Archive for January, 2009
Tuesday 31st January 1984
Woke up at 7.50 and got up at 8.10. I took to school the encyclopaedia that I got for christmas and the first thing I did at school was go in for hymn practice and when we came out I wrote my RE. After that I started to do some maths and at 12.00 I had dinner.
In the afternoon I finished maths and did some topic then I went out for football on the playground. When we came in Mrs Keasey’s fourth years tided up the library. 3.15 came home and read my comic and then I went upstairs and played on the ZX81.
At 4.45 I had tea and then at 5.5 I watched Grange Hill. When that had finished I wrote some of a letter to Richard. 6.40 Watched Tucker’s luck and at 7.15 I did some more of the letter. At 8.15 I watched the last part of the TV Times awards and at 8.30 I watched Benny Hill. 9.00 Watched Alas, Smith and Jones. 9.30 Went to bed.
First of all, a little word about the ‘encyclopaedia that I got for christmas’. A huge red breezeblock of a present that my parents clearly thought would advance my education, and indeed it did. Mainly via pages 34-35, which told me more about the human reproductive system than I’d ever learnt before. I still remember Christmas Day 1983, and the immortal moment that I learnt the phrase ‘fallopian tube’ while watching Rolf Harris in ‘The Little Convict’.
The whole grisly business was, oddly, something that absolutely mortified me. (We’re talking about sex here, by the way, not Rolf Harris. Although now you mention it…)
I was absolutely happy to talk in minute detail about muck, filth and all manner of sauce when alone with Doug. However, as far as I was concerned, the fact that we actually knew about (gasp) ‘IT’ was an official secret on a par with the Roswell crash and the Philadelphia experiment. The prospect of my parents finding out the extent of my knowledge of (ahem) ‘the facts of life’ was probably my Number One Fear in life at this point, just nudging ahead of nuclear war and Claire Hamilton.
(I appreciate that, in an ideal world, Simon Bates would be doing the countdown for that lot)
All of this probably now seems a little quaint in an age when 11-year-old boys are considered immature if they don’t stoke barbecues while swigging cans of Kronenbourg and sucking on a bong. But my fear was compounded even further by the fact that before I left Levendale Primary School in July, I would have to be subjected to… (wait for it) a SEX EDUCATION FILM.
I knew this because previous generations of Levendale Primary School pupils had told us about it in coded messages. ‘You get to see people, like, actually DOING IT’, Simon Brody had told us, tittering through the sleeve of his British Home Stores cardigan. I’d nearly fainted on the spot.
Luckily, I was still able to blot such horror out of my mind with the aid of my trusty ZX81 and a bit of RE. Is Religious Education still compulsory in schools these days, or has that been abandoned now? I think we were made to write out ’The Parable of the Talents’ on average once every three weeks throughout my seven years at Levendale Primary School, and I still couldn’t understand why it was such a bad thing to bury a one pound note in the back garden. I’d had an Imperial Stormtrooper action figure buried near the laburnam bush for nearly five months now, and it hadn’t done him any harm. And he was worth more than a pound.
OK, couple of bits… the ‘letter to Richard’. Richard being my old chum Richard Moxham, as featured heavily in ‘Wiffle Lever To Full!’ as the star of my 1981 sci-fi opus ‘The Battle To Save Earth’. He and his family had emigrated to Canada by this point, and we were making slightly rubbish attempts to keep in touch with long, rambling letters about The A-Team and Imperial Stormtroopers buried in the garden.
And ‘Alas Smith And Jones’! Yes, Mel and Griff. And this – brilliantly – was the first episode of the first series. We all knew who they were, of course, because of ‘Not The Nine O’Clock News’, and there wasn’t a kid in school who couldn’t say ‘Eeeeet is not Nelson’s Column, eeet is Nelson’s Willeeeeeeee’ while pulling a succession of vile, rubbery faces.
So this was a momentous moment. Although naturally I had to avoid laughing at anything remotely ’fruity’ in case my parents realised that (horror!) I knew… too… much…
Here it is anyway, a bit of that very show…
Monday 30th January 1984
Woke up at 7.50 and got up at 8.10. The first thing I did at school was go in for assembly then when I came out we had to go in for topic groups. I did Topic when we came out and then I started a jungle painting. At 12.00 I had dinner and then in the afternoon I read for a bit then went into Maths groups.
When I had finished, Me and Stan started to do a sign for Mrs Keasey and after having our Maths marked we finished it. At 3.15 I came home and read my comic. Then I went upstairs and had a go on Pac-Man, then set up the ZX81 and played Asteroids and Avenger on it.
4.40 Watched Finders Keepers and at 4.45 I had tea. Then I went back upstairs and played on the ZX81 again. At 8.00 I had a game of chess with Dad and watched In Loving Memory at the same time. 9.30 Went to bed.
I’m rapidly coming to the conclusion that my favourite word in 1984 was ‘then’.
