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A recent blog post by an English guy, James, in Graz recreated the summer of 1985 in Devon. I’ve met James and his family before now and regularly watch his retro videos on Twitter. Having read it, it made me think back to my 1985. My memories were murky, but little by little and with the help of a pad of paper and a few current affairs-related triggers, I managed to re-remember 1985.
After reading James’ blog, my first memory was of my “defection” – moving to another school across town. Until my parents told me at the end of the summer term that I would be changing school and going to an open evening at my new school that evening, I’d presumed I would be moving to the school down the road that my mother worked at. For a slightly awkward 8-year old it was a monumental change to take on board. While classmates did come and go at various points between the age of 4-8, it was the first change that involved me!
Snooker and Table Tennis
My memory was jogged by the recent findings about match fixing. The sport’s popularity in the mid-1980s was incredible, and 1985 was almost its zenith. I had a Steve Davis Pot Black mini snooker table that fitted on our kitchen table. I must have played it for hours on end – as I could also amuse myself on my own. 1985 was of course the year that Dennis Taylor famously beat Steve Davis on the black ball to win at The Crucible.
When I changed to my new school I also started playing table tennis – my model railway base board at home also doubled as a table tennis table. I remember spending a lot of lunchtimes at school starting from autumn 1985 playing table tennis with classmates in my house room, and I also played a lot at university when I lived in halls. Nocturnal table tennis session was my way of having a cheap night in. I’m hoping my children get into it too.
School – Pre-Defection
The year started in Junior 1C at King’s House, taught by Mrs. Copley. I remember us being twelve in the class and our classroom being upstairs and next to the staff room. I used to despise the morning break milk, and fortunately many a half drank bottle sailed down the poorly blocked off back staircase. There were five boys in the class, all due to move on to Pyrland Hall at the end of the summer term. A couple of years later Pyrland Hall and King’s House merged and moved to the Pyrland estate, and was fully co-educational. I’m not sure if any of us actually stayed in the King’s set-up past the age of 11.
The Headmistress, Mrs Willson was a fearsome lady found of expressions like “foul child!” Apparently she now lives in her dotage on the site of King’s House School that was turned into housing. Among happier memories of King’s House was learning French with Mrs. Bell (Madame Cloche), the start of a language learning journey of nearing four decades.
Dad’s gone to the Yemen Arab Republic
My father was turning 40 in 1985, and celebrated that milestone on what was to be his only foreign business trip. He spent three weeks in the then Yemen Arab Republic (also known as North Yemen) planning a new highway from Sanaa to Taiz with a colleague. I remember missing a Friday’s school and going up to Gatwick by train with my mother to meet him at the airport on his return – at that time Yemenia flew directly to Gatwick from Sanaa. I’ve still got a couple of banknotes from the YAR, a country which of course no longer exists. It was unified with the People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen (South Yemen) in 1990. Dad encountered men bearing jambiya as a status symbol, and men chewing qat.
The post proto-capitalism summer
From memory, I got weekly pocket money, although I don’t recollect what I really spent it on. I expect I would have got the princely amount of about 20 or 30 pence a week. This was boosted by my grandparents also putting in 20p pieces into TSB money boxes for my sister and me. The previous year I had had my proto-capitalist stage, where I saved any money I ever got, and on occasion bailed out my parents if they didn’t get to the bank for cash. The ultimate goal was not an expensive toy, but to have my own 50 pound note (at that time with Christopher Wren on it).
Saving Birthday and Christmas money, I slowly went up through the notes – first having two “Duke of Wellington fivers”, then two “Nightingale tenners”, then working up through to Shakespeare 20 pound notes, before achieving the holy grail of the 50 pound note with Sir Christopher Wren on it. Eventually, I made my way all the way to the princely sum of £100, stored in the secret compartment of a discarded Helix calculator pencil case in a drawer of clothes.
My entry into banking
At that point, parental sense prevailed and my father marched me into the post office, a building society and a bank, and I emerged as the holder of a Post Office national savings account with passbook, as an Anglia “World Saver” (replete with a set of low denomination shrapnel as an incentive to save) and as a Midland Bank “Griffin Saver” (with sports bag, dictionary, ring binder and the like). In hindsight having had a fifty pound note when they were serious money – and equally scarcely accepted.
It probably started fuelling my contempt at how precious people in the UK gets about anything larger than a twenty pound note. I’m lucky to have change from green hundred Euro note when eating out with the family. And my year abroad in Austria and Belgium got me used to having currencies with hundreds and thousands being useful units – in 1998, I remember meeting with friends in Venice with the sole intention of us emerging with a 1,000,000 lira bar bill.
My 8th Birthday
Having had a think back to how I celebrated my birthday, I remember my birthday treat with a couple of schoolfriends being to the Fleet Air Arm Museum at RNAS Yeovilton. It was a fairly typical thing to do on a birthday – get into the car(s) and go to a museum or local attraction and then have a picnic. At my 6th birthday we’d been to Taunton’s Classic Cinema to watch Return of the Jedi, which had just come out, and the year after it was a hastily organised trip on the Seaton Tramway when we rocked up at Pecorama to discover it shut. Trying to remember what my birthday present was, I recollect it was a burgundy leatherette attaché case – satchels were becoming fuddy-duddy and the sports bag had yet to become all-conquering. By the end of the decade the Jaguar sports bag was the bag of choice.
