The RAF sheep are the easiest to explain. Just down the road we had a vast underground aviation fuel dump, running for about 2km at the side of a B road. The tanks beneath the grass-covered tumps were connected, we supposed, with RAF Wattisham, our closest nuclear target amongst the scores of UK and USAF airbases across the region. They were cleverly camouflaged and there were no visible signs as to what the vast bumpy fields actually were, except for the sheep. It was whispered that the risk of fire had ruled out the use of gang mowers to keep the grass short (this was old school '70s - even a secret, camouflaged defence facility needed short hair and discipline) so the fuel dump was populated with RAF sheep. And we passed them daily, grazing atop the millions of gallons of incendiary aviation fuel, utterly unaware of the danger, calmly gazing back as they chewed the RAF grass.
The Polish spies were hiding in plain sight. At a time when there was virtually zero trade between the West and the nations behind the Iron Curtain, the Polish tractor and agricultural machinery firm Ursus Bison opened an outlet and service centre just outside Needham Market. The tractors were heavily discounted to ensure sales across East Anglia. Then, to 'improve customer service', they imported a Sikorsky helicopter, a couple of pilots and a ground crew, ostensibly to deliver spares and engineers to farms across East Anglia. We reckoned any farm within spitting distance of a NATO facility that bought a tractor would find the injectors quickly blocked or the fuel pump fouled and a friendly Polish voice on the telephone offering to fly an engineer out immediately. We once had the inevitable conversation, watching the Sikorsky wobble across the sky minutes after a flight of F4s had screamed over our heads at low level leaving us covered in a faint mist of unburned
"Do you reckon they'll warn them?"
"What, when they launch the missiles? Nah."
Like the blissfully unaware RAF sheep, both we and the diligent Poles would be condemned to instant nuclear annihilation by Soviet nukes. Such was life.
For the millennials, the Chinese plague threat will be the first time anything has actually threatened their lives. Whilst I hope and pray the thing is contained, if it is not it will be up to our generation to set the example as to how to live with the threat of premature death. And being British, I'm quite sure our response will include humour. Even before the first case has been confirmed, you can bet the first joke will have hit the internet.