I have an obsession with time and dates. It’s reflected in everything I write. If when watching telly I see a clock in the background, or can make out the face of someone’s watch, I’ll note the time. If the programme’s old I’ll check out the “first aired” date, then try to work out where I was and what I was doing. I’ll even try and work out the time of year in which a scene was shot from the weather. I do live in the past a bit. My mate Aaron wouldn’t be at all impressed. Today is 14 June 2020, and for some reason my mind’s drawn back forty years to 1980.
14 June 1980 was a Saturday. I was 12 years old. Most kids would have been at home watching The Adventure Game or Tiswas, but I was at either Tamworth or Burton market, with my dad at the former, my mom at the latter. I’d have spent the week at Rawlett High School. Mrs Pitts would have sucked all the potential for enjoyment out of English; Mr Blatch would have told us about weather fronts in geography; chemistry teacher Mr Clamp would have told me repeatedly to get my hands out of my pockets; I was not the only 12 year old getting hot under the satchel in the presence of French teacher Mrs Whitby. In Britain, Mrs Thatcher was relatively new to Number 10, and Jimmy Carter was President of the Good Ol’. Some guy in white called John Paul (the Second) was Pope.
Musically, things were very mixed. On this particular day Xanadu by Olivia Newton John was number one in the singles’ chart. Highlights of the year as a whole were anything Two Tone, Atomic and Call Me by Blondie, Going Underground and Start by The Jam, and topping it all (for me) David Bowie’s Ashes to Ashes. These gems were, however, offset by Kenny Rogers’ The Coward of the County, Barbara Streisand’s Woman in Love, with the year capped off by the utterly atrocious There’s No One Quite Like fucking Grandma by St Winifred’s School choir. Geno by Dexys was okay, and they were from nearby Birmingham, but I never got the denim dungarees thing and didn’t like Kevin Rowland’s voice. Meanwhile, Don’t Stand So Close to Me was a hit for The Police: a catchy number in which Sting admits to fancying a young female pupil, and makes out his inappropriate thoughts are all her fault. I won’t mention What’s Another Year by Johnny Logan, other than to plant the seed of the song in your head so you’re humming it all next week. On Saturday 14 June 1980, we were just a month down the road from Ian Curtis’ suicide, and a few weeks away from Peter Sellers’ death. In New York, John Lennon would be seeing some places for the last time.
Approaching the end of my first year at secondary school it was becoming clear I was not academic, but I had a pristine shit brown uniform and a school bag full of other people’s hopes and expectations. Juvenile epilepsy was a relatively new cloud; formed just a year earlier, it would hang around until I was 20. I watched six hours’ worth of telly every weekday, and started my week’s homework with reluctance on a Sunday afternoon; Mrs Pitts’ 45 chapter summaries had no chance. In the end I’d usually give up, go to bed, and watch That’s Life and Hart to Hart on my black and white portable telly. Of note to me now is that this was the only period of my life during which I did not write.
I’d always written as a kid, but my secondary school years were a creative void. I had a Commodore Vic 20 computer, but no tape recorder to save anything I did on it. I had a CB radio, but hadn’t yet touched an electric guitar. Some music got me right there, but I didn’t know anyone who liked Echo & the Bunnymen. My entire childhood was full of love, and the kind of gifts that can only be bestowed with the good intentions of those who have worked their way up from nothing; but I would feel a misfit for another eight or nine years, until my creative impulse began to surface once more. Whereupon everything began to change.
So, that’s me on 14 June 1980; but where, and who, were you?
I’m a writer, editor, and Royal Literary Fund Fellow. Find out more, tweet me, or email.