Thames Polytechnic: Finding My Feet

While not exactly Oxford or Cambridge, it did have a good reputation as a vocational engineering college, and these days University of Greenwich is quite highly thought of.
I lived for the first year in the halls of residence, a converted office block made into apartments by sticking a load of breeze blocks in place. Comparisons to prison were inevitable.

The location of my room meant that I ended up being friendly with Chris, other Chris, Julian, Mark, Howard and Brian, my fellow floor mates.
I was extremely home-sick in the first term, perhaps for much of the first year. But by xmas I was beginning to find my feet. I put on a lot of weight which didn't help. Felt incredibly self-conscious about it. college wasn't what I thought it would be - a hotbed of radicalism and left field taste in music and the arts. I immediately met up with largely conservative northerners who wanted to be managers, supported Thatcher and loved Iron Maiden or Phil collins. It was worse than what I'd left behind.

There's only a shit housing estate at the end of the rainbow. this was the view from my window, across lovely Woolwich:

The first term was mainly sporadic depression, especially after night-fall, feelings of not fitting in, panicking about the work-load, eating too much and a widening a waist line. I had a terrible hair style, greased back, long and messy. After years of struggle, I’d given up with my hair. I wore pseudo combat jacket and jeans. The pictures I have of me from those times show someone who is obviously into left politics, a bit, but not too overweight, and obviously a student. A cross between Rik and Neil from the Young Ones. More Rik then, more Neil in years to come.

I was aware of my physical decline, having been quite fit, and tried going jogging but ran into people I knew once too often so stopped – didn’t want to be seen. Later in the year it occurred to me to bring my bike up to London. I really missed cycling.

I was extremely home-sick in the first term, perhaps for much of the first year. But by xmas I was beginning to find my feet. The weight gain didn't help. I felt incredibly self-conscious about it. Also Poly wasn't what I thought it would be: a hotbed of radicalism and left field taste in music and the arts. I immediately met up with largely conservative northerners who wanted to be managers, supported Thatcher, did TA at the weekend, and loved Iron Maiden or Phil Collins. It was worse than what I'd left behind.

I thought everyone at College would be cool. How wrong could I be? There were some real reactionary types in the Halls of Residence. After I was moved in by my parents, and sent them on their way (puh-lease!) I tried to meet people, get myself organised etc. The music I played was supposed to impress people with what good taste I have. but my first Sunday night I found it just as difficult to socialise as ever. There was a northern kid who I was on friendly terms throughout the first year just cos we talked to each other first, someone from Northern Ireland who was into Cult/U2/Simple Minds shite.

Early on I met a guy called Chris Meager. He had such bland taste in everything that we ended falling out. not that I was bothered, but he was. He went out of his way to criticise my music, because he took the views I expressed far too personally. I was very vocal about what I liked and was very forthright about how crap the mainstream was. I didn’t intend to criticise what Chris liked, I think I assumed that anyone who was at Poly would have better taste. Or wouldn't be so fecking sensitive!

However he was my first lasting “friend” and through him I met others.
Chrsi M. introduced me to Chris P, Howard and Paul Simon (not him!). Although I felt left out a lot of the time they became the group of people most important to me while at TP. I got invited to the pub on the Friday and everyone from our group got knocked up and invited down. No-one was forgotten!

On that first Friday evening - at one door we knocked at this depressed-looking hippy came to the door with a massive afro hair-style. He said he wanted to stay in and watch the gardening programmes which infuriated everyone. The guy was our age and concerned only with watching shit lifestyle programmes on a Friday night. It's part of what I was trying to escape. But he was persuaded and we went out to the DG pub on Wellington St which became part of our routine in the first year. That hippy was Mark who I ended up sharing a house through the rest of my time at Thames Poly.

The DG used to have very good offers on beer - 50p Guinness or Fosters and once a buy one get one free offer. And it was one of the few pubs in Woolwich where students wouldn't get attacked or thrown out. First time in there I stared at these girls sitting near us (fellow students) and looked an idiot but soon learnt to control myself a bit better.

Met bloke, not part of our group, called Paul Harvey who if anything was more of a depress-head than me. He was into Factory stuff especially New Order, and African guitar stuff. I enjoyed sitting in his room listening to music. Every Saturday, while I cooked a risotto or Bolognese, he’d be in the barely functioning kitchen mashing potatoes. He clearly liked mashed potatoes. He was my first Mancunian!!

My social life was not good. I went to the Cellar Bar in first week and stood about drinking, unable to talk to anyone. When The Smiths "How Soon Is Now" came on I had to leave – I was so depressed. I felt safe in my room, with music, a small B&W portable tv I had bought for £30 from Dixons. I ate comfort foods: Pot Noodles, Vesta Curries, cheese, bread and pickle, etc, mega packs of Nik Naks. Nothing particularly healthy. My exercise had stopped.

College itself was good. I enjoyed learning. The people on my course did not fire my enthusiasm. There was a girl who seemed quite attractive at the time, and there was always a little band of blokes hovering around her. I considered myself a geek, or untouchable so never tried to talk to her. Not until the end of the year anyway when she turned out to be very approachable, easygoing and rather nice, and I now I realise that I probably stood a very good chance and at least I could have tried talking to her. If only I could talk now to my 18 year old self!!!

But I talked to Jackie first. Nearly 30 when she started, which seemed old to me, and wore mainly very long black skirts or jeans, and was very into Heavy Metal and Monty Python. Funny that they say girls don't like Monty Python and I've known two madly fanatical MP fans in my life, and both were women. Me and Jackie became very good friends while at college, though we never socialised aside from coffee in the canteen, I did once visit her house in the westcountry.

Then I met these two other blokes - one, a trendy, but into alternative stuff type, and his dorky mate who did TA at weekends. We were in same group for practical sessions. When I was really lonely I tried to become closer friends to these two, who I knew went to quite a few parties, at least they said they did. But never managed to worm my way into their group.

