Thursday 7 January 1988

…A day trip to London.
We must have been on about 20 of them by now, but I don’t really mind.
There was a huge panic because we thought we were going to miss the train, and
we almost did…
Arrived at London at 11.30am, and went first to a magic shop in Charing Cross
station where I bought two tricks, neither of which I have yet been able to do.
We had lunch in a John Lewis, and then while Dad went off to a meeting
we went to look at Piccadilly Circus and the Trocadero, and also, best of all, to a
BBC shop…

My dad must have needed to go to London on work business, and then decided to bring the family along for a day trip as well.

I haven’t a clue why we went to a magic shop. One of the tricks was something to do with making a ball disappear from under a cup. I never quite mastered it.

I know full well why we went to the BBC shop, however, and it was because I demanded it. I think this was the occasion I bought SIX O’CLOCK NEWS and NINE O’CLOCK NEWS car stickers, which I then pretentiously displayed in the back window of the family Volkswagen. “Ooh, does your dad work for the BBC?” people would ask at school from time to time. Stupidly, I never once pretended and said yes.

Thursday 6 August 1987

…I made a map of the London Docklands Light Railway…

We’d just returned from another visit to London, and I was clearly inspired by the publicity I’d seen for the newly-opened (although not yet operational) network.

Here’s a picture of the Queen, taken at the official opening ceremony, which was probably Her Majesty’s only experience of public transport during the entire 1980s:

"And when one does this, one can pretend that one's actually driving!"

What on earth has that woman behind the Queen got on her head?

Anyway, it’d be years before I’d actually get to ride on one of the trains, and when I did I naturally made sure to sit right at the front, loving the novelty (as I still do) of there being no driver.

The DLR’s grown a lot since then, but in the right way. And every time I use it I fall in love with it all over again. The way it threads in, out, over and under the most astonishing extremes of wealth and poverty, and the very old and the ultra-new, makes it the most beguiling way to get a condensed visual summary of the whole of London.

Plus you can pretend that you’re in charge of the controls.

Come on: I know I’m not the only one.

Thursday 23 April 1987

…My 14th visit to London.
We got on a train at 10.09 after 10 minutes of waiting.
It was completely full so we all had to sit in separate seats all around the carriage.
When Mum and I went to get some drinks from the buffet car, it was like
walking on an Underground train, swaying from side to side.
It didn’t help that the coffee cups had no lids on.
We arrived at London St Pancras at about 12ish.
We had some lunch in St James’s Park then went to the House of Commons
where we watched Prime Minister’s Question Time.
Our seats were rubbish.
We couldn’t see the Prime Minister at all, but we could certainly hear her…

Couldn’t we all?

I’m not sure if we’d arranged to watch prime minister’s questions before the trip, or whether we queued up outside parliament in the hope of being let in. This was back when you could actually see right into the chamber, before the big perspex barriers were put up to stop demonstrators throwing stuff thereby subtracting all credibility from their campaign and undermining their own cause.

I do remember one fusty old Tory clambering to his feet and urging the prime minister that, seeing as it was St George’s Day, she should hold an impromptu debate on how great England is under a Conservative government. How the Commons roared with that kind of laughter you don’t hear ANYWHERE ELSE in the country.

But who’s laughing now?*

"Reverse gear? I've no need for that!"

*I don’t know.

Thursday 4 December 1986

…Today we had the day off from school and the whole family
went to London for the day.
As usual we couldn’t find seats on the train till we got to Leicester.
We went to Covent Garden where I froze to death.
We also went to Downing Street where we saw the prime minister
go to do question time in parliament.
As well we went to Trafalgar Square, HMV and Selfridges for a drink.
We all got terribly tired.
20 DAYS TILL CHRISTMAS…

There’s no explanation why this trip took place on a weekday rather than at the weekend. I’m very surprised I was allowed a day off school. I’m even more surprised my parents countenanced asking for one.

Perhaps they’d got hold of some kind of special offer on train tickets. Perhaps it was conceived as a kind of early Christmas present, albeit one that involved a stolen glimpse of Mrs Thatcher through a car window.

Or perhaps it was intended to distract me from what I was set to face tomorrow…

Thursday 18 September 1986

…We copied our stories into our English books.
It was Games today and we did hockey again.
Star Trek was on today.
On Bodymatters tonight they went down the body on a train…

My story was called A Mrs Thatcher Nightmare.

I’m not going to make a habit of this, but below you’ll find the text in full.

I realise this is a self-indulgent thing to do, but then so is this entire blog. If you’re not keen on browsing extended reams of childhood scrawl, there’ll be another update along shortly in which I talk about Doctor Who, and one on 23 September where I get told off in class.

For anyone still reading, I reckon this short bit of creative writing sums up my temperament and obsessions at the age of 10-and-a-half all too well:

"Absolutely flopped"

"I'll throw some metal at her to see if she IS Iron"

"She's only a puppet, dear"

SWITCHEROO ALERT!

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