Wiffle Lever To Full!

Daleks, Death Stars and Dreamy Sci-Fi Nostalgia…

Archive for August, 2008

York Wifflage

Thanks and congratulations to Brad, who managed to snap this sterling bit of Wifflage in the York branch of Borders…

They’ve severely underestimated my cult TV credentials, mind you. I knew what THX-1138 and NCC-1701D were, but I had to have 4 8 15 16 23 42 explained to me.

Although now that I know, I’m quite proud of the fact that I didn’t know… ūüėČ

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The Naked Jape

I’ve just noticed these ramblings had one of their busiest days for hits today! So take note, Hodder & Stoughton: the way to spread the word about Wiffle Lever is to have me pose in increasing states of nakedness while holding obscure items of cult TV memorabilia. It’s¬†merely a matter of time before my bare arse is projected onto the side of the Houses Of Parliament with only a 1979 Hong Kong Boba Fett action figure to cover my modesty.

Don’t bother with the rare 12″ model though, the standard 3″ action figure should be more than sufficient.

Anyway, I wasn’t joking about the 2009 calendar. I’ve had the proofs back from the printers today, and here’s my birthday month on the Fischer front room wall…

I’ve heard other writers talk about ‘displacement activities’, in which they’ll occupy their time with all manner of useless rubbish rather than actually sitting down to write another book. I don’t buy it myself, though.

Sir Gerald Nabarro Has A Pet Prawn Called Simon

I forgot to mention, I had a lovely afternoon on Thursday with my old school friend Paul Hayes, who appears throughout lots of the latter half of ‘Wiffle Lever To Full!’. He’s my Monty Python comrade-in-arms, partly¬†to blame¬†for driving poor Mr Dillon (our physics teacher)¬†round the bend¬†throughout 1988 with endless recitals of the ‘Fish Licenses’ sketch from Series 2 Episode 10, but he was also the evil Dungeons and Dragons gamesmaster¬†responsible for¬†the demise of¬†my beloved Hamwise Beardribbler in the Discworld chapter.¬†

Although neither of us have moved away from Yarm¬†for any serious length of time,¬†we’ve barely spoken since we left sixth form in June 1991.¬†But – having read Wiffle Lever and denied everything in it – he contacted me this week to say he and his family were leaving the North-East for good, so did I¬†fancy a pint before they went?

So we did. We sat in the Black Bull for two hours amidst¬†giddy, Blue WKD-fuelled¬†GCSE students and reminisced. And it was brilliant to see him again, and – to my delight – he thrust a blue carrier bag in my hand containing the¬†three Monty Python¬†VHS¬†videos that I’d bought from Stockton’s WH Smiths in the Summer of 1988, lent¬†to¬†Paul in the Summer of 1989, and never seen since.

So here, for the benefit of the increasing flow of punters coming to this blog looking for Abi Titmuss material, is a racy picture to at least partly reward you for your effort. Two of the returned videos being modelled by our sultry Teesside pipe-smoking model Mr Raymond Luxury-Yacht. Although it is, of course, pronounced Throatwobbler Mangrove.

And yes, this is currently earmarked for ‘November’ in the 2009 Wiffle Lever To Full! Calender.

99 Red Balloons

Happy birthday to my Gran, Mary Eliza Atkinson, who – amazingly – would have turned 99 today. She’s featured regularly throughout ‘Wiffle Lever To Full’ as I’m pretty sure she helped kick-start my sci-fi addiction when she bought a small selection of Star Wars action figures for me to eagerly unwrap on Christmas Day 1977. I’d just turned five and¬†I¬†hadn’t even seen the film at that point.

Some of my fondest childhood memories involve racing back from Ayresome Park to her bungalow in Acklam to watch Doctor Who with a sticky bag of Nuttall’s Mintoes in my hand.¬†My Gran, Ayresome Park and Nuttall’s Mintoes are all gone, but I suppose I’ll always have Doctor Who. And every time I buy a vintage Star Wars figure on Ebay to go on top of the filing cabinet, I think of her.

Happy birthday, Gran.

