Thursday 31 July 1986

…Woke up to the continuous sound of Underground trains.
I heard 20.
Went to Tower Bridge.
Walked across the high walkways.
They aren’t balconies.
They’re all glassed in with holes in to look out.
When I looked out I got a face full of wind and rain.
Had lunch.
Went to HMV and Marks and Spencers.
Went to the station and got train to Loughborough.
Home in a taxi…

We had stayed with an old friend of my mum’s who had a house in Islington. The bedroom in which me and my sister spent the night directly overlooked a railway line. Whenever I read or see an adaptation of the Sherlock Holmes story The Bruce Partington Plans, I am reminded of this bedroom.

The Underground, 25 years ago today

The Underground, 25 years ago today

However I realise now that I can’t have been hearing Underground trains, for there is no Underground line that runs above ground through Islington.

It must have been either what’s now the Overground line running between Highbury and Islington and Canonbury, or the mainline north from Moorgate which surfaces just before Drayton Park station on its way to Finsbury Park and beyond.

Anyway, whichever trains were running on whichever line I listened to on this day 25 years ago, the occasion was a formative one.

It was my first experience of lying in bed and hearing a train pass by: a sensation that is surely one of the most evocative and sentimental there is, albeit one that faces stiff competition from lying in bed and hearing the sound of rain falling. Or, I suppose, simply lying in bed.

The remainder of our trip to London sounds empty of anything approaching this kind of excitement, although that might be due to my second and equally doomed attempt to write a diary entry in the style of a pithy intellectual.

I do remember being absolutely blown away by HMV on Oxford Street. I couldn’t believe so much music was all in one place. In 1986, this meant more to me than a “face full of wind and rain”.

Wednesday 30 July 1986

…Going once again to London to stay a night [with an old friend of my mum].
Set off at 9.34am on a bus to the station.
Pouring with rain.
10.09am got on train.
Stopped raining.
12.40pm got off train at London St Pancras.
Got bus to Westminster.
Had lunch.
Bought a map.
Went to Harrods.
Went to the house.
Watched TV.
Had dinner, had bath.
END…

Oh dear. I think this was an attempt at “genre” diary writing. A somewhat half-arsed one, admittedly, but an attempt none the less.

It’s a rip-off from, or rather a homage to, the entry in The Growing Pains of Adrian Mole for Tuesday 29 March 1983: the one where he runs away from home.

"Crumblies"

I remember being much taken by the idea of writing entries like an itinerary. Away with the need to construct proper sentences! Away with the fuss of having to come up with stuff for an introduction and a conclusion! These things write themselves!

The upshot in my case was tedious and charmless in the extreme, and I didn’t persist with this approach beyond the family trip to London. Which, as you’ll see, extended for precisely one more day.

Many years later I made a slight and knowing return to the concept of list-based diary entries, but that was when I knew a bit more about all the things I pretended to know about in 1986: genre, language, self-deprecation and, indeed, writing.

Meanwhile it’s interesting* to see it took two and a half hours to travel from Loughborough to London by train in 1986. The fastest service nowadays takes one hour and 20 minutes.

*Arguably

Tuesday 29 July 1986

…Slept well at Granny’s and got up at 6.50am to watch Breakfast Time.
Stayed at Granny’s until 9.30am when Mum came to take us shopping.
Still not at home!
I earned 20p again in Sainsbury’s for helping Mum.
Eventually arrived home at 12.15pm.
Watched more Commonwealth Games and filled in the results…

This, then, was my summer holiday. Getting up earlier than usual instead of later. Spending more time, not less, in front of the television. And earning a little more than usual, but barely enough to buy the latest 7″ single I had my eye on: the BBC’s official theme to the Commonwealth Games, by BA Robertson.

Indeed I would have to wait until the Games were over before I had enough money to splash out on what history has revealed to be one of the dreariest signature tunes ever committed to disc.

I don’t think I particularly minded that this long hiatus from school had subsided into such low-key, solitary fare.

Our family didn’t live somewhere close to bountiful acres of countryside through which I could have skipped and foraged in some Blyton-esque reverie.

Nor did we live in a street where children played out all of the time and neighbours leaned over each other’s fences and cooled pies on their window sills.

Like with most aspects of my life in 1986, I didn’t know any different, so I didn’t think anything was wrong.

Friday 25 July 1986

…Yes, the events of the Commonwealth Games began with Bowls, Boxing, Swimming, Shooting, Weightlifting, Rowing and Cycling on today’s menu.
Bought a book called Guide to the Commonwealth Games by Desmond Lynam this afternoon. It was £3.95.
Started filling in the results which was a squash.
Watched Bowls, Badminton and Swimming…

Somewhere down the years I lost this book, which is a shame as I remember it being quite a thorough effort by the BBC – sorry, by “Desmond Lynam”.

In order to keep the book up to date, for the first and possibly last time in my life I made a point of sitting down in front of the television to watch a game of bowls.

