The best and worst of School in the 1980s

School in the 1980s

School in the 1980s was great. It was just after corporal punishment was abolished and teachers weren’t subject to rigorous testing by OFSTED, so they’d spend a lot of time out of the classroom drinking whisky in the staff room or crying in the cloakrooms allowing you and your mates to have winnet[1] fights. Here are a few of the things happening in schools in the 1980s you might remember.

Traffic Surveys

It felt like we had to do a traffic survey every few weeks at Primary School. The teacher would shove a clipboard and pen in our hands then tell us to go stand near a busy road and count the cars.  Sometimes, we even had to record how many cars of each colour had passed in the allotted time period. This all seemed very educational; the possibilities for workshops and subsequent lessons seemed limitless. We could have discussed pollution and its impact on the environment, the process through which town and city planners pass to design and build new roads and traffic calming measures – the list is endless.  However, we never so much as drew a bar graph or even collated a table of data with which to forecast or interpret trends via data analysis techniques. It only dawned on me much later in life (probably five minutes ago actually) that there were never any teachers with us when we were standing on the side of the road for three hours.  Come to think of it, the teacher was always in a strangely good mood when we finally came back to school, had slightly red cheeks and called us all his ‘best mate’.

Clang Ball

There is no other way to describe this item of playground equipment than a ‘clang ball’. It was the sound it made as it hit the asphalt and the sound it made in the back of your brain when someone hit you in the face with one.  Don’t confuse these with the light plastic ‘penny floaters’ which you could buy from all good newsagents for the princely sum of £1.  No, these were made with industrial grade plastic, always unfathomably over-inflated and covered in pimples with all the properties of a jellyfish.  These balls bounced higher than any ball, travelled faster than any ball and removed skin when it so much as touched your aura.


A compass was three things in one. It was a lethal weapon, a tool to draw circles and something you could use to gouge graffiti into your school desk. Back before health and safety was something people cared about, these were handed to children without discrimination to use as they saw fit.  Of course, drawing perfect circles was hugely necessary in the teachings of Pythagoras, John Venn and the inventor of the Olympics logo.  Not so much for the rest of your life after leaving school. If you get caught by the police in public with one of these dangerous weapons, your excuse needs to be better than, ‘I just love Geometry so much’.

Free Milk

At the age of four, I’d never ever wanted to drink milk of my own accord.  I’d drink it from my cereal bowl when I’d overestimated the cereal to milk ratio, but never on it’s own from a glass.  However, just before morning play time at infant school, the teacher would march us all down the corridor to a crate of tiny milk bottles by the Headmaster’s study.  She’d then instruct us to take one each (complete with straw) and make our way back to the classroom.  We all had to sit on a square of carpet in the corner of the room, stick the straw into the foil lid (like an elaborate kind of CapriSun) and sit in awkward silence punctuated by slurping and swallowing noises.

It went down a treat and I would always hang around the door of the classroom when I’d finished my bottle, peeking down the corridor to see if there were any left after the other classes had been to get theirs.

Once the bell rang for playtime, you’d go out and play. One thing I don’t recommend, and it makes me gag to think of it now, is to go and run around for fifteen minutes when you’re full of milk. The reason being, you’ll very soon not be full of milk.

Gloy gum

This was a clear type of honey coloured glue in a bottle with a rubber top which acted as an applicator. I defy anyone reading this right now to deny they used to cover their hands in it, wait for it to dry and then peel it off like some weird zombie with a fetish.

It’s more common cousin was PVA glue which came in tall white bottles. This was used for the exact same thing and sometimes, craft projects.

Shatterproof rulers

These 30cm beasts had to be carried in a school bag because they wouldn’t fit in a pencil case. I much preferred my six inch one. It never got in the way and it did the job adequately. I’m still talking about my ruler by the way. The 30cm version had the words ‘shatterproof’ or ‘Shatter Resistant’ printed in huge letters down the middle. I’m not sure what people were doing with rulers beforehand that prompted a company to start advertising that their rulers were shatterproof.  We’d re-enact scenes from ‘Robin of Sherwood’ using rulers as swords whilst the teacher was out of the room, but I don’t think we were ever in any danger of ending up with bits of shattered ruler in our eye balls.

At the age of seven, I thought the word ‘shatterproof’ meant ‘indestructible’ and took it as a challenge.  ‘Of course I can shatter it’, I thought to myself, and promptly bent it in half until it snapped. ‘Ha, I showed them!’, I thought and to my delight, I’d created two six-inch rulers! What a good day that was!

[1] Chewed up paper blown through a biro with the ink removed

The best and worst of 80s Food (Part 2)

Curly Wurly

Curly Wurlies are a kind of chocolate trellis up which you can train strawberry laces. Seemingly random wiggling and intersecting snakes of caramel are enrobed in chocolate. As with most of Cadbury’s products, they’re not as large now as they were in the 80s. Or maybe that’s because my hands are bigger these days and they seem smaller by comparison? Or it could be a perspective thing as my arms are longer now and they’re further away from my eyes?