Alright, I’d forgotten one important addition to my ‘songs recorded off the radio’ last night, and it was the song at Number 1 in the UK singles charts on this very day. A song that was to change my life, and the way I thought about music, and the way I cultivated passions and (cough) relationships with the artists I loved. And a song that I discussed with Mr Millward at a table in the middle room on this very day, just as I was cracking on with my jungle painting.
There had been ‘banned’ songs in the UK singles charts before (and a disturbing number of them were made by Paul McCartney) but Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s ‘Relax’ was the first one I was aware of, and its impact on both me and Levendale Primary School was seismic. A fortnight early, on 13th January, the BBC had removed the song from all of its playlists after that the Cliff Richard-obsessed Mike Read noticed in mid-play on his Radio 1 show that it was – of all things – a little bit saucy. And maybe a little bit fruity. With just a touch of what my Auntie Norma would still refer to as ‘salty language’.
They had performed it on Top of The Pops once, just before the ban, and it looked like this…
But in this slow-moving era - pre-internet, pre-text, pre… anything, really – it had taken a couple of weeks for the news to filter through, and I think the previous night, while taping Simon Bates’ Top 40 rundown on my portable cassette recorder, was the first time I’d heard the terrifying ‘Batesy’ issue the immortal words ‘…due to the nature of its lyrical content, we don’t deem it suitable for broadcast’.
It must have been the first time for many of us, too, as Frankie-based conversation was rife at Levendale Primary School on this very morning.
‘It’s not been banned because of rude stuff, it’s just because of the swearing,’ said Matthew Price, clearly making it up as he went along.
‘That’s not true,’ said Jason Wheater, knowledgeably. ‘It’s been banned cos it’s about poofs’.
At this point Mr Millward’s ears pricked up. ‘Less of that,’ he warned, sternly, twitching his moustache and peering over his Reactolite spectacles. ‘Although I would like to find out why it HAS been banned, if anyone knows?’
I could see that Doug, sitting opposite me, was itching to explain to Mr Millward the precise meaning of the lines ‘Relax, don’t do it, when you want to suck it to it, relax, don’t do it… when you want to come’. And 25 years on the mischievous glint in his eye still brings me out in a cold sweat.
But needless to say, within a matter of weeks Frankie Goes To Hollywood had become my first great musical love, and even those opening seconds of ‘Relax’ still send leather goosebumps up and down my spine.
I just wish I could pull off a moustache like Paul Rutherford. So to speak.
Anyway, more of Frankie in the coming months, but in the meantime – Finders Keepers! I can’t find a clip anywhere, but it was a Battleships-based quiz show with Richard Stilgoe taking charge of three grotty kids teams eager to torpedo ‘Foxtrot 7′ and blast HMS Milton Keynes Comprehensive off the face of the Earth. He did the theme tune himself on a little bleepy synthesizer, but I can’t find that either.
And ‘In Loving Memory’ was an ITV sitcom set in a funeral parlour in the 1930s, starring Thora Hird and Christopher Beeney. Quite good, as I recall, although no doubt Mike Read took offence at something or other in it.
Sunday 29th January 1984
Woke up at 9.30 and got up at 10.15. I played on the videopac until 11.30, When I rang Doug to see if he wanted to come over for the day. He asked me if I could come swimming with him, and I could, so he said he would pick me up about 12.00. When I came off I played on the ZX81 and Doug came at 12.20.
We went to the baths after picking up Claire Hamilton and Doug’s cousin. At the baths we mugged Jenny and then when we came back we went to Doug’s house and got the tape recorder then me and Doug went back to my house and had dinner. We were going to write a Poggy Doggy program on the ZX but it wouldn’t work so we went out and played cricket.
Then we came in and played on the videopac upstairs. We had tea after that and at 5.30 Doug went home. At 6.45 I recorded some songs off the radio and also an electoronic bark for K9. 9.5 Went in the bath and at 9.20 I watched That’s life. 10.10 Went to bed.
Woop! Woop! First mention for the ZX81!
As our transatlantic neighbours might say, I’d like to hear some love, please. Some love for this gorgeous little black plastic computer. It had a mighty 1K of memory, unless you bought a 16K rampack to plug into the back of it, which I did. And it overheated so much that occasionally it required a cold carton of milk from the fridge shoving up against it to stop it exploding all over the Teesside Times.
But OH MY WORD I loved it to bits. I got my ZX81 for Christmas in, erm, 1982, and for almost a year it was my best friend. Then Doug arrived in my life, and I was dazzled by the lure of the even newer and shinier ZX Spectrum, but even so… the sheer puerile glee of typing…
10 PRINT “FISCHER RULES OK”
20 GOTO 10
…into a ZX81 is a primal, basic thrill (or even a BASIC thrill – arf arf) that goes back to the Incas. Especially if you do it to all the ZX81s on display at Dixons in Middlesbrough town centre to liven up another dreary shopping expedition.
