*FX:* checks nervously over shoulder for Spooks before noding this...

I was out for a ride through the countryside outside London at the weekend. Nice weather, not too many cars on the road, and new sticky tyres on my motorbike meant I was having a wonderful time. Then on the way home I came to a small town in Essex called Ongar. Just outside the town was a road sign, which looked fairly normal.

According to the sign, I could go straight ahead to Abridge, Romford and London, I could turn right for The Rodings and Chigwell, or left for the Secret Nuclear Bunker.

It wasn't until I'd passed the sign that I suddenly realised what I'd read on it ... Secret Nuclear Bunker? This was no handwritten sign by the way, this was a proper, official Department of Transport road sign. Unfortunately I had somewhere else to be later on that day so couldn't follow it up, but I'm definitely going back at some point to find out. If the black helicopters don't get me I'll be sure to let you know what's there...

Update December 18, 2000: well I've been back to the bunker, and it's exactly what it claims to be. Except for the secret part, that is. It even has its own website at www.thebunker.net which is very comprehensive, but to summarise it used to be a genuine bunker to be used by the UK military and government as a secure communications centre in the event of a nuclear strike against this country.

With the collapse of the Soviet Union and the welcoming of ex-Warsaw Pact countries into Europe the threat was perceived to be less and in 1993 the bunker was declassified: before that even residents living nearby had no idea the place existed. It's now partly a minor tourist attraction but primarily aiming to sell itself as a hyper-secure data storage location: obvious parallels can be drawn with The Crypt from Neal Stephenson's novel Cryptonomicon, even down to the Secret Nuclear Bunker being run by geeks who've populated it with UNIX boxes.

In the days of my youth *comes over all misty eyed*, there was a movement in the UK called Cruisewatch. We made it our business to track USAF missile convoys out of Greenham Common and stop them, paint them and generally throw a spanner in the works. The rationale (as if it needed one) was that the system claimed that by dispersing on its articulated lorry missile launcher, it 'melted into the countryside', making itself less of a target. And making the population of the south of England a bigger target whilst simultaneously threatening some nice engineer's family in Tomsk. We felt we could demonstrate that if a bunch of peaceniks with CB radios could find it, the KGB probably weren't far behind. After all, according to rightwing rag the Daily Mail they were paying our wages

Any road up, some Cruisewatchers moved on to finding the bunkers dotted all across the British countryside, part of a farcical idea that there would be a need for the continuation of the government structure after a nuclear holocaust - especially seeing as they'd be the fools who got us killed in the first place. First thing I would be thinking as my mutated corpse dragged itself from the wreckage would surely be "hope there's a bureaucrat to tell me what to do". Once found, one could break in to said bunker in the wee small hours and rehabilitate the contents.

Did we stop the bomb? No, despite SALT II there's more warheads in the world now than ever, but no-one cares anymore. But this is when I learned one of life's vital lessons - resistance is fun.

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