Archive for March, 2009
Saturday 31st March 1984
We got up at 8.30 and went outside for a bit, then it was breakfast. After breakfast we made our bed and tidied our lockers for inspection. After inspection we had to put our hiking boots and cagouls on, and we went outside for a muck around in the playground.
Me and Gazzie got a go on the see saw, and I took some photos. Then we set off for a walk up the hills, and everybody got up to the eyes in mud going down a path and over the stiles. We went through a wood and came out on the hills. We could see Middlesbrough and Carlton.
Then we could do anything we like, so we all rolled down the hill. Then we went back and had dinner, and after a go on the swings we had tea. Then we went in the den and played Pontoon, and me and Sug fiddled the cards and won thousands of pounds.
Then we had supper, and after a sing-song we went to bed.
So, there’s my official diary entry, but my ‘Carlton Diary’ (written in an exercise book in the camp’s classroom) is decidedly different in tone. I think I was acutely aware that this version had an audience, and would be read by my mates and teachers, so I started to ‘play up’ a little bit for laughs…
Saturday 31st March
Paul Whitehead woke us up by shouting in the morning, then to top it all Tucker let rip and that really got everybody’s eyes open. When the smell had cleared we chucked Gazzie’s Teddy around to the distant sounds of Slackie doing a Sedgefield. Then we got up and dressed and went out for a king size muck around in the playground.
Mason mangled everyone’s lugholes with the breakfast bell, and we had a vomit-brewing plate of something unrecogniseable. After a film on the Country code we yanked our boots on and pulled on Cagouls, then set off on a feet-blistering walk. We weren’t half way when Mason said he’d collapse. Some hope! We dragged ourselves up a big bank which was a complete waste of time because we had to roll down again.
When we got back it was ‘dinner’ which was something that resembled a frisbee and chips. After that we had another muck on and after that it was supper. A cup of hot chocolate (1% chocolate, 99% milk) and a round thing. After that we went to bed and choas started.
Whacky shouted some more unmentionable words, Slackie did a Sedgefield, Mason and Sug played Space Invaders and Tucker polluted the air again. Hundreds of people went to the toilet and when the lights went out someone did an earth shattering pump, but I think it was Mason’s whoopee cusion.
Oh dear, a hint of political incorrectness raises its unwelcome head. A ‘Sedgefield’ (or, to use its full title, a ‘Shivering Sedgefield’) was a craze that swept our social group around this time, and consisted of jumping up and down wildly (bashing into as many bystanders as possible) making insane ‘WHOOP WHOOP WHOOP’ noises. I’ve no idea how this started, but I’m slightly embarrassed to admit that the name undoubtedly derived from the Durham County Asylum that was a famous Sedgefield fixture from 1875 to 1996.
What can I say? It was 1984 and we were 11, and the complexities and tragedy of mental health issues were lost on us. They were just an excuse for us to inflict minor injuries on as many bystanders as possible while jumping around making silly noises.
Anyway, here’s another one of my wonky photos from the Carlton playground…
These are undoubtedly the rings mentioned by Mr Jones in yesterday’s film. I’d forgotten all about them until I saw this, so well remembered, sir! (And I think that’s Gazzie himself, on the left)
Mason was Stephen Mason, an undoubted eccentric and a brilliant artist who was thrillingly outspoken if there was something going on at school that he didn’t agree with. Including walking up bloody big hills, of which this was the highest point…
I was utterly entranced by this strange plinth and its accompanying stone seat, little beacons of ancient (well, 1968) civilisation in an incredibly remote and windswept location. I think my 11-year-old mind was inevitably jolted back to Alan Garner’s books, and no doubt I’ll have been warily glancing around the moors in case an advance party of Svarts came to kidnap us…
These walks had a lovely feeling of freedom about them, though. Despite being accompanied by all of my schoolfriends and two of my teachers, it didn’t FEEL like school at all. It was much more unhinged, and unleashed and ‘off duty’, and I remember chatting with Mr Hirst and Mrs Keasey in a more informal manner that we ever managed in the cloistered environment of the classroom.
In fact, this was the day of the 1984 Grand National, and I distinctly remember Stephen Mason asking Mr Hirst if we could all have ‘a little flutter’. To which Mr Hirst replied by wiggling his fingers in Mason’s face and grinning ‘There you go, there’s a little flutter for you…’
Great to get a bit of hill-rolling in, as well! There’s nothing quite like the feeling of plummeting down a sheer slope, tangled up in a burnished orange cagoul with the remains of fifty packed lunches careering recklessly around you.
Just so long as we didn’t contravene the Country Code. I can’t remember the film we watched at all, but in the absence of any evidence to the contrary, you might as well have this…
The sing-song is equally vague, but I do remember the pontoon! It was a game we played a lot during school ‘downtime’, although Doug and I were once ‘knacked’ for playing ruthlessly for half-penny pieces one indoor dinnertime. Sug was, of course, Andrew Sugden, inventor of the Loonymen (see Volume 85 of this nonsense) and a man easily capable of secreting a few spare Aces up his Debenham’s sleeve. I probably helped out in return for a go on his ‘Space Invaders’, which was a hand-held LCD version, looking a bit like this:
And yes, Stephen Mason had a whoopee cushion that he gleefully let rip with every time Mr Hirst entered the domitory. And it NEVER EVER EVER EVER stopped being hilarious. (And it still hasn’t, I’m slightly ashamed to admit… giggle giggle, titter….)
Friday 30th March 1984
Woke up at 7.50 and got up at 8.00. Then I rang Grandma and then I went to school. I did my brochure and then we went in about Carlton. Had dinner at 12.00 and at 1.15 We set off for Carlton.
Arrived at 2.00 and got our cagools and boots in the barn, Then we went out in the playground, then we went for a walk around a farm and some manky paths. Arrived back about an hour later and cleaned our boots, then we had tea with two Seaton Carew girls called Amanda and Karen.
Then we had to be shown how to make our beds. Then we unpacked and me and Gazzie made our beds, then we wrote our diaries, and after that it was supper. Then we went to bed.
