Monday 30 June 1986

…Just one more week till the end of term.
Had recorders and a practice of the musical evening.
At the event I kept bumping into the flower display.
Me playing the piano was the most funniest [sic] thing that has ever happened in the world.
I played The Entertainer by Scott Joplin…

This is me trying to pull on the twin cloaks of nonchalance and bluster in light of the previous time I treated an audience to my piano-playing.

The event was a musical concert to mark the end of the school year. I’m not sure with which other items I was involved; I’m guessing it was the recorder ensemble. But I was only really bothered by how my solo spot was received.

And it went pretty well. It got a round of applause, which was more than last time.

I’m not sure it entirely made up for the catastrophe that was the school assembly. But it did restore a bit of self-pride and, judging by the “funniest thing” remark, a bit of self-deprecating cockiness.

The Entertainer was my party piece for a while. Then I got a bit more confident and moved on to the theme from Film ’86.

Sunday 29 June 1986

…World Cup football finishes. Final: Argentina 3, West Germany 2.
Watched Chariots of Fire this afternoon…

The BBC always seemed to show Chariots of Fire on a Sunday. And it always seemed to prompt this kind of correspondence, which would appear a couple of weeks later in Radio Times:

“I was disappointed that BBC chose to transmit Chariots of Fire on a Sunday afternoon. My family and I would very much have liked to watch this powerful and inspiring film about the challenges of faith and spirituality. However as practising Christians we believe we should not watch any television on a Sunday. Consequently we missed the film. Could the BBC please show it again, but not on the Sabbath?”

I’m sure this letter was sent to Radio Times several times during the decade, and usually followed more or less the same format, suggesting it could well have been the same person writing in every time.

As for me, the thing I liked best about Chariots of Fire wasn’t anything to do with faith or spirituality, but the music. I bought the album on cassette from WHSmiths, probably the first soundtrack I ever owned.

I remember being annoyed by the way the penultimate track on side two, a congregation haughtily singing Jerusalem, faded up during the preceding track, a bit of electronic noodling called 100 Metres.

Nowadays I’ m minded to think Jerusalem is a better tune than anything Vangelis has come up with before or since.

Meanwhile, with the World Cup now over, I was able to complete my Radio Times/Grandstand Wallchart, my Ladybird guide, and also this: a pull-out guide from TV Times, which I must have picked up during a visit to my grandparents.

Unfortunately I seem to have made a number of dreadful mistakes, including – erk! – the result of today’s final. Clearly I didn’t pay as much attention to the completion of this document than the, ahem, more classy offerings from Ladybird and the BBC.

Saint and Greavsie in giant Mexican hats and ponchos? Check!

Saturday 28 June 1986

…Went to a hot balloon show in the morning but came back home because there were not any balloons there.
In the afternoon we tried again – still no balloons.
So we went to Normanton and walked along the banks of the River Soar and got very frustrated because there were not any ferries across the river…

A hot air balloon floating above or near our house was always the catalyst for great excitement. The same went for a low-flying helicopter (was it Anneka Rice?) or Concorde, which used to pass our way on one of its occasional visits to East Midlands Airport.

In fact, such was the (justly) perceived significance of a Concorde cameo, its appearances would be announced in the local paper the week before, giving the town’s residents plenty of notice and a chance, if necessary, to re-arrange plans. We all thought Concorde was a big deal. I guess we were easily awed.

Thursday 26 June 1986

…Did silent reading, SMP and a bit of Ginn reading.
Did more on my Union Jack mosaic as well as finishing my puppet in Games time.
No music lesson because piano teacher had a hospital appointment for once…

Hurrah: the puppet was finally finished.

This was not the same puppet that had so spectacularly failed to entertain my peers the previous week.

Rather, this was the mangy marionette I had toiled over in many Art lessons during the past two months, and which I was allowed to take home with me on the last day of term (now only a week or so away).

I didn’t show it to anyone. Raw memories of my brief brush with public puppetry ensured this creation was taken straight into my bedroom and never saw light of day again.

It hung on the back of my door for about six years, before being usurped by my A-level Chemistry lab coat.

I threw it away shortly afterwards, thereby making it one of the few things from my childhood not to stubbornly survive the intervening years in order to be exhumed a clutch of decades later.

For some reason I was more keen on preserving the likes of this, which hails from 1984:

Steven Moffat's sketch of next year's Dr Who story arc

Tuesday 24 June 1986

…Had a medical at school. Eeeuuchh…

This was the moment, though I didn’t record it in my diary, that I was informed of something that (cue grown-up Kevin Arnold voiceover) changed my life – utterly.

Medicals at my primary school were held in an unpleasantly musty and forever over-heated room adjacent to the stationery cupboard. To reach it you had to go up a staircase that could only be accessed via the staff room, a domain pupils were normally forbidden from even glimpsing through a crack in the sliding door.

Hence the whole endeavour was already loaded with uneasy, lonely significances, and that was before you even got the the part where you had to strip down to your underwear*.