Can’t remember how I started talking to Dave and Harvey, but it was probably Dave who talked to me first, because he always liked to talk to random strangers, most of whom looked confused. And it was almost certainly about music. We shared musical likes, and I was able to bounce my explorations off of him. We ended up with parallel musical tastes that joined up along the way, like a strand of DNA. Although even I had slightly mainstream tendencies at times which soon got ironed out of me.

Food: nipping out for kebabs when meal was unpalatable. Occasionally managed to get up for breakfast. Very occasionally. Ended up sitting at table with “the lads”. Invented the game of squeezing the condiment sachets so the contents flew across the table at those sitting opposite. I had one hit the pillar we were next to, and it stayed there till end of term. Someone stuck a bit of paper to it and that stayed there too.

Well into the first term I would reach pub closing time and be out in the centre of Woolwich, really drunk and at a loose end, not wanting to go home. So I did what became a habit for me for the next decade or so, I went to the public phone on the corner of Woolwich green and made drunken phone calls to Plymouth. Colin was the main recipient. I was still on good terms with him then. He didn’t go to Poly or Uni, but jumped straight into work. Became an insurance man I believe. At one point he was my mum’s insurance man, turning up at her door occasionally to collect payments.

Also remember a Welsh girl who i met on the way to central London. – I remember she was struggling with luggage so I offered to help then asked her out after we seemed to be getting on fairly well. I gave her my number but the number was completely wrong so I had no chance. If we'd had mobiles then it would have been much easier.
Towards the end of term I was getting used to the place. I enjoyed going to gigs. I had connected with the local Labour Party and, again, had ended up being in with the 'Trots', for the simple reason that 'Trots' seemed to be the only people who were active, and all the moderates were bloody paranoid and wouldn’t give me the time of day.

This was the butt end of the GLC days. Thatcher thought that democracy had got out of control in London what with people voting for lefties and all that and decided to just abolish the whole thing, which had existed for decades, with no interference while people sensibly voted for upstanding pillars of the community, or Tories. Once a nasty noisy smelly lefty like Red Ken was running it, the whole organisation was clearly beyond saving. I voted in the last GLC elections – both for councillors and for ILEA – inner London edumacation authority, which was also abolished.

The main entrance which we hardly ever used

the car park at the heart of the complex

The entrance I tended to use: close to the bars

Thames Polytechnic – Indie Music

My time at Thames mostly involved going to see bands, and trying to get off with girls in the Poly bars. One of these aims was more successful than the other. I didn;t usually take my camera to gigs with me, but here are a couple of occasions when I did. Top - the March Violets at Woolwich Coronet:

Genuine Goth action from the 1980s there!

Terry and Gerry in the Cellar Bar - that's Terry, left, on the double bass and Gerry is on the right:
and Doreen Deville (aka Su Richardson, Su Sonic) - washboard and singing, behind Gerry.

Terry again:

I've still got their album which I bought at the gig. It's in the Buddy Holly style - hence Buddy's birthplace appearing in the title of their album, which had a picture of Birmingham's Bull Ring centre on the front.

After a faultering start in the world of Indie music I fully immersed myself. At first, I had hundreds of pounds in the bank account and the temptation to fritter it away on records was overwhelming. But, actually, I was really good. Apart from a few early purchases, I bought hardly any music through the college years. I picked up some cheapo tapes from WHSmiths - Chuck Berry, Fats Domino, Beatles live, Blues compilations, etc. as I hadn't been able to bring my record collection with me, and only had a few tapes.

On the radio there was the John Peel show, and now I could go and see the bands he played - Plymouth might as well have been the Moon in musical terms. I suspect you could have received John Peel on the Moon too if you stood in the right place. I started to shed my old tastes, gradually. Most of the electronic acts had gone wrong by 1985 though I kept buying Numan albums on into the early 90s stopping just short of his career low. OMD's new material was offensively poppy, so much for their experimental remit. And my main hero - Bowie - was pissing his talent away at that point with, firstly a seriously substandard album, though not yet his worse, and a series of one off singles of variable quality. I made the decision to become a dedicated Elvis Costello fan. I'd loved Imperial Bedroom and in 1985/86 he released probably the two greatest albums of his career, "King of America" and "Blood & Chocolate". Though sorely tested at times, I remain a dedicated Costello fan.

But the sea change for me in 1985 was my immersion in the Independent scene, which at that point was still largely undefined and pretty much seperate from mainstream. occasionally a band would break through, such as Aztec Camera, or Orange Juice, but only after being signed to a major. Early on I became a Wedding Present fan - they played the cellar bar performing their one EP at that point and a couple of extra songs, but the show was over after about 30 minutes. I stood at the front and kept shouting "Felicity" which was an Orange Juice cover they used to do.

Other bands that pushed my buttons were Stump, Jesus & Mary Chain, Half Man Half Biscuit, Cocteau Twins, The Fall, Nico & The Faction, The Men they Couldn't Hang, the Pogues, etc. but not yet The Smiths.

Started going to gigs with Dave. We saw the Wedding Present and Soup Dragons. There were others too - Jamie Wednesday who later became Carter the unstoppable Sex Machine... Went to see The Fall, who I already liked, from the Beggars Banquet sampler tape that came out earlier in the year, and from John Peel. It was in the Coronet. I got roped into giving leaflets out before the gig by the Labour Society. They mainly got used as paper aeroplanes during the gig. I’m pleased that I helped influence a Fall gig in such an important way.

By Christmas I saw Nico and the Faction, got big into Velvet Underground. Made idiot of myself at party in Plymouth by drinking vodka like water and getitng way too pissed.