The game I was playing will undoubtedly have been the brilliant 3D Monster Maze, in which you, yes YOU were transported to a thrilling, infinite labyrinth in which you desperately hunted for the exit while being pursued relentlessly by a terrifyingly realistic Tyrannosaurus Rex. Here it is, here…
Yes, yes, I know that in this cynical, post Wii-Me era, it looks like a game carved out of papier mache by chimpanzees. But I swear, in 1983 when I first saw this, it felt like two electrodes had been attached to my temples and I had been transported into the year 3156. I had NEVER experienced anthing like this, and the prospect of playing it AT HOME on MY PORTABLE TV was the pre-pubescant 1983 equivalent of heading down to your local Dog & Duck and pulling the Pussycat Dolls. Amazing.
Anyway… back to Sunday 29th January 1984, and Jenny was - of course – Doug’s elder sister, and Claire Hamilton was her friend, with the most astonishing long mane of luxuriant blonde hair. Naturally I was terrified of both of them, so when I say that Doug and I ‘mugged’ them at Thornaby Baths, what I actually mean is that Doug enthusiastically splashed water over them while I hid behind him and half-heartedly joined in.
‘Ha ha!’ we shouted. ‘You’re getting wet!’
‘Of course we’re getting wet, we’re in a swimming pool, you MORONS,’ they respondered, with the expert, withering sarcasm of intelligent 14-year-old girls everywhere.
‘Oh yeah,’ we said, and looked at each other stupidly for a second before carrying on.
‘Ha ha! You’re getting wet!’
And so on and so on until a pot-bellied man in a tight yellow T-shirt and crotch-hugging trunks wandered over and blew a whistle to signal the end of the session for everyone wearing green wristbands.
I don’t remember exactly which songs I recorded off the radio, but our favourites at the time included Joe Fagin’s ‘That’s Livin’ Alright’ (the closing number from my beloved Auf Wiedersehen, Pet), Fiction Factory’s brilliant one-hit wonder ’Feels Like Heaven’ and this pop masterpiece from Matthew Wilder, which Doug and I used to sing while balanced on the fallen Redwood-sized tree trunks that my Dad regularly left scattered around the garden…
Believe it or not, in 1984 Middlesbrough, lots of heterosexual men actually looked and acted like this. I must try and find my old TDK C90s somewhere… I’ve probably still got this very recording, made by pushing a plastic portable tape recorder up against the speakers of my parents ancient wooden stereogram, and hoping beyond hope that my Dad wouldn’t interrupt Simon Bates’ chart rundown by shouting ‘Turn that shite off, the Antiques Roadshow’s on in two minutes…’
Saturday 28th January 1984
Woke up at 8.00 and watched Godzilla on the portable telly at 8.35. At 9.00 I watched Saturday Superstore and at 10.15 Doug rang so I had to get out of bed to answer. He wanted Gazzie’s address so I gave him it and got dressed. At 10.30 Doug came round and I showed him my Dr Who comic.
At 11.00 Gareth came for us and the first thing we did at his house was play Skramble on the Commodore. Then we went for a walk. We went to the old church and had a stroll through the graveyard. Then Gareth got us all a can of coke and a pack of crisps and we ate them in the bus shelter. Then I rang home on a public phone. We then went to Gareth’s house and had dinner.
We then went off again and met Chris, Gazzie’s pal. We had a snowball fight with two Wallies but they were winning so we scarpered and on the way back I was sick behind a barn. When we came back we all had a game of snooker. 5.00 Came home and played on the videopac and at 6.30 I watched Child’s Play. 7.00 Watched 321 and at 8.00 I watched Les Dawson. 8.30 played on videopac. 9.45 Watched Wogan and at 10.30 I went to bed.
Yay! A day out!
Our mate Gareth ‘Gazzie’ Jones lived in the scenic village of Hilton, four miles away, so when I say ‘Gareth came for us’ what I actually mean is ‘Gareth’s poor Dad was emotionally blackmailed into driving to Yarm on a Saturday morning to pick up his son’s grotty friends and take them back to his beautiful home before repeating the journey six hours later’. Anyway, a couple of little TV titbits to cover first…
Yes, I had a black and white portable TV balanced on the edge of my bedside table. For those concerned that such licentiousness would inevitably lead to my 11-year-old self wilting under a torrent of pornography and what my Auntie Norma would call ‘salty language’, I’d like to point out that a) there was nothing like that on TV in 1984 (and believe me, I looked) and b) the reception on my black and white portable TV was so bad that you were usually hard pushed to make out ANY actual human form and ANY snippets of language (salty or otherwise) at the best of times.
Neither of which mattered when watching Godzilla, of course. The 1970s Hanna-Barbera cartoon, not the original Japanese monster movie. Altogether now…
‘UP FROM THE DEPTHS
THIRTY STORIES HIGH
HIS HEAD IN THE SKY…’
And Saturday Superstore, the sprawling BBC1 sequel to the legendary Multi-Coloured Swapshop. Presented by bespectacled Cliff Richard-obsessed Radio 1 stalwart Mike Read and scrummy Blue Peter graduate Sarah Greene, with Keith Chegwin and John Craven still lurking behind the pastel-shaded sofas. Cracking fun, and the three-hour Saturday morning magazine show is long overdue a comeback. Give Barney Harewood and Kirsten O’Brien the job and I’ll be there like a shot every weekend.
