Sunday, 20 February 2011

The Era of the Upside Down Ketchup Bottle 1990- 1993

An article I recently submitted to my old university magazine, Pluto. Should be published within a fortnight.

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A glorious time of cheap beer, freezing houses, brilliant music and old clothes.


In the late 80s students could claim housing benefit and also Income Support during holidays. They were awarded the legendary “grant” that increased every year in line with inflation. That is until 1988 when it was frozen, never to be raised again and the HB and IS were dropped. In 1990 it was £2500 per year,
covering all food, rent and expenses although fees were fully paid for by the Government. Rent in the halls of residence was £29.90 per week. A week’s shopping could be had for 5 quid and a pint of bitter was 85p in the Union bar. The majority of students had little or no money and those that drank were obliged to budget carefully for food. One of the bestselling student self help books was “Grub On A Grant” (think “staying alive for dummies”).

Poll tax had its brief yet nauseating tenure as a legal nuisance back then. Students were exempt for all but 25% but as we knew that they were abolishing it in a couple of years no one bothered to cough up.

From 1990 to 1993 dressing down was the thing.

It didn’t matter how rich you were, the standard uniform amongst the predominantly left wing student body was Doctor Marten boots or Converse All Stars plus baggy jeans (preferably ripped) and a t-shirt with your fave polticial cause (No Means No, Anti-Animal Testing) or your fave band (Blur or Ride).

The biggest worry was trying to keep the house warm.

Most students appeared to live in rented terraced houses where no one could afford to put the heating on. We just wore layers of jumpers and it was not uncommon for opposite sex friends to share a bed if one needed to sleep over, without any question of a shag being considered. The lucky few got Halls of Residence which were permanently toasty even in summer. Female students were exclusively housed on the 3rd floor, apparently to deter male ne’er do wells. In Halls there were no tenants’ rights and more than one Fresher found themselves homeless after causing too much noise or damage after a night out. Pontins in Blackpool did brisk business with the student body every October as the polytechnic always booked more students than they could accommodate and let them sort themselves out.


None of us had mobile phones back then. If you had a house phone it was set to “incoming only” and if you didn’t you arranged a time to be stood in the phone box down the street for your significant other or mother to call.

Music was sublime. Mock Turtles, Daisy Chainsaw, The Levellers, Carter the Unstoppable Sex Machine and Stone Roses to name but 5. In 1992 Nirvana growled their way into the charts with “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and you had to time it just right so that you moshed at the good bit and not the quiet bit.

I entered Preston Polytechnic in 1990 but graduated from UCLAN in 1993. The Venue bar was the main student hang out with the SU Executive corridor on the left and The Greenhouse to the right serving food. Beyond that was another smaller bar called 42nd Street. A games room above the Venue was converted into a third bar in 1991 and after toying with what to name it they plumped for The Polygon.

Vic Reeves Big Night Out did a gig at the Venue in October 1990 which was the biggest name we had for some considerable time. VP Social Wood Wise pointed out that his annual budget was 10 grand and although we’d had Ned’s Atomic Dustbin the previous year, they were now 8 grand a night and playing the Guildhall. His predecessor was Tjinder Npuri who later went on to form the band Cornershop under the name Tjinder Singh. He resigned in 1991, shortly before a scheduled vote of No Confidence against him could go ahead.

The Variety pub was originally the Hearts of Oak until they spent thousands on a refurb and creamed it in until the Adelphi bought the gun shop next door and knocked it through to make an uber-pub that was still doing good business well into the 2000s.

Ye Old Politician (formerly The Duke of York, later The Honey Lounge) was a theme pub on Friargate that had latex puppets of famous MPs of the time, including an animatronic one of David Mellor shagging.

The less morally salubrious members of the male student body called term one, week one “FAF week” while a 2:2 honours degree was a Desmond (Tutu) and 3rd was a “Douglas” (after Tory MP Douglas Hurd).

Nearly all clubs had student nights. Plan carefully and you could be out every evening on cheap booze (except Sunday for detox).

Monday: The Warehouse. Rock and Indie club that was coming into its own in the early 90s. The Stone Roses had played there and Henry Rollins got beaten up in the mosh pit when Black Flag did a gig.

