Stratford, c.1988

What the hell happened in Stratford, circa 1988?

My parents moved house over Christmas, as a result of which, great steaming piles of stuff that had been neatly shoved in boxes in storage in Hull are now cluttering up their somewhat smaller house in Leeds. Needless to say, I feel a tad bad about this, but since my own flat is far too small even to contain all my network hardware, there’s not a great deal I can do about it until I find somewhere I can genuinely call ‘home’ myself.

I can, however, take the occasional box to show willing. Mostly, this ends up sitting on my lounge floor for three months while I try to work out just what I’m going to do with the contents. Today, for reasons that only a few people know and are entirely my fault, I found myself at an unexpected loose end – so I sorted through the most recent box.

It was initially composed of junk mail, vintage 1995. This was mildly surprising, since I can’t for the life of me work out how it ended up in Hull in the first place. However, delving deeper into the substrata I came across a slew of letters from university chums, immediately post-graduation as we headed our separate ways. Some of these would have been useful at Daniel’s wedding a year or so back, but that’s another story.

Deeper still, letters from said friends over the summer of 1993, when I was trying to work out what degree to do (I nearly failed my second year, and Daniel and Becca in particular were a tremendous help guiding me through that particular emotional turmoil, bless ’em).

Deeper still, a huge pile of letters from a certain Welsh girl, with whom I was madly in love a very, very long time ago. The last letter in the sequence is still heartbreaking, but isn’t at all what you might imagine if you don’t know the story. Tough. I’m not telling you here.

Deeper deeper deeper… why have I kept all these letters? There’s one from my neighbour in Hull, summarising his views on Cambridge colleges, which must date from 1990 – it’s hilarious, and possibly slanderous. Deeper… exchanges with the fine folk I went to Australia with, in 1989 – three of whom I still consider close friends despite not having spoken to them in a couple of years.

Deeper deeper… sloughing off the years of my life as the paper flies, a curious and not altogether pleasant sensation…

The archive stops at about 1988, perhaps 87: for some reason, nobody noted the year. I guess, when you’re 16, there haven’t been enough years yet for it not to be obvious which one is meant. A bunch of silly letters from my friend Alan, a few sketches we wrote together back when I wasn’t paid to be unfunny.

And then a curious pair of letters from two girls in school, who were each others’ best buddies. One of them was probably the only girl in school I ever took an interest in; my nervousness built until one day I’d plucked up the courage to call and ask her out – the phone rang before I could dial, and she asked me out… on behalf of her best friend.

The letters relate to the aftermath of the annual school trip to Stratford-on-Avon. Both apologise profusely for making my life hell; one declares undying love, the other has a somewhat more subtle frisson. The tragedy is this: I have absolutely no recollection of that particular Stratford Trip, beyond David Calder fresh out of Star Cops and in something fairly dreadful at The Swan.

What the hell happened on that particular Stratford trip? From the letters, it was fairly Earth-shattering at the time. How curious, I have no memory of angst there at all. Which begs the leading question: when people write their autobiographies, they’re making half of it up, aren’t they?

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