29 May 2005

1986 - Big Bang, Walk Like An Egyptian, "Today" Newspaper, Scanner Tills, Neighbours, Baked Spuds, Chernobyl, Courgettes And Peppers...

"You've got the brawn, I've got the brain, let's make lots of money..."

Chernobyl blew and there was a sharp rise in radiation levels across Europe. I was caught out in a downpour just after it happened and, having heard that rain was a good carrier of radiation, I wondered if my snorkel parka would be glowing when I turned out the light and got into bed. Fortunately, it wasn't.

The Big Bang, computerised dealing on the London Stock Exchange, suffered teething problems. The new system was unable to cope, so traders were forced to trade in the traditional way until it was up-and-running again.

In March, Eddie Shah launched Today, the UK's very first colour daily national newspaper.

Another Royal Wedding - Andy and Fergie, this time. Not as big a deal as Charles & Di, but a good enough reason to hang the flags out and swig down a bottle of sherry for royalists.

"Hold a chicken in the air, stick a deckchair up your nose..."

Spitting Image took revenge on the merciless Black Lace for Aga Doo.

Oh dear... Ange from EastEnders made compulsive viewing as she struggled with the booze and Dirty Den, but, behind the mic, she simply proved that whilst Anyone Can Fall In Love, not everyone can sing.

Nick Kamen was charming eye candy for the girlies as he whipped off his jeans and put them through a power wash, but pure flim-flam as a singer - just like Ange.

But the ultimate stinker was designer-stubbled Nick Berry, Albert Square's Wicksy... Roll on Kylie and Jason!

Fortunately, the Pet Shop Boys saved the pop day with dance treat Opportunities - Let's Make Lots Of Money, and the Hip Hop/rock fusion of Run DMC and Aerosmith's Walk This Way was a pivotal moment in Hip Hop history. And that wasn't all! Love Can't Turn Around by Farley "Jackmaster" Funk was the very first House track to chart in England! And it made it all the way up to No 10!

I tried designer stubble, but it simply made me look seedy - the sort of character you definitely wouldn't buy a used car from.

Back to the music, and did you follow the Bangles and Walk Like An Egyptian?

It was a time when we talked Power, capital 'p' intended: of course there was power dressing, but there were also power walks/naps/breakfasts/showers/washes...

Black lycra continued to be a hit with women. With small, bolt-like metal studs dotted around the dresses and armour-like earrings, the message was "don't mess with me!" But for fun nights out figure-hugging lycra was also available in various putrid shades - you could even buy lycra micro minis. More like an elastic band than a skirt, these were essential for the girl who wanted to ensure that NOTHING was left to the imagination.

What was it with baked spuds? Perhaps the
F-Plan Diet had a lot to answer for, as spud fever gripped the nation. There was a very fancy potato cafe near me, decorated with old fashioned advertisements from the early 20th Century, where you could go and eat spuds filled with wonderful things.

Now, who's for a nice jacket with prawn mayo, sliced hard boiled egg and grated cheese? Baked beans on top? OK...

In the 1970s and early 1980s I was happy to simply give a baked spud a quick dollop of marge and a bit of grated cheese before wolfing it down. Not anymore. Now I scooped out the potato and mashed it up with butter and chopped chives, before replacing it in the jacket, placing grated cheese on top and then browning it under the grill. Or the potato might be mixed with tuna, chopped peppers and mayonnaise (I didn't meet peppers or mayo until the 1980s - before that I was only acquainted with salad cream and spring onions!).

Me, a humble working class lad, was suddenly scoffing posh nosh. I was eating food I'd never laid eyes on back in 1982.

In the 1970s and early 1980s, supermarkets had reflected our thrifty (and ignorant of posh nosh) ways. Remember the wide range of "Basics" and "Economy" products on sale at supermarkets in the early 1980s? These were dead cheap versions of everyday neccessities to help us through the ravages of the recession. They started a trend, and you can still buy similar "cheap-as-can-be" supermarket items today.

Back then, Sainsbury's and Tesco's were different planets compared to the supermarkets of today. There simply wasn't the range of foods on sale. The '70s and early '80s were hard times.

But many humble, everyday supermarkets were undergoing a revolution during the mid-'80s boom period, introducing shocked shoppers to such oddities as avocados, peppers, olive oil and courgettes for the first time ever. The working classes would never be the same again.

Sainsbury's started to seem quite classy in the mid-'80s, and I'm sure I was rubbing shoulders with vicars and school teachers whenever I nipped in - and more than a few yuppie types. It all seemed very strange.

As posh nosh trickled down to the working classes, we also loved prawn cocktail - which was being slagged off by Fanny Cradock as long ago as 1967! But Nouvelle Cuisine was really "it". I could probably have eaten about nine Nouvelle sized portions in one sitting, and wouldn't give it house room.

My own favourite was all those fancy salad dressings suddenly so widely and cheaply available. When I was a kid, and indeed into the early '80s, salad to me meant cold meat or a wedge of pork pie, cheese, some limp lettuce, a few spuds and a dollop of salad cream. Not any more!

The supermarket revolution wasn't just confined to expanding ranges of food. A female friend of mine was working at Sainsbury's in the mid-'80s, and witnessed the arrival of bar code scanner tills. The beeping sound was dreadful, she told me.

Completely unused to it, the dreadful repetitive sound echoed in her head when she got home, and many of her colleagues experienced similar difficulties. On her honeymoon in 1986, my friend halted things at a very romantically charged moment to ask: "Was that a beep?" Fortunately, her new husband also worked at Sainsbury's and was entirely sympathetic!

Filofaxes and Garfield toys/posters/mugs were everywhere, Trivial Pursuit continued to be wildly popular. But what 'B' won 1986's Game of the Year title? Yes, a game based on Blockbusters. Bliss - now we could all enter into the spirit of the thing and have a 'P' at home.

An Aussie daytime soap with a stripper? Gosh! It seemed that Neighbours, which began here in October, was going to be a bit naughty - shades of a Bouquet of Barbed Wire, perhaps? But Daphne Lawrence, played by Elaine Smith, was the only stripper in the world who didn't take her clothes off, and we had to make do with commenting on her trendy hairdo and Helen Daniels' jumpers. They weren't quite in the Frank Bough league, but inspirational nevertheless.

Soon, we were also commenting on Mrs Mangel's simper and Madge Ramsay's enormous gob.

Early Neighbours was great. Read all about it here.