Right, a little change of format required here… the above is, of course, my OFFICIAL diary entry, written in the WH Smiths Desk Diary that I used every day in 1984. However, every day of our week at Carlton Camp, we were taken into the centre’s musty-smelling classroom as a group, and (ahem) ‘encouraged’ to write our ‘Carlton Diaries’ in an exercise book, detailing our days activities complete with illustrations and vaguely amusing captions!
Naturally I’ve still got mine, so for the next week we’ll have two entries for the price of one! So here you go (and yes, these are the actual illustrations…)
Friday 30th March 1984
We left school at about 1.30 and when we arrived at Carlton it was raining. Everybody staggered up the path with their cases but Huggy gave in and splattered a box full of paper in the mud. Then we dumped our cases outside the building and went into the barn to be put into our groups.
Me and my partner Gazzie (Gareth Jones) were put into the blue group by Miss Burnett, then after showing our boots and getting changed we all got our cagouls. After that we went into the playground for a muck about, and then we set off for a short walk.
We went along the coach road to Busby Manor, which was all manky and muddy and on the farm we went through, everyone was up to thier ankles in cow ****. When we got back to the camp we had to clean our hiking boots with some yellow stuff called Dubbin, which looked rather like school custard, then we had tea, which was Beans on toast.
Me and Gaz had to sit with two girls called Amanda and Karen. After tea Miss Burnett showed us how to make our bed, then me and Gaz went and made ours frantically because it was inspection soon. After inspection, everyone went in for supper, which was a biscuit that wouldn’t come out of the wrapper and some Drinking chocolate.
When we’d finished, we went to bed but didn’t get to sleep till about midnight because everyone in the other dormitories were making rude noises, and I hope they weren’t real. The best bit was getting through the mud in the farm, and the worst was sitting with them two girls.
Blimey, where to start…?
OK, for newcomers, this was the first day of my school’s week at Carlton Outdoor Education Centre, an Outward Bound camp at the foot of the North Yorkshire Moors. It looked (and still looks) like this…
I love the fact that I phoned my Gran before I left for school in the morning. I guess a little context might help here…. I was eleven years old, and I’d never been away from my parents for more than a single day before – and even that was just a night at my Gran’s house, or a stopover at Paul Frank’s farm.
The prospect of spending a full week away from my parents, Poggy Doggy and all of my usual home comforts filled me with a mixture of excitement, trepidation and downright terror.
On the plus side… Doug was going, and so was my mate Gareth ‘Gazzie’ Jones, who had the misfortune to be saddled with me as his official partner for the week. Our teachers Mr Hirst and Mrs Keasey were coming too, and the plan was to spend as much time as possible yomping around the North Yorkshire Moors getting cold, wet, dirty and… well, fit I suppose.
For reference (and remember this face) here’s Gareth ‘Gazzie’ Jones in the mid 1980s…
The centre itself is based in the picturesque village of Carlton, a mere ten miles from my parents house at the time, although it may as well have been ten thousand, so remote and isolated did it feel. So who could resist, exactly 25 years on, a little trip back there?
Not me and Gazzie for a start…
We were at a bit of an advantage as the camp manager Miss Burnett was a distant auntie of Gazzie’s, although she still had a slightly scary air of strictness to go with her friendly welcome. The ‘cagools’ meanwhile, were burnished orange affairs that looked like this…
…and yes, that’s Gazzie Jones himself, ‘mucking about’ in the playground on this very day! (Apologies for the rubbish picture by the way… I borrowed my Gran’s ancient 1960s camera for the week, and managed to load the film into it completely wonky)
Back to the site itself for a cheeky shuftie, then…
Our walk that afternoon took us on a little two-mile loop around Carlton village, down the old coach road and through Busby Manor. Our teacher Mr Hirst was a great guide. He was only (I guess) in his mid twenties at the time, and he was full of youthful enthusiasm, loud-mouthed vigour and an irresistable desire to scare the screaming habdabs out of us with terrifying ghost stories.
As Gazzie Jones will testify, as we revisit the coach road to Busby Manor 25 years on!
Amanda and Karen, meanwhile, weren’t from our school. Carlton Camp is a big old place, and the usual practice was for two schools to use it simultaneously. Namely us, and Seaton Carew Primary School, based in a tiny seaside resort on the watery edges of Hartlepool.
We only mixed in the dormitories and at mealtimes, but I still remember the outright terror at discovering that I would have to munch my beans-on-toast in the company of (gasp!) GIRLS. Amanda and Karen were perfectly pleasant, but I was never entirely comfortable sitting at that table.
This table, in fact…
And so to bed! I remember being utterly exhausted as I climbed into the bottom half of mine and Gazzie’s bunk bed. He had a teddy bear called Freddy Teddy. I had my three Alan Garner books. And we were sharing our ‘Blue Group’ dormitory with sandy-haired joker Jason ‘Tucker’ Tuck and sporty skinhead Robert ‘Harry’ Harrison… along with two duos from Seaton Carew who, as I remember, were…
1. A quiet bespectacled lad nicknamed ‘Luppy’ because his second name was Lupton. His first name, sadly, has been stolen from my mind by The Ghost Of The Grey Lady.
2. A tall, dark-haired lad called Davey Fountain who did a cracking Jimmy Cricket impersonation.
3. A well-built lad called David Davies who – no surprise to anyone – played rugby.
4. A cheeky skinhead called Lee who boasted, shaved into his all-over No 1 haircut, two completely bald tramlines that circumnavigated his ears. I made Gazzie Jones laugh into his ‘drinking chocolate’ by quipping at the supper table that he ‘looked like a tennis ball’.
In my fevered nightmares before coming to Carlton, I’d imagined lying in bed in a creaking, cobweb-strewn dormitory, the wind howling through shuttered windows and the skeletal fingers of the Grey Lady peeling back my blankets to take my mortal soul…
What actually kept me awake was the sound of fifty 11-year-old boys farting, giggling, slamming doors, singing filthy songs and throwing things at each others bunk beds in the pitch black until the early hours of the morning. If the Grey Lady had dared to put in an appearance, I think she’d have quickly backed off once Philip Slack had stuck a whoopee cushion up her cassock.
