Flashback Friday: The Sound Of The Severnside Sirens

the severnside siren speakers in shirehampton

Header image: WlcxCC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

For Fridays, I thought I would try something a little different. Instead of a daily journal-style post, I thought I would share with you some of my life memories to help you better know me as a person, as well as a kinkster. I hope you enjoy these posts and if there is anything you want me to write about sometime (ie where were you when… ). Leave your suggestions in the comments and I’ll be sure to try and answer them in a future post. 

I grew up in the small village of Shirehampton, neighbouring the port village of Avonmouth. Going back in history, Shirehampton was home to many of the men who worked on Avonmouth docks, and many of their descendants still live in the village to this day. Shirehampton has a vibrant community and a friendly spirit, and even strangers can be friends here. There is also lots of history in the area with some links back as far as Roman times.

Whilst a lot of people think Avonmouth docks sees most of our trade, this isn’t strictly true. Royal Portbury docks are where the cars come in, and the imports at Avonmouth docks are typically food, coal and scrap metal. While none of these seem particularly dangerous, a more perilous danger lies just off to the right side of the docks.

Smoke Lane.

Smoke Lane gets its name because of its industrial past. Whilst most people would drive down it without a second thought, for residents in the neighbouring areas, this is where the danger lies. On Smoke Lane and in nearby Chattening lie numbers of chemical works, some of which use, store or produce hazardous chemicals such as petroleum, ammonia and sulphuric acid.

Between sites and in nearby areas, a number of siren masts are positioned. In the event of a hazardous chemical leak, Avon & Somerset police will send a radio signal to these masts and a siren will ring out. Fortunately in my lifetime, no serious leaks have ever happened. These masts are mostly positioned in Avonmouth, Chattening and Shirehampton, but they can be heard in our home in Southmead, too. The mast in the header image is the one in Shirehampton, and I have walked past it myself a number of times. It’s oddly terrifying to look at. It looms high above the footpath and I’m often internally terrified that it might sound while I’m walking nearby.

On the third of every month, at 3pm. the sirens ring out. It’s not a perfectly planned incident but a test to check that the sirens work, so that we, the civilians, know what they sound like, and so that, ideally, we can have a little practice run at what we should do:

Go In. Stay In. Tune In. That’s the motto.

Go indoors, stay indoors, tune in on the TV and radio.

There are other rules which might seem silly, such as not to use anything with a spark ignition (such as a gas cooker) that could ignite chemicals in the air. You’re also not supposed to call out on the telephone so that the emergency services can call you and instruct you on evacuation plans, if necessary.  Parents are not allowed to collect children from school, either. In the event that it ever happened, the schools are trained to safeguard your children until the all-clear sounds, or until evacuation measures are put into place.

Now, you’ll note that I said we practice this every month ‘ideally’ because in truth, most people don’t.

“What’s the date?”

“The third.”

“Ah, okay. That explains that then.”

That’s about as far as it goes.

Maybe this all sounds very organised and secure and yet, there’s nothing more eerie than actually hearing the siren test run. It’s a haunting sound and on cold winter days, it can make things seem even more depressing than they really are. During the lockdowns, the sirens even gave us an ‘incoming zombie apocalypse’ feel.

As a child, I hated the sirens and in a sense, I was even deathly afraid of them. I’d sit on the stairs with my fingers in my ears, willing the noise to go away. Sometimes I’d run upstairs and jump into my parents’ bed, and Mum would have to lay with me until the sirens stopped, then convince me and reassure me afterwards that everything was okay. Eventually though, she got sick of those games.

“No! You’re ten years old. Take your fingers out of your ears and listen to them, you’re perfectly safe.”

Reluctantly, I did.

Throughout my teenage years, I still didn’t like the sirens, and I can remember hearing them go off during one science class and so desperately wanting to jam my fingers back into my ears. Just listen, I told myself, and breathe. 

Over time, I began to accept the sirens and even for a time, they sort of became a novelty and a bit of a giggle for me. Matt asked me to be his girlfriend (‘officially’, because dancing drunkenly to Justin Timberlake’s Like I Love You didn’t really explain too much) on 3rd January 2017, and he proposed on 3rd February 2010. For us then, the sirens become a sort of celebration of our love as well; a sort of twisted joke between the two of us.

One of my most frightening experiences with the sirens happened on 3rd July 2017.  I was in my Mum’s garden, blissfully ignoring the test run for summer sun, when a low-flying jet flew over from east to west.

I have to be honest with you, we all thought it was a terrorist incident. We all thought that it was a hijacked plane and maybe, just maybe, we actually should get indoors, get safe and hopefully, get out alive on the other side.

No such ordeal.

After the siren test, it turns out, Airbus had decided to run a test of their own, testing how low they could fly one of their newer jets without disturbing residents. It disturbed us in a way because a number of people had called the police to report a plane “acting strange” and the mass panic even made the local news. In the grand scheme of things, Airbus’ timing couldn’t have been better.

Today. the sirens don’t really bother me anymore. They’re there, they happen and provided it’s only the third at 3pm, I don’t take too much notice. I live far away now not to be at any risk of explosions or chemical leaks and I live uphill from the sites, so I’m not at risk of contaminated water. That’s not to say that I completely ignore the sirens though, because while I’m safe here, I still have loved ones that I still worry about in the area.

If you’re curious, you can take a watch of this really awesome video of the Shirehampton mast sounding out. I must warn you though, you may suffer an earworm of these sirens – particularly the second warning tone – for days or hours afterwards . Welcome to the life of a Sh’ramptoner!

If you’re interested in reading the most recently distributed safety leaflet or reading more about the plants at Avonmouth (I don’t know why you would, but you do you, boo!), you can also find that here.

I hope you enjoyed this post. If you have any ideas for Flashback Friday, don’t forget to get in touch!

Until next time,

Stay safe & have fun,

Helen xx

An Added Giggle From The Village: On the roundabout in Avonmouth is white road markings for Shirehampton. However, ‘Shirehampton’ is a long word and road lanes are only so wide, so the road markings on the lane for Shirehampton read ‘Shi’ton’ instead!


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