Saturday 19 December 1987

…This morning there was a fire in our neighbours’ kitchen.
The firemen came extremely quickly.
We all went into our back garden and had to stay there in case the flames spread.
No-one was injured, killed etc…

I remember this quite well, and I’m embarrassed at how I’ve tried to make it sound more dramatic than it really was. Nothing actually caught fire. It was only a gas leak in their kitchen. The logic of standing in the garden was, I suppose, sound. Their house might have exploded – and ours, consequently, might have caught fire, or been damaged, or exploded as well.

But equally it was, in hindsight, an enormous over-reaction. Gas escapes from pipes all the time, but you don’t see people standing in the street each and every day of the year waiting for the worst. Well, except in Ealing comedies and Les Dawson sketches.

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.

Friday 14 August 1987

…Today I ate 1,470 calories, which is much less than I should be having.
According to a book I should be having 2,700!
On my early morning bike ride the chain came off when I crashed into the fence
of number 9, but nobody noticed as nobody was awake.
Number 1 next door are having a barbecue tomorrow, which means
LOTS OF NOISE, and that no sleep is guaranteed…

My parents still live in the same house they did when I was growing up and the people next door in number 1 are the same people that lived there in 1987. And apparently they still have barbecues that go on late into the night and make a lot of noise.

I’ve never liked barbecues. Cooking, like sleeping and heavy petting, should never happen outdoors.

The smell of sizzling steaks coupled with alcohol-fuelled braying is bad enough inside four walls. But at least then you can step outside. Barbecues afford no escape.

They embrace a quartet of life’s most disagreeable sensations: hot sunlight, enforced socialising, industrial-scale drinking, and meat.

Back in 1987 I’d still to discover I didn’t like any of these, yet I already knew there was something unsettling about a barbecue. So I had to make do with shutting my bedroom window and holding a pillow over my ears – in the process discovering two more of life’s most disagreeable sensations.

Tuesday 3 March 1987

…Today, worse luck, was when we were going to the Town Hall to perform in
some silly musical play called the Space-Dragon of Galatar [with other schools
from the area].
It was dead boring all through the day.
First of all we had a run through of the songs.
Then we sorted out our movements for the stage.
Over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over
and over again.
By the time we finished that it was lunchtime.
Then we split into groups to get our costumes ready.
Our costume, as the dragon, was a simple bit of cloth with holes for us to
poke our heads through.
Once we had done that we did a dress rehearsal over and over and over etc.
At 4.30pm we did the five-minute performance.
SIX HOURS OF WORK FOR FIVE MINUTES!…

We’d been rehearsing this nonsense for the best part of two weeks. I couldn’t believe so much effort was involved for so little reward. I suppose it was meant to represent a gesture of cross-town co-operation, a “hands across the water” to our various educational rivals. Albeit in the form of an supernatural fairy tale set in space. With songs.

But even as a piece of symbolism it failed, because nobody mingled with anybody from a rival school, and the fact we’d all been assigned different costumes and roles just deepened any feelings of suspicion.

The Space-Dragon of Galatar made a couple of paragraphs in that week’s edition of the Loughborough Echo. It was the first such initiative was ever attempted. It was also the last.

Friday 23 January 1987

…Last night the school was broken into.
Nothing was stolen but it was obvious that they had been trying
to get into the computer room because there was scratching on the door…

This mystery was never solved. No clues were forthcoming from the scene of the crime and no culprits were ever caught. As such it passed into myth as The Robbery That Went Wrong. Why did the burglars fail? Were they disturbed? Did they have a last-minute attack of conscience? Could they even be somehow connected with – GASP – the school itself?

I’m pretty sure in the days following the break-in there was much lazy scapegoating among pupils and parents alike. The most popular theory was that the thieves were from one of the “undesirable” parts of town – the ones with terraces and no front gardens and cars with bin bags for windows. Looking back I’m sure it was more likely to have been someone with a younger brother or sister at the school. It always is.

I was more relieved that the rascals, wherever they hailed from, didn’t succeed. If they had done, how would I have coped as Chief Printer For Printing Things?

Wednesday 5 November 1986

..WHIZZ! BANG!
It’s Bonfire Night.
We saw tons and tons of fireworks going off, for free!
Every year the students [union at Loughborough University] hold a bonfire and
fireworks party on 5 November, and as we live almost next to the university
we have a free show…

I’m pretty sure the students’ union still does this, though I think nowadays you have to pay a princely sum to go and stand on the playing fields should you wish to watch the display in person. Back in 1986 and for many years after it was free, both to onlookers in nearby properties and your actual attendees.

My parents still live in the same house as they did then, which means that tonight, as on every 5 November, they will have gathered on the landing, turned off the lights, and spent half an hour or so peering out of the window to watch the neighbourhood be garlanded by cloudbursts of multi-coloured spectacle.

Then the students’ party will have begun, and they, along with everyone else in the street, will have closed the curtains and tried to block out the thunderous disco beats that will continue until 2am.

Wednesday 27 August 1986

…I nearly died today.
Me and [my sister] bought some rope with our own money
and we tied it to a tree to climb up it.
There is a ledge halfway up and I
climbed up halfway and while I was
standing on the ledge I slipped and fell,
catching my back on the ledge.
I was winded for about 30 seconds.
But I soon recovered.
I have no bones broken (I hope)…

My mum was having tea with a neighbour at the time, and I well remember the embarrassment of stumbling into the kitchen, not entirely sure why I couldn’t breathe but knowing that something was badly wrong, yet having to still maintain a desperate pretence of dignity and politeness in front of our guest.

“I… can’t… can’t… breathe… oh, hello… nice to… see you… again… hope you’re… sorry, I… can’t… (collapses on floor).”