(NB If anyone from Carlton Outdoor Centre chances upon this and wonders how I broke in to take that ‘dinner table’ picture… I didn’t, honest! A teacher friend of mine took his class to Carlton in 2007, and kindly invited me to come up and have a look round for old times sake… and all necessary permissions were obtained. Phew!)
Thursday 29th March 1984
Woke up at 7.50 and got up at 8.15. First at school it was maths groups, and when we came out I did maths. First I had to do a Hexaside, Then I had to do two methods of multiplication. The Egyptian way and the Russian way.
At 12.00 I had dinner, then in the afternoon I read a bit, then we had to go into the hall to check our cases for Carlton, which we brought in this morning. When we came out I read, then we had to go in about Carlton again.
After that I did the cover for my brochure and at 3.00 it was assembly. Came home at 3.15 and played on the ZX81. Typed in a program called Oxygen Alert but it didn’t save. Then I had tea and after that I went out and played football.
Came in at 6.40 and watched Doctor Who, then I went out again. Came in about 8.00 and played on my ZX81, then I wrote my diary and I went to bed.
A HEXASIDE? They’re just taking the geometrical mickey now. I’m now convinced that this whole sorry process is just an excuse to sex-up and re-brand the humble hexagon, a perfectly respectable polygon in its own right. No doubt the next step is a series of tawdry Hexaside TV commercials, with the cast of Duty Free plugging it relentlessly backed by a pounding Nik Kershaw soundtrack.
As for Russian and Egyptian multiplication… well, alright, there’s a BIT more evidence, have a look at this bit of ‘recreational mathematics’…
Substitute a squeaky chalk blackboard for the overhead projector, Mrs Keasey in her lilac suit for the bloke in the pink shirt, and plonk whiffy Christopher Herbert down the front, and that’s a pretty damn accurate Crimewatch reconstruction of 29th March 1984.
Alright, one last day of relative ‘normality’ before the horrors of Carlton Outdoor Education Centre (and the Grey Lady) took me away forever. Except the spectre of it loomed over us all day, like an impending war. I have no idea why we had to bring our suitcases in to have them ‘checked’, but I do recall lugging my World War I brown leather affair into the hall amidst a sea of trendy dayglo camping gear brought in by posh kids who went horse riding and took skiing holidays.
Presumably Mr Hirst wanted to ensure that we’d packed sensible numbers of socks, underpants, waterproofs and Imperial Leather (one of life’s little luxuries) and not just filled our cases to the brim with Wham Bars, Fighting Fantasy books and laggy bands (to fend off the Grey Lady, naturally).
Good to see another ZX81 failure, anyway - I can’t find out much about ‘Oxygen Alert’, but a modicum of research reveals that it did indeed appear in the March 1984 edition of the Sinclair Programs magazine, so at least I was up to date.
And woah! False memory syndrome! I wrote last week that Part Two of the Doctor Who story ‘The Twin Dilemma’ was the last episode that I saw for nearly twenty years… but I was clearly wrong, because here I am, bold as brass, sitting down in front of Part Three! So it was just the very last episode that I missed. What a cliffhanger as well, with Peri captured by the Gastropods, and Azmael (played by the mighty Maurice Denham) refusing to let the Doctor go to her rescue.
No doubt it kept me awake all night. That, and my dark troubled nightmares about The Grey Lady of Carlton Camp…
Anyway, a few more highlights from the Radio Times for this day:
BBC1 3.00pm, The Afternoon Show. Presented by Barbara Dickson and Penny Junor. ‘Today they look at: Accidents In The Home – is your home more dangerous than the outside world? Dreams – do they have meaning or purpose? Domestic robots – would you have one in your home? Quiz Times with Vernon Coleman – does guilt rule your life?’
Wow. It’s like Pebble Mill At One’s neurotic older sister.
BBC1, 4.35pm Huckleberry Finn and his Friends. Part One of the 6,754th BBC1 repeat of this series, but I defy anyone over 35 not to look at the following opening title sequence and not want to curl up in a ball in front of the fire with a mug of warm milk and a Blue Riband biscuit…
BBC2, 9pm Mike Harding In Belfast. ‘Mike Harding ferries his road show across the water and takes up residence in the Grand Opera House, Belfast, for the next six weeks’.
And in my heart for the next 25 years. Mike Harding was a comic hero for me in the early 1980s, a moustachioed genius whose rambling (and often filthy) tales of growing up in West Yorkshire sprang from the same music scene as Jasper Carrott, Billy Connolly and a shedload of other folkie stand-ups that never get enough credit for kickstarting the modern stand-up scene and dragging it out of the Northern club circuit.
And yegods, this takes me back…
Our full week at Carlton Camp starts tomorrow… don’t forget your Wham Bars!
Wednesday 28th March 1984
Woke up at 7.50 and got up at 8.15. Got the bus at 8.30 and first at school it was assembly. When we came out it was Topic groups and when that had finished me and Ozzie did some more of our brochure. Then I had a read and after doing some more brochure I had my dinner at 12.00.
In the afternoon I did a bit more of the brochure and then I had to do some maths about Quadrisides or something. When i’d done that I read for a bit and I had to do some of the brochure for the rest of the afternoon cos I’d done everything else.
Then we went in to the hall about Carlton and at 3.15 Mam came for me and we went into Yarm. Got a Tucker’s luck book. Came home at 4.30 and had tea, then I went outside and played football again. When I came in I played on the ZX81, then after another session outside I came in and watched Day of the Triffids at 7.40. Then I packed my Carlton case and went to bed at 9.30.
I really don’t remember spending quite so long on these bloody holiday brochures… it’s been going on for months now, hasn’t it? No wonder I don’t like going away as an adult, I had enough sandy beaches and ‘deep blue seas’ in Spring 1984 to last me a lifetime.
