Wiffle Lever To Full!

Daleks, Death Stars and Dreamy Sci-Fi Nostalgia…

Extracts from Bob’s 1984 Diary… Volume 2

Monday 2nd January 1984

Woke up at 10.00 and got up at 10.25. At 10.45 Doug came and we cut out the parts of wood needed to make the control box for the robot. Then we gathered together some money and went over the road to buy some batteries but only had enough for one so we came back for more money and bought another. We found two more batteries in my electronic games and put all four in the cassette recorder.

Soon after, Doug went home for his dinner and I had mine, then Doug came back and we made a tape for the robot. We then took the recorder and the wood for the control box back to Doug’s house and wired the recorder to the loudspeaker. After that we went into the garage and nailed the control box together.

When that was done, we went back inside and fixed up the burglar alarm, although we still don’t know where to put it. At 4.25 Mam came for me to go home, and we walked Ricky back in the rain. 5.00 Had tea 6.00 Watched Give us a clue. Did nothing from 6.30 to 8.10 then watched the best of British comedy till 9.00 and at 9.10 I went to have a bath and to go to bed.

Blimey, I was such an active and motivated 11-year-old! What went wrong?

So… my best mate Doug and I were making a robot. No, really, we were. He was called ROB-E and we made him out of bits of old wood nicked from the rabbit hutch business (‘Warracks’) that Doug’s dad ran in his garage. He was about three feet tall, had a square body and a triangular head, and he was bloody brilliant. And I really, really wish we’d taken some pictures of him before we smashed him up later in the year because we needed the wood for our den.

And he spoke! Hence all that stuff about the control box and the batteries and the tapes. We hid a battered Matsui tape recorder (long since liberated from my old ZX81 computer) inside his body, and Doug – technical wizard that he was – rigged up a wire that ran from the tape recorder into a handheld control box. The box was basically a little wooden thing with two switches , one of which made ROB-Es little 10w bulb eyes flash, and the other one turned the tape on and off. I’ve got a feeling the voice we recorded for him was a rough approximation of Jim Davidson’s politically sensitive ‘Chalky’ character, but I don’t like to think about it too deeply. It was 1984, and we were young. Ouch.

Do kids still do stuff like this now? We whiled away our winter in freezing brick garages, huddled into our fur-lined parkas (Doug’s was brown, mine was blue. The cold can do that to a man), sawing up bits of wood and inventing increasingly filthy songs about Emma Trimble from Mrs Keasey’s class. She was very nimble, the school sex symbol, and you should have heard what she could do with a thimble.

The other thing that reading this entry brought back was just how grotty and non-corporate the world was back then. In 2009, the garage where we bought the batteries is a gleaming Shell petrol station where a man in a nice sweater sells Ginsters pasties to gullible comestible philistines. In 1984, it was a gloomy wooden cabin run by a bloke called Ron who wore a filthy overall and might grudgingly sell us kids a packet of Fruit Polos providing we had the right change.

This was how the world looked in 1984…

bombsite

The half-mile walk from my house to Doug’s is now lined with executive four-bedroomed showhomes, shoved up guttering-to-drainpipe with a gleaming BMW in every drive. In 1984, there was a ditch and an old builders yard, the home for endless Raleigh Chopper stunts from the top of rubble piles and demolished brick buildings, and a good source for any half-inched bits of wood that we could use for our latest projects. The ground was a minefield of broken bottles and smashed up sheets of asbestos, and if it existed today than an Evironmental Health SWAT team would have to abseil down the side of the night watchman’s hut and evacuate the entire town before sealing off all the roads within a 10-mile radius in scenes that would make Survivors look like The Good Life. Which, actually, now you come to mention it…

Shame I didn’t record more details about Give Us A Clue, though. Classic Aspel-Blair-Stubbs line-up no doubt, with Lorraine Chase and Willie Rushton making up the numbers.

willie1

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10 Comments»

  Allen Dace wrote @

I’m intrigued by “nothing” you did between 6.30 and 8.10 – a black hole in your day or government classified material until 2034?

  bobfischer wrote @

Yeah, me too! There’s nothing classified in my 1984 diaries*, and I was a VERY literal 11-year-old so it’s highly likely I did just sit silently and stare into space for an hour and 40 minutes. I still like to do that occasionally, especially on days when I’m meant to be writing and have run out of practical displacement activities like hoovering or tidying the spare room.

*Apart from the day in June when me and Gaz Jones discover the remains of a crashed Stealth bomber powered by reverse-engineered alien technology in the yard around the back of Thornaby swimming baths. I’m still not allowed to talk about that.

  Drew Smith wrote @

I made a robot too. Unfortunately mine consisted of a upturned plastic wastebasket with a face glued on and a Vtech computer shoved inside.

I really wish I had bothered to write down the adventures we had when I helped form our cul-de-sac’s junior police force with my mate Lee. One regular activity was thunder patrol, which involved cycling round in circles with umbrellas in the rain looking for suspicious activity and lightning bolts.

  bobfischer wrote @

Whorrrr, what’s a Vtech computer? I want one, just for the name. Post a picture! If you can do that on here. I’m not sure.

I’d be game for setting up a new local thunder patrol if you fancied it. We can give ASBOs to rogue cumulonimbuses.

  illegibleme wrote @

Hmm, the closest thing I can seem to find online is this model – which despite looking pretty crap is still fancier than mine ever was.

  bobfischer wrote @

Fabulous.

There’s something about old computers that I find a little bit moving. They were considered so cutting edge and achingly modern at the time, every schoolboy’s hearts desire, but they so quickly become gauche and laughable. And then I feel a bit sorry for them. It’s the same feeling I get when I see a battered teddy bear on a shelf in a thirtysomething’s bedroom. Once they were loved and hugged so closely they were worn down to the fur, but now they’re just plonked out of sight and forgotten. It’s like all the childhood love just evaporated somewhere.

I popped round to my friend Keith’s house over Christmas, and he had a pristine vintage BBC Micro and an old ZX Spectrum set up in his front room. He’d dug them out from the attic and was ‘tinkering with a bit of old school programming’. I nearly cried on his Kempston Interface.

I’d like to point out as an addendum to the above that I don’t get invited into many thirtysomethings’ bedrooms these days.

  illegibleme wrote @

Have you seen Toy Story or Toy Story 2 recently, Bob? You’d love ’em.

  bobfischer wrote @

I’ve never seen either of them, ever. Are they about toys being upset because they’ve been abandoned by children who are growing up? I’d probably cry too much to enjoy them properly…

  illegibleme wrote @

Yes basically, but they’re also really about new leases of life and soldiering on through hard times. I’ll bung you the VHS some time and watch you weep.

  bobfischer wrote @

No panic, I think The Duchess has them on a shelf somewhere! Ta though.


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