Seeing red: teen diary tweets from the Socialist Republic of South Yorkshire
Why begin your day with a gobful of granola and a gaze into the abyss when you could get things off to a great start with my Twitter account, Back in the S.R.S.Y.? It features daily teen diary tweets from my time as citizen of the Socialist Republic of South Yorkshire, and back in 2016 I wrote about it for Sheffield’s Now Then magazine.
Badges were big in South Yorkshire in the 1980s. Whether you were a music-loving schoolkid or a picket-hardened pitman, badges formed the slogan-heavy chain-mail that helped you survive those rough-and-tumbling times.
My favourite badge of the period showed a red flag on a white background. Across the scarlet banner were emblazoned the words ‘Socialist Republic of South Yorkshire’. To me, it was a tribute to our embattled Labour council in the face of Margaret Thatcher’s evangelical free-market zeal.
At least, that’s how I read it during the decade’s young years when, as an over-serious Sheffield teen, I could get as excited about subsidised bus fares as I did about Top of the Pops. But as Britain metamorphosed from a knockabout kingdom of bin strikes and flared trousers into a nation that was sterner, stone-washed and skin-tight, I too underwent a transformation – from local Labour cheerleader to Labour-loathing, paper-selling revolutionary.
By 1985, my disdain for Labour’s class traitors was total, and the idea that our cuddly county council had succeeded where Leon Trotsky failed made me laugh. Yet I couldn’t leave that ‘Socialist Republic’ slogan behind.
It had originally been coined by local Conservatives in an attempt to mock our city’s municipal socialism, but I refashioned it in my mind as a personal epithet denoting a more idealistic dream. I imagined a world in which we not only flew the red flag from Sheffield Town Hall (which really happened on May Day 1983), but also built barricades just south of Beighton, just north of Barnsley, and established a utopia that owed nothing to the world beyond.
In 1918, the American journalist John Reed wrote Ten Days That Shook the World – his eye-witness account of the Russian Revolution in which the minutiae of life during that clamorous time added the colour that brought grand political gestures to life.
It’s a long time since I read it, but I’ve never lost my fascination for the everyday details that make specific times and places so distinctive. And it was this notion that sprang to mind a few years ago as I perused my old badge collection – as I said, they were big in the 80s – and picked out that ‘Socialist Republic’ specimen for nostalgic inspection.
It was strange to hold it again. Once, it had been a background detail in a world of pressing political concerns, but nestling in my palm over 30 years on, it seemed like a relic from a near-imaginary age.
And I realised that stashed away in my old diaries, I had more of the same – page after page of daily details describing the era’s everyday life along with my fervent political dreams. From angsty teen trivia to fiery revolutionary outbursts, it was all there – and it was then that Back in the S.R.S.Y. was born.
Back in the S.R.S.Y. is a Twitter account (@SRSYdiaries) that delivers “vintage teen diary tweets from deep within the Socialist Republic of South Yorkshire, 1979-1986”. Each daily tweet is a genuine entry from my old journals. The mix of contemporary detail, political naivety and industrial-grade teenage tedium has attracted a few hundred followers including local lefties, social historians, 1980s enthusiasts and assorted pop culture fans.
There are undoubtedly some giggles to be had at my Adrian Mole-ish expense, but Back in the S.R.S.Y. isn’t always about delivering a laugh. In 140 characters or fewer, followers simply get a glimpse of one life lived in a Sheffield that now seems rather distant – where the Battle of Orgreave was as important as my struggle to win a game of Top Trumps.
So whether you experienced the period first hand or it all happened years before you were born, why not give Back in the S.R.S.Y. a follow? It’s no Ten Days That Shook the World, that much I admit. But Seven Years That Gave South Yorkshire a Wobble?
I think I might settle for that.
Text and images © Damon Fairclough 2016
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