And yes, it really is 40 years ago.
For anyone of at least 55 or so, that’s quite a startling thought. For whilst it may not feel quite like yesterday, memories are surely so sharp and acute for the era of the 1980s.
For it really was a turning point in so many ways.
Which is one of the reasons I chose the year 1983 to set my fourth novel, The Odyssey of Lily Page.
Some fascinating or facile facts – depending on your point of view – about 1983 for a start.
A pound of Irish Cheddar Cheese cost around 88p, a pint of milk 21p.
A gallon of petrol was £1. 76.
The average house price was £36,000.
And if you wanted to buy a really up-to-the-moment 22 inch colour TV? That would have set you back around £400. An automatic washing machine? Around £290.
Of course all these prices have to be placed in the context of wages at this time. And in addition to this the extraordinary inequality between men and women’s wages in 1983.
Yet setting this aside, it’s easy to see that milk was relatively cheaper and washing machines considerably dearer!
But it’s not the retail price index of 1983 that attracts me to set my latest novel over the course of that year.
It’s more about the pivotal nature of it – the year when the decade of the 1980s really began to stand out from previous and subsequent ones.
And before any astute and learned historians or sociologists among you shoot me down, I have to confess to my observations being entirely personal, narrow and confined to where I was living, what I lived through and experienced.
Like my eponymous protagonist, Lily Page, I too was living in London in 1983 – single and working as a teacher in the city – in the Barbican – close to where Lily lives in Islington. I knew Islington’s streets, its cafes and its decidedly evolving nature. In 1983, Lily is 50 – I was decades behind her, I hasten to add – and, having lived in the same street her entire life, the radical changes happening around her go almost unnoticed.
For a while at least. (note: read the novel to find out more!)
For change was palpable.
Slowly, but decidedly, attitudes, norms and values, were affecting the way we lived, our aspirations and outlooks. And for women in particular, this shift was considerable.
After all, it was not until 1975 that the Sex Discrimination Act made it illegal to discriminate against women – effectively, this meant that finally working women could apply and obtain mortgages in their own right.
I think it’s very hard for young women today to grasp how relatively recent this aspect of emancipation occurred.
But back to 1983.
In many ways, Dickens sums it up – although he wasn’t, naturally, predicting the state of things in 1983:
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness …
and so on.
Unemployment was at post war record high levels. Yet in city wine bars champagne was the favoured tipple on the way home from work each evening and from lunch time onward on a Friday.
A 14 mile human chain was formed in protest at the siting of American nuclear weapons in British military bases whilst Richard Attenborough’s film Ghandi was scooping 8 Academy Awards.
The summer of 1983 experienced a heatwave with temperatures reaching 33 degrees in London.
Meanwhile on the political front:
Just to add to your knowledge of the year for some possible future pub quiz, let me also tell you that at the general election of June 1983, 3 new members of parliament were elected who would go on to become future Labour party leaders – namely, Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and Jeremy Corbyn – the latter for Lily Page’s constituency of Islington.
There you are – told you it was a very significant year!
And if you want to know more about 1983, you will have to buy my new novel, The Odyssey of Lily Page, when it comes out at the end of November!