“Alan, your hamstrung injury will make gardening impossible.”
“Do you think so?”
“You could not even pick up that toonie you dropped at the parking meter.”
“So, forget about gardening this  year…weeds usually take over
any way.  You are not the best weeder in the world even in perfect
“So, forget about the garden.”
“Not so fast…”
“Use your head, do not waste time on the garden.”

“We have those water old troughs with holes  in them…and big
plastic pots for garbage…All are now filled with topsoil and thriving.”
‘No need  to bend over…tomatoes,  cucumbers,  dill, beans, 
potatoes, lettuce, even  watermelons at our finger tips with 
no bending.”
“Maybe you are not as stupid  as you look.”?
“Flattery will get you everywhere, Marjorie…have an onion.”

THOSE of you with good  eyes will notice another facet of our 2019 garden.
What?  The skids…ever pot, trough, container sits  on skid so we can use
the bob cat to move the garden away from the weeds…or put it in a
better position for the sun.  No labour.

In normal  years, by mid August, our garden has been lost as the weeds below win the race for the sun. This year we have won.




alan skeoch

august 2019

This Victorian desk/bookcase/vanity mirror brings back the fear I  felt in 1954 when atom bomb
laden B52 bombers overflew Toronto each day high up in the stratosphere.  Their vapour trails
were chilling.

More chilling was my sure and curtain belief that a nuclear war was very possible and that
Toronto could be a target of Soviet Union missiles.  Or Toronto could be hit by accident of an
American B52 crash.   I drew a circle with my compass.  One point on our city hall and the 
other pencils point tracing a circle.   We were just outside the circle of mass destruction.  Survival
was possible.  With care.   American atom bomb tests had  been  moved to Bikini Atoll, depopulated 

islands in the south central Pacific Ocean.  The population of 167 had been  moved.  They would never

 return as test after test of atomic weapons were conducted.  

BUT I figured  we might survive an atom bomb
explosion…just barely do  so if precautions were taken.


This cabinet was the heart of our basement air raid shelter.  It had to be stocked so I began slipping
cans of tomato soup, pork and beans and canned  peaches down the back stairs to the cabinet.
Never gave any thought to how the soup could be cooked.   Pork and  beans and peaches could be
eaten cold.  What else was needed?  A big bag of Quaker rolled oats tucked  away in a tin with a lid lest

  the mice erode our food supply.  Rolled oats  do not need to be cooked and are considered nutritious.

Alcohol? A year of so later  I stuffed a full bottle of Hennessey’s cognac in the ceiling gap
between heating pipes and floor joists.  Water?  That was easy.  “Mom, in the event of nuclear war, could
you rush down and fill the cement laundry tups with water?”  “What if I am working?” ?/ Right, anyone home
must fill the laundry tubs before the detonation.?

What else should I put in the old desk?  Books, perhaps a Steinbeck or

Dickens or Cowboy Western by Luke Short.  A bible?  Might get around
to reading it to allay fear or increase it?  Toothpaste.  The thought of
toothpaste raised another distasteful thought.   Toilet paper.  But where
would we relieve ourselves?  I had no answer except the tenant’s
downstairs toilet on the other side of the wood panelling between my
air raid shelter and their bathroom.  

Thoughts of Mr and Mrs Douglas, our tenants at 455 Annette Street, 
Toronto west end. raised the thorny question of who would  be let into
our raid shelter and who would be left to die of nuclear burns.  Shelters
had to be kept secret.  A terrible fact.  Our shelter would only have
room for brother Eric, mom and dad.   Four people.  And, oh yes,
our cat Tinker.  She would not be a  problem and she was family.
All others would be kept out which meant the hook latch on the back
door would have to be reinforced somehow.  Thoughts of friends like
Big Red Stevenson, Russ Vanstone, Good Sanford or Kaye  Donovon yelling for entrance
was unsettling.  Sadly my girlfriend was on the eastern side of the 
circle of death.  She would not survive.  The relationship was tenuous
at times anyway.

   We would need to keep a record.   Maybe have to live for two or three

weeks in the air raid shelter.  So the desk side was stocked with pens, pencils

and green spiral bond notebooks.  Who knows,  maybe a great novel will

result providing we all survive.

Survival?  The shelter was between the old cement block coal bin and
the huge furnace.  Some protection on the north particularly since the coal bin
was  double walled.  The western wall had no windows… solid  cement blocks.  

It was  on the east side I had a problem.  Two cellar
windows…flimsy.  If the shock wave hit them they would shatter and render 
the shelter useless.   I decided to ignore the window on the other side of the
furnace and  proceeded to consider bricking up the other window.  Mom and dad
did not approve so instead I covered the window with short pine planks and kept
a small supply of bricks ready if needed. 

