12 February 2013

Postbag - Rubik's, Ellie Goulding And "The Wreck of '86", True '80s And The Beginning And The End...

Several wonderful comments and e-mails - thanks, folks! Glad a few people are reading '80s Actual!

Andrew (another Andrew!) asks:

Out of all the icons of the 1980s, what is your personal top?

Has to be the Rubik's Cube. Its launch, less than a year into the decade, and the ferocious craze that consumed 1981 are etched on my mind. The '80s and the Cube go hand-in-hand. Forever associated with my mid-teens and the getting-underway of the happiest era of my life.

Paul writes: 

In her song Anything Can Happen, Ellie Goulding refers to the "Wreck of '86", the year she "knew the panic was over". It was the year she was born, and since then she's found out that anything can happen! 1986 is seen as a wrecked sphere submerged in the sea in the video accompanying the song. It's a long time ago, isn't it? Makes me feel sad and old. The song has a brilliant '80s synth sound to it though.

Who on earth is Ellie Goulding?! :))

Sandra says:

I enjoy your blog. Its an unashamed celebration of the 1980s and I certainly have a lot of fond memories. I know eighties fashions and music are back in vogue, but why do you think the decade is so maligned by some?

In a nutshell, Thatcher and Reagan. I find it hilarious because, although I was an ardent Labour supporter and wouldn't have stopped a bus for Maggie back then, there is no way that the decade is to blame for all the ills of today. I was a care worker from the early 1980s until 2008 and the cutbacks imposed in England by the New Labour government caused me to leave and seek employment elsewhere. Getting in a froth about Maggie/Ronnie is simply a lazy and priggish exercise in my view. That era is long gone. And pretending the 1970s were Sunnybrook Farm is laughable. There are many things which need addressing now that were unimaginable in the 1980s. And besides, the '80s were colourful, zesty, fascinating, and multi-faceted!

And Keith asks:

Do you remember where you were and what you were doing when the 1980's began and ended?

That's an interesting question! Do you really want to know?


OK, here goes...

How The 1980s Began...

Picture it, December 31, 1979... a decaying council house somewhere in England... no central heating... kitchen a prefab - condemned for years - slowly detaching itself from the house - the wind penetrating the gap... mouldy bedroom walls... metal framed windows at front... draughty wooden sash windows at the side and back - no double glazing... a housing estate that was truly a "sink estate" long before the term was coined... my parents were throwing a New Year's party - theme: "Welcome To The 1980s!"

The day did not promise well for the 1980s. The '70s had often been a nightmare for many of us - naff, brutal and sex-obsessed, but the oft-repeated promise on ITV on New Year's Eve 1979 that Paint Your Wagon was to be the big film for New Year's Day 1980 did not indicate any improvement. I mean, Paint your flaming Wagon! The "big film"! Can you imagine?

I was fourteen and in awe of the approaching decade. At the end of the 1980s I'd be twenty-four. It seemed an unimaginable leap. I'd be absolutely grown-up. Where would I work? Would I be able to find work? Who would I be with? What was sex like? What strange new trends would the 1980s bring?

Back to 1979, and I looked around our grim little house - even the Christmas decorations could not hide the fact that we lived in a dump. And as for the "mod cons"! No VCR, of course - only 5% of UK homes had them in 1980, so in 1979 we had no hope. No mobile phones. No computers - we regarded computers as being for boffins. Couldn't imagine what the future held there - I never dreamed they'd be at all relevant to people like me. No microwave. Never even seen one. Our TV was black and white. And we weren't "on the phone". Only one house in our street was. 

Mum had Coronation Street on as she put the sausages-on-sticks out, and Elsie Tanner commented: "Well all I can say is it's been a bad ten years!"

Too right, Mrs T!

The party got underway, the air thick with fag smoke, revellers plying me with drink - "Come on, Andy! Have a little!" But I didn't fancy it. My step-father and his pals were decked out in their finest 1950s gear. Of course, the 1970s had played host to a huge 1950s revival, but my stepfather and his pals had got there before the '70s got underway, all being mournful at having missed the '50s. They'd been children then - too young to participate in the fashions.

The music was naff. My mother loved Lena Martell's One Day At A Time, and it was played about eight times. Rockabilly Rebel by Matchbox also did sterling service on the turntable. The rest was a ghastly concotion consisting of the likes of Elvis, Charlie Pride and Jim Reeves. Making plans For Nigel was sadly absent.

The guests got progressively more and more sozzled... and the 1980s arrived.

We sang Auld Lang Syne and then, about twenty-five minutes into 1980, I was shocked rigid to discover... but, whoops, I can't go into that! Sorry!

At our house, the first day of 1980 passed with repercussions from the shocking incident which had taken place in the opening half-hour of the new decade, hangovers galore and, of course, the threatened Paint Your Wagon.

Nipping to the other end of the '80s... in the meantime, computers had begun to seem relevant, Reagan had come and gone, Maggie had won two more terms, Microsoft Windows had arrived, as had the first commercially available computer mouse and satellite TV, a raging torrent of crazes had gripped us (including Rubik's Cube, Pac-Man, deelyboppers, Trivial Pursuit and Dancing Flowers), DNA fingerprinting and the C5 had been invented, the mobile phone had made its debut, Big Bang had banged, Chernobyl had gone into meltdown, riots had raged, yuppies had arrived, swanked and sought dosh, the microwave oven and the VCR had moved into the ascendency, CDs had arrived and the World Wide Web had just been invented but was yet to become on-line reality...

Back to me...