F***ing hell, it’s Abi Titmuss

Before I go to beddy-byes, a quick hello to whoever visited the below blog entry after Googling ‘Abi Titmuss’ earlier today. Hope the picture of John Jaques in a monkey mask¬†provided¬†exactly the kind of thrills you¬†were looking for. ūüôā

Monkey Gone To Lancaster

I got dragged into the Lancaster branch of Waterstone’s on Sunday morning by two friends, who proceeded to pull ‘Wiffle Lever To Full!’ out of the 3-for-2 pile before my eyes. It was nestling between Abi Titmuss and Rudolf Nureyev, which sounds like the perfect way for anybody to spend a Sunday morning.

If you’re one of the chosen few who’s read the book already, you’ll know I’ve got a bit of an attachment to Lancaster. I went to University there between 1991 and 1994, and it was the scene of my terrifying dope-smoking Prisoner-related debacle (I’m not proud) and my 1993 ‘heights of denial’ rant against sci-fi fans, in the front room of 33 Ashfield Avenue (I’m even less proud).

Present on both occasions was my friend John Jaques, who was also there this weekend. He’s the ‘bespectacled comic book fan from Burnley’ who helped me home after I’d sucked on a joint the size of a football corner flag and drank three cans of the virtually poisonous Scandia Gold round at Simon Crabbe’s house. (This was also in 1993 by the way, not this weekend… these days I can barely manage two pints of Workie Ticket before sliding under the table and singing the Ents Marching Song).

Anyway, it was lovely to see John, and also Gareth Johnstone (mentioned on Page 301 of Wiffle Lever), who still lives in Lancaster. A few people have asked me recently to post up more pictures of the old friends mentioned in the book, just so they can put a few names to faces. And I’m always slightly reticent about this, as I’m keen to protect their privacy, however I think in this particular instance it’s safe to offer up a picture of John Jaques taken at the top of the Ashton Memorial overlooking Lancaster City Centre at approx 1.30am on Sunday morning…

 

If you ever see him around, tell him he left his peanuts in my car.

Even Looser Ends

Well, I enjoyed being on Loose Ends yesterday, although more attentive listeners might have noticed Peter Curran and Robin Ince having a strange, brief exchange about me being marooned in Lincoln. They weren’t joking…

I’d been asked to be at Broadcasting House in London for 10.30am yesterday, with the intention of recording the show at 11. So dutifully I set the alarm for 4.45am (yikes!); spent 45 minutes blearily brushing my teeth, falling over the dog, falling over the toothbrush and blearily brushing the dog’s teeth; then drove to Darlington and wolfed down a Marathon bar* and a can of sugar-free Red Bull before catching the 6.30am train (at 6.45) to King’s Cross.

We made it as far as York before a solemn announcement intoned that ‘due to signal difficulties, this service is being cancelled. Please make your way to Platform Five’. I trooped off the train, stared hazily at the paving stones on Platform Five for 20 minutes, then caught the 7.36am train (at 7.45) to King’s Cross instead.

Another solemn annoucement as we hurtled towards Doncaster. ‘Due to an act of vandalism on the line, this service will face severe delays. We apologise for any inconvenience this may cause to passengers expecting a free lunch with Robin Ince and Mark Steel’.

By the time we reached Retford (dangerously close to Ye Olde Bell Hotel, where I first acquired the cursed Robin Of Sherwood dolls – could this be the latest act of revenge in their endless reign of terror…?) we were being told that the train was unlikely to progress beyond Newark, and – in a nutshell – we might as well get off there and bugger off back up North again. It was nearly 9am at this point, so I drew on my meagre initiative reserves and phoned the lovely Cathie, producer of Loose Ends, hoping that she wasn’t still at home brushing the dog’s teeth as well.

‘Get off the train at Newark’, she said. ‘We’ll find somewhere for you to do it down the line’. Dutifully, I got off the train at Newark. It didn’t look like there was much else in the town to speak of apart from two railway stations. The only line in sight had sleepers on it and was stretching south towards an act of wanton vandalism. I stood aimlessly on Platform 1 for ten minutes until Amy from Loose Ends called me. ‘We’ve booked you into BBC Radio Lincoln!’ she told me, sounded delightfully excited about the whole adventure. ‘Just jump into a taxi and give us a call when you’re there’.

‘Can you take me to Lincoln?’ I asked genial, bearded taxi driver Dave. ‘Sorry if that’s miles away, I don’t really know where I am’.

