Friday 28 November 1986

…Did a radio play upstairs [at school].
For lunch today we had dumplings, chips and peas,
followed by gingerbread cake with icing on top.
Made Christmas decorations in art this afternoon.
We went to see the Christmas lights being switched on
in the town centre this evening at 6.30pm and also
popped into Woolworths to get some Christmas decorations…

Frustratingly, I don’t go into any more details about the “radio play”.

I think what I meant was that a group of us recorded a script on to a cassette recorder, while pretending we were taping a radio play. But I can’t remember whether it was something we’d written ourselves or something we’d been given by our teacher.

The significance of doing it “upstairs” was great. Almost all of my primary school was on one storey. There was only a single flight of stairs in the entire building, which led up from the staff room into the stock cupboard and the Other Room.

The Other Room was where, earlier in the year, I’d been told I could never become a fighter pilot. On this day 25 years ago, The Other Room took on a more agreeable function.

The novelty of being in town at 6.30pm to see the Christmas lights being switched on would have been compounded by the novelty of being in town at 6.30pm and being able to go into Woolworths. It was quite possibly the latest I had ever been in a shop.

Things would have been back to normal the following week, though – including half-day closing on Wednesday.

Wednesday 26 November 1986

..You can hardly describe this afternoon.
Imagine you had to play football in the torrential rain,
the pitch filled with mud, and at the end your clothes
were looking like wet suits.
Well, it happened to me.
This afternoon AS WELL we had The Road Safety Quiz.
The top five scorers from each school will go to
Woodbrook [secondary school] to fight it out in a semi-final,
then on to Leicester to do the final…

I’m pretty sure I preferred learning about the end of the world.

Tuesday 25 November 1986

…Today at school we wrote about the firing of nuclear missiles at our country…

I know this sounds naive, but I’m quite proud of the fact we covered this at school.

Here was a class of young children being educated in what I’m sure was a very matter-of-fact way about mutually assured destruction. It certainly beat multiplication tables.

Unsurprisingly, the 10-year-old me was obsessed with the Cold War. I’ve written about some of these obsessions before. I’m pretty sure that map stayed on my bedroom wall until the day the Berlin Wall came down.

I miss certain aspects of the Cold War to this day.

I miss the romance, not so much the reality, of the paranoia. I miss the concept, not so much the consequences, of people “defecting” to “the other side”.

And I miss the iconography. Octopussy is the best official Bond film of the 1980s because the Russians are the baddies and they have giant maps which show big red arrows moving unstoppably across the continent.

Like everything else in the Soviet Union of the 80s, its public art and propaganda hadn’t evolved beyond that of the 1930s. But unlike everything else in the Soviet Union of the 80s, its public art and propaganda was actually good. More than that, it was gorgeous.

Now excuse me while I go and listen to Sting rhyme “biology” with “ideology”.

Saturday 22 November 1986

…Children in Need has so far raised five and a half million pounds,
and the money stops coming on 31st December.
This evening I looked at my Christmas decorations and planned
where they should go, but I am not putting them up until mid-December…

I even drew a diagram of my bedroom, marking out the precise location for each bit of tinsel.

Suffice to say these decorations, like so many other things both tangible and otherwise, would be put away for good by the time the decade was out.

Thursday 20 November 1986

…At the moment it is throwing it down with rain outside,
it is 9.45pm and I am eating some cherry cake.
This afternoon we almost blew the school computer up.
Considering yesterday we almost smashed the computer
to bits trying to get it to start, today we properly blew all
its fuses because we were teaching some others how to
play a programme called Flowers of Crystal…

I had to look this up.

I’d forgotten all about this BBC Micro “game”, which, by virtue of us “playing” it during lesson time, naturally had an educational bent.

I may be wrong, but I believe it involved a character called Mr Grubble (think the CEO of an international bank) bringing the planet Crystal to near-oblivion thanks to rampant commercialisation. The hero (think someone camped outside St Paul’s Cathedral), aka the 10-year-old us playing it at school, had to save the planet before it was destroyed, or became unprofitable, or both.

There were spells and monsters and a choose-your-own-adventure format, all within the confines of a BBC Acorn microcomputer.

The 1980s were arriving at last!

Tuesday 18 November 1986

…At 8.15am we had our water cut off.
But we had been warned, so we had filled the bath with
cold water for the loo, saucepans for mum’s cooking and
a few jugs for drinking water.
It came back on at 2.15pm…
…For lunch at school we had pizza – yuk* – potatoes – yum –
oranges – yum – coleslaw – yum – and for pudding we had
milkshake.
This afternoon we did maths and after that swimming.
I hate swimming, because now I’ve got my grade 3
I am in the top group doing eight lengths of breaststroke!
Watched Yes, Prime Minister as always this evening…

This would have been episode three of series one, The Smoke Screen, which had been first shown earlier in the year on BBC2. This was its repeat on BBC1.

I doubt if I grasped many of the script’s subtler observations and jokes. In fact I’m not sure what I would have grasped. But I’d discovered a copy of volume two of Jim Hacker’s ministerial “diaries” on one of my parents’ shelves a few weeks earlier, and I had become hooked. I’d even taken the book to school for when we did silent reading. If it was possible for a 10-year-old to be dizzyingly pretentious, then – in this instance at any rate – I was that child.

Anyway, 25 years later, I now get all the observations and the jokes, and most of what is laughingly dismissed here has almost come true:

*To coin a Sir Humphrey-esque phrase, I have since reversed my position on this continental comestible.

Saturday 15 November 1986

…Dad and I went into town this afternoon to get two comics including
 my Whizzer and Chips, a book for me based on the TV programme
Odysseus the Greatest Hero of Them All and to get two candle
holders for our Advent candles.
Watched tons of TV this evening including a film, Doctor Who and
Hi-De-Hi…

Tony Robinson’s freewheeling adaptation of the Odyssey, Homer’s epic ancient poem, was currently showing on BBC1 in the Jackanory slot.

I was a big fan. I was hooked just as much by the conceit – Robinson retelling the whole yarn entirely by himself, on location, with gags and silly voices to boot – as the story.

At the time, the name listed on the front cover as co-author meant nothing to me:

Robinson's crew, so?

Now I flick through the pages and see how the vernacular and sometimes scatological text is laced with, yes, clunking sentimentality. The kind, I fear, that often turns up in this blog.

Oh dear. Twenty-five years on, and it’s Curtis rather than Robinson who has left the bigger mark.

That wasn’t what was meant to happen!