On this occasion, along with all the usual probing and poking, our hearing and eyesight were also being appraised.

My ears were considered fine, though as it turned out events early the following year would prove traumatically otherwise.

It was my eyesight, however, that prompted the nurse to deliver a piece of news that has informed and influenced my life ever since.

I’d done OK on the reading-letters-off-a-piece-of-card-on-the-far-wall test, even making it to the bottom line. But I’d had real difficulty with some of the identifying-the-numeral-hidden-within-a-pattern-of-coloured-dots tests, and it was this which led the nurse to (a little too triumphantly, I felt) announce that I was colour-blind.

“What?” I think I said, rather pathetically.

“You are colour-blind. Partially colour-blind, to be precise.”

I remember crinkling my nose in confusion.

“It means you cannot tell your reds from your greens, dear.”

“But I can,” I insisted.

“You may think you can, but you cannot. And I’m afraid this will have consequences for you in later life.”

I gulped.

“I’m afraid it means that…”

I stared at the nurse, trying not to look too aghast.

“I’m afraid it means that you will never be able to be a fighter pilot.”

I hurried away from that place, believing I had got away lightly.

Ever since then, whenever I have mentioned my colour-blindness to friends or colleagues, the response has almost without exception been: “Does that mean the grass looks red?”

Nope, I'm stumped*I can’t imagine this is allowed to take place today. Yet at the time it merely seemed an inconvenience or a bit humiliating, and not suggestive of anything seedy or corrupting.

Monday 23 June 1986

…Back to school.
Did SMP and comprehension.
Did some more World Cup reports.
Did a choir and recorder practice for the school’s musical evening next Monday.
Wimbledon began again with………

And here, right on cue, is the very comprehension exercise (Test 14, to be precise) I did at school 25 years ago today:

No, the horn will not be blown three times
From the answers I have given, the exercise seemed to have been about some sort of Celtic legend or Scottish fable involving the sounding of a horn two times (not three – oops!), men raising themselves on their elbows, horses champing their bits and the arising of “a great crisis”.

You’ll see I was the unlucky beneficiary of one of those most wretched of all classroom cruelties: when a teacher initially ticks one of your answers, then changes their mind and over-writes it with an extra-heavy cross.

Adjacent to this in my English workbook is the following. It seems to be an attempt at an original fairy tale, replete with the sort of abrupt resolution that would make Russell T Davies proud:

It was a, ahem, privilege to share that with you.

Saturday 21 June 1986

…Went to Chatsworth House in Derbyshire.
Adventure playgrounds, fountains, pretty gardens and nice shops added to the fun.
France beat Brazil 5-4 in the World Cup. Amazing…

I didn’t end it all, then.

I know I was distraught at how badly yesterday had gone. Yet I didn’t mention it in today’s diary entry. Not a thing.


Just in case it isn’t clear, I cut things out of the entries I put on this blog. The stuff that appears here are mere snippets; filleted highlights, if that’s not too bold a claim, of the original text.

In most instances this is to spare you and me the embarrassment and boredom of reading personal things about myself and my family.

This expurgation will also extend, should this blog still be running in a couple of years or so, to the ghastly whining and pompous confessions of adolescence.

But I also leave out stuff that I feel just sounds, frankly, daft.

By way of an example, I’ve made an exception in today’s blog. The sentence about Chatsworth House sounds like something no sane person would ever say out loud.

I certainly can’t imagine the 10-year-old me turning to my parents and declaring: “Thanks for taking us to Chatsworth House. Those nice shops added to the fun!”

It took me some time to learn to write my diaries the way I spoke – indeed, to move beyond mere reportage and begin to include statements of feeling.

If I’m honest, too many of these early entries take refuge in cliches and turns-of-phrase. I’m not particularly proud of this. It’s as if I’m penning a journal of public record or a dry school assignment rather than a personal diary.

Hence the fact that even when writing up things that must have been quite traumatic (such as yesterday) I opt for descriptions rather than impressions. And when I do venture an opinion (today’s “amazing” World Cup game), it just comes over as rather trite.

Perhaps I’m being too hard on the 10-year-old me. But then perhaps he deserves it. After all, returning to yesterday’s debacle, who’d have thought puppets and a piano recital would have gone down well in front of an audience of peers?

So I’m guessing today’s trip to Chatsworth was my parents’ idea of a pick-me-up. That’s assuming I even told them quite how badly the assembly had gone.

I think I probably bottled it all up. Isn’t that what everyone does at that age?

Yet I don’t think I had really recovered. And reliving all this now, 25 years on, I’m still not sure I have.

NOTE: To return, as requested, to the specifics of yesterday, my piano piece was The Entertainer by Scott Joplin, the sketch involved me operating a Kermit the Frog puppet my mum had made for me, and Andrew was another pupil who I vaguely knew but who also played the piano. Poorly, as it turned out.