Friday 25 December 1987

…What links the following?
A French dictionary, a £2 WHSmiths gift voucher, a geometry set, some storage files, some subject dividers, a calculator, a book called The World’s Greatest Mysteries, a jumper, socks and The Naff Guide To 1988?…

This wasn’t a complete list of presents. if you can call them presents. They read more like a list of office utilities, or stuff you’d find in a “Back To School” promotion at Woolworths.

I also got some Sherlock Holmes books and the second volume of the Yes, Prime Minister diaries, all of which I still have. Plus there was a clock radio, my first one, which lasted me until the mid-90s. Its replacement still sits beside my bed.

My grandparents came round the visit “after the Queen – it must always be after the Queen”, and I mention that I tried my best to watch The Spy Who Loved Me on ITV.

Other than that it wasn’t a particularly notable Christmas Day. I don’t think I left the house once.

Wednesday 9 December 1987

…Got back ache again when we had to do woodwork.
I do not see the point of this.
I am never going to be doing woodwork in my life.
I really hate it and it tires me out.
This afternoon I was trying and failing to get people to rehearse for the play,
which we are performing on Friday…

By this point I was not merely the writer and director of this play, I was also the narrator. It had turned into a day-in-the-life concept, complete with audio gags I found hilarious at the age of 11:”…And then dawn broke [cue sound effect of a glass smashing]…”

But it still ended with everyone being blown up, a conclusion I had decided to realise on stage by sequencing a complete blackout followed by an enormous sound effect of an explosion followed by the lights coming up on everyone lying on the floor pretending to be dead.

Cue Merry Christmas Everyone by Shakin’ Stevens. SATIRE!

Tuesday 1 December 1987

…Today was a terrible day.
It was my grade 4 piano exam and it was terribly nerve-wracking.
But I hope, at least I think, it went all right.
I had to sign in and out of school, which was a bit silly as I had to sign out at
9am, having only arrived half an hour or so before.
I signed back in at 9.56am.
I’m really just glad it’s over, because it was now allows me to, as it were,
step into Christmas.
In fact, we discussed our Christmas play in class this morning,
which I am directing…

Looking ahead in my diary, I see that this “play”, such as it was, got one performance in an assembly, and that was it.

Not only was I the director, I was also the writer. It was a loose, free-form kind of play, which ended with everyone being blown up.

I don’t think it had anything to do with Christmas whatsoever.

Nonetheless the rehearsals were quite good fun, and I think it helped ingratiate me with the rest of the class.

As for my piano exam, it is typical of me to dwell more on the time I spent away from school than the contents of the exam itself. The former was something I could be sure of, unlike the latter.

Friday 26 December 1986

…I woke up at 7am and started to read Yes, Prime Minister.
I was so engrossed in it that I didn’t realise Muppet Babies had started.
Shock! Horror!
I only missed about two minutes luckily.
I had a triple breakfast made up of toast, cornflakes and bacon…

The first volume of Jim Hacker’s prime ministerial diaries was one of my main presents this year.

My entry for today tells the reader to find a full list of them “at the back”… but no such inventory exists. As such I can’t go into any further details as to what I received.

It was a bit of an atypical Christmas anyway. One of my grandparents was in hospital in Leicester, and most of the days involved visits, usually with the other grandparent in tow. Hospitals are places that take you out of time – at Christmas even more so. The few balloons and strings of tinsel that were evident inside the wards seemed to just subtract from, not compound, any sense of festive spirit.

I’m not sure how ill my grandparent was. I suspect the severity of his condition was kept from me and my sister. I certainly didn’t pay his circumstances much heed in today’s entry. Second only to my concern about Muppet Babies was getting back home in time to see Michael Crawford in Barnum.

Wednesday 24 December 1986

…Twas the night before Christmas
and in the past day,
Lots of things happened
and I’ve had to pay.
Finished my shopping
with no money left;
And now I can’t think of
any more rhymes.

Yes, that old cop-out. Oh dear. I couldn’t even stretch to “bereft” or, perhaps more challengingly, “cleft”.

But it was Christmas Eve, I’d watched – among other things – a repeat of The Box of Delights and the Two Ronnies, and I couldn’t be bothered. I’d bought my sister a cuddly dog, my mum a vase and my dad a map. “They were all cheap.” My work here was done.

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).