We may all recall pivotal times from our youth. One such occasion occurred for me in 1987, when I was nine years old.
Rather than retrieving balls or skipping ropes from their bags, my classmates suddenly produced piles of small photocards on the playground. ‘Hey, I’ll trade you two Helens for a Mrs Mangle,’ I overheard someone offer.
Neighbours, an Australian soap opera, had recently made its way to our British TVs, and everyone seemed to be talking about it. I felt completely out of the loop and began a campaign to persuade my mother (who thought it was “too mature”) to let me watch it.
‘If I don’t keep an eye on it,’ I informed her. ‘I’m not going to make any pals.’
It sounds strange. It was, after all, the 1980s. You were done if you didn’t watch Neighbours.
The soap is being cancelled 37 years after it was first conceived. But not before two of the show’s most beloved characters, Scott and Charlene, AKA Jason Donovan and Kylie Minogue, make an appearance in the final episodes, which will air in the UK in August.
A middle-aged return of these big-haired teenagers – whose wedding I watched on my friend’s video player more times than I’d like to admit – will signal the end of a show that has been there for me for most of my life.
My obsession with Neighbours began as a way to fit in, but I soon found myself looking forward to my daily dose of all things Ramsay Street. Even as the show’s peak popularity faded in the mid-to-late 1990s, it remained my guilty pleasure.
It’s no surprise that I was hooked after reading some of the previous storylines. Who can forget the time Harold came back from the dead (sort of) or Toadfish drove his new wife over the edge?
Don’t tell me you don’t remember where you were during the Erinsborough tornado, because we all cried when Bouncer had his infamous wedding dream (didn’t we?).
Neighbours had lost a lot of its lustre by the time I started university in 1998, but it remained essential viewing for me, both because of the time of day it aired (either at lunch or teatime) and because, despite the numerous deaths, injuries, and affairs, it always felt light and untaxing.
It was the ideal antidote to a long day of Shakespeare study. Of course, my housemates and I watched it with a sense of irony. We were far too cool to enjoy ourselves.
Despite the fact that I had broken up with Neighbours during my teacher training years, the show reappeared on my radar once I’d landed my first teaching job in 2001. Its 5.30pm viewing time made it the ideal show to collapse in front of after a long day in the classroom before getting on with marking in those days of linear television.
I stopped watching it in 2009, the year I left the classroom to pursue self-employment. For the first time, I had complete control over my days, and a dose of 5.30pm television was no longer appealing.
Then, with the advent of streaming, which rendered viewing time irrelevant, I simply lost interest in this friendly little soap.
Despite the fact that I hadn’t seen an episode in over a decade, learning of the show’s demise was akin to learning that an old school building was being demolished or a childhood park was being turned into a housing estate.
I wasn’t watching the show anymore, but I loved knowing that it was still going strong somewhere down there; that life on the mythical Ramsay Street – a place where people simply walked into each other’s homes through the back door, uninvited – was still going strong.
But, guess what? I’m going to watch the last few episodes to see how things turn out. In the same way that I might look up an old friend on Facebook, I’m curious about what happened to Scott and Charlene in the intervening fictional years.
Another rite of passage for my generation will be saying goodbye to Neighbours. The final nail in our youth’s coffin. And seeing some of our favourite characters again will give us one last chance to indulge in the ‘guilty pleasure’ that has accompanied us since childhood.
There’s only one thing left to see: how will the iconic soap wrap up? Plane crashes, tornadoes, cliff collapses, sea attacks, explosions, duck hunt demonstrations gone awry, and even a hot air balloon disaster have all occurred over the years.
Will the writers go all out for an explosive conclusion? Will viewers, like Bouncer the dog after his 1990 ‘wedding’ to the collie next door, wake up to find it was all a dream?
Above all, let’s hope they decide, as the theme song suggests, that the neighbours will part as friends.