Little Box of Memories – Rewind

My mum recently discovered a small knitted bag, buried at the bottom of a box in the attic. C0ntained within it were just seven objects, all relating to my life in January, 1981.

I didn’t realise it at the time but the short period these things relate to symbolise my dramatic transition from a tomboy girl to a young woman.

I was 12 years old in January 1981; I would turn 13 a few months later. I lived with my mum Olwen and dad John, brother Steve and sister Julie, in a bungalow my dad had built pretty much singlehandedly for us in Little Stretton, at the foot of the Stretton Hills in South Shropshire.

We’d moved there from Shrewsbury when I was 10 – by the time of my 13th birthday we were back in Shrewsbury.

It was a strange chapter in all our lives. Me and my sister continued to go to school in Shrewsbury, mum’s job was there and so was a lot of my dad’s building work. Our hearts, friends and family were in Shrewsbury, but our home was 12 miles distant.

I remember my over-riding thought about living in Little Stretton was that it was “boring”.

I’d been used to living among thousands of people on a big housing estate, and jumping on my bike and seeing all my neighbourhood friends whenever I liked. To suddenly be in a tiny village, apparently cut off from civilisation, was a terrible culture shock. Never mind we were at the foot of the Stretton Hills, living in a place of outstanding natural beauty.

That’s not to say I don’t have fond memories of the time. We had so much freedom, coming and going as we pleased. I do remember spending a lot of time on my own, and not hating it.

I used to spend hours exploring the countryside on my bike and on foot. A nearby campsite was a regular haunt – it was where mum would send my brother to find me if I failed to get home in time for tea.

I think I was happy. I certainly don’t remember being unhappy.

Anyway, let’s see what that bag of memories tells me.

First out was a diary and matching address book, bound in a tasteless orange and white floral cover. Almost certainly a Christmas present.

I opened the diary with glee, hoping to find a deep and insightful glimpse into my pre-teen psyche. It covers a short period – from January 1st to February 6th, 1981 – but includes my first ever trip away from my parents, a school skiing trip to Italy.

This would have been a pretty special, possibly frightening, time for me, so I hoped my diary might be full of existential angst, the trials and anxieties of going into the unknown, maybe even a sign of a flair for wordsmithery…but no such luck. There does seem to be an awful lot about boys.

Sample entry:

January 2: Still dreaming about Pete. He actually spoke to me at athletics. He wished me a merry Christmas. When I walked out of Sundorne to go home, he slowed down. I think that means he likes me. (???)

January 6: We kept teasing Susan A at school because Jon Hunter danced with her at the school disco for fun. Sarah and Julia wrote a letter to him pretending to be from her, but he didn’t fall for it.

Then came that fateful trip to Alleghe, in northern Italy.

My diary informs me I was in room 51.

Every entry for the week begins: “I went skiing today”. I mention an instructor called Phil a lot, then I spend the rest of each entry agonising over whether I like Toby or Clive (from a Leicester school trip at the same hotel, apparently) the best.

This turmoil appeared to continue after the trip too, until I finally appear to make my mind up and, according to my diary entry of February 4th, I wrote to Toby. (I have no information to suggest he ever wrote back.)

Last diary entry, dated February 6th, says simply: “Nothing much happened. Had German test. Think I got 20/20. I think I like Toby best but I’m not sure.”

Then nothing. At all. By the way, I wonder what happened to my crush on Pete the athlete?

So, this diary is nestled alongside the address book, which appears to contain names from my primary school along with the names and addresses of pop stars (or at least their fan clubs.) I’m pretty sure I never actually wrote to any of them.

Next out of the bag is a deep blue swimming costume, adorned with a palm tree and two swimming badges. I only ever achieved my 25m badge at school – I never learned how to breath in water, so could only swim as far as I could get with one lungful of air.

Next, a copy of Chart Songwords, January 1981 edition. It was a special edition, including lyrics from two John Lennon hits in his memory. I like to think he would have approved of the idea of little boys and girls singing Imagine in front of the bedroom mirror as a fitting tribute.