And ‘Quadrisides’… or something. I’ve absolutely no idea… I’ve been trying to use Google, but there’s really not a lot to go on. Either I’ve got the name wrong (which would be pretty unlike me, as I was extremely retentive, even as an 11-year-old) or it was a name one of our teachers had made up. I presume it’s a four-sided shape? Any qualified mathematicians able to shed any light on this?
Two days away from Carlton Outdoor Education Centre now, and things were starting to get frantic. I’m not sure what all these fifteen minute meetings were about, although I think a bit of information about our forthcoming activities was starting to filter through… we would go to church on the Sunday, we would sleep in bunk beds, we would walk on the moors until our tiny feet bled, we would have our mortal souls possessed by the Ghost of the Grey Lady.
It was also around this time that we had to choose a partner (of the same gender, naturally – there was to be no hanky panky at the Outward Bound centre) to share a bunk bed and a daily dinner table with. I’d hooked up with Gareth ‘Gazzie Jones’, which was great news for me and worse luck for him. He had hiking boots, a working knowledge of the moors, practical nous and – crucially – an auntie (Miss Burnett) who worked at the centre.
In return, I was a obsessive compulsive milksop scared of horses and Giant Hogweed, so it’s safe to say I got the better half of the deal. Sorry, mate.
I bought my Tucker’s Luck book from the back room of Strickland and Holts gift shop, which had a nice selection of books – usually including the latest Fighting Fantasies although not, oddly enough, any Doctor Whos.
It was the one pictured, though… pretty much a word-for-word adaptation of the first TV series, with Tucker and his curly-permed mate Tommy swopping (gasp!) schoolgirl partners halfway through, chubby Alan moping into bacon sandwiches, and insane skinhead Ralph Passmore (bovver boots, braces, pork pie hat) chasing them all through building sites and suburban gardens. Good clean healthy fun, and still – as with so much of this stuff – now on the spare room shelf six feet away from me. And it’s got my name scrawled in the front, so I must have been intending to take it away to Carlton in the vague hope that a few literary pursuits would take my mind off the Grey Lady.
Anyway, a few highlights from today’s Radio Times…
BBC2, 11am, Words And Pictures. ‘Trog And The Dog. Getting the sheep into the fold is a problem for the Trog family, until the Quickerwits show them how to train a dog to do the job for them’.
Marvellously bleak children’s TV, shown as part of BBC2′s ‘Schools and Colleges’ programme. And featuring, no doubt, the terrifying Wordy…
BBC1, 5.10pm Moonfleet. Part Six: ‘John and Elzevir are being transported to Java when their ship is caught in a storm. The crew take to the boats leaving the convicts’. The kind of splendidly worthy children’s drama that seems, sadly, to have gone the way of Presto supermarkets and Opal Fruits. Based on the 19th century novel by J Meade Falkner, and starring David ‘Nightmare of Eden’ Daker.
BBC1 9.25pm QED ‘Testing, Testing’ with Anthony Clare. ‘QED looks at how ordinary things are put through extraordinary tests. It’s a world of crashes, bangs – and worse…’
I grew to love BBC1′s popular science show QED, mainly because its opening title sequence (see below) always reminded me of The Hitch Hiker’s Guide To The Galaxy, but also because it was occasionally very quirky and did Adventure Game-style stuff about space exploration and time travel.
However, in the early 1980s, it was also showing utterly terrifying things like this…
We’ll have a bit of, erm, fun with the permanent 1984 threat of mutually assured nuclear armageddon as the year progresses. By means of a light-hearted taster, meanwhile, cop a load of this… on BBC1 at 11.20pm (and undoubtedly the best place for it)
Tuesday 27th March 1984
Woke up at 7.50 and got up at 8.15. Got the bus at 8.30 and when I got to school Gazzie had brought some hiking boots for me. When we went in it was hymn practice and then after that all the boys had their medical for Carlton. When we came out I did maths, then me, Ozzie and Frankie did some of the brochure.
At 12.00 I had dinner and in the afternoon it was reading time. Then me and Doug went and read in the library, and I got a new book. When I got sick I came out and wrote some of the brochure.
Came home at 3.15 and Doug was at Yarm so I played on the ZX81, Then I went out for a bit and came in for tea at 4.35. At 4.45 I watched Charlie Brown, then I played on the ZX81 again. After that me and mam walked Poggy Doggy on the estate and at 6.40 I watched Tucker’s luck.
7.00 Went out and played football, then I came in and played on the ZX81. After some supper I had a bath and went to bed at 9.15.
AAAAARGH! There is no metaphor in the English language that can possibly convey the utter, arse-clenching agony of attempting to walk for the very first time in a pair of hiking boots.
In early 1984, I owned a grand total of four pairs of footwear…
1. A tatty pair of cheap crimson trainers from Woolco, as pictured left.
2. A pair of black, school ‘pumps’ (stop tittering) for use on pommel horses and the ‘apparatus’.
3. Cheap football boots with moulded plastic studs.
So hiking boots were well out of my comfort zone in every sense of the word. But we’d been told in no uncertain terms that our week at Carlton Outdoor Education Centre would involve a) walking slow b) walking fast and c) walking at a kind of intermediate pace, either slowing down or speeding up between a) and b), and that the absence of Proper Hiking Boots would lead to a disciplinary hearing chaired by the Ghostly Grey Lady Of Carlton Camp.
So my Dad had been consulted about the prospect of purchasing a pair in the days leading up to my moorland adventure, and reached the considered conclusion: ‘Can’t he borrow some bloody boots? He’ll never wear bloody hiking boots again as long as he bloody well lives’.
Thankfully, Gareth ‘Gazzie’ Jones (a seasoned cub scout, who went camping and sang Gin Gan Goolie and everything) came to the rescue.
