Why is David Essex in my attic?

Usually I discuss my own writing here but tonight my head’s occupied with other people’s work. Specifically, that of an 18 year old in the early 80s.

First, some backstory. Allow me to set the scene.

The loft in our (rented) house is being insulated tomorrow, so my stepdad and I braved splinters, spiders and shrouded cobwebs, and cupboard doors balanced on the joists in lieu of flooring, to shift the accumulated debris of at least five decades to the centre of the ‘floor’. There were hideous teapots, a lonely mirror, a pink suitcase from the 1950s, binbags of modern stuffed toys, a brand new hula hoop, a Tammy Wynette CD, a Rod Stewart DVD, and piles of old books.

‘Swiss Family Robinson’, ‘Robinson Crusoe’… some damp, all dusty, one with a bookplate inside the front cover saying ‘Session 1901/1902 – PRIZE – awarded to Willie Begbie for Cane-Weaving, Junior Division’… and eight volumes of A4 diaries from the pen of a previous inhabitant of our house. On the 1st January 1981, he was 18, and the volumes follow him through an accountancy course in Stirling, breakups and bustups, a flirtation with communism and astrology, hassle from the job centre, and his worries about his figure – and whether he had a beer belly. Tomorrow I’ll have a word with our neighbours who’ve been here 40 odd years and see if they know how we can track him down.

Curiosity got the better of me, and I flicked through each volume in case there was a photo or anything like that in between the pages, browsing through the stranger’s ups and downs before I realised ‘hang on, this guy might not be too keen on me reading all about his teenage angst and struggles with chocolate biscuits’.

So I’ve stopped, for now, and the pile is stacked in his/my/our kitchen while I work out what to do next. If the neighbours don’t know how to get hold of him I’ll try the local paper. I’m keeping his name out of it to spare his blushes, but to be honest, he sounds great. I’d love to meet him and ask just one thing: is the 1976 David Essex annual (complete with biro’d beard) his?

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