I first got into the Fall while still at school - a sampler compilation from Beggars Banquest came out and contained a track from their current album. Through 1985 I taped new and old sessions form the John Peel show and bought a couple of their albums on my meagre grant. Then The Fall came to Woolwich!

This is an exceprt from The Fall gigography website:

Thursday, 6 February 1986 Coronet, Woolwich, London SE18
Mansion (intro tape) / My New House / Bombast / Disney's Dream Debased / Rowche Rumble / Lay of the Land / Hey! Luciani / Gut of the Quantifier / Dktr Faustus (two attempts) / Hot Aftershave Bop / Cruiser's Creek / Lie Dream of a Casino Soul / L.A. / Couldn't Get Ahead / 2 x 4
Supported by Alternative TV. £3.50.
Peter: "Paul Hanley drummed here at short notice in place of Karl and couldn't get Dktr Faustus right as you can tell from the tape and 2 attempts at it. Mansion as per 10.85 tour on tape only. Definitely source for Rowche Rumble on Crash Course promo."

Funnily enough - I can't remember seeing Alternative TV, but I do have one of their records and like it very much - and I'm pretty sure I would have known who they were at thetime even - but, alas, memory is a very fragile thing.

Trip to Holland 1986

From left, Chris, my bag, unknown, Brian, Julian, Chris, Mark, Paul, Howard.

Howard, Julian, unknown bystander, Chris

Howard, Mark and Julian

everybody, and the ferry we rode in on.

Homeward bound after very good day :)

Summer 1986

This was the summer I worked for Bowyers. They had a factory on the edge of Plymouth that made pork pies and pasties.

I sailed through my exams with the exception of one subject which I intended dropping anyway - electrical power. Then, after our little trip to Holland, it was back to Plymouth.

I'd bought some export strength vodka and was busy using it up in the day or two I had left after the exams had ended.

My Dad came to collect me on such occasions. I had to move all my stuff out of the accomodation. He had a capri which wasn;t the most practical for carrying a lot of stuff in, but we managed.
He arrived while I was sitting in my room with Paul Simon. He though we were kissing. Oh dear - I was just leaning over him looking at a photo from our dutch trip.

Summer holidays is a tradition I miss these days. In 1986 I needed to find myeslf a little bit. Having become detached from me and what had been my lfe up till then I'd gone a bit wrong. The weight gain - looking weird - depression - just feeling lost I guess.

So - back to my mother's cooking, going out with my friends at the weekend, and knocking around with Mark again. The canoeing got me back on form and I lost the weight - that and eating properly again.

Lisa was with Terry - a man in his 40s and all the rifts had healed while i was away. so I spent quite a lot of time round there playing snooker in the garage. Terry supplied me with bicycles through this period. He owned a removals company and used to get these things from house clearances. I think he gave me two bikes in all before his death from Leukeamia.

I joined Lisa and Terry down in Cornwall - they went camping near Newquay and I cycled down about 60/70 miles to join then for a night or two. I got a lift home though.

The canoeing with Mark involved going out to the Great Mewstone and the Plymouth breakwater. We explored old forts out in the sound. The Mewstone is an island off Wembury in south Devon, and it was pretty heavily covered in vegetation so we didn't get very far from the coast line. We even once made it onto Drakes Island (?) which actually isn't far from the mainland.

I got my hair cut in the style of David Bowie on his 1984 album - Lisa was working in a hairdressers at the time - and i think it was that one (?).

The Bowyers job only lasted two weeks. I met up with old school friend Gavin Smith who was a trainee - management - while i was a grunt on the production line. This was the class divide demonstrated for me - middle class Gavin, former head boy at school, had got a management job while I was slaving away on the production line and using the shitty canteen where everyone could take the piss out of me for havign soft hands and reading the Guardian. Gavin didn;t want to know me at that point, and I didn't really feel much different.

The others quickly grew disatisfied with the speed I worked at. I was tried out on getting the hot stuff out of the ovens, injecting pies with jelly, putting wrappers on the pasties - this was done by machine but it was so decrepit that it kept going wrong so someone had to be on hand to help it out - loads of pasties got broken and the packet said made in cornwall (the factory was in Plymouth!) My hands soon became covered in blisters, I just couldn't physically do the work I was being asked to do. I got called into the bosses office and told they were letting me go. I spent an easy week in the warehouse measuring out powdered potato and spices, then I was offski with about £300 in my pocket and all the broken pies I could carry.

Second Year: 1986 to 1987

It was a cleaner leaner fitter me that went back to Woolwich in September.

Dad drove me up to London with my stuff. I took a bike up this time - not sure how we got it in the car, or whether i went back for it a few weeks later.

I was moving into a house in Plumstead. Mrs Patak. At first I was sharing a room with Mark - a nightmare scenario. In a bunk bed. I was underneath and it wasn't safe. the bed on top wasn;t attached and I feared being crushed in the night. also Mark was a neanderthal in many ways.

We cooked together, which felt really odd, but not as odd as shopping together. Eventually my room was ready. I liked my room even though it had a large hole in the floor through which you could see the kitchen. It was high up with tremendous view out the back. I put my desk against the back window and watched the world while i studied. also had a sofa. and a bar fire which i could use freely.

My wisdom teeth that had flared up in the summer was no longer a problem, though still had appointment for removal. Mum came up and saw me through it - it was a requirement that I not be alone after being released from hospital. just as well, i could barely walk.

There was no Dave - he'd failed his exams. Harvey had disappeared. We never saw him again.
I stayed in touch with Dave though - I think I visited him once at some point - it was the start of me picking up the guitar. Kings Langley out near Watford, with the Ovaltinies factory. Dave's Dad worked for Mirror Group newspapers, and had a nice pension lined he thought.

I think I had even less friends this year than the year before but somehow, it didn;t bother me quite so much. at least I wasn;t fat, and had a decent haircut.

