Boy racers, super-cars… and THAT invention

For a teenager in 2011, passing his or her driving test is the least of their problems.

Even if they can take off the L plates the chances are they won’t be able to afford the insurance to enable them to drive because it will resemble a telephone number more than a quote.

This wasn’t always the case, however. Back in the Eighties, insuring your little runaround for a few hundred quid put millions of us on the road to motoring independence.

For yours truly it was a case of making do with a canary yellow Austin Metro. I kid you not. (At least the stereo was decent – graphic equaliser I’ll have you know).

My car may not have had the cool of David Hasslehoff’s black Pontiac Trans Am or packed the punch of Michael J. Fox’s silver Delorean time machine but then again I was only driving from Sneyd Green to Norton.

For many of us, the likes of the Nissan Micra – the car I learned in – were an essential tool to get us from A to B.

But for others, their cars became an obsession – a source of immense pride and a toy in a game of one-upmanship with like-minded mates.

For such people the decade of decadence equalled spoilers, body kits, suspension modifications, tinted windows and alloy wheels.

They were the boy racers and the Eighties was made for them.

I can still recall one such group – the engines of their Ford Escort XR3is purring outside the kebab shop in Glass Street, Hanley, (boy racer alley, as we knew it) after nightclub closing time.

It seems I’m not the only one who immediately associates Eighties cars with this phenomenon, either.

John Swift worked for The Sentinel for 16 years and for much of that time was this newspaper’s motoring correspondent – scooping the Guild of Motor Writers’ Regional Journalist Of The Year Award no less than five times.

His dad ran Byatt’s car dealership in Victoria Road, Fenton, and had raced Jaguar sports cars in the Fifties.

No wonder John became a passionate and knowledgeable ‘petrol head’, I think the phrase is these days.

I asked John what immediately springs to mind with regard to motoring when someone says the Eighties to him.

He said: “It was the decade of boy racers. It was a case of ‘if you’ve got it, flaunt it’ – and that applied to cars too.

“In many ways the 1950s can be considered the halcyon days on the bike industry because, back then, people couldn’t afford cars. It was a case of walk, catch the bus – or buy a bike or scooter.

“By the Eighties cars were far more affordable and manufacturers began targeting younger drivers.

“The problem was, however, that there were almost as many crashes as there was suped-up cars – basically because these young people didn’t have the skills or experience to handle the vehicles they were driving.”

Understandably, insurance companies got fed up of shelling out for these accidents and that’s one of the reasons why new drivers these days are facing such astronomical premiums.

John’s answer? A graduated driving licence which restricts young people to learn and then drive less powerful motor cars – which their limited skills and experience can cope with – before they progress to more powerful motors.

Of course, there was more to motoring in the Eighties than white baseball caps and sound systems which made your ears bleed.

Who could forget the infamous Sinclair C5 electric car which was set to revolutionise urban transport?

In the end it became the subject of ridicule and was a commercial disaster – not least because it asked drivers whose heads were at the height of a lorry’s wheel nuts to take their life, literally, in their hands.

The C5 aside, many of the vehicles from the Eighties were firm family favourites and first loves of drivers which have more than stood the test of time.

Such motors included the Peugeot 205, which John describes as “a fantastic little car” and earned the title ‘Car Of The Decade’ from Car Magazine in 1990.

But beyond the reach of most mortals were the super cars – so expensive that the only time many of us ever saw them was on telly or being driven by a City boy wearing red braces.

These included the Lotus Esprit, the Porsche 911 and the fearsome Ferrari Testarossa which John had the pleasure of test driving.

He said: “I remember it was pretty quick. The styling was certainly of its time – very bold and really made a statement.”

For the record, John’s first car in the mid-Eighties was a B reg Vauxhall Nova and he can still remember the number plate.

He is equally nostalgic about his favourite car of the decade – the Ferrari 328 GTB

John said: “I remember it very fondly because it was the first time I’d ever driven a Ferrari.

“I took it on one of my test routes – along the A34 towards Stone, up Bury Bank and towards Eccleshall. It was fabulous.”

I asked John to gaze into his crystal ball and tell us what motoring in the UK might look like in another quarter of a century.

He said: “The old combustion engine still has a lot to offer in terms of its development potential. However, the manufacturers now have a real incentive to try to produce vehicles that run on alternative sources of fuel.