(I’d been in the cubs myself, for less than a year from 1980-81. I had the full uniform – green jumper, cap, woggle and neckerchief - and our meetings were held every Thursday night in Levendale Primary School hall, with the towering figure of Mr Blankley (who always reminded me a bit of Paul Darrow from Blake’s 7) as our Akela. I managed not to attain a single badge during my time there, and discreetly resigned in the Summer of 1981 when I realised I was missing Top Of The Pops every week. My Mum pushed a note through Mr Blankley’s letterbox, and then we ran to the car and screeched away in a cloud of dust.
I’ve still got the uniform, but I’m never prepared. For anything)
So, exactly 25 years ago today, Gazzie Jones turned up at school and presented me with a Presto carrier bag containing a pair of gigantic hiking boots that resembled two hollowed-out brown breezeblocks tied together with lengths of rope. I tried them on in the cloakroom at dinnertime, and developed saucer-sized blisters on my heels within seconds.
(All credit to my dad, though, who was dead right. 25 years after Carlton Camp, I have indeed never worn bloody hiking boots again as long as I’ve bloody well lived)
I’ve no recollection at all of us boys having our ‘medical’ but, as nobody at the school had even a jot of medical training, I’m going to speculate that it consisted of Mr Hirst saying ‘Cough… touch your toes… next’ around twenty times.
No wonder I spent the rest of the afternoon sulking in the library.
Anyway, a few more highlights from the Radio Times of the day…
BBC1, 1.45pm Chock-A-Block, with Fred Harris. ‘Today it’s the Chockabloke who puts the block into Chockablock’s block slot and rocks the Rockablocks to find words that ring Chockablock’s rhyme chime’.
As a very small child, Fred Harris terrified me, purely because he had (gasp!) a BEARD. And I was scared of facial hair (see also: Ron Mael from Sparks). I even used to have nightmares that, as I lay in bed, a strange, bearded puppet-like figure called Fred would peep around the corner of the door and call my name in a terrifying, sing-song manner. It still makes me shivery writing about it now.
BBC1, 6.40pm Harty. ‘Live from the Greenwood Theatre, Kenny Everett invites Russell Harty to put his toes into The Blood Bath At The House Of Death’. I thought this must have been a stage play that Cuddly Ken was appearing in, but I’ve just checked and it’s a FILM! A spoof horror film starring Everett and Vincent Price! Released on 30th March 1984! For 25 years this has completely passed me by… I’ve never heard of it. And I’ve just been amazed and delighted to discover that it’s out on DVD! Just ordered a copy! More exclamation marks, please!
BBC2 7.40pm Top Gear. ‘A look at motoring in the year 2000 with William Woollard and Frank Page. How will cars be powered in the 21st century? Electricity or hydrogen? Could towns and cities change to suit or motoring needs, and one day will cars drive themselves?’ I HOPE YOU’RE READING THIS, CLARKSON!!!
BBC2, 9pm Marti Caine. With special guests Randy Crawford, Derek Griffiths, The King’s Singers and Spike Milligan. Throw in St Francis of Assissi and that’s pretty much my ideal dinner party.
I wish I’d found this a couple of days earlier, but here’s a lovely chunk of TV from Friday 23rd March 1984, including the Nine O’Clock News. An amazing little glimpse into the era…
Monday 26th March 1984
Woke up at 7.50 and got up at 8.10. First at school we had assembly, then when we came out it was Topic groups. We had to do our own holiday brochure, so when we came out, me, Ozzie and Frankie started our brochures. Then it was maths groups and I joined Group two.
At 12.00 I had dinner and in the afternoon it was reading time. Then me, Doug and Ozzie did our Maths and just as we finished it was maths groups again to show our maths. At 3.00 We had to go in the hall about Carlton and at 3.15 I came home and played on the ZX81.
Then I had tea and after tea me and mam put my name on everything for Carlton. After that I went out and at 8.00 I watched Points of view, then I turned over and watched Duty Free. At 8.45 I had a bath, then I wrote my diary and at 9.40 I went to bed.
Yegods, did the quest for us to make MORE and MORE and MORE holiday brochures ever stop? We must have produced enough to fill an entire branch of Lunn Poly by now, and there can’t have been a yellow or blue felt tip pen left working in the entire school. (Does Lunn Poly still exist, or has it gone the way of Presto and Hintons? Answers on the back of a booking form drawn in pencil with a Shatterproof ruler, please…)
Odd that I was put into ‘Group two’ for maths, as I don’t remember us being split off into different groups for any subject. I know I keep talking about ‘Topic Group’, but I’m pretty sure we all did the same stuff, we just had different teachers telling us about it to make us more manageable. What we definitely DIDN’T have was any kind of ‘streaming’ to system to suit different abilities, Levendale was a proudly progressive mixed-ability school.
Which basically meant that anybody who was actually any good at maths had, unfortunately, to cope with with innumerate knuckleheads like me, counting on my luminous socks and mumbling at bits of long division.
And yay! Nametags! Do kids still use these at school? A little inch-long tag with your name on them, attached to all your items of school clothing to stop smelly Christopher Herbert running off with your Adidas tracksuit bottoms, safe in the knowledge that nobody in their right mind was going to go within a country f***ing mile of his rancid clobber.
I think you could actually buy pre-printed tags (with your name embroidered on them… I think?) and then your Mum had to peel the backing off them, and iron them onto the inside of all your collars. And then six days later they’d all fall off and you’d have to go out and buy another load. Whoever made these must been coining it in, and probably now lives in a huge, rambling country mansion with their name emblazoned across the roof on a huge banner.
And – woah there – here’s another bit of bona fide 1984 excitement. I’ve got hold of the 1984 Radio Times for this very week! It has a cover advertising BBC1′s ace science programme QED, articles about Beryl Bainbridge and JB Priestley, a helpine for worried cross-stitchers, and John Craven’s Back Pages (for kids!!!) focuses on Ian Dury. Who says British culture has been dumbed down over the last 25 years?