Anyway, Hilton! And a day out with Gareth Jones! Brace yourselves, it’s time for another Special Blog Documentary…
Are you watching these, Alan Whicker?!?!?
I should point out, in the interests of historical accuracy, that the phone box I employed in 1984 was an original, chunky red version – a British design classic sadly all but extinct these days. The nasty new perspex replacement is in the same location though, and something tells me that the receivers on the new models aren’t quite as sturdy as they used to be.
It was brilliant being out and about, and yes… striding around a deserted English village on a cold day, wearing a long parka and accompanied by my two faithful companions, I would undoubtedly – in my mind – have spent the day BEING Doctor Who. Plunging my hands into my coat pockets and looking for time portals in the village hall. When I wasn’t being sick behind a barn, of course.
Good to see a textbook example of the quintessential early 1980s word ‘Wally’! I have no idea where this word came from, but in 1984 its use was so widespread that Brian Sewell was probably shouting it at Francis Bacon.
And yes, Gareth had a snooker table AND a Commodore 64. I’d never been so jealous of anything in my life. Until I found out that Mike Smith was going out with Sarah Greene.
Friday 27th January 1984
Woke up at 7.50 and got up at 8.10. The first thing I did at school was finish my painting and half way through it we had to go to Nitty Nora. When I had done my picture I went into the second maths group and we had to do some Multiplication.
When I came out I copied out the Hawaii work that I did yesterday and at 12.00 I had dinner. After dinner I did the maths that we had to do and then I had finished everything and for the rest of the day I just mucked around with Ozzie.
3.15 Came home and played on the videopac and at 4.45 I had tea. 5.5 Watched Grange Hill and played on the videopac until 6.40, When I watched Doctor Who. 7.00 Watched the A-Team and then at 9.00 I watched Auf Weidersien, pet. At 10.00 I went to bed.
Oh, blimey! Altogether now… ‘Nitty Nora, Hair Explorer…’
Yep, every few months at Levendale Primary School Mr Millward would trawl the ‘end room’ with a bloody big fishing net, and the resulting tangled mess of captive, snotty 11-year-olds would be transported through the hall, past the staff room door (with little puffs of Rothmans smoke still billowing through the crack at the bottom) and into our tiny First Aid room, where a middle-aged woman with a solid granite perm would poke through our tousled barnets looking for headlice. Or, as we sensitive child geniuses preferred to call them…
NITS!!!! EURGH!!! EURGHH!!!! NITS!! CHRISTOPHER HERBERT’S GOT NITS!!! I TOUCHED HIM!!! I TOUCHED HIS HAIR!!! I’VE GOT NITS NOW AN’ ALL!!!! EEEEERUUUUUUGGGHHHHH!!!!!!!!!
Amazingly, I never had nits as a child. My mother was convinced that her prohibitive standards of hygeine were responsible for this, however I’ve since discovered that headlice actually thrive more readily in clean hair, so it’s obvious that my frequent two-week stretches without so much as a drop of Vosene entering my tangled thatch actually did me a power of good.
Does Nitty Nora still exist today, and is she still plying her nimble-fingered trade in schools up and down the country? Somebody must know…
I’ve had a message this week from a devout reader of this nonsense (hello Patsy!), pointing out that I don’t actually seem to do a lot at school, and… well… (goes red, mumbles, looks at feet)… you’re right. And that was before I read today’s diary entry in which I brazenly claim that ‘for the rest of the day I just mucked around with Ozzie’.
Our teachers did seem to have a pretty laissez-faire attitude to work. Basically, we would be gathered together for a few minutes once or twice a day and given a few little tasks and exercises to do with accompanying deadlines, and then – brilliantly – we’d be left entirely to our own devices to get on with it.
So we sat where we liked with who we liked and did whatever we thought was appropriate to get through our work in our own time. Which admittedly sometimes involved making Samurai swords out of ‘Shatterproof’ rulers and flinging Mr Men rubbers at Glenn Conroy, but hey… it worked. I don’t remember anyone particularly flouting the freedom we were given, in fact if anything we seemed to appreciate being treated with so much respect. Although I dread to think what mine and Ozzie’s ‘mucking about’ consisted of, and can only hope that it didn’t involved untoward cruelty to an Acorn Electron on a wobbly trolley.
OK, Doctor Who fans… Part Two of the story ‘Frontios’ today, in which The Doctor, Tegan and Turlough visit the last remnants of mankind, attempting to salvage a failing colony on the hostile titular planet in the face of grisly intentions from the nasty-looking Tractators, who were – essentially – giant, talking woodlice. Here…
Nitty Nora would have had them for breakfast. Or, more accurately, she’d have doused them in Phenothrin and then combed them out onto an opened-up copy of the Evening Gazette Late Final. All over Jim Jelly’s TV pages.
