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.

Thursday 26 March 1987

…I have been asked to design a programme for the school spring fair
which will be on a school morning in May.
Terrible really.
I got cold and wet in PE and played a game of chess on a gigantic board…

Here is what I came up with for the spring fair, working together with three of my fellow pupils:

May mourning, more like

I can’t claim credit for any of the design. I think I may have come up with the concept, such as it is. I know I was responsible for the “ACME Cliff” sign. Oh, the hilarity. A bit of cheek charging 25p, though.

As for the game of chess on a “gigantic board”, how I really really hope it was like this:

I am not a Bishop, I am a free man!

Saturday 24 January 1987

…I woke up at 7am and read Adrian Mole until about 8.20am.
Then I got dressed and went downstairs and watched the usual TV…
…After lunch me and Dad went to Dad’s office in the university.
Since our typewriter broke I have to do all my typing there.
Have I ever told you what Dad’s office is like?
Printers, computers, typewriters, modern telephones, swivel chairs:
generally snazzy.
I’ve been there many times before.
This time when we tried to use the photocopier something went wrong
and one of my sheets got crumpled but all the rest were all right…

I taught myself to type. This was something that amazed one of my teachers when I got to secondary school. But then he was an idiot, who pronounced the word “gig” as “gigue” and used to do hip-hop gestures in class in an attempt to make himself liked.

We’d had an old electric typewriter in our house for years. I must have started using it when I was seven or eight, initially out of curiosity. I was soon typing out lists of things I owned, like books and records. I then graduated on to producing my own copies of the latest Top 40 and, yes, fantasy programme billings. Inventories of the Bond franchise, Doctor Who episodes and even Carry On films came next.

All of this was tirelessly indulged by my parents. I suppose they thought it preferable to, well, just about anything out of doors and out of earshot.

But I’ve no idea just what was so vital that it needed to be completed right now, this INSTANT, which involved my dad going to his office on one his days off and which resulted in one of the key motifs of late 20th century western civilisation, the photocopier jam.

I suspect the truth is probably too embarrassing and is best left in the dustbin of history, carbon copy and all.

Sunday 26 October 1986

…I made six pairs of spectacles, or glasses, made out of
cardboard and cellophane.
The cellophane was over the holes for the lens,
making funny colours…

I think this was one of my more successful attempts at DIY entertainment, though I can’t think where the cellophane had come from. There was clearly enough to furnish half a dozen glasses, though again I’m not sure why I felt the need to make so many. Probably because it was going well, I seemed to be good at it, and hence didn’t want to stop.

Still, there’d be plenty to go round come the BBC’s ‘3D week’ in 1993.

Friday 3 October 1986

…After break we did our talk on inventions.
It went down very well with the class and [our teacher]
said it was very good…

My class had been asked to prepare presentations (how that word would come to dominate my life) on a subject that interested us.

I, along with a fellow pupil, had taken our cue from the never-less-than-entertaining BBC children’s programme Eureka, which boasted, among other things, one of the greatest signature tunes of the 1980s.

Naturally, by “taken our cue”, I mean “steal the format outright”. Our “talk” was supposed to reveal the story behind – deep breath – the radio, the TV, the biro, the telephone, the light bulb, chewing gum and the hovercraft. All in a light-hearted and, though nobody would’ve used the word back then, interactive fashion.

My notes from the day imply that we ended with the following spiel:

“They are all inventions of the past,
but now we are going to show you some inventions of the future.
First…the self-emptying dustbin!… Next, the self-serving drink machine!…
Next, the new washing-up-liquid… And finally, the multi-purpose box!”

Presumably each of these, ahem, hilarious creations was accompanied by a Heath Robinson/Vic Reeves-esque sketch, or even a putative model.

I wouldn’t vouch for the accuracy of my notes, however. They go on to suggest that we closed our presentation with the lines:

“And now, if you want to question us, please do so.
If you don’t want to question us, keep your mouth shut.”

Any boost to my ego afforded by all of this nonsense was thoroughly offset by what happened later in the day: the school barn dance.

I describe it as “chaos”, of feeling “sick afterwards”, and mention how “we all did dances and made fools of ourselves”. Why I was even there is a mystery, other than on the grounds of it being another unflattering and undignified compulsory activity.

Tuesday 30 September 1986

…We had to do a poem about an animal. I did the penguin:
“The penguin lives in the cold South Pole
It is never never on the dole.
They always first get shipped away
To be wrapped in paper the very same day.
They get sent to shops all around
And people eat them when they are found.
They throw the paper clean away
It may turn up another day”…

I have nothing to add.

Wednesday 20 August 1986

…Went into town this morning with Mum.
Saw thousands of people I knew.
Well, not exactly a thousand, about two.
Later I made a wire collar and lead for a dog
so me and [my sister] now have invisible dogs…

Still no sign of the giddy consumerism of the 80s, then. There was a well-stocked and hugely popular toy shop in the town centre that I’m sure would have satisfied all my “invisible dog on a lead” needs. Instead, I decided to make my own.

Or rather, I was forced to make my own.

It can’t have been that difficult, though I’m surprised I had the patience or the wherewithal. Perhaps it was the comedy value inherent in the finished article. In fact, so proud was I with what I created that I’m fairly sure we took our “dogs” for a “walk” around the block later that evening.

And oh, what a feeling of inclusivity ensued, as we passed our neighbours with their bikes, skateboards, rollerboots and remote-controlled toy cars, not to mention real dogs…