Anyway a few highlights from Monday 26th March 1984…
1. Pages from CEEFAX accounting for two hours in total of BBC1′s daytime schedule, and three hours of BBC2′s.
2. ‘Well Woman’ on BBC1 at 2pm, ‘a look at the pros of cons of all contraceptive methods’. ARE YOU READING THIS, LOOSE WOMEN?!?!?
3. ‘Jackanory with Penelope Wilton’. Bestill my beating heart. I’d lie there in blissed-out rapture if she was reading to me from the Yellow Pages.
4. ‘World Figure Skating Gala’, 6.40pm live from Ottowa on BBC1. Torvill and Dean’s ‘last performance before turning professional’, which baffled me at the time. ‘So they’re amateurs, then Mam? REALLY? Blimey, the professional skaters must be AMAZING!!!’
5. ‘Sporting Chance’, 8.30pm on BBC2. ‘A series of eight programmes in which a number of well-known personalities take up the sport of their choice. This week, Anneka Rice and Martin Shaw continue with their chosen sports of orienteering and gliding, and newcomer Joe Brown tackles the French game of boules’. I WANT TO WATCH THIS!!!
6. ‘We Bring You Live Pictures…’, 11.35pm on BBC2. ‘Four programmes about the pioneering days of television outside broadcasts, narrated by John Craven’. See above.
My Dad probably watched the above by himself, glugging his cloudy home-brewed wine from a half pint glass then standing up to salute the national anthem before Open University came on and he turned off the standard lamp and went to bed.
Sunday 25th March 1984
Woke up at 10.00 and got up at 10.30 because Doug rang. Then I went down to Doug’s. First we had a muck around in the hut then we had a laggy band fight on the drive. After that we went to my house and had dinner.
After that we played a load of games on the ZX81 and when we got sick of that we went upstairs and I packed my stuff for Carlton. Then we went for a walk down on Woodlands drive and Clockwood Gardens, and met Sug and Clarkie. After that at about 4.20 We went home and had tea.
Then we played football outside and at 6.30 We went back to Doug’s house through the estate and came out near Yarm. Then Doug went home and I went back to my house and at 7.15 I watched One by One. Then I went in the bath and at 9.20 I watched That’s life. 10.10 Went to bed.
ALERT! ALERT! CLEAR THE AREA! LAGGY BAND FIGHT TAKING PLACE ON THE DRIVE!!!
Forget your Cruise, your Pershing and your Exocets, I still maintain that the most potent and effective ballistic weapon perfected by mankind is the humble ‘laggy band’. What a shocking testament to our drive for self-destruction…
In a nutshell… stretch one end of the laggy band over the index finger, pull the other end to its maximum extended length, aim at your opponent’s head (or, for extra spice, goolies) and release. The resulting explosion of power is such that scientists have calculated that if the entire population of China took part in a mutual laggy band fight at exactly the same time, the resulting tidal wave would be enough to destroy Jupiter.
Anyway, laggy bands seemed to appear in our Parka pockets with alarming regularity. We never remembered actually obtaining them from anyway, they just seemed to be beamed in from the parallel Planet of the Laggy Bands, and occasionally became so numerous that a cull was required.
Hence a morning spent ducking behind Doug’s garage and garden hedges attempting to systematically maim, blind and sterilise each other. Yay!
It was, of course, important to select your weapon carefully. Thick laggy bands (like the one pictured above) could cause moderate amounts of pain over a wider area. But – for a ‘short, sharp, shock’ - then a thinner weapon was required, and was more likely to result in the much sought-after ‘stinger’ effect.
And if anyone at school really cheesed us off, then it wasn’t uncommon for them to be held down in the playground and shot ‘execution-style’ with a single thin laggy band drawn to maximum extension and fired ruthlessly to the temple at point blank range. Ah… simple, innocent times.
I’m amazed to see that, with five days still to go, I was already starting to pack up a suitcase for my week at Carlton Outdoor Education Centre. The suitcase was a brown leather affair with rusty hinges that I think my Great Grandfather brought home from Ypres at the end of World War I. It certainly still smelt vaguely of Bully Beef and mustard gas, although admittedly that might have been from our aborted holiday in Scarborough in 1976.
It spent the entire week laid out on my bedroom floor, being slowly filled up with luminous socks, white ties, Doctor Who novelisations and other essentials for a week spent sleeping in a dormitory in the middle of the North Yorkshire Moors.
I’m amazed at this, because nowadays, on the rare occasions I leave the house for any length of time, my policy is never to spend more than ten minutes in total packing a suitcase. Although admittedly, in 1984, my packing regime was aided somewhat by the fact that I didn’t seem to change my clothes any more than once a fortnight.
Whether I needed to or not, etc.
Clockwood Gardens and Woodlands Drive are rather nice, posh areas of the Levendale Estate, home – of course – to our school. Sug was Andrew Sugden, an hilarious, wild-haired genius who was always drawing comics and cracking jokes. He was like an 11-year-old Spike Milligan, and was the acknowledged creator of the brilliant ‘Loonymen’, strange, green aliens that looked liked this…
That’s the first time I’ve drawn one of those for 25 years, and it feels utterly exhilarating. At least six of us drew them EVERYWHERE from about 1981-84, often accompanied by their bizarre catchphrase ‘Bow-De-Bow’. That’s ‘Bow’ as in ‘Take A…’ not ‘Tie A…’
I have no idea where any of this nonsense originated, but I absolutely love the fact that it did. I’ll sortly be copyrighting the Loonymen and using them as the basis for a series of million-selling children’s books. Sug, if you’re reading this, drop me a line and we’ll sort out the ownership rights.
And Paul ‘Clarkie’ Clarke was a firm member of the gang as well, a lovely, funny softly-spoken lad who (I think) had recently arrived at our school from a spell living in America, although he was from Teesside originally. Here he is on a school trip to Whitby in 1982…
(Notice a mint condition Presto Supermarket carrier bag in the bottom left-hand corner, no doubt filled with blinding white Mother’s Pride egg sandwiches, some Monster Munch and a Milk Club biscuit…)
It was around March 1984 that I became seized by a strange obsession. Our family dog, Jenny – a gorgeous rough collie - had died in November 1983, after a series of illnesses. She was only six years old, she was Poggy Doggy’s mother, and it came as a huge shock to us all.