“There have been many years of unrestricted growth in car usage and I expect this to change.

“I think we will see a lot more battery-powered cars and hybrids.

“If more roads are built I expect them to be toll roads as we attempt to create workable public transport systems.”

Pick up a copy of the Weekend Sentinel every Saturday for 12 pages of nostalgia

Remember me? Pudgy lad with the bowl-head hair…

Cast your mind back to 1983. The comedy genius of Blackadder has just been unleashed on the nation.

The novelty of people asking Bob Holness for a P on the gameshow Blockbusters hasn’t yet worn off.

As we munch on our toast, we’ve gone from having no telly in the morning to being able to choose between BBC’s Breakfast Time and ITV’s Good Morning Britain.

Either way, chunky sweaters are in.

Yours truly, however, has more important things on his mind.

I’m part of the guinea pig year – the first group of students to attend high school at the age of 11 rather than 12 in order that we can eventually take the new GCSE exams which are to be introduced in 1987.

Gone are the O-levels and CSEs in favour of a new system which uses coursework as well as one-off exams to assess a pupil’s academic ability.

Holden Lane High School is one of the biggest schools in the Potteries and boasts five, brand new mobile classrooms to cope with the additional influx of children.
One of them is to become my home for five years.

I’m a nervous, overweight lad from Sneyd Green for whom the first few months at Holden Lane High would be a real trial for all sorts of reasons.

There’s none of this school-run nonsense. We all walk to school and I even go home at lunchtime to play Dungeons & Dragons with my mate Glyn.

To be honest, I’d have ridden there and back on my metallic blue Raleigh Grifter if I didn’t have to go down and back up Abbotts Drive – the Potteries equivalent of Kilimanjaro.

Make no bones about it, high school in the Eighties was a totally different beast to modern-day state secondary education.

Most of our classrooms still had blackboards rather than those new-fangled whiteboards.

The library was just that – a place filled with books – and there were no such things as learning resource centres boasting smart screens and laptops.

In fact, computer studies was a brand new GCSE with the emphasis very much on dull-as-dishwater programming. Frankly, we’d have learned more playing PacMan.

The school’s pride and joy was actually its ‘language lab’ – rows of sets of headphones with microphones which allowed us to listen to French and German and attempt to speak a little without our mates taking the mickey.

In the classrooms we sat at decades-old old wooden desks, complete with redundant inkwells and etched with graffiti which carried the names of naughty pupils who were long gone.

Discipline was strict. We all stood up when teachers entered the room and didn’t sit down again until we were told too.

We walked on the left in corridors and woe-betide anyone who didn’t.

They risked an ear-bashing from ‘Doc’ Whieldon or detention/lines from history supremo Geoff Ball.

My form tutor Mr Jones still dished out the cane for bad behaviour – or smacked pupils’ hands with ‘Edge-On the Chinese ruler’.

There was no internet to distract us, no social networking and no mobile phones to be confiscated. Break times consisted of the lads playing football on the Tarmac and the girls standing around discussing Pods shoes, Duran Duran’s latest single and Michael J. Fox.

Whereas previously it hadn’t mattered what you wore at school, suddenly my generation became brand aware.

Suddenly it mattered that you had Nike Air Trainers, that your bag was by Head or Adidas, and that your jacket wasn’t from Vale market.

Yours truly scraped into the top class at Christmas thanks to the re-assessment of all new arrivals to make sure they had been put in the right boxes.

Rubbish at sport, nowt to look at and of average ability academically, my school days could have been grim.

But they were made bearable by Richard Murphy and Rob Freemen – two lads who became mates for life – and the fact that I developed a massive crush on a girl who sat at the back of our class.

I eventually became a prefect (or defect as most people called them) which was both a blessing and a curse.

It meant you got to spend some lunchtimes and breaktimes staffing various doors and ensuring pupils weren’t running riot.

This enabled me to let my mates into places where they shouldn’t have been but I missed out on a lot of footie.

Given that I was a hopeless asthmatic maybe that was no bad thing.

Looking back, I think I actually enjoyed school far more than I ought to have done.

I came to love some subjects – English and history in particular – and admire the teachers who inspired me through them.

Indeed, school couldn’t have been that bad because I helped to organise a couple of reunions for my lot a few years ago which I enjoyed enormously.

