Eighties child by T. D. Harvey
The eighties were a magical time to be a child. It was a time of dreams and possibilities. Our parents telling us that if we work hard we will get everything we want in life; was a truth, a given, a right. Almost as a proof of concept, here in Britain we had a female Prime Minister, The Iron Lady. She was strong and determined and showed us girls that we really could achieve anything, should we wish to. Oh I had no interest in politics whatsoever, but just the knowledge that a woman headed the country politically, as well as a female head of state, was empowering. I grew up having no sense of the barriers women face. There was no glass ceiling for my friends and me. I had no understanding of the problems Margaret Thatcher caused in the country; the riots, the strikes, the decimated communities. That understanding came much later. I was never aware of the importance of a female Prime Minister because, of course, I knew no other way. I grew up with the belief that it was perfectly natural for men and women to have equal rights. My parents both worked and took equal responsibility for the daily chores of family life. My father cooked, cleaned, took us to school and helped us with our homework. Equality was a natural way of life. As I got older and realised the world did not work in the same way as my home life or the way my female Prime Minister made the world look, I was deeply shocked and disappointed.
The Space programme was big news in the eighties and at one point or another, each of my friends expressed an ambition to travel beyond the stars. Of course, none of us ever has but I suppose, there is time yet. The world was full of big hair, loud clothes and shoulder pads. The decade oozed overindulgence and decadence. It breathed life and money into the world and shook the foundations with its splendour. When I listen to the music of the time I am transported back to a world of bright, gaudy personalities and endless promise. My dreams were more simple than most; become a teacher of English to engage children in a love of books and language. Marry a nice man, a man like my father, and have two beautiful children; one boy and one girl, as I had grown up. Live in a house similar to the one I grew up in and be happy in a world of expectation and hope.
The eighties were not all full of money and wonder. Scenes of starving children filled our televisions and songs were sung to raise funds for aid. I remember feeling guilt for the food on my plate and for the life I was able to lead. I remember feeling impotent too; that I could do nothing to help except for buying a record. And to my shame, I remember cursing yet another appeal, yet another advert, yet more crying children with bloated bellies and flies in their eyes. The desensitisation was the worst part, being wearied by all that sadness and despair was so very wrong, but a natural consequence of the total immersion.
The cold war did not pass us children by either. We were subjected to a particularly harrowing animated film about the bomb dropping. Nuclear war was an ever present and very real threat. Relentless films showed post apocalyptic worlds with giant scorpions and armour plated cockroaches, reddened, wind blown skies and frightening looking people with open sores and bald patches, poisoned by radiation. I was so terrified by this that I would worry constantly about seeing a mushroom cloud rising into the sky above my home in Southern England. I had even worked out, to the minute, a rescue plan to enable me to get my six rabbits into the house and safe before the cloud hit. I truly believed the messages of taping up windows and doors would save us from the fallout. I calculated that I had time to run the bath and sinks with water whilst fetching in each rabbit and penning them in my bedroom. I would have to put the dogs on their leads to ensure they didn’t follow me outside; I was prepared to risk myself for the sake of my rabbits, but not my dogs. The fear of war was a shocking thing to go through as a child and yet, children in this world live through much more real and immediate threats. At the time I thought we were in imminent danger, but of course, in comparison to those in war torn countries today, we were not. We did not know how incredibly lucky we were in that time of plenty and excitement when everything was possible and all we had to do was try.
So here I am, nearing the point at which life is apparently supposed to begin and I look back fondly at that decade. Not with a want to return to those decadent times, but with a remembrance of my naivety and optimism for the life that lay before me. Britain did not continue to prosper and we are now in the grip of such austere times that no-one’s future is certain; no-one’s home is truly safe. Those in most need are vilified for the enormous welfare bill and today’s children have neither the manners not the respect my generation was instilled with. I have not ended up where I thought I would, and I have not had the life I expected. But that doesn’t mean my life has been bad thus far; simply different. I have, I hope, much more life to experience and I look forward to the new surprises that lie in wait. I will, however, always remember the eighties fondly.