Thursday 4 February 1988

…Stacks and stacks of homework tonight, but I am ploughing through it slowly.
We started Home Economics today for the first time, which is great and a thousand
times better than the stupid sewing we had been doing in Design lessons.
However we didn’t actually do any cooking today, as we weren’t allowed.
Instead we had to learn the basic rules.
You’d think most people would know how to turn on an oven!
Next week we are doing our first cooking: a fruit salad! HOLD THE FRONT PAGE!
It is Comic Relief Day tomorrow but there are no red noses left in the shops,
so I won’t have one…

It’s stretching things a bit to describe the preparation of a fruit salad as “cooking”. But bear in mind, despite my flippant remarks, most of my class had never turned on an oven before, nor had knowledge of things like gas marks or tablespoons.

In later weeks we tackled tomato soup, apple crumble, a “garden salad”, chocolate chip cookies, pizza and a Swiss roll*. I quite enjoyed it. For once I got to take stuff home that I’d made at school with which I could be proud, and about which my family took an interest. Even if that was just to give it a taste and make loaded remarks.

My diary gives the impression of the first-ever Comic Relief Day being treated by everyone as it were almost a national holiday. And there was I, destined to miss out on the fun as I wasn’t organised enough. But my mum had other ideas…

*Yes yes, push him down a mountain.

Tuesday 2 February 1988

…Another Carry On this evening, this time called Up The Jungle.
That’s the sixth I’ve seen since they started showing them on Tuesdays on
29 December 1987.
It was poor.
I miscalculated what I spent for lunch at school and ended up going over my £1.
I had to owe the dinner ladies FOUR PENCE.
They wrote it in their special book…

My mum and dad gave me one pound each day to spend on food at school. Usually this was more than enough, but today masticating got in the way of mathematics.

A pound usually bought me a proper hot meal, plus something by way of pudding – a cake or a mousse-based dessert. I never bought a drink: why bother, when water stood in jugs on the canteen tables and was therefore free of charge?

I couldn’t keep the change from my pound. I had to return it to my parents later in the day.

I fretted considerably about being in debt to the dinner ladies. Even thought it was only four pence, I got nervous about owing money.

Another life lesson learned, then.

Thursday 18 June 1987

…Had to get a bus to school because the car is being repaired, so we arrived
very early indeed.
And then the very first thing at school was maypole practice which was terrible.
We had to do Maths till playtime, then project until lunch which was
chicken pie, potatoes and cabbage with semolina…

Not all at once, though.

The wretched maypole was dogging me right to end of my time at primary school, like some malevolent totem. I’m not even sure for what we were rehearsing, as my diary doesn’t record any more public performances. Seeing as the pole had collapsed the last time we’d done a show, I’m amazed it was thought appropriate we be let anywhere near it.

But then this was 25 years ago, when we were still encouraged to do PE half-naked and carry heavy boxes up unsupported ladders before getting lifts home with strangers.

I blame Kenneth Baker.

Wednesday 27 May 1987

…Lunch today was HORRIBLE.
Chips, cheese pie and tinned tomatoes, followed by strawberry whip.
School dinner are revolting.
Didn’t go to PE because of my cough and my ear but I had to watch instead…

Just as taking part in school sports was no doubt a formative experience for some, not taking part in them had something of a similar influence on me.

Watching others working and playing together while you looked on from a distance, usually by yourself, was something that – perhaps by instinct, perhaps by chance – helped nurture vague feelings of individualism (and isolation, both literal and imagined).

I spent a number of PE lessons as a spectator, not a participant. It came at a point in my life where I guess I was starting to become more conscious of being a bit different and being a bit of a loner. Here, to my vaguely-adolescent eyes, was an example of what such distinctions could and would be like put into practice.

Thankfully I hadn’t yet become too much of an introverted arsehole to not record in my diary a splendidly visceral reaction to today’s school dinner.

The combination of cheese pie and tinned tomatoes makes me feel slightly nauseous even today.


Friday 8 May 1987

…I went back to school today despite my ears, cough and general illness.
Everybody seemed to have forgotten about me because
they acted as if I wasn’t there.
We had a maypole practice in the playground, which was awful.
Everybody felt stupid because people walking past kept staring.
Lunch was a hard-boiled egg, grated cheese, salad cream, lettuce, a
chopped-up apple, an orange slice, a baked potato and an iced biscuit…

Once a month or so we’d get vaguely healthy dinners delivered by the local education authority, which nobody really enjoyed but which actually sound quite tasty now. I like how the apple was chopped up, as if we wouldn’t be able to work out how to eat the fruit were it presented to us whole. Mind you, chopped-up apple avoids social ostracism, a subject on which I already had strong views and experience.