So as I was flicking through 1001 Children's Books to Read Before You Grow Up I noticed a Raymond Briggs I hadn't read before. Since I love Raymond Briggs, I gave the review a *very* cursory look, and ordered it from Amazon.
Oh my good Lord. I don't know whether my parents were aware of this book, and just did their upmost to make sure that it NEVER fell into my hands, or if they just hadn't heard of it, but I am SO glad I didn't read When the Wind Blows as a child. I had an extremely nervous disposition at the best of times; I think this would have tipped me over the edge into severe mental fragility.
Where the Wind Blows is basically Ethel and Ernest, but instead of the slightly melancholy "we'll never have grandchildren" angst that runs through that, there's a massive great big nuclear explosion and the protaganists both die a hideous painful death from radiation sickness after having smelt all of their neighbours and assorted farm animals roasted by the blast.
It's like The Snowman with nuclear armageddon. That's why it's so disturbing, I think. It's a pair of cosy slippers with razor blades hidden in the toes. It's reading The Darling Buds of May except instead of sitting down to a lovely three-bird roast with seven types of potatoes, a good few cocktails and a bit of how's your father, they hack each other to death with machetes. In summary it serves up a very hard-core message, partly because by producing such charming work before, Briggs has the power to shock us to the very core.
I found it disturbing now, so can only imagine its impact when the threat of nuclear war was perhaps more real and ever-present than it is now. Still at least it would have given me variety in my main 1980s worry which was that I would drop dead of AIDS at any given moment, thanks to those terrifying adverts with the gravestones on. Never mind that I was a small child and therefore was not really at a great deal of risk of dying of AIDS - the way the adverts made it look, one could just catch it and then the fate was inevitable, painful death. When the Wind Blows probably would have put "an atom bomb going off and roasting Nanny and Grandad and all of us" right at the top of the To Worry About list.
Needless to say, I have hidden this book from the kids...