1989: Day by Day, Radio 4
The Choice, Radio 4

Sample some refried 1989, served in bite-sized nibbles

There was copious hope for a better world 20 years ago. The Wall came down; freedom was busting out all over the Bloc and Bush père met Gorby to wind down the Cold War. Radio 4 archaeologists have been sifting through the bones in 1989: Day by day. It's done in bite-size chunks just before PM, but they feel like very small bites indeed, more amuse-bouche than a square meal.

On Monday, the then Chancellor, Nigel Lawson, was at the Tory conference defending 15 per cent interest rates – "we shall come out strong in the end" – while his shadow, John Smith, whom we love because he never had the chance to disillusion us, wondered if the voters would understand Lawson's reasoning. Seekers of a better life were pouring through the "freedom gateways" in Poland and Czechoslovakia, and in Peterborough an entrepreneur abandoned his plans for a nuclear bunker designed to house 1,000 people paying £3,000 each for the privilege of missing the fireworks. "The world is too peaceful," he complained.

But if 1989 was a year of hope, lots of it ended up crushed. Tuesday saw a standing ovation at the Tory conference for Margaret Thatcher, who 13 months later would be out on her ear. Rave culture was kicking in, and promoter Tony Colston-Hayter (somewhat quixotically launching the Freedom to Party campaign at the conference) oozed confidence despite government noises about turning that bloody music down. "You can't kill something that's this strong and this big," he assured us. The "repetitive beats" bit of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act would shut him up.

Sometimes, simply hoping for the best is just barmy. At 1989's London Fashion Week (in Wednesday's slot) Jeff Banks talked to Red or Dead about their "Space Baby" collection, motto: "Don't worry about the future, it's in safe hands"; while in a Tomorrow's World-style look at those new computer thingies that fitted in your lap, the man from Psion had big ideas, speculating: "Computers of this type are going to become, possibly, the tranny radios of the 90s." Bless.

Hope, and the apparent absence of it, was the abiding theme of The Choice, in which Stuart Howarth told Michael Buerk about a childhood so horrific and a life so miserable I can't really bring myself to write down the details. Suffice to say that after killing his abusive stepfather he went to jail, attempted suicide when he got out, and ended up in a psychiatric hospital. There, he was talking to someone, a doctor or a nurse presumably, whom he described merely as "a guy", when in fact the bloke's a hero. "What's up?" he asked.

"What's up?" Stuart shot back. "I've been battered, abused, tortured, raped, married, divorced, lost my sister, lost my friends, been to prison, killed a man – what's up?"

Stuart continued: "He looked me straight in the eye, leant over the table and said to me: 'Big deal. The best thing you can do is go to your room and have a pity party.' I fell asleep crying that night. In the morning I threw the curtains open and I could hear the birds singing, and I didn't usually hear them."

Now Stuart runs a charity for abused children and a recycling company for people from dysfunctional backgrounds, and does presentations to the Samaritans, probation officers and the Prison Service. Buerk asked him about killing his stepfather. "In a sad and tragic way it's been the right choice for my salvation," he admitted.

Hope does, indeed, spring eternal – sometimes in the strangest places.

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