On the back of the book was the sentence: “A busy summer for Des”. I guess it was around this time that Lynam began to acquire the status of national institution, having already anchored all the biggest sporting events at least once and in doing so found the right pitch for his soon-to-be-trademark smooth patter.

He does seem to have been all over the place in the summer of 1986, thanks to the World Cup, the Commonwealth Games and the European Athletics Championships.

I would splash out on another bit of BBC-related Commonwealth Games merchandise before the Games were through, but more of that later. In the meantime here’s an all too brief excerpt of Des in his Commonwealth cubicle.

Wednesday 23 July 1986

…ROYAL WEDDING of Andrew (Duke of York) Windsor
and Sarah (now Duchess of York) Ferguson.
Everything went all right except the Princess got the Prince’s name
muddled up in the vows.
Watched TV from 9am to 6pm for the coverage.
Nine hours of TV!…

Despite my enthusiasm for this schedule-scuttling event, it seems I wasn’t up to watch such Breakfast Time special features as ‘Soon To Be Princess’ at 7.08am precisely, ‘The Abbey Awakes’ at 7.30am and ‘Across The Seas’ at 8.30am, wherein HMS Brazen “joins with a deck party in honour of their former shipmate”.

Hmm, perhaps I didn’t much after all.

The first thing I definitely saw was the slot at 9.05am entitled Dummer Delighted. Valerie Singleton and John Stapleton would have welcomed me and, by this point, a fair few million others, to the bride’s home village in Hampshire, before handing over to the colonies (in the shape of the Falklands) for some live starch-collared trans-continental bonhomie.

And on it went. Like it or loathe it, I stuck with it. David Dimbleby namechecking the guests arriving at the Abbey; Selina Scott cooing outside Buckingham Palace; Mike Smith out and about among well-wishers in The Mall; Sophie Hicks, “fashion editor”, talking about hats.

My diary implies that I also watched the film the Beeb slung out in between the kiss and the honeymoon departure: Living Free.

This seems a very feeble choice in retrospect, but was presumably chosen by virtue of its content being open to the least amount of misinterpretation or sly insinuation whatsoever.

After all, what possible symbolism was there in a film about a group of lazy, regal-looking beasts who spent their entire lives pawing each other while ferociously guarding their own property and warning off all outsiders with bizarre ritualistic flummery?

My nine hours of continuous viewing continued with Wacky Races, So You Want To Be Top and John Craven’s Newsround, climaxing with – gah- Heidi, whose total turgid televised exploits laid end-to-end would only just fall short of the entire length of Andrew and Fergie’s subsequent nuptials.

At which point my dad got home from work and told me to turn the TV off.

HRH and "Miss" Ferguson

Monday 21 July 1986

…A very special week has begun today with the Royal Wedding of Prince Andrew and Sarah Ferguson on Wednesday
and the opening of the Commonwealth Games on Thursday.
Went shopping in Sainsbury’s this morning.
I put things neatly in the trolley but [my sister] threw things and made it untidy
so I went in a sulk…

This year’s royal wedding, or Royal Wedding ’86 as some of the bunting near (but not on) our house labelled it, was never going to be quite as big a deal as the one in 1981.

It wasn’t a public holiday for starters. There was no chain of beacons across the country either, nor was there any fireworks. Unless you count the ones already underway between Charles and Diana (SATIRE).

Yet it was still a mightily head-turning, chest-swelling occasion – if you were so inclined.

As with the World Cup a few weeks earlier, I think my excitement was prompted chiefly by the mechanics of the spectacle and the upending of the regular TV schedules rather than any concern for the couple in question.

Not that there was much evidence of that today. In fact the only trace of wedding-infused programming, at least on the BBC, was this:

le, I wish them good luck, while the rest of the country, will all give a f...ulsome cheer."

And yes, I would have been up to watch it. All of it.

Sunday 20 July 1986

…I am doing a book called Leicestershire By Car.
It has maps and information and places of interest in and of Leicestershire.
Had a late lunch at 2.00pm.
Frank Bruno lost his fight with Tim Witherspoon for the World Heavyweight Title…

We’d arrived back from Anglesey the previous afternoon.

Our annual family holiday adhered to a template from which no deviation occurred right through my childhood: seven nights in a self-catering cottage somewhere in the UK, beginning the second Saturday in July.

I didn’t mind that it was the same every year, because I didn’t know any different.

We went to various places in the UK, but to all intents and purposes it was the same holiday over and over again, just with a change of backdrop.

We would eat the same food, wear the same clothes and watch the same television as we did back home. I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.

It seems the chief legacy of my seven days in Anglesey was yet another pet project. I must have been inspired by a travel guide we’d used while away.

Leicestershire By Car has long since disappeared from both existence and memory. The print run extended to one copy of probably around six pages. Sadly, it was unfinished and abandoned after a few days, in favour of the next folly to grab my attention.