What is the World Coming to? I said to myself with a disdainful shake of the head. At that point I knew I had crossed the boundary into old age. I spent my youth listening to elderly relatives show their disillusionment towards planet earth and its people. I never understood what all the complaining was about; Stop being disappointed with the 90’s! I would tell them in my head.
I admit I did have feelings of anxiety throughout the earlier 1980´s. It was a controversial decade in modern British history. We had the Falklands War with Argentina, the great council-house sell-off, the de-regulatory Big Bang in the City, the beleaguered miners’ strike, the ongoing provisional IRA campaign and of course the ascendancy of Margaret Thatcher.
They say the 1970’s was even worse, but I was too young to remember. They blamed the failed quasi-socialist politics of the post war years, and demanded change. They voted conservative for the very first time, and elected Thatcher. Sometimes “they” are architects of their own downfall.
Don’t get me wrong, the 1980’s was not all bad. The music, the weird clothes and the mullets were all good; I think. Well, actually maybe not the mullets. My mother enforced a mullet on me as a child and it was a hellish experience. She described it as a “mod” haircut, but I dont think she really understood the British subculture. It was just her go-to word for anything fashionable.
The 1980’s also started my love of film. The Goonies, the original Indiana Jones trilogy, Back to the Future, Gremlins, Die Hard, Aliens, E.T, Ghostbusters, Rambo, Robocop, Top Gun and of course the first Star Wars trilogy. What a decade of movies for a young boy to grow up on.
I was a big Arnie fan in my early years. When our local corner shop got a video rental rack in the early 1980’s, my mother would give me unlimited discretionary power to choose my own film. This was most likely born from an ignorance of film classification certificates; after all, it was a very different time back then. I fondly remember watching The Terminator at the grand old age of nine, and being partially disturbed the next day in primary school; those were the days!
By the time we hit the 1990´s the national mood had changed. We were coming to the end of the Cold War, the Berlin Wall had come down, and Thatcher was ousted in early 1990. The hard political and social battles had been fought and won, and now we were in a new transition towards positive change. It actually felt good, and the future looked promising, not that that you would think so to hear the elders blather-on. Chastising the dance and drug culture that had emerged was their favourite past-time by then.
New British prime minister John Major was a stark Tory contrast to the Iron Lady. One of my favourite T.V shows of the time was the satirical puppet show Spitting Image. After becoming prime minister the John Major puppet was redesigned as a grey skinned, pea eating bore that I had no affection for. It pretty much summed up his entire seven years as premier, kicking off his stint with a good old fashion recession.
Despite the recession the feeling in the country seem to be growing more positive after the 1980’s mayhem. Ýet trouble is always just around the corner, and after Iraq invaded Kuwait, the first Gulf War kicked off in 1991. I heard the news that the bombing had commenced while out with my friends on an evening, and we worked ourselves into a frenzy. Maybe its was the male hormones that had recently kicked in, or the fact we had been watching Platoon and Full Metal jacket throughout our formative years. But I am ashamed to say I was pretty excited at the prospect of being at war.
The Gulf War was really a show of U.S military might alongside its coalition partners, and the Iraqi forces were steam rolled into submission relatively quickly. We also had the IRA bombing campaign on the mainland U.K. The IRA mounted several big spectaculars with bombs at Canary Wharf and the Docklands and while these both resulted in deaths, it was the Warrington bombings that garnered the most coverage during the 90’s.
On March the 20th 1992 the provisional IRA detonated bombs in two separate incidents around Warrington. One at a gas storage facility causing extensive damage, and another outside shops and businesses in Bridge Street. The second bomb killed two young children. Three-year-old Johnathan Ball died at the scene. He had been in town with his babysitter, shopping for a Mother’s Day card. The second victim, 12-year-old Tim Parry, was gravely wounded. He died on 25 March 1993 when his life support machine was switched off. The Cranberries famous hit Zombie is based on the Warrington bombing, and even in the Republic of Ireland the incident caused large public protests.
The death of Johnathan Ball particularly impacted me at the time. My own younger brother was not much older, and there was something heart wrenching about the fact he was shopping for a mothers day card. The IRA bombings were a big worry to me growing up, and I used to spend time perplexing over the countries safety. I just wanted a safe childhood, and a safe childhood for all the other children. The children of Northern Ireland had grown up with significantly more worries than I could imagine.
In 1994 the Provisional IRA announced a ceasefire. Westminster, the government of the Republic of Ireland and the IRA had been engaged in secret peace talks, and progress on Northern Ireland self determination was sufficient enough to allow the IRA leadership to announce a ceasefire. Loyalists Paramilitaries followed suit a few months later. I had left school by this point and it really did feel like were approaching a great time of prosperity and security.
1996 was my favourite sporting year in history so far. The Euro 96 in England was a brilliant tournament, and we even beat Spain on penalties, hallelujah! The English pemier league was on fire with Alan Shearer going to Newcastle for a record £15 million on the back of his Euro 96 performances. Football superstars came to the EPL for the first time in droves. The likes of Fabrizio Ravanelli, Emerson, Gianluca Vialli and Gianfranca Zola were dazzling editions to the league.
In other sports, England won the five nations thanks to the likes of Paul Grayson, Jeremy Guscott, and Rory Underwood. My love of boxing was quenched with the Oscar De La Hoya v Julio Cesar Chavez superfight, and I became more interested in the early brutal UFC tournaments. Damon Hill won the Formula 1 championship to become the second British champion of the 90’s, after Nigel Mansell in 92. Oh how I loved 1996.
1997 crept up on me without warning, and so did the first UK general election where I was eligible to vote. I just missed out on the 1992 Major/Kinnock/Ashdown showdown which ended with a John Major victory, despite opinion polls having Neil Kinnock ahead since 1989. The 1997 general election pitted Major once again against the James Bond of politics, Paddy Ashdown of the Liberal Democrats. But in the Labour camp Kinnock had been replaced by the new kid on the block, Anthony Charles Lynton Blair.
Tony Blair had taken over from Kinnock in 1994 and by the time of the election had created over a 10 point swing in the polls.