Good to see a mention of (ahem) ’Auf Weidersien, pet’ as well. It was Friday night, so I was sometimes allowed to stay up quite late with my Dad eating peanuts, warming sausage rolls on the hearth of our coal fire and occasionally sipping my way through the odd can of Skol Lager. And watching rather adult TV like this… which I guess my parents thought I was just about old enough to appreciate. And I’m still eternally grateful for that.
I think this was the beginning of a full repeat run of the first series, and the opening credits still take me right back. It’s a brilliant series that I really must revisit on DVD sometime soon…
Oddly enough, I used to know Franc Roddam a little bit a few years ago. I haven’t spoken to him for ages, but he’s a lovely bloke and undoubtedly the poshest-sounding man ever to come out of Stockton-on-Tees. Although admittedly there isn’t a lot of stiff competition.
Thursday 26th January 1984
Woke up and got up at 8.00 The first thing I did at school was write all the names on some paintings and then at 10.10 We went swimming. For about 5 minutes we could do what we wanted and then everybody had to do ten lengths. Then we had to float a few Widths. Then we had to try a length. Gazzie was the only one to do it.
When we came back I drew the outline for my painting and at 12.00 I had dinner. In the afternoon I painted some of my picture and did some language. 3.15 Came home and played on the videopac until 4.45, When I had tea.
After tea I played on the videopac and then at 6.40 I watched Doctor Who. After that I played on the videopac until 7.30. Then I watched Carry on laughing and at 8.00 I watched The Steam video company. 9.30 Went to bed.
I stil remember to this day Gareth ‘Gaz’ Jones floating lifelessly along an entire length of Egglescliffe Comprehensive swimming pool while lesser boys peeled away panting for breath and desperately clutching for the funny chrome railing thing at the sides. And the reason I remember it so vividly was that (are you reading this, Jonesy?) I THOUGHT HE WAS DEAD.
Two days earlier, on Tuesday 24th January, I’d watched Grange Hill (5.05pm, you can check if you like) and gasped in horror as Jonah’s cousin Jeremy Irvine nicked Fay Lucas’ bangle, threw it in the pool, then dived in to retrieve it. As he did so, Zammo followed and tried to remove Jeremy’s trunks, only to find that poor Jeremy had DIED. At the bottom of the school swimming pool. And no amount of vigorous beard-rubbing from Bullet Baxter was ever going to bring him back.
And here it is, and I still think this is pretty shocking stuff (not sure about the Queen soundtrack mind you, but beggars can’t be choosers…)
I’m not exaggerating when I say this episode caused a SENSATION at Levendale Primary School, and I can’t have been the only boy in the pool whose heart skipped a beat when Jonesy drifted motionlessly towards the far side of the water. And then (after a brief and clearly deliberate pause) clambered up out of the pool with a cheeky, mischievous grin on his face.
It’s amazing how potent and universal the influence of television was back in 1984. With only four TV channels available anywhere, there wasn’t a single kid in the country who wasn’t aware of Jeremy’s shocking fate. Let’s face it, most of us were even entranced by the fluffy Australian soap opera that united the nation just after getting-home-from-school time.
Neighbours? Pffffft. No chance. That was still two years away. I’m talking about this…
Yes, Sons and Daughters. I’ve got a feeling that Tyne Tees showed either this or ‘The Young Doctors’ at around 3.35pm every weekday afternoon, meaning that I was normally walking through the door just as the theme tune kicked in. Just hearing that song again instantly brings back mind-buggering memories of swinging my Puma sports bag (full of stinky wet swimming gear) onto the dining room table and hanging my furry-hooded blue Parka up in the kitchen.
Meanwhile, I think ‘The Steam Video Company’ was an ITV spoof of low-budget horror films, filled with amazing double entendres. Bob Todd, Barry Cryer and (genuine low-budget horror star) Madeleine Smith were all in it. All traces seem to have vanished completely, but I’d love to see it again.
Wonder if Fay Lucas ever got her bangle back?
Wednesday 25th January 1984
7.50 Woke up and got up at 8.00. The first thing we did at school was go into Topic groups and we were given two sheets on Longitude and Latitude. Me and Ozzie did them in about five minutes, and after reading some of the Dark Crystal I did the last piece of work on the maths bit on scale.
12.00 Had dinner, and then after dinner just about all the fourth year boys had a great big match of American football. It was Tucker, Huggy, Stan, Placie and Gazzie take. In the afternoon I finished my maths. Came home at 3.15 and played on the videopac and then at 4.45 I had tea.
At 5.10 I watched Think of a number and then I played on the videopac until 7.00 When I watched Name that Tune. At 7.30 I went out and messed around in the snow. At 9.00 I watched Minder and then at 10.00 I went to bed.
