Wiffle Lever To Full!

Daleks, Death Stars and Dreamy Sci-Fi Nostalgia…

Farewell, Doug…

I was in two minds whether to mention this on here as it seems so private, but I’ve tried to write other things instead, and I can’t do it. I’ve had some awful news. My old friend Doug died this week. He was 35 years old.

 

Doug was my best friend when we were eleven. We both lived in Yarm, and we went to school together. And for pretty much two full years we lived in each others pockets – if I wasn’t round his house then he was round mine, and if we weren’t round either of our houses then we must have been out on our bikes somewhere, talking about music or robots or abject filth in that brilliant way that only eleven-year-old boys can.

1984 was an amazing year, a brilliant, fun-packed, free-wheeling time, and all of that was because Doug was my best friend.

We even built a robot in Doug’s dad’s garage. We called him Rob-E… he was made of wood, and he had a tape recorder inside his body that was operated by an old light switch on the end of a length of cable. We recorded funny voices for him, and showed him off in our school assembly. And then, flushed with success, we made a model K-9. Which anybody who has read ‘Wiffle Lever’ will know all about. There’s even a picture of K-9 in there, flanked by me and Doug ourselves. Full of the joys of being young and stupid and knowing nothing would ever tear us apart.  

And then, at the end of 1985 when we were thirteen, Doug moved with his family to Australia. And we lost touch completely, although he was never far from my thoughts. Eleven years later, at Christmas 1996, he suddenly walked back into my life. He was on a fleeting visit to the UK, and he phoned on Boxing Day afternoon. Completely out of the blue. I was shaking and speechless at the prospect of seeing him again, but I was round at his Gran’s house to pick him up within twenty minutes, and we had a brilliant few days together… drinking, smoking like bastards, wasting time and talking rubbish. In that brilliant way that only twenty-four-year-old men ever can.

The last time I saw him, I was dropping him back at our friend Wendy’s house, and making him promise to keep in touch.  

And then, tragically, another nine years went by. I don’t know why, it just did. Doug was back in Australia. I moved house and changed jobs lots of times. I got a proper girlfriend. And a dog. I stopped smoking. But I still thought of Doug all the time. And just after Christmas 2005, on a late-night dog walk around the streets that Doug and I had once made our own, snow started to fall. Really heavily. It was magical… huge flakes, twisting and twirling and falling at my feet. My own personal Narnia. Within half an hour, I was crunching through a white blanket of wondrousness, lit orange by the flickering street lights. Whenever it snows, I think back to my childhood, and this night – more than any other night in decades – I felt eleven again. I got back home, stamped the snow off my wellies, dug out an old e-mail address that Wendy had given me, and dropped Doug a line.   

I’ve still got the e-mail in my Sent Items list. I sent it at 01.54am on Thursday 29 December 2005. It says…

Hi Doug,

I just thought I’d drop you a line and wish you a happy Christmas and all that. I really hope you’re well, and it seems weird saying it considering how little we’ve been in touch over the years, but I miss you.

Just kicking around the house by myself at the moment, and at midnight tonight I decided to talk the dog for a walk around Yarm. All the roads are blocked with snow tonight, and there’s no-one around, and I ended up walking around streets and fields I haven’t been to since I was a kid, and I ended up thinking of you and all the stupid things we used to get up to.

So there you go – I’m a soft bastard and I’m getting old. It’d be really nice to hear from you if you get these, and I hope life is treating you well. If it is, tell me all about it. If it isn’t, still tell me all about it. Be good to have a chat.

Best and all that,

Bob

And so we started up again. He phoned me at home the next day, and we cackled and ranted and gossiped as we always had. Swopped the odd e-mail. And we kept hearing stories of each other’s exploits through Wendy, who – bless her – was better at keeping in touch with both of us then we ever were with each other.

The last time I spoke to Doug was in January this year. I phoned him one morning to tell him about the book, and to make sure he was OK with being in it. I told him I was putting the K-9 story in there, and writing about the time he clobbered me in the testicles in our favourite woodland retreat while playing ‘Robin Of Sherwood’ with big sticks. He found the whole thing hilarious, and begged me to send him a copy when it was published. ‘Write what you like mate, I’m on the other side of the world!’ he laughed. And we talked forever about 1984 and all that, in a way we’d never done before, even during that booze-sodden, fag-smoking Christmas of 1996.

I’d held those childhood days spent with Doug so close to my heart for nearly 25 years, and – for the first time – it was lovely to hear that he clearly had too.

And I never sent the bloody book. I’ve been meaning to phone him again all summer to double check his postal address, but I never got round to it. I’ll never forgive myself for that.

So now he’s gone. And I feel like a huge, beautiful slab of my childhood has been torn away. And I have to go on missing him again, knowing full well that I can’t get all soppy on late-night dog walks any more and drop him a line out of the blue. I’ve just been looking at the e-mails we sent each other, and it feels so strange – as though mailing his address right now would somehow bring him back, and – against all the odds – I’d get his usual cheerily sardonic reply firing back at me from some strange, mystical place.

Well I hope he’s in a brilliant place now, a place every bit as brilliant as the places we went to and the times we had when we were eleven years old. Full of the joys of being young and stupid and knowing nothing would ever tear us apart.

And nothing ever will, I promise.

Not this time.

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4 Comments»

  Andrew Glazebrook wrote @

Sorry to hear about the loss of your old mate !! Everybody has a few old mates we lose touch with, but they’ll always live on in memories that are often triggered by a certain toy, movie or song !

  bobfischer wrote @

Cheers, Andrew.

  Claire Otterson wrote @

I’ve been checking out the back catalogue and have just come across this. I can’t tell you how gutted I feel. I’ve often wondered over the years what happened to Doug. He seemed faintly exotic with that hint of antipodean twang. As I’ve been reading this for the last few weeks, I had a picture in mind of him sitting chuckling on the other side of the world at the escapades you had in 1984 as I have been. Wherever you are Douggie, RIP.

  bobfischer wrote @

It’s incredibly sad. Thanks Claire.


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