Four minutes

I don’t suppose four minutes means much to younger people today unless they are thinking of the amount of time they cook their boiled eggs… but maybe they like a five-minute egg, or a six-minute egg? However when I was young (and just writing that makes me feel ancient) four minutes had more significance…

Our lives then seemed dominated by ‘the four minute warning’ – the supposed amount of time we would have to prepare ourselves of the end of the world, or a nuclear attack which amounted to the same thing. It did cast a shadow over us in a way its difficult to explain to kids now; I suppose growing up after the war when there were the shocking photos and stories of what happened in Japan to the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the tensions between the west and east, the cold war, we were aware of our vulnerability. I remember the shock and fear when Kennedy was shot… would something global come from this unexpected assassination? Four years later,  when news broke about the Six Day War between Israel and its Arab neighbours, one of my class mates, an otherwise very steady and calm girl broke down in tears and was almost hysterical with upset and anxiety and fear… we were standing outside of the geography room at the time… This persisted for many years and when I was doing my degree we were shown films of what to do if there was a nuclear attack… I didn’t realise but the four minute warning lasted from 1953 to 1990…

There are other four minutes as well as boiled eggs and nuclear attack warnings, Roger Bannister famously broke a the record for running a mile in under four minutes in 1954, there are various songs called ‘Four Minutes’ and also a film…. But for me and many people my age, four minutes will always mean one thing.



  1. richard.kefford

    I well remember the Cuban missile crisis when JFK had given his ultimatum to Kruschev that if the Russian ships carrying the nuclear missiles carried on towards Cuba, America would do something naughty. Every few minutes we listened to the radio as the ships carried on – would they turn back or was this the end of the world? They eventually turned around and there was a huge sigh of relief. The end of the world was put off until the next crisis.
    As you say, we had all seen the pictures of the atomic bomb test and the results at Nagasaki and the numbers of people killed. It was all too real.

    Liked by 1 person

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