Oh, how I wish I still had this beauty. My father bought it in 1972. Those were peculiar times: the Cold War. Remember that one? Too young perhaps? Well, once upon a time we free Europeans were expecting a Soviet led invasion any day – massed tanks poised across the Rhine, ready to press perilously deep like a plague of mechanised locusts into the goodly and godly lands of west, unless we nuked them first. The problem with that one though is the Soviets had their own nukes targeted at every city in England, including Manchester and Liverpool, and since I lived around about where the zones of destruction for these places overlapped, things didn’t look too promising for me.
I remember plotting an escape route on foot, using the footpath network, since I reasoned all the roads would either be gridlocked or toasted. It was my little contingency to be followed at the first sign of trouble – a vague idea of heading north – to the Lakes, or failing that a boat to Ireland. But at the same time common sense told me the best I could hope for was to be sitting right under the first warhead when it went off – anything else was simply unimaginable. Remember children, there is no surviving a global thermonuclear war!
They were horrible times – and hard to imagine now. My biggest fear as a kid when I woke up each morning was literally the end of the world. Nowadays its the possibility that the guy sitting next to me on the aeroplane is carring a bomb in his underpants. Jeez, the youth of today – they don’t know they’re born.
But I digress.
In spite of the threat of annihilation hanging over us, it was hard to think of the Soviets as bad people. It was just the times. It was a kind of ideological insanity. And actually, many of us in the west had a sneaking admiration for Soviet built kit. It was cheap for a start, and seemingly just as good as anything we could buy at twice the price from anywhere else. All right, it was never pretty and it usually weighed a ton – but it was functional, robust, even manly. I had Russian binoculars, an MZ motorbike, a Zenith camera, a Sekonda wristwatch,…. and a VEF 206 radio.
I remember listening to Radio Luxemburg on that VEF, every Tuesday night: Bob Stewart and the top 40. The first time I heard ABBA’s Fernando, it was coming through the static on my VEF. Technically speaking 2010 is a better time to be alive than 1972 and you can now get better reception from a device the same size as a playing card. As I write I’m listening to an obscure Canadian radio station on my iPod Touch. The reception is perfect and it sounds like the lady who is speaking could be sitting in the same room. Back in 1972, Radio Luxemburg sounded like it might have been coming from the other side of the Galaxy.
Something like an iPod Touch or an iPhone would have been inconceivable back then – but 1972 wasn’t a bad time to be alive in other ways – all right, apart from the threat of nuclear war and the annoying way that Radio Luxemburg would drift off station just as that week’s number one was about to play. But we’re an adaptable species and when it comes to material things we tend to adjust very quickly and take them for granted – we just find new things to moan about – like I just crashed my iPod trying to update it. How much sense would that have made in 1972?
But love and loss and loneliness were pretty much the same then as they are now.
I treasured that old VEF. I even made a cabinet for it in woodwork at school, from an old desk – English oak. I still have the cabinet because English oak has a way of improving with age. But the old VEF wore out. Its pots became scratchy. It got dropped and anyway it ate batteries – but I’d give anything to listen to rustling of those scratchy old pots just one more time and the ghost of Bob Stewart presenting the top 40 on Tuesday nights.
Peter Stuyvesant cigarette anyone?