the folly of MADness

Follies are great fun. The Victorians, especially liked building them. They serve no particular purpose other than being bizarre and hugely extravagant. Rather like the nuclear bunker in a farmer’s field at Kelvedon Hatch. This immense underground structure was to be the seat of regional government for the east of England in a the aftermath of a devastating nuclear war.

broadway tower - an 18th century folly

kelvedon hatch entrance to nuclear bunker - a 20th century folly

This place was top secret until it was decommissioned in 1992 with the end of the “Cold War” after which farmer Parrish was allowed to have his land back complete with the bunker that is now open to the public and which Louisa and her family and I explored.

Somehow , though, this cavernous subterranean structure with it’s makeshift furniture, equipment and models seemed surreal and a cross between Disneyland and a place of madness. The mannequin of Margaret Thatcher in one of the command rooms was hilarious if only this bunker hadn’t been build in deadly earnest for the aftermath of an apocalyptic atomic war.  Communism versus Capitalism was the tension that drove the arms race but Mutual Assured Destruction kept the bombs from falling (except at Hiroshima and Nagasaki).

There was, too, something bittersweet about the bunker; a bit like the Berlin Wall where it was a pleasure to clamber over it and celebrate it’s downfall, yet also a  sadness that so many lives were wasted  because of it. Ironically, in the souvenir shop in Kelevedon Hatch, this ultimate bastion against the Soviet threat of communist world domination, the memento I bought was a military forage cap that turned out to be Red Army surplus!

But they also sold On The Beach by Neville Shute.


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