School – Defection
The earthshattering news was broken in late June that I would be moving schools. As it turned out, one friend had been at my old school for a couple of years was already at the school. I only found that out when I started in Form 2 in a refurbished terrapin building, taught by Mrs. Jones. From memory, she was Welsh, smoked cigars, and her son played for Bath Rugby Club. In a provincial town with three public schools (it was once the end of the railway line) and their feeder prep schools, it was a big deal swapping from King’s to TS (or Taunton Junior School to be more precise). It also meant a change of school run – King’s House was located about 500 metres from my father’s office on South Road, and TJS was on the other side of town.
The aforementioned Headmistress of King’s House seemed seriously offended that my parents had taken this approach, so that was probably a sign that they’d made the right decision. And it probably helped instil a streak of social disobedience in me.
Cricket – my first Ashes series
After hazy memories of West Indies beating England 5-0 in 1984, by 1985 I was becoming a cricket tragic. I remember hearing updated scores from the England tour of India in 1984-85 in the winter. My 1986 Wisden managed to help me to remember that I attended Somerset vs Glamorgan in the B&H Cup at the County Ground with my mother. That day was also the FA Cup Final (Manchester United beat Everton 1-0 thanks to a goal from Norman Whiteside).
More memorably, 1985 was the first Ashes tour by the Australians that I remember. Back then the Australians tour spanned an entire summer – from the start of May, through to mid-September. I followed it in The Times every day. I remember that the series was level at 1-1 when we left to go on holiday. The Fifth Test (at Edgbaston) was an England win – my Aunt was there live. We returned home for the fag-end of the 6th Test, which England won to win back The Ashes with a 3-1 series victory.
My parents had changed from reading The Telegraph to The Times the previous summer. 1985 was of course the bicentenary of its first publication. My main memory of The Times at that time, other than the sports pages, was a game called “Portfolio”. You played with your Portfolio card, which had eight numbers from 1-40 on it. Every day you checked the previous day’s change on their share price (40 stocks were allocated every day). If you matched the target (e.g. +45 or -15) you could win (a share of) £2,000. There was a weekly game that had a £20,000 prize from memory. Needless to say we never got close.
Childhood holidays consisted of UK-based holidays in even years and to the continent in odd years. A few years back, I sat down with my mother and went through the list of family holidays we had. She was able to sort through photos – holiday memories were analogue photos – or possibly even slides. The summer of 1985 was a momentous one for me – visiting a new country after three trips to France.
Our previous foreign holiday in 1983 hadn’t been a massive success. We had spent a week in the Dordogne near Sarlat (in a gîte with a rodent problem). The second week was near Royan (in a ramshackle damp house, the first floor of which was falling down). This holiday was planned meticulously. I remember my parents revealing the destination over lunch at the Luttrell Arms in Dunster, near my sister’s school.
A dredge of the memory banks came up with our route being by ferry from Portsmouth to Le Havre (Townsend-Thoresen). We were in our newish Maestro (rattan beige – how 1980s!). The first night in France was in a small hotel in Nemours en route to Thollon-les-Mémises near Evian. On the way to Evian we stopped in Geneva and did a tour of the Palais des Nations. My aunt, cousin and a friend of my cousin’s joined us for the week. We watched the fireworks over Lac Léman/Lake Geneva to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the liberation of Evian. The abiding memory of the evening was my father’s offence at the perfumed waitress brandishing a lettuce leaf at him after he found a fly in his side salad. When I reminded my mother of this she didn’t recollect the incident.
The second week was based in Grindelwald, and was definitely an early travel highlight. I remember we had a five day travel pass around the Bernese Oberland, which we duly made full use of. The chalet we were staying in had a view towards the Eiger from the balcony. From Grindelwald we took two trips up the Männlichen cable car, two trips on the First chairlift (upgraded to a cable car in 1991). We also had a trip to Kandersteg and a boat trip around the Brienzersee. All this for the princely sum of approx. CHF 50, which at that time was about £17. as a child. My souvenir of that trip was a Victorinox Swiss Army Knife. It did me nearly 20 years of service until the corkscrew and bottle openers sheared off.
A similar trip in 2011 cost me CHF 600 for a fortnight and CHF 125 for a trip up the Jungfraubahn. We hadn’t done that trip in 1985 as it was “rather expensive” (CHF 54at CHF 3 to the pound!). I also did a first class upgrade on the Glacier Express from Zermatt to Chur on that 2011 trip. The abiding memory of the 2011 trip was watching the Swiss Franc. It strengthened dramatically against the Euro on a daily basis to near parity. I think I was still paying for the trip in 2012. I would have technically defaulted on my Swiss Franc mortgage had I not repaid a bit early.
The arrival of the VHS Video Recorder
I remember a trip to Curry’s one Saturday with my father to purchase a video recorder for Mum’s birthday. I’d first seen one at a schoolfriend’s home a couple of years before, one of the top loading beasts. This was back in the days of 22″ round cornered CRT screens being the norm at home. I remember it being a Fisher brand – originally American but owned by Sanyo since the mid-1970s. Sanyo eventually became part of Panasonic. Its sleek black plastic was a step up from the wood effect TV it connected to. That TV finally packed up in about 1991/2. A Pye portable set was my computer monitor through to the mid 1990s. The VCR eventually became a Raisin Receipt in 1998 to my flatmate’s academic son.
I was never really into Transformers, but a lot of my classmates at my new school were. Some seemed to regularly get new Transformers, but I only got into them in late 1985. My Christmas presents were “The Game of Knowledge” and a Salter Science electronics set endorsed by Johnny Ball. The interest in electronics prevailed – at school I used to order electronics kits from Maplin catalogues. I remember building a miniature radio transmitter and bugged the Staff Room at school. It then became a pirate radio transmitter in my boarding house.