecies mainly from the books of Revelation and Daniel as I remember it. We were always told that the number of earthquakes, wars and famines would increase the nearer we got to the end. So held a running tally of world disasters and events in my mind, trying to plot their increase on an imaginary graph of bad news and suffering in my head. Ever wary of the steepness of this imagined line that led to the end of the world.
Of course I also worried about getting Mario Kempes for my World Cup ‘78 album and whether I’d ever be allowed Coco Pops. But these normal childhood worries did fade into the background compared with the fear that my best mate at school , Jason, would be killed by collapsing school buildings and crashing planes. I seem to remember planes falling out of the sky was a Watchtower illustrator’s favourite around this time. It wouldn’t just be Jason of course, all the teachers and children in my school would perish at Jehovah’s hand, well apart from Donna and Rowena in Class 3H who also went to my local Kingdom Hall. I wondered how we might be protected from the destruction, some sort of heavenly forcefield or perhaps an angelic body guard. It was all too crazy and frightening to think about so I just prayed Armageddon wouldn’t come whilst I was at school.
From one of the books I read as a child – as a Tiswas fan the death of Bob Carolgees weighed particularly on my young mind
These constant reminders of the coming destruction ratcheted up the nervousness in an already edgy child. I imagine I was awash with cortisol throughout most of my early childhood. Juggling these apocalyptic fears with the usual childhood concerns of spelling tests and playground bullies was getting to be exhausting.
The Six Million Dollar Man
Aside from my worries about a biblical apocalypse, what added to my pre-traumatic stress was the TV viewing schedule of Thursday night in 1978. The opportunity to watch Steve Austin’s expensively rebuilt body battling criminals using bionic strength, vision and speed happened at the very moment I was learning about the importance of not coveting your neighbour’s ox. One of these ways of spending a Thursday evening had value in the school playground, the other didn’t. Running in slow motion as you chase down a jewel thief is fun, however pretending you like your mate’s cattle but are using your love of God to ensure you reign in that covetousness isn’t. This was well before the arrival of video recorders, so my knowledge of the Six Million Dollar Man was gathered from the few episodes I had seen either when I was ill or if for some very rare and barely never reason a bible meeting was moved to another night.
It’s these seemingly small things which strengthened my sense of difference as a child. There were the big ticket items such as being one of God’s chosen ones and believing I would live forever on a paradise earth populated with friendly lions and tigers. But it was not being able to talk to my friends about TV shows that made me feel most apart from my friends. I would often try to hang on the edge of conversations desperately picking up the gist of the previous evening’s episode in the hope that I could then pass it off as my own viewing at playtime later. This sense of exclusion and difference ran through my life growing up as a Jehovah’s Witness in the 70s and 80s. And I missed a lot of very significant good TV over the years – Knight Rider, Airwolf, Wonder Woman and later on The Young Ones. Valleys fell open in my pop cultural life that would require years of dedicated catch up viewing. A task that is still incomplete.
This process of viewing denial had started early in my life. I still remember the first JW meetings I attended on a Sunday morning created huge anxiety as they finished only 15 minutes before Thunderbirds began. I can see me stood in the Kingdom Hall in my little shirt and tie the open doors looming large behind me, but unable to leave.
“Debbie, what a lovely meeting,” a sister (all JWs refer to each other as Sister This and Brother That) would say approaching my mum.
“I thought the speaker was very inspiring. He’s from Woodford, they have a lovely congregation there. We visited the other week, “ my mum replied, her attention now drawn from the bag she was packing.
“Did you get to go on field service while you were there?” she said setting her own bible bag down, “A friend of mine placed nearly 20 magazines over there when she visited.”
Going on field service or door-knocking ministry when you were visiting another congregation was a “thing”. The idea of being rejected and ignored by a group of people from an entirely new geographical location was hard to resist I guess. Maybe there was some excitement to having the doors of an entirely unknown street slammed in your face. Or possibly the thought that you might have some new patter that would get you some time on the doorstep. Some witnesses would even go to meetings and field service when they were on holiday. For fuck’s sake can you imagine spending your annual holiday trawling around residential streets and being ignored by one person after another…and if you were lucky….in a foreign language. Then coming back to show off about it. Complete with photos.
I would be shifting from foot to foot now thinking of palm trees collapsing as the swimming pool of Tracy Island slid aside to allow the launch of Thunderbird 1. How long would I have to put up with this?
About another 10 years it turns out. Although the invention of VHS did ensure I got to see most of Dempsey and Makepeace.