It’s probably worth a quick mention for the mysterious ‘Topic’ that I keep referring to. I’m not sure if schools still do this but as well as having to slog our way through various ‘Language’ and ‘Maths’ textbooks, every term we’d also be split into different ‘Topic’ groups, and be given a little theme to work around.
So we’d done ’Ancient Egypt’ (dozens of times, and I spent at least four sleepless nights convinced that Tutankhamun’s Curse was about to strike my bedroom because I’d touched a picture of him in the Oxford Children’s Encyclopaedia), and judging by the references to maps and ‘Longitude and Latitude’ in my 1984 diary, we’d now moved onto a bit of simple geography.
Oddly enough, the only bit of this I can recall is our teacher Mrs Powell telling us of an easy way to remember the locations of the Topics of Cancer and Capricorn. ‘Cancer is the one highest up,’ she told us, with a devillish grin. ‘Just think of it being high up on your body. A bit like Lung Cancer’.
We were 11.
She was clearly still reeling from a morning in the staff room, from which billowing clouds of Benson & Hedges smoke erupted whenever some hapless sap was sent in there to ‘run an errand’ for Mr Hirst or Mr Chalkley.
Regarding school dinners, I think for this final few months at Levendale Primary School I reverted back onto hot food, having spent the previous two years bringing my own packed lunch. Or ‘packy’ as we invariably called them, without even the vaguest hint of political inappropriateness crossing our tiny minds.
The daily contents of my packed lunch, for TWO FULL YEARS, consisted of the following…
1 x Egg Sandwich, made from one mashed egg drenched in salad cream and slapped between a halved slice of Mother’s Pride bread more blindingly white than the Sun, and only to be safely viewed through your school jumper, like magnesium ribbon. Or Glenn Conroy’s legs.
1 x packet of Cheese and Onion Monster Munch.
1 x Jacob’s Club biscuit, either orange or mint flavour, the minty variant inexplicably being illustrated by a picture of a golf ball on the wrapper. Is there some insane connection between golf and mint-flavoured biscuits that I’m unaware of? Did Tony Jacklin wipe down his Four Irons with them, or something? Also, what was the Club biscuit illustrated with a playing card (possibily the Jack Of Hearts) on the wrapper? And why?
1 x Carton of Um Bongo, liberated from a Hinton’s multi-pack. They drink it in the Congo, you know. Presumably importing it wholesale from the Libby’s factory in Milnthorpe, Cumbria.
I’d relinquished the delights of the ‘packy’ by 1984 though, and taken my place back with the shuffling queue of misfits waiting in the hall for steaming spam fritters, boiled cabbage and goulash. We’d collect an empty tray on the way through and then slouch along the serving hatch, grumpily telling the yellow-coated dinner ladies (one of which was my Mum, remember) what we wanted.
I remember, around this time, being ten seconds away from the hatch when Doug started regaling me with some intricate details of human reproduction from his encyclopaediac knowledge of all matters sexual. His lecture went like this:
‘So then you need to put your willy in the lasses thingy and once you’ve jiggled it about – corned beef hash, please – you take it out again – and chips – and put it back in your undies. Semolina, please. Have you got that?’
I think was 24 before I realised that corned beef hash, chips and semolina weren’t an essential part of the process. Still, what a weekend that was.
Tuesday 24th January 1984
7.50 Woke up and got up at 8.00. The first thing we did at school was go in for assembly and after assembly Mrs Mulhern gave us a language sheet to do. I did that all morning until 12.00 When we went in for dinner. After dinner me, Ozzie, Simpy, Nibbsy, Mason and Harry played American football on the grass in the snow.
In the afternoon I read some more of the Dark Crystal, did some maths, sorted out my file and showed Ozzie the Guardian of Goblin Grotto. Came home at 3.15 and played on the Videopac. Beat my high score of 1044 on Pac-Man by scoring 1747. After that I wrote some of the book and at 4.45 I had tea.
5.5 Watched Grange Hill 5.40 Went out and mucked about on the Tarzie and the sledge. When I came in I wrote some of the book. After that I played on the videopac and at 9.00 Watched a kick up the Eighties. 9.30 Went to bed.
American Football! Ha! Ha! Ha!
We wouldn’t have known the first thing about American Football, other than the helpful facts that a) they played it in America, and b) it was bugger all like football. As far as we knew it was more like rugby but American footballers were clearly big soft lassies, because unlike rugby players they had to put loads of padding and helmets and stuff on themselves before they minced around each other getting their stilleto heels caught in the turf.
So when I say we ‘played American Football’ I suspect what I actually mean is that we picked up the bog-standard tatty ‘casey’ football that Steven Mason had found in the alleyway round the back of the VG shop, ran about with it for a bit, and then beat seven bells out of each other while rolling around in the snow.