All the top bands of the early 80s are there – The Specials, The Police, Madness, Elvis Costello, Adam and the Ants, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Bad Manners, Gary Numan. Indeed, most are still on tour, scraping a living off nostalgia.

These little mags, filled with lyrics from the latest pop hits, were all the rage in the early 80s. I used to love getting my songsheets out, putting on a 45 and singing along (only when the house was empty, mind.)

My favourite sign of the times is the penpals section; so naive and innocent, every one of them. How about Joan, 14, who lives on a farm and likes Matchbox, The Nolans, The Police, Kelly Marie and Abba? What I found shocking is that each entry included the child’s full name and address. Those truly were innocent, less fearful times, weren’t they?

Next out of the bag was a 2nd place certificate from the Junior Girls’ 1500m at the English Schools’ Milk Championships, 1980. My athletics career went rapidly downhill from this highpoint, ending in a fug of smoke and stolen kisses behind the bike shed when I was 14. I could have been a contender…but then again, probably not.

The most bizarre find in the bag of memories is a signed picture of DJ “Emperor” Rosko. A Radio 1 DJ at the time, I can barely remember him and have no idea how I came upon his signature. However, a search on Wikipedia reveals he’s still DJ’ing, still under the Emperor Rosko pseudonym. These days his audience is a bit more, erm, choosy (apparently you can find his “LA Connections” show on Bolton 96.5 FM, Sundays, 4pm).

The final find is a supporters’ club membership card, number 386, for Shrewsbury Town FC (1980/81 season). Those were heady days for the Blues – the period of their greatest cup and league successes, when our Division 2 rivals included the likes of Chelsea, West Ham and Newcastle.

It’s a strange collection that will resonate little with anyone other than me. These are my things, my memories, and not another soul has the same ones. That’s amazing, and scary, and incredible, all at the same time.

What I love is how this little collection catches me forever stuck between the tomboy child I was and the teenage girl/young woman I was growing into.

Before many more months were out I would deny my tomboy self, feigning a lack of interest in football and sport generally in order to fit in with my new friends.

I became obsessed with the kudos of having a boyfriend, as is beginning to become evident in my diary, but was emotionally unprepared for what that might entail.

That school trip to Italy even marked the time of my first period – a true physical moment of transition between girlhood and womanhood.

Around this time (certainly when we lived in Little Stretton) I also experienced my first bereavement – at least, the first I was fully conscious of. My grandad died in Shrewsbury Hospital after fighting cancer for months.

I remember vividly the dark, blustery night my mum returned home from hospital to break the news. It was my first glimpse into the awful trauma of bereavement – I remember as if it were yesterday how my mum clung to me and my aunty Cyn, sobbing as if her heart would break.

It’s fascinating now to have this glimpse back into my 12 year old self.

I thought I was deeper, somehow – more emotionally articulate, more self aware, less obsessed with boys, than I appear to have been. But then I’m probably being hard on myself.

I was just a kid then, after all. It was going to take years for me to become a woman. I’m still only just getting there now.

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  1. Loved reading this Jane. Very honest and witty and perceptive. I have no such relics from the past, certainly not a diary. Wish I’d kept all those Smash Hits and NMEs and Melody Makers too but my mum threw them all out. You should keep going you’re a natural writer

      • Haynes20
      • February 4th, 2011

      Thanks Mark for your support & kind comments. It’s been a rough week healthwise and only just beginning to get back on my feet so this is the first proper blog I’ve done for a while. I don’t think daily blogging is for me however; I’m not sure I like the discipline! But I pledged to give it 30 days, so that’s what I’ll do. Can’t wait to get out and take some pix though; hoping for sunshine this weekend. Jx

    • Annmarie
    • February 4th, 2011

    Lovely piece of writing Jane, you did not look yourself today and when I had seen Rosie in you had gone..hopefully you will kick this flu into touch soon. Have a lovely weekend with your boys xxx

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