The year is 1991, the town Lisburn, Northern Ireland. Scrunchies and shell suits are in, and no girl worth her salt shops anywhere that isn’t C & A or Tammy Girl. It is just before my ninth Christmas and I, along with many other army brats are awaiting the arrival of the festive military Santa (aka, my dad).
As the other children open their Barbie Dolls, Walk-mans and hi-tops, I unwrap my gift. A heavy, hardback, brand-spanking new Hi! Annual. A real one!
I cannot tell you how happy that gift made me. Lots of others that year were lovely but that annual was the start of a love affair for me – the very first in a collection that eventually expanded to include Blue Jeans, Jackie’s and many others dating from late sixties editions to the mid-nineties.
Hours were spent scouring charity book shop shelves in pursuit of more editions. No cover was too garish, no advice too twee – my annual collection was my pride and joy!
Back at the very start though, the Hi! Annual was a treasure to be cherished and honoured. Such advice, so many tips – I read them all again and again, eager to absorb such nuggets of wisdom as:
“Don’t EVER have a tattoo done! They look cheap and nasty and are almost impossible to remove”.
“Shades look great on the beach – but stupid if you wear them indoors. Not only will you not be able to see but you will look a proper prat”.
Hours were spent working out if I agreed with waist-coated, permed agony aunt Jill as to whether or not Mandy should tell Louise that her rat of a boyfriend was cheating on her (names changed to protect the innocent – we never did find out for real!).
‘Hunky’ posters of such catches as Big Fun, Bros and Charlie Sheen were to be admired, but under NO circumstances pulled from the book. And no new friend or crush was chosen without checking the incredibly scientific ‘Friend or Foe’ star-sign guide to compatibility (which of course I did NOT use to check my husband’s Cancerian status to my Taurean one last night).
This annual was my nine year olds bible of style and each word it contained gospel. I dreamed of owning a No 7. Stackable pallet and spent more hours then I care to admit desperately trying to get my hair to curl (read frizz) in the same way as the Hi! Makeovers.
At seventeen when my annual collection finally disappeared for good I was devastated. I moved so many times in the next few years and grew far beyond tales of school friend dilemmas and how-to guides involving lemon juice. I never stopped missing my nights spent with my annuals though and dreamed instead of writing such marvels myself (a dream I achieved delightfully).
So you can imagine my absolute joy when I discovered an old copy of that very first annual in a local gift shop; a bargain at just £3! Last night was spent happily thumbing through, my inner nine-year old squealing with delight.
The all-growed-up me was pretty happy too and something really struck me. The book, for all its sage advice, was beautifully innocent. The girls were just appropriately (borderline frumpily but that was ’91 for you). The boys all had undercuts and blue eyes, but were NEVER more important than school-work or best-friends and the best friends worst offences were forgetting to pass a note in class.
In short our generation had terrible style, but a beautiful innocence, lost to today’s young people. I think I may restart my collection for my nieces. And maybe, just maybe, at thirty two I can finally master the scrunch!