The man who worked for free for Mrs P. My fruit being stolen while i was ill.

in the run up to my second year exams - I went onto a mainly muesli diet.

I got involved with the Labour Party in Plumstead - a lovely group of people. We met in the Working Men's Club / Labour Club - whatever it was....and in the pub. I started spending my sunday afternoon's having drinks bought for me, mostly, being a poor student, and sitting in lock-ins eating free grub, drinking free beer. But I also campaigned for the Labour Party
Council elections in 1986 - labour won.

26th February - a byelection after guy barnett had died - rosie Barnes, a hateful SDP candidate won.

I remember attending a voting count in the town hall and labour winning a council election. But also remember there being champagne on hand for celebrating our victory in general election. We lost but drank the champagne anyway.

My last involvement with the labour party in Greenwich would be in 1989 campaigning for the Euro elections.

Summer 1987

Towards the end of the term - 30th May - exams right upon me, me and Dave went to this free open air gig in Kennington. Mighty Mighty and Mighty Lemon Drops were the main attractions. We went on the march first, I ended walking next to Paul weller, an honour, though I was too scared to talk to him. Also saw Ken Livingstone being interveiwed by channel Four. We deliberately walked behind Ken to see if we could get onto the news. I never found out if we did.


Kennington Park, London (Youth CND Rally)
With The Bathers, Mighty Lemon Drops, Lorna G, Janet Kenton
Read more:

Right at the end of term I went to Wembley to see David Bowie. - either the 19th or 20th June 1987 - Glass Spider tour. Terrible! And then it was back to Plymouth.
I remember arriving back and having to tell Mark about the gig - that it was pretty shit in fact. Big country supported and they were better than Bowie; and as always at these big stadium gigs, the biggest shitheads were present. The big shithead in this case was a drunken twat who at one decided to piss into a bottle, missed and pissed down my leg, and then through the fecking bottle ont he ground anyway. If he had to why didn;t he just piss down his own fecking trouser leg?!?!

David Bowie's "Never Let Me down" came out in April and Iggy's "Blah Blah Blah" which came out the previous October -I think I bought both over the summer, and soon regretted buying the Bowie album. it was awful. <--- ?? I have since bought it again on CD, but only for about a pound. What? I'm a completist!

This time I remember being slightly reluctant to leave London. I think Mark had gone to Scotland now, and Terry had died (?).

In fact sometime during this summer I made a trip back up to London with Colin and stayed at Patak's house. Patak had left for a year (I thought) in india with the kids. Mark was living there still.
I was a tourist in London for the first and last time. Got it out of my system.

Got my ear pierced? - might have been half term later in year.

I had the New Order singles compilation on my walkman and remember walking the dog round the sports fields listening to it. It included the new song, "True Faith" which was a huge hit.

I went out with two girls over the summer - not at the same time - just to releive the boredom. went out with the lads - The Bank - a new pub. I wore white trousers!! Asked a girl out who'd been talking to us.

After that I remember us going to a pub on Dartmoor - I guess bill drove us up there. I was mainly thinking about my forthcoming date. Needless to say it didn't work out. So I asked another girl out the same night she ditched me. I must have had something going for me cos she said yes too. We snogged quite a bit, went out a few times, but then she ditched me too, just in time for me going back to London.

Final Year 1987 to 1988

Mrs P was in India. I'd been given the big room at the front - and I loved it. the door to the room was right next to the front door. We had new housemates - tony, dan et al. Loads of people came through the house and if I left my door open I saw who came in and usually passed a few pleasantries. that way I got to know loads of new people. A blessing in the first term, a curse later in the year after I decided to withdraw back into myself.

Mark's story about the creatures that lived in my sofa - he'd helped make my room habitable through the summer.

The start of my social souring was to do with a girl I fancied and made idiot of myself. I did the classic man thing where I thought a girl was interested in me just cos she was being friendly and normal towards me.
She was in first year. I met her going out with Dan and Tony, and we got on well. I got invited/ dragged back to her room early on and we snogged. She took me from the cellar bar early, leading me by the hand, and took me to her room. So it may not have been entirely my imagination. After that I turned up at her room unannounced. She was with her friends and about to go out shopping so I went too. One of her friends was Jayne – spelt like the band that we saw about this time in TP main hall.
It was a bit humiliating in the club that night when she informed me that she wasn’t interested, that I’d imagined it all. In fact I made it worse by quoting the overdramatic Morrissey from the latest Smiths LP.
I think I took it all far too seriously though, and the effect it had on me eventually killed my social life. I went back to my normal dorky existence soon after xmas. I couldn’t get on with Tony or Dan and they soon moved out.
I was on nodding terms with Jayne for a while, but soon took to blanking this crowd.

There was a night out to a pub - Lewisham and we ended up playing a truth or dare type game where we had to make a confession - and there were a few comments about what mine would be and who i fancied.

The odd thing is I had absolutely no mental map for getting to Lewisham then - or anywhere. We went on the bus. Someone clearly knew where we were going. I assume I followed everyone else back to Woolwich.

Geography - this is something that I was incredibly weak on despite being a cyclist, I didn't get out of woolwich and Plumstead much. Mostly cycled to lectures and back. The odd weekend I'd go a bit further, though don't remember ever taking the bike into London - just Kent and Sussex a few times. One ride I partcularly remember was heading south - and I think I went up woolwich Common, through Eltham, and I remember going through Mottingham. Mottingham road, red Hill where I checked the map and somehow took a swing out towards Biggin Hill airport, and yet avoided going into Bromley itself.

So about 6 or 7 years later when I was driven along Red Hill by S. for the first time, the area seemed strangely familiar to me. Odd to suddenly find somewhere you had no place for in your mental map suddenly slotting in somewhere. Like making a major breakthrough with a difficult jigsaw.

