Friday 5 February 1988

The entire country donned their red noses, all except me, who didn’t have a proper one.
Mum had tried to make me a homemade one, but it was absolutely rubbish and
kept falling off, so I quickly got rid of it.
[My form tutor] had also made one himself, out of an eggbox which he had then coloured red with a felt-tip pen, and which looked hilariously bad.
They had been selling them at school but there were none left.
There was a special assembly which was based around all the teachers having
to do forfeits if they didn’t know the answer to a general knowledge question.
They could either have a forfeit done to them or pay 10p to Comic Relief.
It was a bit of a flop because some of the teachers didn’t understand the rules and
the forfeits were hardly that bad: popping a balloon, for example.
All day people were wandering around in funny clothes and make-up, and they
all looked UTTERLY STUPID.
There was nothing funny about PE, which was football outside in the mud, and I
hated it from start to finish…

I was allowed to watch some, but nowhere near all, of the telethon on BBC1 later.

A good deal of it is currently on YouTube, from almost near the start. What a bizarre choice from “Radio One listeners” for the 10th best comedy sketch of all time.

And what a ponderously-paced, refreshingly low-key affair the whole programme now seems. The “here’s what this evening is all about” bits last a good 10 minutes or so. Look, there’s Jimmy Perry sitting in front of a black screen introducing AN ENTIRE EPISODE of Dad’s Army. At one point almost all of BT’s London exchanges fall over. Michael Palin does a great bit of Vercotti, which his diary suggests he only thought up a few hours earlier. Then you’ve all those mini-sketches, including Philip Schofield and Andy Crane acting (!) at a drinks party (!), plus Valerie Singleton and Geoffrey Palmer – together at last.

It all left a mighty impression on a jaded 11-year old. As it still does on a still jaded 36-year old.

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.

Friday 29 January 1988

…The theme of this week’s assembly was Australia and I had to play Waltzing
Matilda on the piano, which was as usual HIDEOUSLY EMBARRASSING.
I made a few mistakes which I thought stuck out a mile, but nobody said anything.
Handed in my Australia homework which ended up being eight pages of waffle.
My blocked-up ears, cold and sore throat got me out of PE, much to the teacher’s
displeasure, but I didn’t care and went off and did some work instead.
There was a supply teacher for science and everyone messed around so much
that at times you couldn’t hear her speak.
I felt sorry for her…

My attitude towards supply teachers evolved (or regressed, depending on your point of view) from one of sympathy to impatience. At this point I was still tending towards the former. I would regret the way they were bullied by my fellow pupils – not that I did anything to stop it. But within a couple of years I started to get tired of their inability to control a classroom and, occasionally, a bit contemptuous of them for not knowing their stuff. This wasn’t true of all of them. But we did seem to get an awful lot. And all too often, the dreaded “let’s push the tables apart and sit in a circle” kind.

Tuesday 26 January 1988

…I’m hurring through tonight’s entry as I’m writing it in between trying to watch
Carry on Matron.
In Expressive Arts this morning we had to do a play on the theme of pets.
Ours went down well – went down the bin, that is.
Got 18 and a half out of 20 in a French test, which is TRES BIEN I think.
Australia is 200 years old…

I wasn’t the only one who’d been regularly tuning in to these Tuesday night Carry Ons.

In his diary for today, Kenneth Williams wrote: “Watched the TV news and then Carry On Matron. I was amazed ‘cos there was actually a story/idea behind this one, as opposed to the usual stream of would-be jokes… I looked about 35! It was odd to watch – Bill Kenwright made a brief appearance! – and possibly, my bits were the best I’ve ever managed in that sort of crap.”

He’s wrong of course, but there is this particularly fantastic scene:

The week before he’d lambasted Carry on Henry: “It was so bad in places… truly chronic dialogue… dreadful acting. A collection of such rubbish you’re amazed it could have ever been stuck together. Only an audience of illiterates could ever have found this tripe amusing.”

This illiterate did and still does rate Henry as one of the best – likewise Abroad, about which Kenny had wailed a few weeks ago:  “I was featured doing all the old crap. Looking at this rubbish you realise that nothing has changed! British sit-coms [sic] all consist of the same routines, jokes, and dirt. Very depressing.”

Monday 25 January 1988

…First thing this morning [my teacher] asked us all to stand up and stay standing
only if we had:
a) brought in our homework diary
b) had completed all our homework
c) come in on Friday when it was snowing
d) brought in our play money
e) had brought in our Parent Evening slips
Only three people were left standing – and I was one of them…

Oh dear.

Yes, it’s all very well playing by the rules and being good, but did there need to be this kind of rigamarole that left me embarrassed and isolated from everyone else? I ended up feeling like I was the one who was in the wrong,

The “play money” was for a trip to the town hall theatre on Wednesday to see a pantomime that I would sum up in my diary as “absolutely useless”.

The “Parent Evening slips” were bits of paper on which my mum and dad had indicated which slots were most convenient for them to come and meet my form tutor.

Because both my parents were – by now – lucky enough to be in work, these slots were always in the early evening, usually after 7pm. I don’t recall there being much competition from other families.

Friday 22 January 1988

…It had to happen and it did.
The weather forecast said SLIGHT SNOW was going to happen today.
In fact the place was as bad as last January.
I reckon about two-thirds of school didn’t bother turning up.
Around a half of the teachers weren’t there.
Loads of people just decided to go home at lunchtime.
The system was in chaos.
Snowballs rained down on you the moment you stepped outside.
Yet somehow I was one of the ones who did make it to school and, yes, stayed
until the whole building was closed around 3pm.
Trains were halted, people were stuck and more snow is forecast.

It didn’t stay long. Most of the snow had gone by the end of the weekend. But I was glad – evidently – that the season hadn’t passed without some proper wintry weather to enjoy. And my efforts to both attend and remain at school would unexpectedly pay off come Monday.