A Letter To You …

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In the days before social media made it possible to be in constant contact with friends and family, ISmash Hits Five Star cover 230486 used to keep in touch with people the old school way … writing. A prolific letter writer since I was in single figures, when I would regularly correspond with my great, great aunt in Eastbourne, I was delighted when my penpal profile appeared in an issue of Smash Hits.

I was 15 years old when my request for a penfriend was published in the magazine in April 1986. Within days I was inundated with replies, which resulted in me having penpals in France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Pakistan, Nigeria, Alaska and all over the UK, and school friends replying to some of the remaining hundreds of letters.

I continued to write to a number of my Smash Hits buddies for several years, writing at least one letter every SHday, and some went on to become very good friends in reality, not just on paper. In fact, my son’s Scouse godfather is one of those friends I met because of this listing. Who would have thought it back then? Over thirty years of friendship due to a few lines in a magazine.

Now, like many people, we use Facebook rather than letters to keep in touch across the miles and, although a nostalgic part of me misses the excitement of a letter dropping through the letterbox, I cannot deny the advantages of our online updates. Social Media has also been responsible for bringing some wonderful new friends into my life, and had it not been for a friend and fellow 80s fan I met via Twitter, I would not have the images included in this post. I can’t imagine how our communications will develop over the next three decades. I doubt very much that today’s teenagers will look back on Snapchat messages with the same fondness I feel when I look at the shoeboxes full of letters I have kept, and I am certain none of them will be sending rhymes like “Postman, postman don’t be slow. Be like Elvis, go man go!”, which I recently discovered on the envelope of one of those letters.

Whatever the future holds, nothing will ever top my 80’s letter-writing days and the memories they made. Maybe I will even get around to publishing the letters one day.

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The Age of Apathy?

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Growing up in the Eighties may have meant listening to some of the best music ever, often whilst wearing some of the worst fashion ever, but it also meant having an awareness of and an opinion on what was happening in the world. It wasn’t only what we saw on John Craven’s Newsround or, as we got older, the “real” news. Sometimes, events reached our consciousness without us even realising, via the music we were listening to. Whilst the lyrics of Special AKA’s “Free Nelson Mandela” and Billy Bragg’s protest song “Between The Wars” made the subject matter of the songs very clear, how long did it take us to realise that Ultravox’s “Dancing With Tears In My Eyes” and Nik Kershaw’s “I Won’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me” were about nuclear war?

Regardless of how we knew, the fact is that we tended to have a fair understanding of the issues of the time and, dare I say it, actually cared about them. Whether it was war or strikes, apartheid or famine, local issues or international affairs, we knew enough to know whether something was right or wrong, and when it was wrong, we wanted to change it. So what’s happened to that generation of kids who didn’t only think they could change the world, but who went ahead and brought about some of the biggest changes in living history?

I was saddened, but not really surprised, by the lack of response to a Facebook status I posted recently. Linking to a report about the fact that, on average, one Nepalese worker dies every other day, whilst working in Doha on World Cup-related construction, I had commented about the indignity with which the bodies of these men were then returned to their families. The news report had shown family members wheeling the coffins of their relatives out of the airport, across two baggage trolleys, as the authorities had made no other arrangements. Shocked that these men were being treated no better than excess luggage, I had asked “where is the dignity and humanity?”. With only three acknowledgments to that post, I wonder more so now.

We live in a world where information and news are more easily accessible than they have ever been, so ignorance cannot be the reason for lack of interest. Neither can it be that it’s too difficult to make yourself heard. Gone are the days wPoll Taxhen the only way of having a voice was mass protest, or raising a petition by physically traipsing around gathering signatures, both of which I had done by the age of 14. At the end of 1984, I had organised and submitted to Downing Street a thousand signature petition against VAT being charged on the original Band Aid single, and the following year taken part in a protest march against the Channel Tunnel being built. Being part of a like-minded crowd, shouting “Maggie, Maggie, Maggie – Out! Out! Out!”, as the Prime Minister arrived just feet away not only gave this teenager a sense of belonging, but a sense of purpose too.

As it turned out, neither petition nor protest was successful, if judged on their outcomes, but both helped to strengthen my beliefs that you should never be afraid to stand up and be counted, and that there is indeed strength in numbers. I don’t think I am alone in those beliefs today, just that somewhere along the way priorities seem to have become skewed. When Jeremy Clarkson lost his job at the BBC earlier this year, over a million people signed an online petition calling for him to be reinstated. Around the same time, only half that number of signatures were gathered for a petition to “save the NHS”. Similarly, little more than a week before my post was met with underwhelming apathy, my Facebook newsfeed had been awash with comments and opinions on Sepp Blatter and FIFA corruption. So, it’s not that people don’t care, just that focus needs adjusting.

What’s the answer? I honestly don’t know. I’m not suggesting we take to the streets in mass demonstration every single time we feel strongly about an issue – that part of me departed around the time that Ben Elton stopped referring to “Mrs Thatch”. But surely we can find time in our busy lives to consider what is happening behind the headlines and scandalmongering, and act on what really matters to us? I understand that this happened on social media, which often equates to videos of fluffy kittens and ridiculous selfies (both of which I confess I’m guilty of posting), but surely social media should also be a reflection of our wider social lives? This is no different to discussing current affairs down the pub, or a friendly debate on the latest hot topic, is it? Although, if our current affairs are what is happening between the cast of TOWIE, and the latest hot topic is who’s between the covers of “Heat” magazine, then I guess we’re all doomed!

I am really interested to know what everybody else thinks about this; whether I’m alone, stuck in an 80’s nostalgic timewarp of beliefs, or whether there are others out there who still care and believe that we can make a difference, who will restore my faith in this race that’s supposedly human.

Facebooking Up To The Future

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Despite its shortcomings (don’t get me started, I’ve not got my soapbox handy!), one thing I do love about the internet is how small it can make the big, wide world. Throw social media sites into the mix, and you have communication possibilities most of us could have never even imagined during the Eighties. Add a touch of serendipity, and you’re in  a  coffee shop, meeting an old school friend you haven’t seen for 25 years…

When I uploaded a couple of old, group photos, I had no idea it would bring an old school friend back into my life. Yet yesterday saw the two of us catching up on each other’s lives, and chatting as if the last two and a half decades had never happened.Our teenage years were made up of a series of events which may have held no real significance at the time, but are now remembered with huge affection. Our first hangovers, a school trip to London which we took as an opportunity to go celebrity spotting (Judith Chalmers and Tommy Boyd!), a road trip to Wales in my old Austin Allegro, the list goes on. Life may have taken us on different paths, although there were also some uncanny similarities, but we have now found ourselves living a few miles apart. So when we hugged goodbye, I knew it wouldn’t be long before we meet up again. In fact, I’ve got to go now because I’ve just had a message come through from her on Facebook!