Half a lifetime had actually elapsed before I visited Holden Lane High again and, in truth, much of it was how I remembered it.

Gone were those mobile classrooms and the corridors I had traversed so many times seemed a lot smaller.

But the main part of the school was exactly the same as it had been when I left back in 1988.

Somewhere in there the ghost of a pudgy lad with bowl-head hair and a love of writing is still trying desperately to fit in.

And the memory of it makes me smile.

Pick up a copy of the Weekend Sentinel every Saturday for 12 pages of nostalgia

Maybe Eighties fashion wasn’t so bad after all…

I’ve hesitated to go down this route but I’m afraid I can’t avoid it any longer: It’s time to talk big hair, shoulder pads and leg warmers.
As a dedicated follower of fashion, I dare say few people are as qualified as I to discuss the notorious clothing fads and hairstyles of my youth. I jest, of course.
Someone cruelly dubbed the Eighties ‘the decade that style forgot’. I prefer to think of it as ‘the decade that style disowned’.
Granted, there were a few positives – classic looks and new accessories which have gone on to stand the test of time.
I’m specifically thinking Ray-Ban sunglasses (à la Tom Cruise in Top Gun) and Calvin Klein underwear – as modelled by Michael J Fox in Back To The Future.
You see, prior to the Eighties no-one gave a monkeys who made the pants you were wearing but suddenly, almost overnight, people became ‘brand aware’.
At the same time, there was also an awful lot of: ‘I grabbed the first three garments I could find at the church jumble sale and threw them together. Good eh?’
Until the age of 11 (1983) all I cared about was going out to play footie with my mates and, frankly, I was happy to wear anything mum fished out of the wardrobe.
Then I hit high school and suddenly I started to notice girls and become envious of other lads in my class who were better looking/thinner and dressed cooler than me. Often all three.
I distinctly remember the day my friend Richard Murphy arrived at school sporting blond ‘streaks’ in his regulation brown hair.
I looked at him as if he had got off a spaceship.
I would like to point out that I never went for highlights in my hair but I was somewhat envious that Spud Murphy had engineered a talking point for the top tottie in my class.
I recall also being deeply jealous of Mark Duckworth who – in spite of having an horrific core flick in his fringe – was always wearing the latest ‘designer clothing’.
One such item was a blue and grey Nike cagoule. I hated him for owning that jacket – especially as when I asked mum for one I ended up with a similar, dark blue unbranded cagoule from Vale Market.
Then there was the fad for Pony trainers which came about because Channel Four became the first UK TV channel to screen American football which led to all the lads adopting a team. (LA Raiders, in case you were wondering)
Another lad in my class, Ashley Coates – a gifted left-footed footballer – had a pair of the aforementioned trainers and I was desperate to emulate him.
In the end I did get a pair – but in a bizarre white and fluorescent blue colour which made me a laughing stock at break times.
I didn’t have the heart to tell my mum, of course.
The only cool things I actually ever owned during my school days were a pair of Pepe Jeans (or Peps as we called them) which came with a must-have red plastic keyring and a pair of white Converse boots (or Cons) which seemed to last an eternity.
In my defence I don’t think I dressed outlandishly during my college years or towards the end of the decade.
This was a) because I didn’t dare and b) I’d have had my head kicked in up ’Anley had I turned up looking like Crockett or Tubbs from Miami Vice wearing a jacket with the sleeves rolled up.
I was basically a jeans and T-shirt kind of lad who shopped at Geordie Jeans, Stolen From Ivor and Next.
This was to be expected given my fondness for two types of music: ‘Hair metal’ (Bon Jovi, Guns N’ Roses, Poison etc.) and ‘Shoe-gazing’ (Stone Roses, Inspiral Carpets, The Charlatans etc.).
I also went through a phase of wearing jeans ripped at the knees in the style of Matt and Luke Goss from Bros. Didn’t we all?
I actually consider myself to have had a lucky escape because, had I been born five years earlier, my formative years would have collided with some of the Eighties’ most horrific fashion trends.
As it was I never wore parachute pants and my foppish hair only ever had the faintest touch of mousse to hold it in place.
I am also delighted to say that, unlike my friend Mark Williams, I never, ever had a mullet.
Similarly, my girlfriends were sensibly attired – no miniskirts, huge earrings, finger-less gloves, over-sized tops or leg warmers that I can recall.
They were also way too young for the Dynasty power-dressing look of shoulder pads – much to my relief.
However, they all sported beautiful 80s perms as modelled by the divine Susannah Hoffs from The Bangles.
Come to think of it, maybe Eighties fashion wasn’t that bad after all…

The Eighties is the decade most of us remember fondly

The original Now That's What I Call Music album.