Another bike ride - in 1988 - a tremendous epic bike ride - the like of which I would not repeat, let alone surpass, for another 18/19 years. I set off in a pair of jeans with just a credit card, and a little cash, no tools, water or food. It may have been the same ride as above - after leaving Greater London I wound my way southwards eventually ending up in Brighton. I did take my walkman with me and had Quadrophenia playing on it. I listened to "I am the man who feeds the pigs" as I passed a pig farm. there was a level of synchronicity. rode along Beach Head and sparked a mini panic as everyone in the watch tower was standing up watching me while i peered down at the bottom of the cliff.
then down into Eastbourne and finally headed back north. Now I started to struggle but was quite happy and prepared to jump on a train at any point.
My legs were like jelly by the time I got back to Sevenoaks - 120 miles cycling and I was done in. So - train time. Only trouble was that the train was not running and I was told I could not take bike onto replacement bus. I had to argue an persuade - it was the only way I was going to get home. Eventually the guy let me on with the bike. Should have left the bike tbh as it never got used again after that. It was alreayd on its last legs and this ride finished it. The frame broke as well as all the other brake and gear related issues.

It was right at the end of term though and Terry got me a new abandoned bike in the summer, which was equally crap, but got me by until I had money to buy a decent one for myself.

Anyway - I enjoyed the room - had a tv and a stereo. Friday nights were great. A spell in the bar, and then back for the chart show, more beer, and then out with the gang. After a few weeks of this I was having nightmares, my throat was hoarse and i just felt geneuinely grotty. I wondered how people could keep this up for months on end. I had to stop. I had a series of nightmares where I was attacked by somehting powerful and violent, with teeth and claws. "it was that girl" was one quip.

18th November, in evening, there was a terrible disaster at Kings Cross. I was nowhere nar it at the time and nor was anyone I knew. but it makes you dunnit?
It was also to drastically change the environment of my future job - nearly a year away; I joined LUL right at the height of its knee-jerk reaction to this event. Instead of enacting one of the recommendations in the report into the fire, it enacted all of them, which was pointless, stupid, and expensive. fortunately in time, sanity emerged from the madness.

After a while I found myself cutitng off from Tony and Dan, was awkward around them; and stopped talkign to them. A familiar pattern which i seem not to be able to control. The tension was relieved when they decided to move out.

The lads from first year were now living out in Charlton overlooking the disused football ground. I remember visiting at least once. In Decemebr we had a second trip to the Netherlands. It coincided with my 21st birthday. CM was working out in Luxembourg by now and we met up with him out there. I got absolutely pissed on the ferry out - as it was my 21st. Had a bit of a party. Was very hungover the next day.

More music - Smiths; Sugarcubes; Wedding Present; the Fall;
South African Bill – he was scary and always wore the same jacket.

It was xmas in Plymouth as usual - gave my dad one of the glasses I managed to nick on the ferry.

1988 was to bring substantial changes in the world. A criminal US president who would start his war against the middle east just as soviet power began to collapse. USSR started economic restructuring from January 1st - gorby had been around since 1985 but had only carried out minor tinkering until now.


The new year brought an evil plague. Kylie Minogue, who I remembered from a few years before when my sister was obsessed with shite Aussie soaps, when she should have been doing her school work. Minogue was in the charts with the most god awful festering shite of an aborted record I had ever heard - at least since the days of Lena Zapharone over ten years before. I would have ignored it but it was on the otherwise fairly good Chart Show - which covered Indie stuff. In fact if I remember correctly this Kylie abomination was an indie record!! Anyway there was more to come. The plague was SAW and a string of boy bands that would take into the mid 90s. After that we got tv talent shows making a come-back...and W from SAW ended up appearing on them too. The apopalypse was approaching.

On January 8 – The Dow Jones Industrial Average falls 140.58 points, or 6.85%, to close at 1,911.31 in a mini-crash. The 80s boom was coming to an end.
The Iran Contra thing was still rumbling on, something I’d followed in The Guardian through 84 and 85. On January 25 Bush and Dan Rather had a row over Bush's role in the Iran-Contra scandal, during a contentious television interview. Reagan’s criminal government had deliberately overridden the will of Congress and set up a terrorist training camp to undermine the popular, and soon to be elected, government of a distant country, for purely business and ideological reasons, but sold on the idea that a “communist” government in Nicaragua was some sort of threat to the world’s most powerful superpower. The whole administration was mired up in the conspiracy, but a few obvious fall guys took the rap, while Reagan, Bush and other senior politicians got off scott free.

Lieutenant Colonel Oliver Northand Vice Admiral John Poindexter were indicted on charges of conspiracy to defraud the United States in March.
And slowly, gradually, Oliver North was built up to be the main scapegoat for a conspiracy that involved the whole of Reagan's criminal administration, including Reagan himself.

On February 15 Red Dwarf premieres on BBC Two. I remained oblivious to this important development until after the summer. Dave started back at Thames Poly on a HND course and got a flat in one of the towers I could see from my room in the Halls.
February 29, a Nazi document implicated Kurt Waldheim in World War II deportations.
March 7, Operation Flavius: The Special Air Service fatally shot 3 unarmed Provisional Irish Republican Army members in Gibraltar. This fuelled more argments with my Dad when I visited. And I think with my conservative house-mates who thought it was OK for British soldiers to execute citizens of a neighbouring country, abroad, during peacetime, and not be held to account.
Bush was seen by me and the left generally as the devil on earth. Former head of CIA, former Nixonite, involved in Iran contra and other dirty shady operations - it was thought that all hell would break loose if he won the election. It wasn't an unjustified fear. Nixon's neo-cons got further entrenched into power, and Bush started his war in the Middle East - the war that was to continue through Clinton, and then explode out of control when his son attained power in 2001.