How The 1980s Ended...

Picture it, December 31, 1989... a shared flat... quite pleasant, quite modern - built in 1980! The windows weren't double glazed, but it was centrally heated... I was "on the phone" and had a colour TV (a black FST model!). I was in my bedroom listening to the radio, which was belting out various pop hits of the '80s for New Year's Eve. 

"The '80s are dying now," commented the DJ.

What a gloomy thought, thought Andrew.

I was getting ready to go to a friend's party - a theme party - the theme being "beachwear". I had decided to pretend I hadn't heard about the theme thing and attend in some nice '80s flash trash - specifically the Miami Vice look, my favourite chic of the decade.

I wasn't looking forward to the 1990s. The "great and the good" had been telling us how bad the 1980s had been for us for some years before the decade ended - conspicuous consumption, image over content, etc, etc, blah, blah, blah, but I couldn't see that. I'd been so earth-shatteringly poor at the beginning of the decade (and, indeed had grown up in poverty), and the highly honest, brash glitz and posturings of the mid-to-late decade had been a great pleasure to me, socialist though I was. As had all the controversy. The '80s had turned into a bloody battle between Left and Right and I'd found the whole thing had made me feel alive

Then, 1987 had sent shock waves through the yuppie world with Black Monday.

And 1988 had given Thatcher the collywobbles with Acid House

It was said that the 1990s would make up for the "greedy" 1980s - we would be wearing lots of plain white clothes and women would be carrying handbags made out of recycled cardboard - or some such. That didn't happen and I found the 1990s to be a major disappointment - a long dark night of apathy, revisionism, greed and hypocrisy which continues to this day.

Don't be offended, '90s fans - we're all entitled to our opinions!

Anyway, back to the point.

Let my diary tell you about the end of the 1980s as I lived it - with a name blanked out to protect the (not so) innocent:))

The party was fine. I spent a lot of the evening with my tongue stuck down _____'s throat. The clock struck twelve and the '80s became the '90s. It was as simple as that.


Mick said...

Wish I hadn't missed the 1980's. But I was born in the "wreck of '92"! Example has a really '80s synth sound in "Say Nothing" by the way.

Drew said...

Example of what?

Dave Mullen said...

Good article, I remember the 80s similar to you - a lot of good, a lot of bad, but a lot of exciting things happening.
The 90s... nothing. All I can think of is the music, from manchester, the rise of grunge, Rap coming into maturity, sickly sweet manufactured boy bands pouring off an industry conveyor belt.
Maybe with the 90s we should define them by their stability and be thankful nontheless, nothing much to get really upset or excited about, just a decade stuck in first gear.

Drew said...

I couldn't agree more. I did find the '90s boring and hypocritical and smug but, looking back, they also felt a lot safer and a lot less oppressive than today.

Liddie said...

You spent New Year's Eve 1989 with your tongue stuck down WHOSE throat?

Drew said...

I never snog and tell! :))

Col said...

Born in the "Wreck of'91", even though I wasn't even born in the 80's I really enjoyed reading about your 80's memories.

The 90's was my childhood and I have fond memories of it but my god... Madchester, Britpop, Grunge, plastic boybands are nauseating. What were people thinking!?? What happened to the versatality and interesting side of it that had made the previous decade so special?

I know it sounds strange but there was a brief moment in 2010 when it seemed like I was in my own 80's, thanks to a host of incredible new artists who were inspired by the said decade!

Drew said...

I love the '80s fashion revival that's been around now for well over ten years. Had to smile in H&M the other day: a young bloke and a young woman were on the men's floor and the woman said: "You can't buy that! The colour's far too bright - looks like it's from the '80s! You need something darker!" I couldn't see the item she was objecting to, but I thought: poor, repressed lad!

Body Double said...

Dont know if my last comment posted.

Great blog and very fascinating. Keep it going, I especially love the old magazine articles of bedding etc. There's some great Habitat catalogues on Flickr by someone called 80s London which shows home trends of the time too.

I was born in 87 so missed out on the decade but am obsessed with it and grew up with a lot of 80s things as we were poor and never threw things out!! Also a lot of the buildings I grew up loving (local McDonalds, Sainsburys etc) were from the 80s and I reckon that rubbed off on me for my love of the decade.

Don't quite agree with you that the 80s ended just like that... take the movie "Don't Tell Mom The Babysitter's Dead" from 1991... it's still pure 80s. I reckon the 80s continued till about 1991.

Body Double said...

PS talking of fashion I am buying vintage 80s clothes on eBay to go with my "reebok workout plus" 87 trainers. I want to go out in public looking like Marty McFly. They do the 80s Head holdalls too, now, how awesome is that?!

Drew said...

Thanks for your comments. So glad you like the '80s! I love the fashions too - jeans were never tighter around the legs and those Miami Vice style jackets! Brillo! I've got a few from back then - and love them! But the shoulders seem a bit startling in the size department when I'm wearing them...

As for when the '80s ended... personally, I think decades begin at the start of the 0 year and end at the close of the 9 year, but, hey, that's all down to individual viewpoints, I suppose. Thanks so much for writing.

Anonymous said...

"The wreck of '86" isn't the only thing linking Ellie Goulding's track to the 1980s according to a review I've just read:

"Glistening synth-banger that took the lead-off single duties on new silver-piped R&B Brit threat’s sophomore utterance – crystalline, haunting and sparkle-punched with 80s synth tricks, sadly, it’s her finest lyrical moment on Halcyon, a deep-water plunge of an allegory into her birth year, ’86."