("This isn't going to get too confessional, is it?" asked The Belated Birthday Girl the other day. Well, I don't think it will. You can never be sure, though, can you?)
Have you ever had one of those Januaries when you suddenly decide that Something Must Be Done? Not just your usual half-hearted New Year's resolutions, but the feeling that your life's drifted off track and needs a concentrated plan of attack in order to make it work again?
Don't worry, I'm not having one of those now. But I had one twenty years ago, back in 1989. The decisions I took then are still having an impact on what I do today, and our all new Spank Gold feature will be where I get to look back at them in more detail than anyone could reasonably want.
Twenty years on from January 1989, I can't really remember why I suddenly felt that Something Must Be Done. By then I was well into my fifth year of living in London, and it may well be that I recognised that though the work side of things was progressing quite nicely, the rest of my time had got into a series of slightly tedious ruts. So I came up with a series of things I wanted to do, and set about doing them. Some of them have faded into the mists of time (I think that was the month when I stopped taking sugar in my tea, but I can't be certain): some of them are too damn personal to be discussed here, which should keep The BBG happy. But there were three specific items on my list that have a direct relationship to the running of an arts and entertainment review site, and they're the ones I want to focus on here.
1: Edinburgh. I was aware that they ran a festival every summer, of course: mainly because I was a regular punter on the London comedy circuit at the time, and had noticed how all the good acts vanished every August. Then in late January - around Burns Night, in fact - I was sent up to Edinburgh for a couple of days on business, and fell in love with the place. From that day on, I started making plans to attend the festival, and in August 1989 I spent a mind-blowing (not to mention wallet-blowing) two weeks there. The first of many visits, as I'm sure you're aware.
2: LFF. Again, the London Film Festival was one of those things I knew about but had never got involved in. The 1988 LFF was the first time that I realised just how good a collection of films they were showing, and how impossible it was to get into any of the good stuff without the advance booking rights that membership of the British Film Institute gave you. So in January '89 I joined up, and started making regular visits to the National Film Theatre, before fully taking the plunge later in the year with the 1989 LFF. Another long-standing tradition, of course.
3: Diary. Maybe it's my physics degree that led me to start keeping a diary: I was making experimental changes to my life, so obviously I needed to scientifically document the results. But I've always been interested in writing, and the discipline of having to fill a page of an A6 book every day must have seemed appealing. It's a discipline I'd tried to cultivate in the past, but never managed to sustain beyond a couple of weeks - but this time, I kept the diary going through the whole of 1989 and almost all of 1990. Maybe next month, I'll drop some hints as to why I stopped. But the ability to come up with words to order for my own personal benefit must have come in useful a decade later - specifically since Bastille Day 1998, when I started hurling my brainfarts out to a wider audience on the internet.
So here's the deal. It pleases me that all my Edinburgh and LFF experiences since 1998 are collated in one handy location: and if other people enjoy reading them too, it's a happy bonus. But sometimes I think that it would be useful to have all my pre-1998 experiences documented there too. And that's what Spank Gold is going to give you throughout 2009: reviews of my 1989-1997 visits to the Edinburgh Festival and London Film Festival, written at least a decade after the event and with the benefit of hindsight. (And as a bonus, in the autumn I'll throw in reviews of the Cassette Years of my Pick Of The Year music compilations, covering the period 1993-1997.)
I'm really not sure how this is going to pan out, to be honest. The years 1989 and 1990 are covered by my diary, so I've got contemporary accounts of how I felt about what I saw then. But from 1991 onwards, all I have is a list of show and film titles in a series of appointments diaries, and more detailed information in the festival programmes (see picture). I've already discovered that there are things I've seen during those years that I have no recollection of whatsoever. Which may, of course, count as a review in itself. But what the hell: Spank Gold has huge potential for nostalgia, mystery, embarrassment and schadenfreude, and I'd like you to join me over the next twelve months to see how the proportions of those four break down. We start with 1989 later this month.