For some reason I woke up this morning thinking ‘hmm, this is almost like being in the 1980’s.’ I wasn’t sure what prompted the thought but I decided to play with it anyway. I became a teenager during this decade and here is what I recall.
At times there were a lot of fluorescent colours and some shocking fashions but if the ’80’s had a colour it would be primarily grey; the ominous kind of grey that pushes everything else out of the sky in advance of a torrential storm. This slate grey decade saw another devastating period of recession and debt accompanied by a discontented populous. Spiralling unemployment meant many UK people lived in poverty; I remember strikes, soup kitchens and violent riots. My father was working as a paramedic during the uprising and my mother and I listened to the radio and watched TV praying he and his colleagues wouldn’t get caught up in the trouble.
In spite of so many awkward predicaments at home, my country was also at war with Argentina over the Falkland Islands. I can still recall ships burning and sinking, troops dying, so much politics and propaganda. There were international conflicts too – Iran and Iraq, Lebanon. As a teenager with a poor sense of geography anywhere outside Europe seemed very far away to me but I was always acutely aware that I was witnessing the nameless face of human suffering. These tragedies weren’t the exclusive domain of wars or conflicts either; human suffering filled the headlines following Bhopal and Chernobyl both of which I remember quite clearly. I found these catastrophes deeply disturbing because I thought they should have been preventable.
In a period with a significant element of gloom, the 80’s also welcomed the rebirth of a long-awaited American space programme. I watched as many of the shuttle launches as I could and had high hopes for what these new missions might teach us. I was making an amphora during a ceramics class when news of the Challenger disaster broke. Dreams of a new age of discovery were wrenched from the minds of a handful of sixteen year olds that afternoon.
I have fond memories of the ‘special relationship’ between Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Regan, not because I was overly interested in politics but because both were relentlessly lampooned by the sardonic Spitting Image TV programme. Thanks to public service broadcasts I also have the first AIDS awareness campaigns indelibly etched into my brain – I saw the government health warnings so often back then. People were genuinely scared about the mysterious arrival of this unseen killer in our midst.
If the ‘80’s was a sound, it would be Pac-Man and pop music. Pac-Man and other arcade games became firm favourites on my brother’s new computer, a brilliant Christmas present at the time; but one of the things I enjoyed most as an ‘80’s teenager was music. There were a vast array of great bands, a thriving, diverse music scene catering for almost every taste and of course Live Aid and its noble mission to put a name to the face of human suffering in Ethiopia. Despite the ’80’s desperation and economic distress, being a teenager back then meant listening to some decent music.
Thinking about it, I realise that an 80’s song prompted my waking thought this morning. I suspect I’d been dreaming this tune on a loop before the shift from sleep to wakefulness occurred. It’s an unusual song to dream because it wasn’t mainstream and I rarely hear it played these days. Nonetheless The The – Heartland was the song that made me wake up thinking ‘hmm, this is almost like being in the 1980’s.’
This is the land, where nothing changes,
the land of red buses & blue blooded babies,
This is the place, where pensioners are raped,
& the hearts are being cut from the welfare state,
Let the poor drink the milk, while the rich eat the honey,
Let the bums count their blessings, while they count the money.
In its day this was quite a hard-hitting song, it described a little too graphically the experience many people were having at the time. Unfortunately I now know where my waking thoughts came from….
This is the land where nothing changes.
Britain (I can’t bring myself to include the Great anymore) is, in my opinion, in quite a mess at the moment. We have more sleaze and scandal than the Chicken Ranch on a quiet day; it’s impossible to escape and it seems to embrace almost every aspect of society. Finance, media, politics, social services, law and order, health care and the church – almost everywhere I look there is something filthy and menacing oozing out from underneath the very foundations of my home land. Not content with societal skullduggery and shenanigans we are also in the midst of an un- Cool Britannia where food banks are springing up more rapidly than Tesco Express because the poorest of our people can no longer afford to feed themselves. People too poor to feed themselves have no hope of feeding their animals so our green and not so pleasant land sees over 100 pets abandoned every day. I shudder to even think about what might be happening to the children of the least fortunate among us.
In the 1980’s when I was a teenager I had a little pride about being British in spite of all my country’s problems. I thought we’d pull ourselves out of the mire. I’m older now and it saddens me but there is so little to be proud of in the Britain I inhabit today. Once again I am witnessing the nameless face of human suffering but it’s right here on my doorstep in this land where I’m growing older and nothing really changes.