March 16 – The Halabja poison gas attackis carried out by Iraqi government forces. In the west politicians tried to blame Iran or tried to ignore it. Eventually the US was forced to make a weasly condemnation while they actually continued to support Iraq in every important way.

May 15 – Soviet war in Afghanistan: After more than 8 years of fighting, the Red Army begins withdrawing from Afghanistan.
May 24 – Section 28 (outlawing promotion of homosexuality in schools) is passed as law by Parliament in the United Kingdom.
June 6 – Lester Piggott stripped of his OBE <-- I laughed.
June 11 – Wembley Stadium hosts a concert featuring stars from the fields of music, comedy and film, in celebration of the 70th birthday of imprisoned ANC leader Nelson Mandela.
I remember taping the concert while in my room, back upstairs by now. It was the arrival of Tracey Chapman, though the concert generally wasn't much to write home about. Should still have the tape I made somewhere.
My finals loomed in June. I just had to knuckle down and try my best.
Final year project - there were quite exciting options available - or we could think of something original. I remember AI being on there, and I know at least one person who went for an AI rlated project. I didn't really get on with computes - and especially the system we had at Thames Poly - TP was one of the first institutions in the UK to acquire a computer, but consequently the system was probably one of the most dated in the UK by 1985-87. I chose to build a CRO multiplexer device. it was probably a good choice because it cemented in the principles of logic design which I needed again when I began work for LUL in October.
People had desk top systems by then that didn;t look much different from my first PC in 1997 - though a world away in terms of processing power. At least two of the guys I knew had quite sophistacted desk top computers. You needed a key to start them, like a car. Mark was one of the two - I used his computer occasionally. He let me write my final year project on it, otherwise it would have had to be hand written, as nearly all work was back then. He also had a very primitive computer game loaded on it, text based. Sometimes when it asked for a response I put in a swear word and it said something like "That's not nice!" or something quite camp. It made me laugh.
Bought the NME and 2000AD every week - though I think I was close to stopping 2000AD as it had become unsufferably trendy name-dropping bands like My Bloody Valentine and The Pixies - which wasn't 2000AD's job!
Mark's room was in the front basement this year. It was a cellar effectively but slightly converted to make it habitable - a bit like our house in Plymouth - South View Terrace. It had a tiny room in the front left corner - entirely concrete, might have been and ex coal bunker which I used to make my home brew. Must have started my first home brew in 1987 - bought all the bits from Boots. Collected bottles which I sterilised. I was probably inpsired by Dave who's home brew was truly awful. Mine was fairly good. I made some in Plymouth too. It was in the parents' Laira house after will come back to it later.
Left the bottles after bottling in Mark's little concrete bunker because it stayed cool all the time. Couldn;t give them away though - noone trusts home brew - though Mark indulged, and that meant all the more for me.

all through the year - Friday nights I think when we used to go to the DG - went to meet CP, CM, Howard and Paul, who lived elsewhere. Paul lived more towards Eltham I now know, and I think the others lived on Shooters Hill. We used to go to the ------------- near Woolwich Common. It burned down a few years ago - I took some pictures. Back then it was trying to be a cocktail bar, disco, type place. but it was full of eltham and woolwich wide boy types and their half dressed girlfriends. We would have been the only students in there i'm sure.
We had to walk up Shooters Hill to get back.

The World of Work 1988

And that was it. My education was over. I went down to Plymouth with no clear idea that I'd ever be coming back.
The parents had moved. I was going back to live with them for a while, until I got a job. And so began a period I modelled on The Graduate - but with no Mrs Robinson in sight (nor a swimming pool, just a lawn), and increasingly stern parents who wanted me out of their hair, I applied for some jobs.

My Godfather, John, a friend of my Dad, started teaching me to drive. He was a professional instructor and did me a good discount. I got good quite quickly, driving a Ford I think. On that basis I booked myself in to take the test around Christmas.
While unemployed I ran up a bank overdraft, naively thinking that that was what an overdraft facility was for – you know – the one they promised you in ads, but the Midland Bank started sending me angry letters almost immediately – which was very short sighted of them. I paid back the over-draft once I began work in October - a piddling £200 - and not long after changed banks. Stuff the Midland Bank!! Bastards!! (stuff HSBC too! – I’m one for holding grudges)
The job search began in earnest once I realised the parents weren’t going for any off that time off / gap year stuff. They wanted me out of the house and in a job!
I received vacancies from my Polytechnic in a regular mailing and also kept my eye on ads from engineering companies. A friend of my Dad tried to find out if there were jobs going in an engineering firm based in Plymouth; think that came to nothing.
So I sent off a few applications – a mobile phone company, the BBC, LUL, and the Met Police (civilian staff, not a member of the filth!) as a stop-gap just to get me back in London.
I got offered an interview with a mobile phone manufacturer in Boringjoke (Basingstoke). It was my first post grad interview and went badly. I was learning how to do it. Knew I wasn’t going to get a job there so asked really stupid questions when being shown around. Might as well get something from the experience. On the way back to the station someone tried to offer me a sales job cos I had a suit on.
I got asked to be interviewed in London for all those jobs. Prior to the BBC job I took a trip up to Exeter to have a look round the BBC Devon Air studios. Took the chance to pay a visit to Jackie, who wasn't expecting me. She let me play on her Star Wars video game -an early games console with very impressive graphics. I even got to meet her husband, the infamous Steve, who came home just as I left.
The interviews I managed to land were arranged to take place in the same week. I went up to stay with Dave for a few days, and travelled into London by train. I failed the BBC interview. It was a better effort than in Basingstoke - fell foul of political questions such as my attitiude to trade unions, etc. I lied so as not to appear left wing. May not have been a good idea. Also fluffed some fairly obvious technical questions, but I was nervous. I did get my first experience of a talking lift though.
London Underground interviewed me twice, I seem to remember. first it was the main boss - name? - of the department in a huge room - 55 broadway? - there were a lot of interviews. it was a panel and I got asked technical questions - one I remember about my final year project building a ----- which worked with lower frequency application such as CROs but not with IT applications which work at higher frequencies. The next interview was with Dave Campbell in a different location. I must have done alright as they offered me the job.
In September I got word that the lads had secured a house in Plumstead with one spare room which was mine for the asking. They were all back on the final year of their courses, while I was out in the world of work. Once I'd got the jobs I told them that I'd be up there in October. It was a close run thing.