I was clearly in strangely mischievious mood on this diary-writing day as well, because ‘Simpy’ is just my best mate Doug, and I don’t think I ever called him ‘Simpy’ on any other occasion than this one. I must have just baulked at the incongruity of putting the name ‘Doug’ alongside loads of surnames with the letter ‘y’ added to the end of them. It probably says something deeply disturbing about my 11-year-old psychology, although I’m not sure why I didn’t turn Steven Mason into ‘Masony’.
Harry, by the way, was Robert Harrison, a softly-spoken skinhead who (I think) occasionally swam competitively for his county. And Knibbsy was Nicholas Nibbs, a funny skinny lad a couple of years younger than us. It seems odd these days, but at school it was incredibly unusual to mingle with anyone outside your own year group, so we must have made a very special exception for Nibbsy.
It might have had something to do with the fact that he had THE most SENSATIONAL ears. As I remember, he looked a lot like Alfred E Neuman from MAD Magazine.
I’ve obviously started to enter some strange sense of denial about my Videopac G7000 as well. I’m now defiantly referring to the cheap knock-off game ‘Munchkin’ as ‘Pac-Man’ which… well, it wasn’t! Although it desperately wanted to be. But – and there’s no getting around this – Pac-Man is an ATARI GAME. And I didn’t get an Atari for Christmas, I got a PHILIPS VIDEOPAC G7000. With Munchkin. Not Pac-Man.
Get over it, Fischer.
I like the ‘mucking about with the tarzie and the sledge’ bit as well. Basically, the tarzie in our garden hung from a tree branch over a sloped bit of grass that I’d worn down to bare soil by endlessly scraping myself along it on the end of that bloody rope. I think I spent the evening kicking my sledge off running down the snowy slope, then swinging high on the tarzie and jumping off to land on the moving sledge.
Altogether now, ‘I might fall from a tall building, I might roll a brand new car…’
Monday 23rd January 1984
Woke up at 7.40 and got up at 8.00 and it was thick snow outside. The first thing I did at school was go into our topic groups and then when we came out me and Ozzie did some work on maps for topic. At 12.00 it was snowing like mad so it was an indoor playtime and everybody was drawing Chads.
After dinner we went into maths groups and we had to do some work on scale. After I had done some of that I read until we went home at 3.15. When I came home I wrote some of the Guardian of Goblin Grotto and then when I had got sick of that I played on the videopac.
4.45 Had tea and then after tea I played on the videopac. 5.40 took Poggy Doggy for a walk and it was snowing like mad. Half way all the lights went out and on the way back I went to Doug’s and got my gloves. 9.30 Went to bed.
Snowy days at school always brought both brilliance and frustration in equal measure. Brilliance because they were such a mind-blowing departure from the humdrum… late buses, doom-laden local news reports from (the appropriately named) Paul Frost, snowball fights at the gates and then taking off your wellies in the cloakroom and putting them in a Hinton’s carrier bag for the day before slipping into your normal StartRite lace-ups.
(Of course, only scum like me wore the bog-standard black wellies. The posh kids who liked ponies and Enid Blyton wore silver, puffed-up moonboots, later adopted by the Cybermen in Doctor Who. Think I’m joking? I’m not. And yes, these are genuine props…)
The frustration came because our expectations for the day were entirely different to those of our teachers. So when dinnertime came around and the playground looked like the kind of white-out Antarctic wilderness that would make Roald Amundsen shake his head, suck his teeth and opt for a nice cup of cocoa in front of Pebble Mill At One, we wanted to be out there wreaking havoc with agonising scrubbers and 10-second tuck-ins.
Our teachers, meanwhile, saw only first aid bills and 999 calls and ‘thick snow’ (clearly my favourite phrase of the time) being tramped all over the open plan classrooms, and barricaded us in the building. But still… CHADS!
I presume everyone knows what a chad is. It’s one of these…
…what’s probably not obvious is why on Earth this strange 1950s craze hit Levendale Primary School on a blizzard-ridden January day in 1984. I know exactly why, though. It was because the previous night’s episode of Hi-De-Hi (which I watched – go on, scroll down and have a look) featured a chad epidemic at Maplin’s holiday camp!
I wish Mr Hirst had taken a leaf out of Joe Maplin’s book and gathered us in the end room to read a semi-literate Maplinesque letter of warning from the school governer to us all.
‘Now listen up, you lot. I ain’t spent my hard-earned on building this rotten school to have a load of namby-pamby ponces from Kirklevington and Hilton drawing chads all over my perforated computer paper. Now shape up or ship out, and tell that cracking bit of stuff Mrs Wordsworth to show a bit of leg on parents night or she’s out on her ear and all’.
Sadly, he didn’t. Amazing though, the unifying effect that a simple TV sitcom had on us at such a tender age. Do kids these days go to school and act out scenes from My Family on snowy lunchtimes? As Joe Maplin (or our school governer) would no doubt say: course they bleedin’ don’t.
And blimey, my gloves! My smelly gloves! I didn’t have them at the Sheepwash at all the previous day. I must have left them in Doug’s garage the last time I was there, on the 17th January. After five days of stinking the place out, I’m only surprised his parents hadn’t called Environmental Health by this point.
