Charles Miller

Where I Stand Now


This one’s for the family time capsule, to be read by my great grandchildren in the year 2090.

You won’t have the slightest interest in the 1980s. That’s understandable; nothing much happened. Ignore the Sunday Times’s souvenir magazine, and all the TV programmes which claim to have reviewed the decade; they will only give you the wrong impression.

Most of us didn’t make a fortune in the City. I once found myself in a pub with an old schoolfriend who asked what colour BMW I thought he should order, but that was the closest I carne to anyone who had made a lot of money in front of a computer screen.

I acquired a credit card in 1981, and later, a second one which automatically makes a donation to Oxfam when I use it. But I’m not in debt, have never used a Vodaphone, and still drink tap water.

At the start of the decade I wondered about laying down a few extra cans of baked beans in case of nuclear war. There were television dramas about what would happen, and Martin Amis tried to achieve an appropriate degree of anxiety. At that time every respectable pop video included archive footage of a mushroom cloud.

All that has changed and earlier this year I went on a relaxing Thomson’s Citybreak to Leningrad and Moscow. Russians were constantly introducing themselves to us on the street, but far from wanting to celebrate glasnost, they were intent only on selling us a new Paul McCartney album which for some reason was not yet available in Britain.

I have shaken hands with someone who is HIV Positive, and for a couple of weeks after a campaign of publicity on television felt a bit queasy and wondered about the meaning of life. But as far as I know I’m as well as I was ten years ago.

The latest problem is with the atmosphere. I’ve converted to roll-on deodorants but naughtily continue to use shaving foam because, frankly, nothing else works as well. It’s been awfully muggy this summer, so perhaps next year I’ll grow a beard.

I drive a Renault Five, and haven’t found out how to use lead-free petrol, although I have been meaning to ask my garage about it. I am more nervous about flying than I was ten years ago, and am tired of being told that it’s actually safer than driving.

There have been a few elections, in which I have voted Conservative, Social Democrat, and, recently, Green Party. When I left Oxford in 1979, people thought you were joking if you said you supported the Tories. Much to my surprise I seemed to be anticipating a trend.

As a ‘Thirty-something’ (thirty-two actually), I’m the kind of person that advertisers are apparently desperate to reach. I can’t imagine why. I spend more money on my car than on anything else, and none of that is voluntary. My idea of luxury is leaving the bedroom light on while I’m in the bath.

A couple of years ago it looked as though I’d be able to retire and be wealthy just by swopping my two-bedroom maisonette in Shepherds Bush for anywhere more than a hundred miles from London. I was at a dinner party where a young magazine editor claimed all his friends were learning to fly in order to take advantage of cheaper country houses in Lincolnshire.

Recently people have been talking about buying property in Normandy. They think that when the Channel Tunnel is built they will be able to drive under for the weekend. I’m assuming that if the Tunnel is ever finished it will still be more difficult to get from London to France on a Friday night than to Gloucestershire, which is bad enough.

About 1985, I went jogging: I tried to drag myself across Wormwood Scrubs every Saturday morning. The regime lasted for a month or so and used to leave me smug and exhausted for the rest of the weekend. It’s a while since I squeezed into my expensive Reeboks, and my membership to ‘Sunny’s Gym’ has lapsed.

I now eat margarine instead of butter, although I’ve recently heard it’s no better for your heart. But it does, as they say in the adverts, ‘spread, straight from the fridge’ . White bread has almost disappeared, and brown bread has been getting more and more like bird seed. Someone told me recently that insecticides may linger unhealthily on those hard husks, making clean old-fashioned white bread actually safer.

The first hint of this being ‘The Information Decade’ came when my aunt produced ‘Trivial Pursuit’. It kept us mildly amused for one Boxing Day afternoon; most of the answers seemed to be Elvis Presley. I never came across its raunchy replacement, ‘Scruples’, though I was present at many conversations in which people who knew people who had played it described the embarrassments it created.

Someone in my street has a satellite dish, and I’ve seen some trashy American programmes, but the television revolution hasn’t made much of an impact in Wl2. Last week I bought a wind-up record player and a pile of 78’s from a friend who wanted the space for a new filing cabinet.

In recent years my weekends have been spoilt by a glut of information: endless late night talk shows and more, fatter newspapers. Scanning them leaves me dazed and depressed, but somehow, it has to be done. When you add to that all the magazines that might be worth reading, the over-production of journalism is perhaps the social problem which most affects me.

I sent for an American book called Information Anxiety which was supposed to describe a new kind of neurosis in which sufferers become jumpy and worried about not absorbing the information they are being offered. If there is such a thing, I’ve got it. The book was uninformative in a word-processed kind of way, one thing leading to another and the whole thing leading nowhere. I’m writing this on a word processor, which I couldn’t have done ten years ago. It makes each sentence look finished whether it makes sense or not.

Have I missed out on the eighties, or did they never really happen in the way they were reported? In ten years I hope to have a more fascinating report for you, describing how I have rubbed shoulders with key figures of the decade. I’m sending off my membership to the Ark Trust, and will call British Satellite Broadcasting about an idea for a chat show in which New Age philosophers are interrogated by a group of football supporters.

In a few years this decade will have solidified into nostalgia. It will be easier to remember when it began and ended. Until then my rule of thumb is that the eighties were when Mrs Thatcher was Prime Minister and John Lennon was already dead.

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