The silliest part of this shelter was the sleeping arrangement.  One old moth
eaten studio couch was all I could find.    We would have to take turns to sleep.
Three chairs and the couch … and the Victorian desk that had been converted
into a larder of sorts.  Enough food for two or three days  at best.

Funny thing about the shelter was the floor.  For some stupid reason I began
construction by laying down a wooden pine floor. Made no sense really and  reduced
our headroom by  a few inches.   But it made the shelter look rather homey.

THEN, in 1956, a Hydrogen bomb was detonated on Bikini Atoll.   A hydrogen
bomb was 1,100 times more  powerful than the two atomic bombs dropped
on Hiroshima  and  Nagasaki. ELEVEN  HUNDRED  TIMES!   That information
changed  everything.  The new  circle of  total devastation went way beyond our house
in West Toronto…way beyond  Etobicoke…beyond Malton airport.  

There was no point in my air raid  shelter.  Like thinking people around the world
I began to imagine a world without people.  One secret report from the scientists
testing nuclear weapons  on Bikini Atoll was  that the human race was about to
be depopulated.  Of humans only a ‘vestigial’ fragment would  survive and for them
life  on earth would  be unimaginably horrific.

So the Skeoch  air raid shelter just mouldered away.   Raids on the food supplies
occurred.  “Alan, go down and get two  cans  of tomato soup from your air raid 
shelter.” “Any rolled oats left down there?”  Finally all that remained was  the bookcase 
desk lathered with a dash  of coal dust.

About a decade later I remembered something really important.  That bottle
of Hennessy’s Cognac beside the stovepipe.  Eric  and I rushed  down and sure
enough, there it was.  Dusty like fine century old  wine.  But intact.  We had never
 tasted cognac and twisted  the top open.  Poured a bit of the nut brown liquid into
two glasses and then….YUCK!   This was not cognac.  It was water with colouring.

Dad had found the bottle long ago.  It must have given him a bit of pleasure as
he shovelled chunks  of anthracite  coal into he furnace.  And he must have
grinned to himself thinking that someday  his sons would remember the bottle.
And would they be surprised.

We  found it.   But we were not surprised. Nothing our dad ever did surprised  us.
Eric and  I were the luckiest of children.  Poor but we did not know it.  Treasured
but we did not know it.  Being taught but we did not know  it.  Loved  but we took
if for granted.   

“What kind  of Tom foolery are you up to now?”  
“Building an air raid shelter for all of us, Dad.”
“Now, if that is not the stupidest goddamn notion you have ever had, I’ll
be a monkey’s uncle.”
“You could  help get this  bookcase desk into the cellar..”
“Where in hell’s  half acre did you get the goddmaned thing?”
“Salvation Army store…delivered.”
“You payed good money for this thing?”
“Twenty dollars.”
“Another proof  of your stupidity.”

But he helped  lay the floor and get the old couch past the octopus
we called our furnace.   Neither Eric, Mom or I ever occupied the air raid
shelter.  But Dad did.  Shovelling coal beside the couch in winter. Then
reading the racing form from front to back and back  again. In summer the 
coolness of the cellar was as good a launch pad for Woodbine, Fort Erie, or

even Batavia Downs…as good  as he could  find.  Racing forms

were great literature to him.  Who did he  love more than mom and his  boys?
Northern Dancer comes to mind…a great Canadian horse.  Dad  did  not spend
time…waste time…thinking about the possibility of nuclear war.  He was  a man
of the moment.  A horseman.   If nuclear war was about to depopulate the planet
then Dad  just did  not want to be around such a stark landscape that had no horses. 

Then why did  he help the construction?  I think he saw me slip the bottle of
Hennesy’s into the the slot in the joists.  Just saying this creates  a false 
impression.  Dad  was  not a drinker in the sense of becoming an alcoholic.
He drank beer with friends and particularly his argumentative brothers…Art, 
Jack, Archie and Norman.  And Uncle Earnest who was really a cousin.
He also had  a  beer or two with his racetrack
cronies of which there were legions it seemed.  He was a social animal
rather than a solitary boozer.   I bet he shared that cognac with old Mr. Cook
on the corner house.  I bet they both laughed a lot.  

Fear of a depopulated world was not part of their lives.  I envy them now.
Nothing was to be taken too seriously.  As  mentioned  far too often in
these stories is Dad’s comment which  he repeated with glee.  “We have two
sons, one is a  gutsy bugger and the other is as stupid as Joes dog.”

As an adult I rather liked to be known as a gutsy bugger but Now, 
in retrospect I think Dad thought I was as stupid  as  Joe’s dog.
Building an air raid shelter when the world  was about to be destroyed.
Now that is stupidity.  