The original Now That’s What I Call Music album.

Sunday, December 25, 1983. Christmas Day. That’s when I officially fell in love with the Eighties.

I sat in my bedroom marvelling at my brand new copy of the original Now That’s What I Call Music album, my shiny new record player and the sturdy black singles box containing my first 45s.

I’ve still got that album and all the seven inches – Status Quo’s Margeurita Time, Paul Young’s Wherever I Lay My Hat, and Billy Joel’s Uptown Girl, among others.

That day I played them from the moment we’d finished the turkey until I was ordered to bed.

Suddenly, at the age of 11, I realised music wasn’t the sole preserve of my parents.

Apparently, there was more to life than Elvis and Roy Orbison – despite years of brainwashing by my mum.

Money saved from my Sentinel paper round was soon being spent on singles and albums.

I walked up to Hanley on Saturdays and bought everything from Adam Ant, Spandau Ballet and Duran Duran to Bruce Springsteen and the mighty Bon Jovi.

Through music I discovered that girls weren’t just things to make you flush red if they looked at you in class or, heaven forbid, spoke to you at break time.

I took umbrage with Michael J Fox because a certain girl in the top class at Holden Lane High called him ‘dreamy’ after watching Back To The Future.

I was mesmerised when Kim Wilde or Belinda Carlisle came on the telly – and fell hopelessly in love with Susannah Hoffs from The Bangles.

I am delighted to say that while the Eighties may be the ‘decade that taste forgot’ it is also the decade that has stubbornly refused to go away.

Of course, it helps that my generation of 30 and 40-somethings are now in control of so many TV remotes and perhaps have the most disposable income.

But it is a fact that, for some time now, there has been a genuine appetite for 1980s nostalgia.
An internet campaign brought the Wispa chocolate bar back from the dead.

Monster Munch crisps have been relaunched.

Hit 80s TV shows like Starsky and Hutch and The Dukes of Hazzard have, sadly, been turned into big-budget movies.

What’s more, you can’t move for Eighties bands and singers hitting the road again to relive past glories.

People like Rick Astley, Bananarama, Midge Ure and, er… Kim Wilde (blush), who all performed at Alton Towers’ 30th birthday party at the weekend.

We lap it up because of music’s wonderful talent for forcing us to don rose-tinted Ray-Bans and reminding us of a special time in our lives.

When my sister-in-law celebrated her 40th birthday earlier this year it has to be said that the highlight of her raucous party weekend was the 1980s music.

I danced – I use that term loosely – until 3am and, as I lay in bed that night it occurred to me that I couldn’t see children of the Nineties or Noughties yearning for their formative years with quite the same enthusiasm.

For some, the Eighties was a grim decade of industrial unrest, high unemployment, terrible hair and worse clothing.

But, to me, as a child growing up in the Potteries, it is a decade that will always be golden – a time of great certainties, household names and sunny optimism.

In the Eighties, our milk man delivered bottles of pop in a variety of radioactive colours and the ‘outdoor’ at the top of our road sold Black Jacks and Fruit Salad sweets for half a pence.

Royal Doulton and Wedgwood seemed like immortal employers and a job on ‘the Mich’ (Michelin) was a job for life.

It was a time when Hanley still had family businesses like Bratt and Dyke where I could spend hours just mooching around.

It was the decade when the Boothen End proper at the Old Victoria still roared its defiance and when a certain bloke with a flat cap took over the reins at Vale Park – promising nothing and delivering the best era in my football club’s history.

It was a time when this newspaper still produced the much-anticipated Football Final on Saturdays.

It was also the decade of the Garden Festival that transformed 180 acres of derelict land in the heart of Stoke-on-Trent into the thriving retail and business park we all now take for granted.

Yes, the Eighties may well be ‘the decade that taste forgot’.

It’s also the decade that I, and I suspect many others, are most happy remembering.