I do remember the walk down the road to get them, through ‘thick snow’ indeed, and an absolutely horizontal blizzard of what my Mum would call ‘feather dusters’. Beautiful stuff, and she was with me at the time, although I don’t mention it in my diary for some reason. I just remember our delighted reaction when all the street lights went out on the way back.
Another lucky escape from the humdrum, and another doom-laden news report on Northern Life… (not this one, granted – but the opening credits take me right back, and it does have Paul Frost on it!)
Sunday 22nd January 1984
Woke up at 8.30 and got up at 9.00 and played on my videopac. Outside it is thick snow and when mam and dad came at 10.00 I pelted them with snowballs. Went home at 11.00 and rung Doug to see if he wanted to go sledging down the sheepwash.
He said he was going out and would ring back at 1.00. At 12.00 We had dinner and then at 1.30 Doug still hadn’t rung so we took Poggy Doggy and the sledge up to the sheepwash. It was thick snow up on the moors and it had been drifting so after giving Poggy Doggy a scrubber we went up the top and me and dad had a snowball fight.
Then we went down and I sledged down and nearly ended up in the river. I had a few more goes and at 3.00 We came home. 5.30 Had tea and at 7.15 I watched Hi-de-hi. 9.25 Watched That’s life and at 10.15 I went to bed.
Another brilliant day that’s still filed away with huge gooey fondness at the back of my cluttered mind. I’d spent the night in my Gran’s bungalow, remember, reading The Lion The Witch and The Wardrobe before slumbering down in the spare room. And I still remember my Gran’s understated greeting at 8.30am when she came to give my feeble shoulder a little shake.
She said ‘It’s been snowing quite a lot through the night if you want to have a look’.
And I can still remember the thought that instantly raced through my mind. it was…
I leapt out of bed and tore back the bedroom curtains to see – well, Narnia. On a surburban street on the outskirts of Middlesbrough. A thick, pristine blanket of blinding white snow covering everything… the pavement and road and garden were all indistinguishable from each other, and gigantic wedges of the stuff were hanging from lamp-posts and telegraph poles. I wish I’d taken a photo, but in my mind it looked like this…
I write about this morning in ‘Wiffle Lever To Full’ because this was, truly, the weekend that my allegiances shifted slightly from a childhood love of sci-fi to a pre-teen obsession with fantasy. When I raced out of the bungalow to throw snowballs at my laughing parents, I wasn’t on the Ice Planet of Hoth any more, I was in the winter-gripped realm of Narnia. Within a few short years I’d be playing Dungeons and Dragons while drinking cider and listening to early Iron Maiden, but that’s another story. And it’s still available from amazon.co.uk for a very reasonable price…
My Dad, bless him, has never lost his joy of the wild, the woolly and the wilderness, and took no persuading whatsover to drive Poggy Doggy and myself to the Sheepwash, a regular Sunday lunchtime destination for our rattling Reliant Scimitar. I still associate the Sheepwash completely with the taste of Heinz oxtail soup and the theme from Weekend World.
And today, I went back there…! Here we are ‘up the top’, where the snowball fight took place…
And this is, undoubtedly, the location of that hair-raising sledge descent into (ahem) ‘the river’. Careful, it’s white-knuckle stuff!
If any passing TV executives want to employ Allie and me to be the John Noakes and Shep for the X-Box Generation, then we’re very much available, although you’ll have to go through the dog’s agent…
I can still remember the look and – more crucially – the smell of the gloves that I wore on this day. They were chunky red and white plastic affairs from C&A in Middlesbrough, and on the inside they had a foamy, springy gauze that stank to high heaven after twenty minutes of snow-fuelled fun. A mixture of rubber, man-made fibre and excited childs’ sweat that would take me back there in an instant if I caught a whiff of it now. I find smells do that to me, much moreso than any other sense.
Now… you’ve probably seen the phrase ‘after giving Poggy Doggy a scrubber’ and wondered what manner of foul devilment this arcane, obscene practice involved.
Well, brace yourself – not content with with actually throwing snowballs at friends, family members and (forgive me) the dog, us snotty-nosed eleven-year-olds would also attempt to creep up on them from behind and enthusiastically ‘scrub’ their faces with a handful of compacted, rock-hard snow.
It was a practice virtually endemic at Levendale Primary School until the fateful day that Timothy Lewis passed out on the receiving end of a vigorous ’scrubber’ from Simon Werther and had to be taken away in an ambulance.
Did anyone else have ‘scrubbers’ in their childhood, or is it another purely Teesside phenomenon to be filed away with ‘tarzies’?
Here’s the intro to Weekend World (and a glimpse of the mighty Brian Walden) while we ponder on the matter. The background TV show of choice for nearly every early 80s Sunday dinnertime. That theme tune is AMAZING – anyone know what it is and where I can find it?