Felt Trips: “Spafax in 2080” by Darren Giddings

Mark Fisher called them “lost futures”. The utopian dreams that failed to materialise. The gleaming citadels, the monorails and jetpacks, the palatial Bond villain high-rise homesteads where nuclear families in Nehru jackets threw atomic bones for yelping robot dogs.

In early 1980, giddy with the potential of the exciting new decade ahead, one Wiltshire teenager saw those futures. And, commendably, he saw them in the offices of a vehicle spares company in Corsham… six miles from Swindon, and a mere 100 years from an interplanetary arcadia, where giant starliners from Betelgeuse V brought imported rear axles to the Biddestone spaceport.

That boy was Darren Giddings. And he still believes in the future.

Over to you, Darren…

“I turned 13 in September 1979, and by that time I was already a fully paid-up Doctor Who fan and lover of all things science fiction. I was obsessed with The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and devoured whatever I could afford from the sci-fi and fantasy floor in Bilbo’s bookshop in Bath, including novels by Brian Stableford and Roger Zelazny (though I’m not sure I understood a word of them) and imported short story publications like Analog and the Isaac Asimov magazine. In hindsight I think it was the exotic idea of Something Spacey From America that excited me, rather than the actual contents.

My dad worked in the stores of a vehicle spares company called Spafax, based in Corsham, Wiltshire. It was a real post-war-consensus bosses-and-workers kind-of place; pay came home weekly in a Kalamazoo envelope, bosses wore jackets and ties or pinstripe suits (depending on how important a boss they were), and storemen (and it was all men, women either typed or packed) wore open-necked shirts and casual trousers. Jeans were seen as a bit rebellious, but moustaches abounded. At this point, it was almost a family firm: the March 1980 copy of the staff newsletter Spafax Express has my gramp on the front and my dad and Uncle Martin inside. On the back was a competition, set in finest Data 70, inviting the children of staff members to submit a poem, story or picture imagining what the world might be like in 2080. For an inveterate doodler like myself, this was quite the temptation. And with a golden prize of a £7.50 record token – about seven or eight singles worth – going begging, I could hardly resist.

There was never any paper in our house other than newspapers, empty fag packets and old envelopes. If I find an old book from my childhood collection, I can almost guarantee the flyleaves will be filled with biro drawings of fantastical sports cars and spaceships. I’d been contributing a desperately unfunny comic strip to a Doctor Who fanzine for about a year and had upgraded from biro to felt pen. But for some reason, the budget black felts they sold at Yvonne’s newsagents faded to purple almost instantly. So my entry to the competition was blessed by my acquisition of a Pentel roller ball pen, a sleek, turquoise cylinder which seemed to me the acme of modernity. Dad probably ‘brought it home’. For some reason I never went into colour; black and white lines always felt like a limit I was not gifted enough to advance beyond.

I think I won a second prize for my drawing, and may well have bought a Godley & Creme LP with the record tokens. I continued with unfunny fanzine cartoons for a few more years but have barely picked up a pen since, felt or otherwise. Spafax in its 1980 form didn’t see out the twentieth century, let alone make 2080, so my foresight was found rather wanting.”

“Ship V7 From Betelgeuse Branch reporting!”

Felt Trips is a collaborative effort. If anyone wants to contribute their own childhood drawings from the era, I would be utterly delighted – please drop me a line using the “Contact” link at the top of the page. A good quality scan would be perfect, but – if not – then a clear photo of your artwork, lying flat, is fine. And maybe a few words of explanation, too: when the drawings were done, how old you were, what inspired you to tackle those particular subjects? Thanks so much.

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