Life

Stephen Clements slippy dips into the 70s and 80s in Back In Our Day

Remember when we waited for days to have our photos developed, our friends were real people and we only had four television channels? Jenny Lee takes a trip down memory lane with Q Radio presenter Stephen Clements who has written a book about good times growing up in pre-digital Northern Ireland

Broadcaster Stephen Clements pictured at the launch of new book, Back in the Day, with his daughter Poppy Clements, star of Q Radio’s Little Kidders

CARAVANNING in Portrush, slippery-dipping in Newcastle, and other stuff we did growing up in Northern Ireland. They say you should never judge a book by it's cover but when I glanced at the cover of Q Radio presenter Stephen Clement's book Back in Our Day, I couldn't wait to delve in because these were also my childhood memories.

From trips to Barry's in Portrush and careering down the Slippery Dip in Newcastle, to eating out in Belfast at Wimpy and the Skandia and shopping at Woolies, Stephen's book is a funny, nostalgic reminder of the 1980s.

Joining Cate Conway on the airwaves across Northern Ireland every weekday morning, Stephen (44) has earned quite the reputation for his commentary on all things Northern Ireland; a reputation that led to the suggestion that he put pen to paper.

"I was initially approached to provide commentary on a book about the ‘old' Northern Ireland but the original request for 1,000 words quickly turned into 30,000 words and an entire book," says Stephen, who hopes Back in Our Day will give readers a laugh and stimulate their own conversation about the past.

Stephen came to the airwaves relatively late in life. A former beer sales representative; he walked away from a successful career in sales at the age of 37 to follow his dream of being on radio.

Having a "mid-life crisis" moment, he left a sales meeting and rang Citybeat to ask how he could get a job. He was told to send a demo tape in and two weeks later he was on air.

The dad-of-two hasn't looked back and is now even joined on air by his six-year-old daughter Poppy, who gives listeners clues about movies she has seen in the Little Kidders slot.

Despite growing up during some of the worst years of the Troubles, Stephen, has very fond memories of a happy childhood in Carrickfergus.

"It's our God-given right to look back through rose-tinted glasses at our past. In Northern Ireland our glasses are heavily tinted," he says.

"Anyone of my age was born during the Troubles and grew into an adult before there was peace. When I see those adverts featuring Game of Thrones, Titanic and Victoria Square, I am proud. The way we kept going and kept our sense of humour amid the most appalling crimes that went on at the time has helped shape the Northern Ireland the tourists rave about now.

"I know the Troubles affected some families in a very devastating way, but for the general population the Troubles were troubling, but we were too busy kicking a ball or going on our bikes as fast as we could to be concerned with what church or chapel you were forced to go into. You just went out to play and the rule was, when the street lights came on you came in."

With no mobile devices or internet and children's television limited to an hour and a half in the afternoon, kids of Stephen's generation simply made their own fun. In his case this included pretending to be Captain Kirk, pedalling his handmade two-seater pram-wheeled go-kart and making bicycle jumps from breeze blocks.

"My brother and I regularly went exploring in places that would send cold shivers up and down the spines of parents these days," he laughs.

As a father himself, Stephen admits it's difficult to "fight the urge" to wrap Poppy and two-year-old Robbie in cotton wool.

"We do try to get our kids out and about riding their bikes and sliding down muddy hills. The scariest thing for me [as a parent] is the sheer number and size of cars nowadays."

Another big difference between then and now is the amount of 'things' kids had then, compared to today. For Stephen and his brother Gavin, it was a case of less is more – and the three-year wait for a Santa to bring a Scalextric track was worth it.

"Back in the day, the presents were simpler and the reactions better. You only got toys at Christmas and birthdays. The option of credit wasn't about and when you got something, somebody had saved up for it."

Stephen is conscious not to spoil his children with presents this Christmas.

"They get one big present and a couple of wee things and that's it – partly because they get overwhelmed if you give them too much and also to give them a sense of value on things."

In defence of 21st century kids, Stephen highlights that they are battling constant temptations and advertising.

"To see toys, we had to go to a toyshop and there weren't that many of them. Now when you go into Tesco to get bread and milk kids are face to face with essentially a version of [70s and 80s Belfast toyshop] Leisure World. I'm sure if we had gone around to our local greengrocer's and they had had Scalextric and Hornby sets, action men and Evel Knievel's, we would have been the same."

Another pressure young people of the 70s and 80s didn't face was living their lives in public, through social media.

"I'm just really glad there is no digital history of what I got up to. That's a pressure we didn't have to deal with. Cameras only came out for special occasions," says Stephen, who is particularly happy not to have many pics of his first 'lads' holiday in Greece.

"Instead we had the excitement of waiting for proper photographs back from Boots and the disappointment of our heads cut off or those 'poor quality' stickers."

There are of course some things about the 80s, Stephen believes are "best left in the past" and top of that list are shell suits.

"I had a sky blue shell suit with green and purple that I really loved. Looking back, it really was a woman repellent, but at the time I thought it was a winner," he laughs.

Back in Our Day is peppered with Stephen's pick of various mix-tape compilations. If he was to choose an overall favourite track that sums up his childhood, he would pick Start Me Up by The Rolling Stones.

"Dad was obsessed with the Stones, as am I. It reminds me of being in the Ford Capri or Ford Cortina going to Portrush on holiday."

He is delighted that his children share his love of the north coast.

"Barrys was Disneyland to us back in the day when £2 would last you all day. I've been around the world, but it's just the familiar smells such as Barry's amusements which bring all the happy memories flooding back.

"The reaction of my kids to Barry's, Funderland and Phil's amusements was exactly the same [as mine]. The only difference when you get to my age is you now feel the cold as you walk along Portstewart Strand with the wind blowing in your face."

:: Back In Our Day by Stephen Clements, published by Blackstaff Press, is available from all good bookshops, priced at £12.99.

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