Changing stations

Dec 17th, 2009 | By | Category: Personal Columns

The end of term: the boarding school finished yesterday, the college finishes tomorrow.  Memories come back of returning from London in December 1979, thirty years ago.   Growing up I was the yokelest of the yokels, the hickest of the hicks. In Ireland, I think that would be the culchiest of the culchies. Somerset was not the centre of the world; in fact it was not the centre of anything.

Going to university in London when I was eighteen, I became very aware of being a rustic. I remember a very suave third year student showing us around the London School of Economics during Freshers Week. She had a purple Mini with one of those stickers on the back, ‘I’ and then a red heart and then ‘NY’. ‘What a strange name’, I thought, ‘Iony – maybe she is Scottish’.

I became worldly wise fairly quickly, but there was always one group of people I found intimidating: the sort of people who went to particular discos (as they were known then) and who were into particular dance music – in 1979, the ‘in’ music was rap. I’m never quite sure, but they always seemed much more cosmopolitan, much more sophisticated. I always avoided such company and I would never have had the confidence to set foot in the clubs. I always had the wrong clothes, anyway.

For years, when scanning through the radio frequencies in England late at night, I would once more get the sense of feeling intimidated by particular DJs, the ones who spoke with their own patter, their own language, which excluded people like me.

A few years back, I pondered what it was that so frightened me, and I couldn’t figure it out. The people who went to the discos weren’t particularly cosmopolitan or sophisticated; they were just people who liked dressing up and enjoying a night out. They didn’t even get into fights; unlike some of the guys who went to the football matches that I attended without any hesitation.

I think the fear I experienced was that most primeval of all fears, the fear of the unknown.

(Maybe it’s the sort of fear that some people experience when setting foot in church for the first time, the fear of being dressed wrongly or speaking wrongly or doing the wrong thing. If someone felt one fraction of the fear that I felt when confronted by the dancegoers, then I can understand how they would never want to come back!)

Driving home yesterday and flicking the radio from RTE 1 to Lyric, I remembered the point when I had switched away from BBC Radio 1, with which I had grown up.  I remember being one of those odd beings who switched directly from Radio 1 to listening to Classic FM, skipping all the stations in between .  It was 1992 and Radio 1 had lost its cosiness and friendliness and started having presenters who baffled me.  They sounded like the sort of people who would have purple Minis with stickers on the back, and whose friends all dressed fashionably.

It is good to have reached the age when the unknown no longer much matters.

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  1. Hmm I still fear the unknown but I’m not as bothered these days by dress codes!

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