Saturday 31 October 1987

…Went to Eddie’s house for his birthday party.
We had some chips that I didn’t like, as well as hot dogs and baked beans, then some of his birthday cake for pudding.
We spent most of the time watching a video of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, after which people just sort of messed about until it was time to be picked up.
The whole thing lasted from 5.30pm to 9pm, though I didn’t leave because my
mum was chatting to Eddie’s mum until 9.50pm!…

I’m relieved to find that I did not engage in any kind of Halloween-based carry-on. I’ve never liked Halloween, in part because it involves going up to people and menacing them for money – something I experienced quite enough of over many years in the school playground – and in part because it assumes people enjoy being offered a choice between coercion or punishment.

I don’t really have any childhood memories of marking Halloween at all, aside from primary school time-wasting activities such as making a wizard’s hat. I’m trying to pinpoint the time when it became really big in the UK. I’d like to blame Michael Parkinson.

Sunday 25 October 1987

…Today I have been VERY VERY ILL.
I have been sick – lots of times.
I threw up four times in fact.
I hardly had any food but drank lots of Lucozade which made up for lost energy.
I gradually felt a bit better but was stranded in bed for much of the day.
I watched Children’s BBC this morning which cheered me up a bit but not much…

Throughout my life I never drank Lucozade when I was not feeling unwell. It was a liquid that I only considered tasting when I was ill. It was therefore unique in commanding the ability to call into my mind, via some kind of over-sweet sensory thread, a tapestry of sickness spooling all the way back to my early childhood. I could not recall a spell of illness without it.

But then, a few years ago, I kept a bottle of it in my fridge for about 12 months, in anticipation of a period when I would be under the weather. Such a period never came, I never drank the Lucozade, it went out of date, but still I didn’t throw it away. It became a sort of anti-sickness talisman; an object whose very presence seemed to guarantee good health.

As such I have now reached a point where I cannot risk tasting the stuff for fear it will provoke illness rather than aid recovery from it.

And I never really liked it to begin with.

Oh pipe down, Daley Thompson.

Friday 23 October 1987

…Last day before half-term.
We had a special assembly for Diwali.
We also had to do a cross-country run that was one-and-a-half miles.
I did a cross-country walk…

One-and-a-half miles seems like nothing now. I could run it faster today than I could had I bothered to try 25 years ago.

I’m afraid there was a degree of obstinacy at work here. I also resented being made to do what, to me, seemed an activity intended to humiliate rather than exhilarate. As such I took a warped pride in being the last one to finish. And on that note I ended my first stint of education at secondary school.

Tuesday 20 October 1987

..In Drama today we had to make up plays about chairs.
Also at school we had to do things about grid references, learn about rules of behaviour, a comprehension test involving filling in words, and a visit from a fireman who told us about the dangers of fire.
Well I never…

My secondary school had been opened just six years earlier and was proudly, even brazenly, forward-thinking.

It was built only on ground level, with everything fully accessible. Everyone had lockers, not pegs, for coats and bags. There was a profusion of toilets, plants, lights, notices, computers, textbooks, even comfy chairs and beanbags in the library. What there wasn’t, however, was a proper curriculum.

Instead, subjects were taught to us in a rather ramshackle fashion in part by specialists – for language and science – but in part by our own form tutor, who was meant to be a competent all-rounder and not a jack of all trades. There was no streaming; all the classes were mixed ability. There were no tests or examinations. There was no uniform policy. And perhaps most shockingly of all, the assembly hall had A CARPET.

While an awful lot of good intentions inspired these decisions, an awful lot of bad education was the result, as I discovered when I moved on after three years (as everyone in Leicestershire did) to a community college for my GCSEs and A-levels.

Here I found massive gaps in my knowledge of maths and French which put me far behind peers that had come from other schools. I also found flights of stairs, which I’d never had to climb before in an educational facility.

In retrospect better understanding of quadratic equations and greater experience of climbing steps with heavy bags are two things I’d have definitely prioritised over a visit from a fireman.

Friday 16 October 1987

Hurricane winds have been battering London and the south-east, causing damage,
deaths and some injuries.
A trail of destruction has been left across the country.
But not here.
Although we did get to do PE inside instead of outside, because of the weather…

Truth be told, the hurricane barely grazed the east Midlands. There was a disappointing absence of carnage outside my bedroom window and certainly nowhere near enough disruption to mean a day off school. However I was up early enough to enjoy tour de forces from Anne Diamond (well-versed in hosting TV-am in besieged circumstances) and also from Nicholas Witchell, anchoring BBC1 from the only room in Television Centre with a light bulb that still worked:

NAMEDROP ALERT! Many years later I got to interview Nicholas Witchell about this very incident.

“It produced one of the most gratifying responses from people that I can remember in all my years of broadcasting,” he recalled. “I had dozens of letters from people, many of them elderly and on their own, who’d spent a very frightening night, and who had switched on in the morning and found a face which I hope was friendly, if a little bemused, and reassuring.

“It was certainly one of the oddest situations I’ve found myself in, but also – looking back – one of the most satisfying because it was a moment when people wanted and needed information, and we were able to give some of it, even if it was from the ‘Broom Cupboard’!”