Alternative titles #2: Where was I on this date? 10 years ago, 20 years ago, 30 years ago, 40 years ago.

(suggested by Alan)

10 years ago:

Ah, the joys of overnight emergency cover. It is now 3:48 in the morning, and my brain is just starting to fuzz over. Even we night owls have our limits. So let’s knock this one off, as a means of keeping my mental faculties ticking over.

October 1996. Living in the same house in Nottingham that we’re in now. Working for the council, supporting an absolute pile-of-bollox mainframe system which processed bus pass applications for school children. The job basically involved de-bolloxing the hideous cludge of spaghetti code that my predecessors had left for me, before swanning off to sexy jobs in the private sector. Hideously difficult, but strangely stimulating in a masochistic sort of way.

K had just left paid employment in order to start up his own company, and was working out of a shoebox with paper-thin walls. Exciting, pioneering times.

Making regular visits down to Trade, the legendary Sunday morning hardcore techno club in still-ungentrified Clerkenwell. Posting on the uk-motss mailing list, an e-mail discussion group for GLBT types (but mostly G), where I had acquired the nickname “Nice Mike”. Card-carrying urban queer conformist, with my Ben Shermans, 501s, biker boots and petrol blue zip-fronted padded nylon bomber jacket (oh, we all had them).

Records confirm that my Tune Of The Week was “You’re Gorgeous” by Baby Bird.

20 years ago:

Had just started working for the council as a junior programmer. Slightly fazed to discover that there were no actual computer terminals on our desks, just pencils and “coding sheets”, upon which we scribbled our COBOL source code, to be typed in by the data entry clerks. Actually getting computer access meant booking slots on a little sheet of paper. Jolly exciting when we got it, as well. A relaxed team, with a manager who secretly watched the horse racing on a little portable telly in his office.

Renting a rather poky little flat with K, just off Sherwood Rise. Despite the pokiness, we had tarted the place up with lashings of lacquered black ash furniture from Habitat, and named it the Matt Black Dreamhome, after an article in The Face magazine.

Big tune in the clubs: “Love Can’t Turn Around” by Farley Jackmaster Funk. We were very quick off the marks with our Chicago house music in Nottingham. Favourite home listening: Anita Baker’s Rapture. (Wonder whether it still holds up today?)

30 years ago:

Back at boarding school in Cambridge, for the start of the main O-level year, although I had already taken a couple early. Puberty in full flow, hormones running riot, and really bad acne breaking out all over my face (it took another four or five years to clear up). Still in love with the boy in the year below, with ardour undimmed after the long summer break. Father on the brink of announcing his impending marriage to my stepmother – wedding conducted on a weekday in term time – none of their respective offspring invited.

Sharing a study with two classmates during the day, but still sleeping in the dormitories. Enjoying the relative freedom and privacy, away from the junior common room. Leisure time, as at all boarding schools, revolved around brewing instant coffee, making toast, and playing albums. Just discovering punk – a musical paradigm shift which was to piss off my prog-loving study mates severely. Most played record, by miles and miles: the Live At The Marquee EP from Eddie & The Hot Rods. (At least we could all agree on that one.)

40 years ago:

Six months away from starting school, I am already learning to read, somehow managing to do this with the minimum of assistance. (How do children DO this?) I can still remember a rather doomed reading lesson with my mother, which I don’t think was ever repeated.

(Patiently) “Now Michael, what does this say?”

“They’re in a tent!” (Feeling a bit foolish for saying this as it can’t be correct, but it was my best guess.)

(Noticeably less patiently) “No darling, try again.”

The caption, below a picture of two children in a tent said “We are here”. How silly, I thought to myself. How is any child supposed to work that one out?

Instead, I bombarded everyone in sight with constant “What does that say?” questionings. Advertising billboards were major source material: “Go to work on an egg” (copy written by Salman Rushdie Fay Weldon, no less), “Beanz Meanz Heinz” (3/10 for spelling, see me after class), and “Heinz Souperday Heinz” (a bad pun for canned tomato soup, advertised by a little boy of my age in a tomato-red woolen jersey with buttons on the shoulders; my grandmother knitted me a copy, and I was thrilled).

I can still remember My First Book: Kitty And Rover. I particularly remember getting stuck on one page for several days:

It is a pretty ball.

Not knowing that the “e” was pronounced like “i”, as in “bin”, I was completely baffled. What sort of word was “pretty” (rhymes with “Betty”) anyway? My best guess was that it was a paté ball – a pleasingly surreal idea, if a little far-fetched, but we had recently been staying with my grandparents in Dorset, who packed us paté sandwiches for our picnics. My grandparents being quite posh, paté was pronounced “petty”. I didn’t know any different.

The “pretty” issue having been cleared up – I must have given in and asked someone – I raced through to the end of Kitty And Rover without further complication. On reaching the last page, I was ecstatic – I can still remember racing down the staircase and shouting “I CAN READ! I CAN READ!” to old Mrs. Barthorpe who was doing the cleaning in the hall, and I can still remember her smiling gummily back at me. (Dental care amongst the domestic classes still had some distance to travel.)

Phew. The end of the post, and also the end of my emergency overnight support – it’s now 5:21, and I think I’ve reached the jibbering, delirious stage. Can you tell?

God knows how this is going to read in the morning. Well, no matter.

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