There was, however, a house in Clockwood Gardens that had two rough collies constantly pottering around the garden. And whenever Doug and I walked past, one of them would rush straight to the gate and bark maniacally at us. I managed to convince myself that this dog was, in fact, Jenny who had (in a kind of canine Elvis manoeuvre) faked her own death and simply moved across Yarm in order to begin a new life.
This wasn’t some sort of morbid in-joke that Doug and I concocted, I genuinely thought this had happened. I guess when you’re 11, and constantly immersed in fantasy books and ripping TV shows and adventure films, it’s easy to become convinced that real life is like that, too. In the movies we watched on TV, if an 11-year-old boy thought his beloved dog had died in heartbreaking circumstances, than you could bet your luminous socks that the shaggy pooch WOULD turn up alive and well before the end of the film.
Sadly, in real life, it wasn’t to be, but it was a nice fantasy for me to hold onto for a while. I dropped a few hints to my parents to see if they got all shifty at the conspiracy being uncovered, but in retrospect they clearly just thought I was bonkers. For a while though, I used to make a habit of walking past the house, and it was always lovely to see Jenny again… if only in my mind.
I’m just glad we never put into practice our plan to ‘spring’ her from captivity and keep her in our den in Doug’s garden.
Saturday 24th March 1984
Woke up at 7.30 and got up at 8.00. Got the 8.20 Bus into Middlesbrough. First I went in Smiths and got two Dr Who books – Kinda and the space war. Then I got some jeans from BHS, some socks and a sweater from Binns.
Then I went to Grandma’s and I started to read Kinda, But had a bacon sandwhich, and after that I finished Kinda. We came back to my house at 1.30 and I found a pound note on the bus. Arrived home at 2.30 and rang Doug but he was out so I played on the ZX81. Played on that till about 5.00 and at 5.14 We had tea.
At 5.45 we and mam took Poggy Doggy for a walk round the estate, and came out near the bridge. Came home at 7.00 and played on the videopac, and then I played on the ZX81. After that I typed some of my story and at 8.40 I watched Driving Ambition.
Then I typed some more and turned the clocks forward. 11.00 went to bed.
Wow! By my 1984 standards, this is a shopping spree of Paris Hilton proportions. I was, obviously, preparing meticulously for my week away with the school at Carlton Outdoor Education Centre, so it was important that I had some new jeans, some spare socks, a warm sweater and… erm, some new Doctor Who memorabilia.
OK, let’s get the books out of the way… Kinda was (and is) one of my favourite Doctor Who stories, with Peter Davison’s Doctor lost in the paradise-like jungle of Deva Loka with Nerys Hughes, Richard Todd and Simon ‘Jack Meadows from The Bill’ Rouse. It’s a rich, intelligent story that touches on themes of Buddhism, environmentalism and mental illness, although back in 1984 I mainly liked it because of the big monster snake that got knacked by a load of mirrors at the end.
And ‘The Space War’ was a retitled adaptation of the Jon Pertwee adventure ‘Frontier In Space’, with Daleks, Draconians and The Master all running riot around the universe. It’s good fun, and I’d read it in its hardback version, obtained from a visit to the musty wilderness of Acklam Library on a weekend visit to my Gran’s a couple of years earlier.
‘That one was great!’ I’d thought. ‘I’ll buy the paperback so I can read it again’. 25 years later, I still haven’t… it’s completely untouched in a box in the loft. I’ll get round to it one day.
This seems incredible for an 11-year-old in 1984, but I think the pair of jeans I bought on this day were the first I ever owned. We were never a big ‘jeans’ family. My parents never wore them, and I used to slop around in an array of straight-legged black trousers from British Home Stores that did equally for school, home and arsing about in the streets and fields and woods.
I think Doug’s streetwise influence was having a healthy effect on me, though. Although I’m not sure if this was the day when I went succumbed completely to mid-Eighties sartorial madness and bought several pairs of these…
…Yes, the dreaded luminous socks, whose presence was spreading like blinding, Terry Towelling wildfire around Levendale Primary School. And they were, of course, only entirely effective if you wore them in ‘odd’ combinations, with green on the left foot and yell0w on the right being a particular favourite.
(Although even we never believed Christopher Herbert when he tried to tell us that sock combinations were, like earring formations, an unmistakeable clue to the bearer’s sexual preferences. Did that really happen with earrings? It was, of course, ‘common knowledge’ when I was a kid that any man wearing an earring in his right ear was clearly fond of the company of other gentlemen, and would have to be physically restrained from dressing like Boy George and being called a ‘Gender Bender’ by the Evening Gazette. Mmmmmm, RIGHT…)
And yay, a POUND NOTE! Fantastic… for those too young to remember, they looked like this…
It actually makes me feel a bit giddy to see those, like seeing an old friend completely unchanged after many decades apart. It’s weird. And by jove, these things WERE my friends. The pound note was pretty much on its last legs by this stage – the £1 coin had been around for almost a year, and the notes were being gradually phased out - but they remained legal tender until 1988.
It’s funny how little bits come back to me as I read these diaries, and as soon as I read the line about the pound notes, I remembered that my Mum and I spent the bus journey talking to an elderly gent with the splendidly grandiose name of Les Honeyman. He was a softly-spoken chap who lived a few houses away from us, and was permanently clad in horn-rimmed glasses, a trilby and an overcoat. A dead ringer, in fact, for Alec Guinness in Smiley’s People.
I found the pound note about five seconds after he’d left the bus at the previous stop to us, and I remember feeling a little bit guilty that it might have been his. Didn’t stop me pocketing it, of course. And I loved the feel of having three or four pound notes scrunched up in my trouser pocket, all ready to be spent on Star Wars or Doctor Who-related loveliness. Mmmmmmmm…
‘The bridge’ that we emerged from with Poggy Doggy is a little hump-backed stone thing five minutes walk from my current location, and now the site for the busy Yarm Railway Station – although in 1984 it was just in the middle of a quiet road alongside a field of swaying crops.