The Hydrogen bomb ended  the illusion of survivability anyhow.

alan skeoch
August 2019


  Nearly 100 ships were anchored around Bikini Atoll in 1946 as American Nuclear test

explosion began in earnest.  The  population of the Atoll, around  147 people, were
displaced never to return.   Many of the anchored warships now like in deep waters
around Bikini.   One surprising result now over  70 years later is the return of fish life
and coral life to the waters and the verdant growth of palm trees.  Radioactive soils  remain
though and efforts at re populating the islands has been considered too dangerous.


In 1946 the United States had  a huge supply of surplus ships including the 
ships surrendered by the Japanese Navy.  So one of the most startling atomic test
was  planned  by anchoring 78 of these ships at varying distances  and angles to Bikini
Atoll where a test atom bomb was detonated.  Most were inside the Bikini Atoll lagoon.
Five sank and 14 were severely damaged but, surprisingly the rest survived. 

The USS Independence was one  of the test ships.  She Survived and sailed
back to port where she was stuffed with drums of radioactive  waste and  then
sunk 30 miles off the coast of California where she  rest spright to tis day.

What followed was a series of 66 more  test atomic  explosions  at Bikini.  Above
ground testing of atomic weapons continued through the 1950’s until such testing
was stopped as a result of scientists like Canadian Ursual  Franklin who roved
radioactive Strontium 90 was beng concentrated in children’s teeth.  How?  Very
simply.  Atomic  blast created clouds of radioactive dust that circled the globe.  Eventually
that dust settled on the ground.  Cattle ate radioactive  grass.  And  children  drank
radioactive milk.    That fact led eventually to world wide ban on above  ground
nuclear testing.

“Can we ever go home?”  So asked the displaced islanders of  Bikini Atoll.  They were awarded
a cash settlement of a two billio dollar land damage  claim but payment seems  to have stopped
when the initial fund  was  exhausted.  In 1970 the islanders were  allowed  to return but that
did  not last long since any food they tried to grow was  a radioactive danger to their health and they
were once again exiled, likely forever. “I do not believe its  safe,” said islander Evelyn Ralph-Jeadrik
even tough her island atoll called Rongelap, was a distance from Bikini.  “I don’t want to put my
children at risk.”

She was talking about the Bravo cnuliear test on March  1, 1954.  A  hydrogen bomb test that was  
“a thousand  times more powerful than the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima.”

Ir took a while for the implications  of  the  1956 Hydrogen bomb to be clear I’m my mind.  I was building
the air raid shelter in the cellar based  on the hypothetical circles of devastation expected from an atomic
bomb.  That was  sometime in 1955.   By 1956 even a person  as  stupid  as  me realized that
there was  no hope of  survival.  Humanity had to rely on the Strategic Air Command bombers to 
provide some kind of  mutual  stalemate with the Soviet Unions  Bomber command.  No room for

So the Skeoch Air raid shelter was  forgotten by all but Arnold ‘Red’ Skeoch as a  place to fantasize
about putting $20 on the nose of horses like Northern Dancer at the old Woodbine Racetrack while
he rested on the air raid shelter couch sipping Hennessy Cognac.

Events have a strange way of  interconnecting.  A few  years  later, in 1960,
I was a young geophysical prospector sent to test survey instruments at the bottom
of  CanMet uranium mine.   One of the Canadian mines that provided raw uranium
for the manufacture  of  atomic bombs.  

The account of that adventure has  been
attached in a separate email.  

alan skeoch

august 2019

(What kind  of parents would allow their son to build and air raid shelter?)

Here we are emulating Red Skeoch whose White Owl Invisible cigars gave him
great satisfaction.   He taught his  grandsons, Kevin and  Andrew, to smoke them
when they were six and eight years old.   We all survived the  fears of the 20th century.


MOM, Elsie was her real name but Dad  called  her Methusalum which is  a corruption of the biblical  Methusalah who was the oldest person in the bible.  Mom
was  a year older that Dad so it was natural for him to draw that to everyone’s attention.   Mom ran  the show.  She was the real breadwinner…the homemaker…
the common sense person.  And, as  such she was taken for granted.  Happens  to a  lot of people…being taken for granted.  Sort of a backhanded compliment.
Marjorie noted the picture  of Dad and Mon in their courting days…”his hand is perilously close to her breast.”   True.  Mom had the most important job in the
air raid  shelter caper.  “Mom, you rush right down and fill those laundry tubs while the city still has a  water system.”


THESE pictures will give you some idea of  how dad just loved to make fun of his children.  A delight for us.  And you might understand how Dad  helped 
build the air raid shelter even though he thought it was a  damn fool idea.  He had the last laugh…for he got the bottle of Hennessy’s.  See if you can
find the two sons…the gutsy  bugger and the kid stupid as Joe’s dog’.  To Dad the air raid shelter caper was a source of great humour.

That’s Dad holding the plow handles AS we did another damn fool thing.