It was miles away. About twenty. But Dave was lovely, and told me that his nephew wants to write for a living, and has just found his first agent. 35 minutes and just as many pounds later (yikes!), Lincoln Cathedral appeared out of nowhere, we screeched to a halt, and I found myself ringing the doorbell of a deserted-looking BBC Radio Lincoln.

A nice travel reporter called Graham eventually came to the door and let me in, and I drank a cup of coffee in the news cubicle with manager and presenter Les Sheehan, who told me that he’s been at the station since the day it opened in November 1980. Robin Ince and I spent an hour battling fluctatating mobile signals and playing a sterling game of voicemail tennis that I eventually lost on a nerve-racking tie break when he got through to tell me that Wiffle Lever To Full! had had a nice review in The Times that morning. I was still buzzing from this news when Radio Lincoln’s charming Maria Richmond dragged me onto her live mid-morning show to take part in a feature on sci-fi fans who dress up, inspired by a report in the morning’s Guardian supplement about a man who strides around Hartlepool disguised as Darth Vader.

So I did Loose Ends sitting by myself in an empty studio in Lincoln, listening down the line to Peter Curran, Robin Ince, Mark Steel and the rest of the team swopping bon mots over canapes in a glitzy corner of Broadcasting House. ‘So…’ I said to Les and Graham afterwards. ‘How do I get back to Newark? Is there a train?’

‘Oh no,’ they replied, in scary harmony. ‘Lincoln station is closed for refurbishment. They might be running a bus service, though’. I shook hands warmly, and bade farwell to BBC Radio Lincoln. It was tanking down outside. 45 minutes later I managed to find the shattered remains of Lincoln station, and the shattered remains of two dozen confused-looking rail service refugees wandering around outside.

‘Bus to Newark leaves in an hour,’ the cheery guard told me. ‘Best off finding somewhere dry to sit and wait’. So I did, I found a tiny ledge on the outside of a Discount Book Store and read the review in The Times 457, erm, times.

Then I walked back to the station in the middle of Lincoln’s first-ever tropical monsoon. I slumped into a seat on the bus, and tried to drift off. Just as I was doing so, a man climbed into the seat across the aisle with his wife and young son, and began talking enthusiastically to them about vintage toys and action figures. Somewhere in my sleep-starved brain, his voice was ringing vague bells. Little mental pixies began bringing odd, irrational thoughts to the front of my mind.

‘I know that voice. I’ve spoken to that voice before. But I’m in Lincoln, a place I’ve never been to before and have no connection with at all. But I do know that voice. Has he been on my radio show? Over the phone talking about something? Geeky stuff. It’s a geeky stuff radio guest. Come on mental pixies, work harder… streeeeetch…’

A lull in his family’s conversation. If I don’t ask the question, I’ll never be able to live with myself.

‘Excuse me, I’m going to ask you a really strange question. Is your name Mike?’

A look of nervy amazement. ‘Yes…?’

‘Mike Simpson?’

‘Yes…?’

‘Bob Fischer from BBC Tees in Middlesbrough. You’ve been on my radio show two or three times’.

And he has. MJ Simpson is a sci-fi and fantasy writer and journalist, and a few years ago he wrote ‘Hitch Hiker’, a splendid biography of Douglas Adams. We’ve spoken on the phone a few times, and exchanged the odd e-mail, but we’d never met until a chance meeting on a deserted bus outside a collapsing railway station in Lincoln. When I introduced himself, he exploded with surprise, shouting rattling the spire of Lincoln cathedral with an explosive ‘Bloody Hell!!!!’.

‘Amazing that you’ve managed to find me here,’ he smiled. ‘For those of us who want to come here, this place is virtually bloody impossible to get to at the moment. Yet you’ve managed to tip up here by accident without actually wanting to’.

Anyway, we had a nice chat and that put me in a good mood. Right up until the point when I realised the bus was taking me to the other Newark station, and I’d have to walk another mile in another East Midlands tropical monsoon to get back to Newark Northgate.

So I got home at 5pm, exhausted, dripping wet and starving hungry. I dealt with these problems in the only way I know how… I stuffed my face with chips, then went to a quiet pub and got hammered with my friends.

‘Well done on Loose Ends,’ they said to a man. ‘Did you meet Mark Steel? It was funny when they tried to pretend you were in Lincoln’.

*Snickers, my arse.