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.

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.


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.