Tuesday: The Gatsby with it’s two level drinking area and big dance floor.

Wednesday: Wall Street. Huge theme pub on Fishergate with the world’s first cube TV dangling from the ceiling.

Thursday: Tokyo Joes was a massive club students frequented and crap TV show The Hitman and Her was filmed there twice.

Friday & Saturday: The Rave at the SU Venue. The queue could last 2 hours and a bouncer nicknamed Harley Davidson worked there. He took great delight in spotting people pushing in the line and only letting on when they got to the door. At which point he’d growl “f**k off to the back or go home!!!


Subsidised booze was always to be had on student nights with shots of vodka for 50p along with strange offers like “free Guinness for 5 minutes” (cue much grunting and shoving at the bar).

The baptism by fire for most Freshers was the Charity Three-Legged Pyjama Pub Crawl. With a partner lashed to your leg you had to navigate about 15 pubs and survive crossing Death Roundabout outside The Adelphi as you drunkenly lurched your way up Friargate. The first one I did had the stipulation that men must drink a pint or shot and women COULD drink a half if they liked. This was changed for the Spring 1991 repeat mainly down to allegations of sexism but also due to the amount of people pissing/ puking in public, going blind or shagging in pub car parks.

Pluto was a fortnightly red, black & white broadsheet and editor Paul Tate’s “Bad Taste” page (with a cartoon of two guys power vomiting) had contributions that made the Right On dudes seethe over their lentils. My fave was the letter from “The Campaign for the Compulsory Castration of Men Who Stand for the Subjection of Women” in response to a poem in the previous issue entitled “Girl Freshers”.

I stood for VP Press Officer in 1993 but came second out of six candidates (including the irritating R.O.N). My advertising campaign was “vote Lance Manley, he drinks ale and smokes fags”. I tried to go with “vote Lance Richard Manley…he’s got a bigger dick” but that was vetoed by the SU Exec’ with the justification (and I quote) “what if a young girl who’d been raped saw that poster”.


While being PC was expected for you to get on in the Union or its activities, the difference between then and now was that opposing opinions were not shouted down or outlawed. The expression “I don’t agree with what you say but I would defend your right to say it” was uttered more than once by those who wanted Nelson Mandella beatified but realised a democracy meant everyone had the right to express an opinion.

However, the Black society were not castigated in the slightest after tearing down posters advertising a White society whie the Wimmin’s society were secretly applauded for wrecking any chance of a Men’s society (although I took great delight in seeing how long it took them to tear down the spoof posters I put up for a live performance by “Warriors With Crowded Cod Pieces” to publicise their new album “Death Phallus”. Think they lasted about 20 minutes).

The Students Union was buzzing with Right On views and anyone standing for President had better have their politically correct head screwed on. Paul McGrath, Prez from 1992-1993 was a keen hunt saboteur. The sabattical VP positions back then were Press Officer, Welfare, Social, Finance and Women’s. The latter position was held by angry young wofem Maxine-Anne Ross, who barely survived a vote of No Confidence after handing out leaflets that declared that “if a man buys a woman flowers and chocolates to ensure sex upon a one night stand…then that is rape”.

While most of us regarded this as a period that history would look back on and wince at, like a drunken aunt being photographed dancing at a wedding, what we never expected was that this type of attitude would, 20 years later, get into mainstream politics and even affect the police.

Death cigarettes were marketed in the SU shop (coffin shaped presentation box, skull on the packet, slogan “these fags will kill you”) for their brief but amusing stint at bringing honesty into ciggy advertising and Boddingtons bitter introduced the “widget” which, for the first time, meant that you could get a pub-style “head” on beer poured from a can.

While the Internet was years away, you could get “chat” on the computers in the library and various computer rooms around the uni. The computers were 386s with bright orange text. This meant you had to turn it on and wait for 10 minutes while it booted up. Windows 3.0, we don’t miss you.

I was in Preston recently and there wasn't a Doctor Marten in sight. Most students live at home and the Angry Young Persons are not holding the NUS Sabbatical positions any longer.

If you weren't there, you'll never know.


1 comment:

  1. A fantastic summation of all the great stuff I remember, and some of it that I don't!

    ReplyDelete

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