These are crisps which have been shaped into circles (hence the name) and flavoured with the most powerful essences at mankind’s command. The Salt and Vinegar ones could remove the enamel from your teeth and cause at least one of your eyes to do a 360. Forget the Ghost Chilli Challenge, try eating that triangular collection of flavoured dust that collected in the bottom corner of the packet without passing out.


What I’ve just read, I don’t like or believe. Apparently, there is no singular Flump. One of these squishy items of confectionary is called a ‘Flumps’.

One Flumps.

Does this mean that more than one Flumps is called some Flumpses? I always thought they were named as such because they were fluffy lumps. Lumps of pink, yellow and white marshmallow, usually spiralled around each other.

Having said all that, you haven’t lived unless you’ve tried the chocolate covered flumps they sell in the bigger confectionery shops in shopping centres. Forget Mana or Nectar – I think the Gods all sit around on gold thrones knocking back bags of chocolate flumps.

Love Hearts

These were a bit creepy. They were aimed at kids yet they were emblazoned with slogans such as ‘Tease me’, ‘Will you’ and ‘True lips’. I think you were supposed to offer one to someone you liked, making sure the next one in the packet carried a slogan which represented your sentiments. Offering someone a Love Heart was the 80s version of Tinder. Eating the offered Love Heart was the equivalent of swiping right. Shaking your head and walking away was swiping left and taking the packet out of someone’s hand and throwing it over a wall was the equivalent of blocking them and contacting the authorities.

The makers of Love Hearts tried to move with the times by including phrases in the 90s such as ‘Fax me’ and ‘Page me’; these days I’m told they have ‘Tweet me’, ‘Take a Selfie’, ‘Increase my self-worth by clicking like on my social media post’ and ‘That TikTok dance you did in Aldi’s car park will come back to haunt you worse than that picture of your dad in the 70s with his walrus ‘tashe and mullet’.

Monster Munch

These were referred to as ‘crisps’ for some reason. However, inside the packet you’d find some oil with three corn representations of a monster’s foot floating in it. Because the ‘crisps’ were so massive, you only got a maximum of four in the bag and they left a greasy residue on your fingers that you could only remove with trade-strength fairy liquid or two tubs of Swarfega. The Pickled Onion ones measured fifteen on the ‘Disco Scale’; Not enough to affect your eyesight, but sufficient to stop you tasting anything else for a few days.  Eating the beef flavour ones would mean that your fingers would smell of beef for the next thirteen years.


These are the Marmite of ‘crisps’. You either love them or you think they’re alright (or you don’t really like them much). Like Monster Munch, they’re not your archetypal crisp in that they’re made of corn rather than potato. The majesty of these shell shaped things was contained in the fact they melted away to nothing on your tongue. The most famous Skip flavour is Prawn Cocktail. KP did release other flavours but none caught on and so the humble prawn remains king of the Skips.

The advert for Skips in the 80s was weird. It featured a man smashing up his house; breaking the television and punching holes in the walls. Then he and his wife start eating Skips and everything goes all bendy. Everybody then rushed out to the shops thinking they’d released a new range of LSD flavoured Skips.


Smith’s Salt ‘n’ Shake Crisps

Now owned by Walkers, these were crisps which you could customise. As we’ve discussed, some crisps came with far too much flavour; having the option to ‘dial it down’ would have improved many people’s enjoyment of their chosen snack. Smiths recognised this and essentially started selling naked crisps. The crisps in the pack were not flavoured at all. Inside the bag you’d find a small blue pouch which contained the salt you’d normally find plastered all over your fried potato snacks. It gave you the ability to tailor the level of salt you required.

This was great in theory but in practice, you’d tip the salt into the bag, shake the packet up and down (which sometimes resulted in dropping the bag or causing crisps to fly out into the air), then find that two of the crisps had all the salt and the rest had none.

Alphabetti spaghetti

I’m not sure if these pasta letters in a tangy tomato sauce were meant to be educational or not. AlphaBetti Spaghetti was probably invented to teach children how to spell but we mostly just used it to make rude words. Introduced back in the 60s, Heinz have since developed their range to include pasta shapes of Bob the Builder, Thomas the Tank Engine, Peppa Pig, Minions and the thing they created to brainwash children and their parents into buying anything remotely related to it, Frozen. I think it’s meant to make eating processed food fun or to be used as a gateway to harder pastas such as Rigatoni and Spirelli.

Battenburg cake

Everything about Battenburg is wrong. It ruined Sunday evenings for me when it was brought to the table with the ham sandwiches and bowls of wagon wheel crisps. Marzipan, as a concept, needs to do one and as for the pointless and weird-tasting coloured sponge, likewise.

Why, when all other desserts and cakes exist would this be the choice you make? Even if the apocalypse had come all the Nandos had been destroyed and you hadn’t eaten for two weeks, you’d still think twice about putting a slice of Battenburg in your mouth.

This evil ‘cake’ was created in 1884 and one hundred years later, was still spreading misery around the country. We need to ban this now, who’s with me?