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A Magazine for Sheffield

Seeing Red: Back in the SRSY

Badges were big in South Yorkshire in the 1980s. Whether you were a music-loving school kid or a picket-hardened pitman, badges formed the slogan-heavy chainmail 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 flares 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 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. It was this notion that sprang to mind a couple of years ago as I perused my old badge collection 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. 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 followers including local lefties, social historians, 80s 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 get a glimpse of one life lived in a Sheffield that suddenly 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, 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. @SRSYdiaries Damon Fairclough is a freelance writer who grew up in Sheffield. Read more at )

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