Saturday 16 May 1987

…The day of the school fair.
[Our teacher] was in the stocks, which meant a chance to get him back for all
the shouting yesterday.
Out came the buckets of water and on they went over his head.
The maypole dancing ended up a BIG LAUGH.
The top of the maypole fell off and landed on a parent’s head.
It was put back on, but then all the ribbons fell off.
It ended a shambles – HA HA HA…

When you’re 11 years old, revenge is a dish best served piping hot.

Friday 27 March 1987

…Almost everything went wrong today.
First of all Edward announced that I couldn’t go to see his video of Dr No
tomorrow because he was going somewhere.
It’s been almost a week since it was on TV.
I suppose I’ll have to wait ANOTHER week and go through all the usual
stuff I hate – PE, swimming, [school] choir, maypole dancing – until I get to see it.
I didn’t get to have chips from the chippy this evening,
which I had been looking forward to.
Plus Grange Hill had a sad ending, because it was the last one in the series.
Lunch was cheese pie – YUK – tomatoes, cress and coleslaw, followed by
an orange portion…

The sentence “Almost everything went wrong today” must appear in my diaries more than any other. I’ve used it at least half a dozen times already this year*.

Yet the most alarming thing about this extract is that I appear to have started maypole dancing again. The last recorded mention of this was a year or so ago, when I noted I’d been kicked out of the team. Yet here I am back in the fold – totally unwillingly, it must be emphasised. I wonder what had happened.

I hated maypole dancing. The humiliation was total. It forced you into the kind of intimate body contact with fellow pupils that was utterly repulsive for children at the age of 10 or 11. The pole we had to parade around was decades old and falling to pieces. The top part, to which the coloured ribbons were attached, kept toppling off and landing on us, mid-prance. The ribbons themselves felt – and smelt – like they’d been manufactured in the late-1940s, possibly from the uniforms of demobbed soldiers. And then there was the music: ghastly winsome oom-pah tunes on a recording no doubt hailing from some rural free love festival in 1967.

You’ve got the idea that it was not a good thing, right?

* That goes for both 1987 and 2012.

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!

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?

Thursday 18 December 1986

…This morning we played Call My Bluff.
This afternoon we had our school Christmas party.
We played a newspaper game,
a passing-string-up-and-over-people’s-jumpers game,
a game where you passed a ball from people’s chin to chin
and not forgetting pass the parcel.
The food turned out to be served buffet style.
Then this evening everybody except me appeared on TV
because the whole class had gone over to Leon’s house
which is said to have marvellous Christmas decorations.
I stayed behind because [the teacher] wanted me to help
get a birthday surprise ready for [another teacher] who
was 24 today…

The chin game is one of those activities that has become confined purely to pre-teen or post-teen gatherings. For it to pass off successfully, it seems you either need a surfeit of innocence (in the former) or alcohol (in the latter). Adolescence, with its crippling self-awareness and preponderance of sediments and smells, is no place for chin-to-chin intimacy – at least, not between semi-strangers.

It was perfectly suited, therefore, for my primary school Christmas party, along with the equally intrusive string-up-the-jumper game and the eternally harmless pass the parcel. I’ve no idea, though, about what was involved in the “newspaper game”. As for Call My Bluff, I have a fear that I’d have approached this with a degree enthusiasm that would have unnerved many of my peers.

The TV appearance was on Midlands Today on BBC1. I’m not sure why I was picked to stay behind, but at least it meant I got to experience school after hours (always a joy).

Friday 7 November 1986

…Today was Recorder Day at Burleigh Community College.
I was dead nervous meeting all those 15, 16, 17 and 18-year-olds.
But I soon got used to them.
We played some quite interesting pieces.
There were two jazzy pieces which were my favourites.
There were also some boring pieces that we didn’t manage very well.
It lasted from 9.30am to 5pm!
My fingers were tied in knots.
After that because I had survived we went down to the chippy to
get some chips which were very tasty.
Drew a picture of Big Ben for my project.
I thought it was quite good…

I’d been to one of these “Recorder Days” the previous year, which wasn’t that exceptional save for “the tower next to our building catching fire.”

This one was less combustible but more discomfiting.

For one thing I was more aware of the significance of where I was. Burleigh Community College was somewhere I knew I would eventually go to school. I would be one of those 15-year-olds that I felt dead nervous about meeting. They all looked so enormous and so confident. Everything about them seemed so impossibly remote. How was I to get from here to there?

More immediately disturbing was one of the teachers I met on this day 25 years ago. He was in charge of music at Burleigh, and he had the most hideous and unrelenting bad breath I had ever experienced. Even at the age of 10 I realised there was something wrong with this man’s character as to be so unaware of boasting such advanced halitosis.

I had no way of knowing that I and many of my peers would eventually end up sharing a classroom with this individual on a weekly basis for a number of years. If I had known, I might very well have swallowed my recorder and ended it all there and then.

Wednesday 29 October 1986

…The school was full of gas because something has gone wrong
with the boiler.
This afternoon we had Mrs Sweet.
But she is not very sweet.
Dead strict in fact.
SHOCK HORROR it was parent-teacher interviews this evening.
Luckily we both passed…

Neither my sister or I were yet considered old enough to be left alone at home, so on occasions like these we had to accompany our mum and dad and then either sit in the car or in the main school corridor by the fish tank.

At the time I used to treat it all with a heavy dose of sceptical melodrama (“SHOCK HORROR”). Now I appreciate what an ordeal it must have been for both parties. Things like records of achievement and homework diaries had yet to be introduced into my life. These evenings were pretty much the only contact my parents ever had with my teachers. I pity them all.

But why the thing was even taking place seeing as the school was “full of gas”, I don’t know.