Back In London
The first day at work was stressful. I was asked in an hour later than what was to be my normal starting time, and not used to working such long hours, found the day challenging. Wore my posh trousers and a shirt for the first day. Got the train and tube in - remember a handle thing coming off in my hand while I was travelling on the District Line.
Eventually I found my way to my work location, a basement under a high rise office block just by Paddington Station. The building: Telstar House, named after a satellite and Margaret Thatcher's favourite pop tune. There was Dave Campbell, my first contact, and my ultimate boss. I I was introduced to my line manager, Andy, fairly soon afterwards. And I met the two guys who were leaving - one of whom I was replacing. they took me through some things.
I spent most of the first week reading through manuals. What a great start! The manuals served me well though - by the end of that week I pretty much understood the inner workings of jointless track circuit transmitters, receivers, frequency generators and tuning units.

November spawned a monster
The new US president was George WH Bush. The devil incarnate as far as I was concerned. Implicated in Irangate, former head of the CIA; involved in untold shady operations since first working for the Nixon administration in the 60s. And shady things did start to happen - notably the invasion of Panama.

On December 3rd I worked my first signal changeover – a fascinating experience which took me well into Sunday morning – my birthday. As it turned out it was to be my last signal changeover. So far.
What I probably considered to be my birthday do – I would have been way to exhausted to do much on the Sunday once I’d made my way back to Plumstead – went and saw Voice of The Beehive with Andy on Monday the 5th. Andy was living in London then, working for the police and living in a pretty shitty hostel out Paddington way if I remember correctly. He told me tales of lying in bed listening to his room-mate & his girlfriend shagging, as well as other mild tortures. He was lucky though – if I’d taken the job I was offered in September I may well have been his boss! I bought poster at the Town and Country club, Kentish Town.

On the 12th went to see Jesus & Mary Chain with Dave, the day of the Clapham traincrash, and two days later, the14th, the Sugarcubes with Mark @ Kilburn national – they changed the words of Motorcrash to Traincrash. Sick little monkeys. Then I saw the Fall on 20th – and may have been on my own for that one. The run up to Xmas always proved to be a busy gig-going season.

I think the boiler broke down after everyone left for home. I had work so didn't get to go off till 23rd or 24th. It was a cold week. Watched videos and shivered. One I saw was “Robocop” and very much enjoyed it. Robocop had been panned by everyone as some sort of lightweight sci fi pap. I was very much taken with the very intelligent and incisive satire all through it....the dangers of privatising everything and why we shouldn't trust corporations. It was set in Detroit ,which was at that time reeling from corporate flight, and well on its way to being the ghost town it eventually became. Use of drones by civil police forces and other robot technologies is bringing the nightmare future ever closer. Innocent people are now regularly targetted to be wiped out by drone, including american citizens, without trial and without due process.

The Lockerbie plane crash occured on the 22nd and I pored over news reports - reports of strange and shady visitors - US secret service figures - who appeared in the Scottish countryside in the days after the crash. The reports of a whole family disappearing, literally, house and contents vapourised, were, frankly, shocking. I don't think we've ever been told the full truth about this event, and in no way do I believe Libya were soley to blame - they may have been part of a chain. Who knows? I fucking don't!

Brazilian activist Chico Mendes was murdered the next day. this event passed unnoticed by me at the time, but it was to become increasingly significant in my life in the next few years. Looking back - was it a coincidence that the murder occured on the one day that it was almost completely guaranteed not to be reported. For days after Lockerbie the papers were filled with little else. The significance of the violent death of a little known peasant activist across the other side of the world would just not be apparent. Not for a while anyway.

I was in Plymouth through to the 2nd
 of January.
Think I was due to take my driving test over xmas. John had changed his car from a decent one – Ford I think – to a dodgy plastic thing – Italian, may have been a Lancia. I couldn’t drive it and had to bail out.
Had a driving lesson on Thursday 26th Jan. Now getting ready for a re-scheduled test. The instructor, called steve, took me round Welling mainly and Eltham – all the bits that were to soon become my 2000+ stamping ground after marrying S. His car was a small Nissan and not only was it a joy to drive, but put me in good training for the car S was to hand over to me in a about a decade's time.
I visited Plymouth again on 27th – 29th long weekend. Went to see PAFC lose to Everton though my notes say “should have won!” This may have been the weekend we bought our interail tickets.
On Feb 3rd I bought tapes by Lou Reed, Darling Buds, The Fall andCiccone Youth – Sonic Youth’s Whitey album.
Still having driving lessons into February (14th) – I had a mock test due on March 1st which never happened, real test on March 13th – and I passed. A Monday. I immediately got myself registered as an approved driver at work, though I wasn’t very good for quite a while. Andy used to let me drive a bit when we had to go somewhere. But never for very long.
February 2
Soviet war in Afghanistan: The last
 Soviet Union armored column leaves Kabul, ending 9 years of military occupation.
Satellite television service
 Sky Television plc is launched in Europe.
February 3
 leader Ruhollah Khomeini encourages Muslims to kill The Satanic Verses authorSalman Rushdie.

Summer 1989

Heartbreaking scenes of dying and dead creatures at end of March as the Exxon Valdez ran aground in Alaska. The area has never fully recovered. I'd already been awakened to environmental issues buit every time something like this happened I was being pushed closer to Green politics.