And they call that progress… (actually it is, because the station’s really handy for me). No doubt I’ll have been ‘breaking in’ my new jeans, and will have spent the entire walk stomping around Yarm’s estates like I’d soiled myself. Which, whenever I thought about my impending week at Carlton, I was more than inclined to actually do.
Still, clocks forward! Always exciting, because it meant I got to stay up late without actually putting the effort in. British Summer Time 1984, here we come…
Friday 23rd March 1984
Woke up at 7.50 and got up at 8.00. The bus was late again so I went to school with Slackie. First at school we had Topic groups and when we came out I started to draw a booking form for Topic but we went in for PE.
After that me, Ozzie and Frankie filled each other’s form in. then mam came in about Carlton. Had dinner at 12.00 and in the afternoon I started maths but had to show Mrs Baldwin my file. Then I did some more maths and at 3.15 I came home and played outside with the football.
At 5.15 I had tea and at 6.40 I watched Doctor Who. Then I played on the videopac for a while and I also typed some of the Fighting Fantasy book that I was writing. I did that for just about the rest of the night and at 9.30 I went to bed.
I’m not sure what disasters must have befallen our school bus for it to be late TWO mornings in a row, but clearly Slackie’s Mum (who’s lovely, and who still stops for a chat whenever I bump into her) took matters into her own hands and decided to drive Phil to school herself, picking me up on the way.
This seems utterly bizarre and outlandish now, but I’m sure in 1984 Mrs Slack was a bit of a rarity - being a Mum who could not only drive, but also had her own car. We were very much a one-car family, and my Mum didn’t pass her driving test until 1989, when she was 47. There seemed to be a general social assumption that it was Dads what drove (it’s men’s work, y’know… steering wheels are heavy, and driving requires LOTS of swearing) and the rest of the family should just tag along.
Or get the bus, obviously. Buses were for women.
I can’t remember Mrs Slack’s make of car, but it was definitely a pale beige colour, which seems entirely in keeping with the rest of the early 1980s. It seems de rigeur now to stereotype the era as being filled with BRIGHT, PRIMARY COLOURS, but I remember it as being more washed-out and pastel-shaded. It was the era of the miners’ strike and the nuclear arms race, for crying out loud. Nobody was dancing around in luminous dungarees and Hawaiian shirts.
(Apart from Timmy Mallett)
The booking forms that we drew were all part of our attempt to construct our own holiday brochures, and when we ‘filled each other’s form in’ we were basically road-testing them with information about the holidays WE’D like to go on. Mine no doubt involving a week on Gallifrey with a pile of Fighting Fantasy books and Janet Fielding, although I’m not sure either Ozzie, Frankie or – indeed - Hoseasons would have been able to cater for me.
An indoor PE lesson as well, so it must have been raining, or Mr Hirst would surely have waited until the afternoon to drag us out onto the football pitch again. So no doubt we’ll have had the dreaded ‘apparatus’ out in the hall, together with a selection of pommel horses, blue foam mats, and school benches hooked onto slippery poles to make dangerous-looking slides.
And then we’d be left to our own devices to slog around them in a vague clockwise fashion. The system was foolproof until, well… thirty eleven-year-old fools got their filthy little mitts on it. It generally went tits up if Christopher Herbert was taking his usual twenty minutes to complete a forward roll on the blue mat, and Huggy or Frankie decided to overtake him on the inside (in a light beige PE kit) and press onto the next obstacle. Within minutes, social order had begun to break down completely, and by dinnertime it was like ‘Survivors’.
(I can hardly talk, mind. In the thirty-six years I’ve been alive on this glorious planet, I have never once managed to complete a satisfactory forward roll. I’ve just no idea how to do it. I start off OK, but I simply cannot help skewing sideways and flopping out into a mess of arms, legs and Debenhams pumps. I don’t suppose it’s a skill I’ll ever need these days, but it’d be nice to have it in reserve just in case the British Olympic Gymnastics team ever get REALLY desperate)
And, hey – ‘mam came in about Carlton’. On the bus, obviously. I think she was making a special visit because – ahead of next week’s visit to Carlton Outdoor Education Centre – we’d been asked to declare any allergies, illnesses or special dietary needs. Naturally, for the latter two, I’d put down ‘cannot perform a forward roll’ and ‘needs fishfingers every six hours’.
For the former, though, I’d actually told the truth. ‘Allergic to open gas fires’.
It’s true. My Gran, in her legendary Acklam sci-fi HQ, had one of these…
…and within thirty seconds of it being turned on, I’d be choking for breath and producing enough thick, green snot to fill the average bathtub. So, until the day she passed away, the gas fire was never turned on when I went round to the bungalow. Friends parents had been tipped off too, and so it seemed sensible for me to declare my condition to Mrs Keasey. At which point my Mum was hastily summoned to the school to determine whether I was…
a) telling the truth, or
After a brief discussion in the school’s reception, it was decided that, as Carlton Outdoor Education Centre didn’t have any heating of any kind whatsoever, I was probably on safe ground.
REALLY looking forward to my week away now.
(Incidentally, I forgot all about this strange allergy for decades. And then, one freezing January weekend in 2001, I spent the night in a mate’s flat in York city centre. It was sub-Arctic, and we conquered the conditions by drinking as much as humanly possible, the result of which was me falling asleep in an armchair in the front room.
At which point my mate put on his (very old school) gas fire for the night, before passing out as well. I woke up four hours later with what looked like two tins of mushy peas pouring out of each nostril)
And Doctor Who! ‘The Twin Dilemma’ Part Two, of course.
BRILLIANT as ever, but this was the last episode of this story that I’d see until 2002, when I bought a second-hand VHS from Ebay. Suffice to say it wasn’t quite as exciting as a 29-year-old as it was when I was 11… but then what is?