The eighties. Rock legends Genesis deftly summed up the decade as a ‘Land of confusion’. Metaphorically, I was living the soundtrack. Whilst lyrics reflected the dystopian turbulence of Cold War power struggles and threat of nuclear war, my own youthful anxieties were – in my naivety – of parallel consequence.
Teenage years; hormones, constant exams, looming threat of leaving home, boyfriends, driving lessons, further education decisions, the assault course of girl-pal relationships gyrating like a temperature dial in September.
Added to this heady landscape, voluminous, hard-set hair, lacy shirts and woolly leg warmers jostled for the lead role as we mirrored Madonna and her Material Girl garb. I can clearly remember applying and checking fluorescent orange lipstick in a car’s wing mirror en route local flesh-pot, the Gibson Craig disco.
Somewhere along this fashionable rough track, Lycra made an unwelcome appearance. Just as the body was morphing into something shapelier than a piece of Jenga, you were expected to wrap it in an unforgiving coating of multi-coloured humanoid cling film, possibly causing the occupant more long-term body-conscious issues than a straight-forward “Oi, Miss Blobby” in the playground.
Dovetailing these fashion dilemmas, the world suffered an inexplicably concentrated series of brutal catastrophes: King’s Cross fire, November ’87; the Piper Alpha explosion, July ’88; Clapham Junction’s rail crash months later in December and, just a few painful days afterwards, Pan Am Flight 103 crashed out of the sky into the peaceful Scottish town of Lockerbie, causing seismic physical and political modification.
Heart-breaking tragedies, irrevocably altered lives' and history – simultaneously erecting an uneasy backdrop to my teen years.
In the spotlight, a brightly coloured, economically resurgent landscape bobbed to a musically vibrant dialogue; backstage, an unsettling chorus of adults lamenting these catastrophes, unable to offer certainty to the emerging generation.
I left those troublesome years without a backwards glance, relieved to jettison a turbulent world of teendom so synonymous with troubling news and its plethora of indecision. I was hungry for conformity, to follow a style, a pattern of learning, regular jobs, consistent partners. There was a future to be established; I was keen to face it, and without the assistance of Elnett hair spray.
But thirty long years later, the land of confusion has returned, threatening every aspect of our future. It wasn’t supposed to be like this. Not a series of coincidental catastrophes but an insidious, all-pervading pandemic eating into the fabric of our lives.
Nothing is certain anymore. Youth's innocent concerns of 1980s are dwarfed by the trepidations shouldered by today’s young, so suddenly wrenched from their natural evolution at the beginning of this year, forced to consider futures long before their time.
From whichever perspective you choose, the outlook is bleak. The economy is tanking, health and job prospects declining, environment in peril. Government messages change by the day and by the postcode, urging further sacrifice of meagre plans and undermining fragile relationships.
Speaking to a friend living in Glasgow’s Great Western Road, I suggested we meet for a walk.
“We’re not allowed,” she replied.
“But I thought it was OK if we met outside and stayed two metres apart?”
“No, I don’t think so.”
Confused and uncertain, we consulted various websites, ascertaining that an outside meeting was indeed permissible but inadvisable given potential for spread. An intelligent, worldly lady, she has found herself so swiftly inured by regulations that the confines of self-imposed isolation are easier to accommodate than the shifting sands of the current world.
Covid-19 is proving to be a virus that doesn’t just burrow into the lungs of the world; it attaches itself to our psyche, rapidly chipping away at our brio and self-esteem. Like the events of 9/11, 23 March, 2020, is now the axle on which the world turned. Our snow-globe of life shaken and stirred, leaving us suspended in a swirling limbo. For that reason, now more than ever, it’s vital to find hope, however confused we may feel.
“We must straighten our backs and work for our freedom,” said the wonderful Martin Luther King, Jr. It wasn’t a deadly virus to which he was referring of course, but the sentiment is wholly appropriate in current circumstances.
Time to walk tall indeed, face down this enemy. It will be a long road but there’s a whole generation of bright young things who’ve already lost half a year of their precious lives’. We owe it to these youngsters to ensure there’s a good future, leaving them to concentrate on the really important things in life like gaudy lipstick and backcombed hair.
Or was that just me?