The fight against the Poll Tax was picking up. One of the fiercest battles was to be in Greenwich. Scotland got the tax first but we all knew it was coming for us eventually.
Hillsborough happened on 15th of Apirl, one of the biggest tragedies in European football, claims the life of 96 Liverpool supporters. I'm sure we had the tv on that afternoon. I remember seeing the scenes that are so well known now as they occured, live on telly, but not knowing the level of the tragedy at that stage. I also have a vague idea I was in Plymouth that weekend.
Tiananmen Square started on April 21st - and rumbled on through.May, culiminating in a major massacre that west did its level best to play down.
News stories - propaganda essentially - gloating over increasing cracks in the Iron curtain seperating capitalist Europe from Hungary and East Germany.

That Summer I went inter-railing round Europe with Andy and Colin. I was keen to visit East Germany at least as I suspected that big changes were in the offing, but I was in the minority.
I think we all set off from my place at some point on Friday 30th June - or at least Colin did, Andy may have been in London anyway at that point.
There were comments about my food supplies at some point, cans of Heinz Baked Beans. Andy wasn't impressed. It was a shaky journey to whateve port it was we were ferrying from. My notes tell me we took a ferry direct to Holland, which implies an overnight journey.
On Saturday we travelled from Holland to Luxembourg via Belgium, and had a fraught time sorting out accomodation. There being three of us and most rooms being doubles at most it looked like one of us would have be on their own in a room and would end up paying double. That night it was Andy. The German landlady got wise to use trying to sneak andy in after we'd booked a room for two and went ape-shit. Threatened to call the police. we backed down and apologised. Lucky we didn't get thrown out. andy went off by himself to get a room. Not very supoportive of us, but I was knackered and I suppose Colin was too.
On Sunday 2nd had a look round the town and then had to catch a train to Zurich.
We saw a bit of the Tour de France which happened to be passing through Luzembourg on that day.
The train took us through fantastic scenery. Zurich was boring. everything was shut, clean, expensive and boring. did I mention boring? We had an expensive kebab and slept in an expensive pension.

Monday, 3rd, back on a train - southbound through the Swiss mountain scenery towards the alps. Getting sunnier all the way. In Italy we headed east - was this when we saw tremendous storms around Lake Garda. Can't remember if we had to make any changes. but we arrived just outside Venice where we found a decent pension above a pizza restaurant. that was when Colin told us he didn't like pizza.

I'd been there before. We stayed in the town - Messina? - just outside Venice proper but it was a very short train journey into Venice. Expensive but absolutely out of this world. Unlike any other city. Had a little bit of a to do with Colin in a supermarket. He was faffing about so I said sharp words. Thought he was not used to shopping - and probably was right.
Did notice the smell but it wasn;t too bad. The rubbish was piled up thanks to a refuse collecters' strike. We tried to get out to lesser explored bits of Venice. I liked the feral cats we saw there.
We had a whole day in Venice - two nights. And we did have pizza in the restaurant. It wa a revelation to me. thin and crispy. lovely.
Wednesday 5th Venice to Rome
Accomodation right opposite the station; spent all day thursday and Friday. there was lots in Rome to see.

In Rome we pretty much saw everything we needed to. this is me at the top of the wotsist in Vatican. It was very hot indeed and we did a lot of walking. The old Roman ruins were superb. We found excellent cheap accomodation with excellent cheap restaurant below, right opposite the fascist train station (built by Mussolini). I had a good line in music T shirts back then - see me above in my Wedding Present T shirt. Dicky tummy for me on first night from burger which was raw in the middle. Discovered Italian bread and proper coffee.
Then to Pisa - another night's stay - we got visted by a bat which i had to deal with. You could actually climb the tower in those days, though alarmingly it had no railings or any sort of barrier. It was leaning rather alarmingly too.
Saturday 8th Rome to Pisa - and Pisa was a disapointment. You'd think that there would be more to Pisa than just the tower, but there wasn't. We stayed the night in Pisa.
Sunday 9th Pisa to Monaco - the food there was also a revelation. I had a salad and tuna bap with vinegraitte dressing. It tasted like nothing I'd ever eaten before. I got taken for American and had the piss taken out of me by a French woman. Expensive.
Mon 10th Nice - felt like a fish out of water. the people were super-clean and glamorous. they excuded wealth and we excuded stale sweat and empty wallets. Feeling pretty skuzzy we walked along the beach and refused to strip as per the usual on the beach.
Tuesday 11th Nice to Cannes - i would have skipped the south of France almost entirely. It's upsetting to me now that I compromised so badly when I would much rather have gone to Marseilles via Berlin and Italy, we ended up in boring Zurich, tedious Pisa and unbearably upmarket Monaco, Cannes and Nice.
But the travelling was the thing. I loved being on the move, the going from one place to the next. Even the confrontation with the border guard coming into France was more fun than Monaco, Cannes and Nice put together.
Wednesday from Nice to Paris - now Paris was worth visiting.
Then Paris from Wed 12th to Saturday 15th
On Saturday we got train back to London via Calais.

Then came another superb train journey along the coast from just inside italy to Monaco and then Nice. fnally - we couldn't get onto the TGV - so normal train to Paris for our last few days. I chilled out. Not sure that I really liked Paris but found I could relax there as well as anywhere, and going up the tall building was fun
It was Bastille day - and not just any Bastille day but the 200th Bastille day and the E Tower was 100 years old: "100 ans" which was emblazoned in lights up the side of the tower. I wore my stripey onion seller T shirt in tribute...and donned my cool "Style council esque" shades - SC had performed Paris Match - so it all made sense to me.

and that was it. then it was back to England on the bumpy little train from dover, through Kent.

These are actual pages written by me back in the day, though this is actually me remembering events a year or two later - not a diary as such. Click on the image to make it larger: