Tuesday 29 April 1986

…Did SMP and Comprehension corrections.
At Lunch Mrs Barker [one of the dinner ladies] spilt a whole tray of yoghurt on the floor.
Continuing boring project on grasslands and deserts.
Not taking part in the Loughborough Schools Swimming Gala. HOORAY…

I’m kind of more interested in what I’ve not mentioned in this entry than what I’ve put in.

By 29 April 1986 Chernobyl was all over the news. I wouldn’t have not been aware of it.

Yet I decided to fill my diary with stuff about yoghurt and swimming galas, rather than potential impending radiation poisoning.

I know I would have been alarmed. I know I would have dug out the plans I had drawn for a homemade nuclear bunker under our back garden, and pinned them pointedly on the corkboard on my bedroom wall in the hope they would be spotted and commented upon.

But still I chose to omit Chernobyl entirely from my diary entry for today and indeed every day over the next few weeks.

Maybe some things were just too horrific, or perhaps too far-fetched, for me even to confide in secret.

Saturday 26 April 1986

…The first of the Saturday Picture Shows today.
Mum made Kermit. He’s brilliant. Mum’s still doing it now.
Went to buy another Asterix book today. Five more to go until I’ve got them all…

Yes, I considered the arrival of this year’s BBC1 Saturday morning summer “filler” enough of an event to warrant a mention, just as I had made a point of noting the end of the current series of Saturday Superstore one week earlier. I would have made sure I was up early enough to catch the 8.30am start as well.

This was the year that the Picture Show mustered the struggling-desperately-hard-to-be-credible-but-not-quite-managing-it line-up of Mark Curry, Cheryl Baker and Gary Davies.

It was also the year that it last mustered anything at all, as it failed to return in 1987. Something thunderously awful took its place, about which I penned plenty of diary-based vitriol, but more on that in 12 months time.

Look, here’s Gary and Cheryl (after a few seconds of Miami Sound Machine) sitting in a very mid-80s studio (lots of chrome, scatter cushions and gently-flashing coloured lights) promising us It Bites “live in the studio” this “Sadderday”:

Ah, it was exciting back then. Really, it was.

As for “Mum made Kermit”, this is the next chapter in my attempt to put on a puppet show in my school assembly, an idea first hatched a couple of weeks earlier, but which went nowhere until I persuaded my mum to attempt to sew and stitch together my very own Kermit THE frog.

She did a really great job. It had tiny metal wires to move the hands and everything. But it would be some time before he made his debut in front of anyone other than my deeply forbearing family.

Friday 25 April 1986

…Did Drama, and some Mathematical problems before Assembly.
In Art we were starting to make hand puppets with balloons covered with paper and paste for the head,
while the 4th years did cycling proficiency…

These puppets would turn out to be the most time-consuming, most tiresome and most talked-about thing we’d ever done in Art.

Someone had evidently tried to come up with a task that would last weeks, if not most of the term. They succeeded.

Simply covering the wretched balloons with paper and glue took up the whole of today’s lesson, after which the sticky creations had to dry for seven days (how convenient) before the balloons could be popped and the resultant shell decorated. And this was only the puppet’s head.

It would prove to be a project that would, like the paste we were given to fashion a cranium from crumpled newsprint, run and run.

Monday 21 April 1986

…The Queen’s proper birthday today.
It was a festive occasion for all the royal family.
Also all our £1 coins are three years old.
Did SMP, project and Nelson today.
Had horrible cheese pie for dinner…

I always had school dinners at primary school. I never brought a packed lunch.

As such I had to stomach, literally, the foulest meal I have ever not had the privilege to taste in my life to date. Its name was cheese pie, and it was almost always served on a Monday, and always with a side helping of tinned tomatoes.

Just think about that combination for a moment.

A wodge of stodgy, glutinous, tasteless cheese, accompanied by a dollop of watery, inscrutable, vaguely metallic-tasting tomato skins. Euuucchh. Even the thought of it now makes my mouth fill with traces of quarter-century-old saliva.

Our school dinners weren’t cooked on site. They were delivered to the school by a man in a council van, usually at morning break, and were carried into the kitchen through the playground in full view of the entire school.

