Sunday 3 January 1988

…All the Christmas decorations came down today.
Needles from the tree went everywhere – we should have worn special clothes
to protect us, as I kept finding them in my jumper hours afterwards.
The house is now empty of all festive things.
It is rather sad.
The BBC revealed itself to the public this evening in a programme called
See For Yourself.
I did…

This was the first of the Beeb’s big John Birt-inspired look-at-how-awfully-accountable-we-are escapades, and I remember it being fantastically exciting. What’s not to like about a couple of hours on a Sunday night going behind the scenes at Auntie?

There are no clips from 1988’s See For Yourself on YouTube, but I thought I’d include this sequence from the 1989 edition as it:
a) features Sue Lawley at the peak of her powers as Mrs BBC, and
b) spends an enormously impressive few minutes following Sue as she walks through a sequence of BBC sets, beginning with Top of the Pops (in whose environs she leaves a bemused-looking DG Michael Checkland and Chairman Marmaduke Hussey) and including ‘Allo ‘Allo, Bread, Grandstand (“from hockey to horse racing… it’s comparatively cheap too!”) and Crimewatch.

We also learn that: “This sofa is a good example of the BBC’s economy… it’s subsequently been refurbished for Jimmy Savile in his latest Fix It series!”

Tuesday 29 December 1987

…Today was a Tuesday and we decided to go to the sales.
Well, Mum and Dad didn’t want to, but we wanted to because we wanted to spend
some of our Christmas money.
I didn’t buy anything.
[My sister] bought a hairdryer and some trousers.
I was very annoyed because WHSmith in Loughborough is virtually empty.
That’s the problem: they haven’t restocked yet.
We came back from town on a Trippit, having taken the car in for more repairs.
I was back in time to watch Carry on Camping…

The day wasn’t entirely wasted, then.

I like how I presume to have knowledge of the post-Christmas retail strategy of WHSmiths. Or lack of one.

I was always bemused at how the place used to be almost entirely devoid of stock in the days between Christmas and New Year. Didn’t they understand that was when the greatest number of WHSmith vouchers were aching to be redeemed?

At least the Trippits were running.

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.

Friday 18 December 1987

…Just one week left till Christmas.
And of course, I can hardly wait.
But we don’t finish school until next Tuesday, which is a bit unfair.
Also we have a whole week off after the week which has New Year’s Day in it,
which just seems ridiculous.
There were carols in this morning’s assembly for the first years.
I got to play a keyboard as the accompaniment.
And then I treated myself to chips, sausages and baked beans for lunch,
followed by a glass of milk and a ginger biscuit…

It was round about now that I began to get quite involved in doing music stuff at school. Not just what everyone had to do in music lessons, but additional things. Playing in assemblies. Taking part in school productions. And eventually writing and performing my own stuff.

I was never quite sure what my peers thought of all this. Ghastly showboating? Self-indulgent twaddle? Or just utter disinterest? Out of those three I’d rather it’d been the latter.

Still, along the way I got to turn the Beatles’ Nowhere Man into a chorale for four-part harmony; perform an avant-garde “happening” wherein I fixed a microphone inside a kettle, boiled it, and served tea to an audience; and organise a three-hour outdoor acoustic gig boasting covers of songs by, among others, The Smiths, Tori Amos, Otis Redding and (oops) The Lemonheads.

So I guess it wasn’t all bad.

Saturday 12 December 1987

…Bought some fake snow spray today.
It smells disgusting.
I had wanted to use some of it in my room but this is impossible…

The memory of this just made me shiver. The smell was ghastly. There is absolutely no way such a product would be allowed to be sold today – at least, not to children.

I’d decided to go a bit over-the-top with Christmas decorations this year, and hence invested in a can of this foul stuff.

I tried it first on a couple of plants in the back garden. They were dead by teatime.

I didn’t use it again. I think I took it to school and just left it somewhere: a strategy I have repeated throughout my life whenever I need to dispose of unwanted objects that I can’t bring myself to throw away.

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.

Saturday 28 November 1987

…I wish my piano exam would hurry up and be over.
Some really good programmes are starting on the TV soon, including a new series of Yes, Prime Minister, and I won’t be able to enjoy them until the exam has passed away.
I’m also waiting to put up my Christmas decorations but won’t do that until
the exam is over…

This was my grade 4 piano exam, and like last year I had to do it at the local convent. But first I had to have a dry run, and so paid a visit to this establishment today, a Saturday, to try out the piano.

I always hated doing this, even more than the exam itself. For one thing I felt uneasy being in a girls’ school. Second, it was a RELIGIOUS girls’ school. And third, there were pupils having lessons on a Saturday. It all seemed shifty and wrong.

Plus the air inside the building smelled of two of the worst things in the world: incense and skulduggery.

Is it any wonder I pined for the well-crafted hoo-ha of Hacker and Sir Humphrey?