This meant we all got the chance to see, and therefore guess, what was on the menu for that day.

The food arrived in large flat tins and urns, with cryptic lettering chalked on the side. Much discussion would be had as to whether a “CH” on the lid of a tin referred to the dreaded cheese pie (as was invariably the case on a Monday) or whether it might, just might, stand for something else. Something like…

…CHIPS!

Oh yes. Chips. This was the upside to be being officially registered for school dinners and not packed lunches.

One of the greatest Mondays ever in our primary school was when the “CH” on the side of the tin turned out not to be cheese pie but that other, far more appealing, far more thrillsome and life-affirming delicacy that is the chipped potato.

As soon as it was confirmed that it was indeed chips, word spread around the school faster than a verruca or bit of gossip about a Valentine’s Day card. What a day that was.

Yet for all the gruel and bile I ate at primary school, as soon as I got to secondary school and had the choice to ditch them for packed lunches, I stuck with routine and carried on having hot dinners.

I guess it had become something of a familiar ritual that I felt the need to cling to on embarking into unfamiliar surroundings.

Nowadays if I have hot food at dinner I need to have at least half an hour’s snooze in the afternoon.

Saturday 19 April 1986

…It’s Saturday.
Watched the last Saturday Superstore in the series.
Read two Asterix books.
Made a telephone which squirts things and throws things at you through the hole…

I didn’t go out much in 1986.

Oh, and I’ve retrospectively copyrighted in perpetuity the concept of a squirty telephone that throws things at you through the hole, along with a breakfast-making machine and a trace map of Leicester. I haven’t given up on that Prince Charles Tomorrow’s World Innovation Award just yet.

Friday 18 April 1986

…Cycling proficiency for the 4th years. 800m running for the 3rd years [my year].
Did Drama, Creative Writing and Graphs this morning.
Had chips, sausages and spaghetti hoops.
It’s Mum’s birthday. Gave her a dedication on the radio this morning…

This dedication still exists. It turns up a third of the way through side one of my second volume of home-taped TV themes.

I kept it as a memento of the first time I ever rang up a real-life (as opposed to a pretend) radio station.

The station in question is BBC Radio Leicester, which at the time I listened to quite a lot. This wasn’t so much because of its presenters or choice of music, but because nobody else in our house listened to it, and I wanted to claim it as my own.

We had quite separate and mutually exclusive radio tastes in our family at that time. Mum and Dad listened to Radio 4. I’d started with Radio 1 but by the spring of 1986 was transferring allegiance to Epic House, Charles Street, LE1. My sister didn’t listen to anything. Nobody went near Radio 2.

This meant that not only did I miss out on being reared to the sound of Wogan at the breakfast table, but also that nobody could ever agree on anything for everyone to listen to while, say, in the car or sitting down for a meal.

Her birthday dedication was quite possibly the first time my Mum had ever heard Radio Leicester. I’m pretty sure it was also the last*.

Epic sounds from Epic House

*Excluding those days when it snowed and everybody across the county suddenly remembered they had a local station they could tune to and discover if their local school was shut.

Tuesday 15 April 1986

…Watched Duty Free. Recorded the music…

The second volume of my home-taped TV theme collection was shaping up nicely. Here’s how the first half of side one eventually looked:

One slice of Ball, Stilgoe, Jossy and Popper please!

Listening back to it now, I realise the theme to Just So Stories is the same as that used for the closing music in series two of A Bit of Fry and Laurie (although it appears here in fully-orchestrated, and yet somehow slightly less impressive, form).

The Stilgoe’s On theme features not one, not two but three Stilgoes harmonising with each other. It’s an acutely fussy song for a rather humble chilren’s programme about making things, but that just renders it all the more memorable.

I think Edward and Mrs Simpson is on there because my mum liked it. It’s not the sort of thing I would’ve willingly watched in the spring of 1986. Or perhaps any season. Ever.

Seaview, meanwhile, is an ambitious edit of the opening (ordinary) and closing (full rock wig-out) versions. I didn’t go about these things lightly.

I’ve said this before, but I am truly glad this and the other tapes still exist and are still playable.

As such I readily doff a Jossy’s Giants goalmouth-sized hat in the direction of the fine folk at WHSmith.