Wiffle Lever To Full!

Daleks, Death Stars and Dreamy Sci-Fi Nostalgia…

Extracts from Bob’s 1984 Diary… Volume 8

Sunday 8th January 1984

Woke up at 9.00 and got up at 10.15. At 10.20 I played on the videopac and then at 10.30 I rang Doug to see if I could come down, and he invited me to go swimming with him to Thornaby baths. At 10.35 I played on the videopac and after that I went outside and played on the tarzie, then I came inside after a while and watched for Doug.

Doug came about 12.25 and we arrived at the baths at 12.30. (My locker got stuck going in and so we had to call the attendant) When we came out Doug, Jenny and I went to the sweet shop while Doug’s mam and dad waited in the car. We went to Doug’s gran’s, then we went back to Doug’s and rigged up the cassette recorder to the control box.

Then we had Sunday dunner and after dinner we rigged up ROB-E’s eyes and then my mam came for me at 4.30 so we quickly put the head on. 5.00 Watched the end of Lifeboat, 5.15 Watched The Goodies 7.15 Watched Hi-de-Hi 7.45 Watched the bond film, You only live twice 9.45 Went in the bath, and at 9.55 I watched That’s Life. 10.45 Went to bed.

Two visits to Thornaby in two days, no wonder I needed a good bath!

Another day that I vividly remember, and it’s strange how revisiting this diary brings back so many tiny, weird details from 25 years ago. At Thornaby baths, Doug and I swam down to the deep end of the pool and rested at the end, bobbing up and down and talking about, well… filth while Paul McCartney’s current single ‘Pipes Of Peace’ warbled over the tannoy. And so, to this day, whenever I hear this song…

…the smell of chlorine and the memory of tepid water splashing up my skinny ribs  is almost overwhelming. It’s a giddy rush of nostalgia that’s never, ever unwelcome. Funny how the littlest things can set you off, isn’t it? Is every tiny memory you’ve ever had lodged in your head somewhere, just waiting for the appropriate trigger to bring it back? I’d like to think so. I’d hate to lose anything so important for ever.

At this point, we decided to play with the lifeguard’s mind a little, so Doug – who was a very strong swimmer for his age – feigned being completely out of his depth, splashing and gulping and pretending to grasp desperately for the edge of the pool.

‘Oy!’ shouted the attendant, a pot-bellied man with a small moustache in minute Speedo trunks. That is the man was in minute Speedo trunks, not the moustache. Although I suppose you never know.

 ‘How far can you actually swim?’

‘Two and a half miles’ grinned Doug, and shot off down the other end like Mark Spitz on amphetamines while I weed myself laughing. Although probably not literally, for fear of being lost in a giveaway purple cloud.

And the sweet shop! A proper, old-fashioned sweet shop, all dark and murky and full of aniseed balls and humbugs and gobstoppers. You don’t really get them any more. Nowadays lots of shops sell sweets, but only as a sideline. Thornaby sweet shop sold nothing else, and they were poured out of glass containers by a doddery old lady who’d then weigh them on an old-fashioned scale and twirl them into little paper bags for us. Heaven.

The sweet shop has long gone, but Thornaby baths is still there, and still looks exactly the same…


Can’t remember too much about Doug’s gran sadly, although I’ve vague memories of standing awkwardly in the front room, staring silently at my feet as I was introduced to the extended family. With Doug and my other mates, I was a shamelessly extroverted gobshite. In polite, unfamiliar adult company, I wanted to crawl under the carpet. Even at the age of 36 I’ve never quite shaken off that strange, inconvenient paradox.

Couple of daft bits, as usual…

The tarzie! I mention my garden tarzie in ‘Wiffle Lever To Full!’, and I’ve since discovered that the word seems to be a uniquely Teesside bit of the vernacular. Everyone who grew up on Teesside seems to know it, everybody who didn’t… well, doesn’t. It’s just a long rope hanging from a tree branch specifically designed for kids to swing around on like Tarzan. Hence the name. Here’s me swinging on mine, sometime in Spring 1983…

tarzieSensational hair. I’m growing it back like that.

Has anyone from outside Teesside ever heard the word ‘tarzie’, and if not what did you call them? Did it spread as far as Newcastle? I’m intrigued! Important social research, this…

Jenny was Doug’s red-haired sister, three years older than us so therefore fourteen at this stage. Which made her impossibly scary and grown-up. I was terrified of her.

Oh yeah, and the cassette recorder and the control box bit again refers to our determined attempt to get ROB-E the robot talking before the end of the month. Stay tuned…

And bloody hell, how did I EVER manage to get through so much telly? I’m guessing ‘Lifeboat’ was some kind of early 1980s docu-soap? And good to see ‘That’s Life’ in there, whose presence I still sometimes miss on Sunday nights, when it gets to 10pm and there’s nothing really to do but mess about online.

And now, over to Doc…



  Niel wrote @

This is great fun Bob! I think this is your second book: 1984+25 by Bob Fischer & Bob Fischer – your diary by past Bob with comment by present day Bob. Am halfway through Wiffle and loving it. Whats not to like?

  bobfischer wrote @

Ha ha, thanks Niel! I’d love to make a book out of this nonsense. I could get Doc Cox to write the foreward. Glad you’re enjoying Wiffle as well.

Quick update – I suspect the ‘Lifeboat’ that I ‘watched the end of’ at 5pm is actually the 1944 Alfred Hitchcock war film starring Tallulah Bankhead and William Bendix. Sounds like exactly the kind of thing that BBC1 would be showing on a Sunday afternoon in 1984. More info here…


For some reason, I always think ‘Bendix’ sounds like a company that should be making washing machines and tumbledriers.

  Fiona Tims wrote @

We call them swings. How damn inventive. Tarzie sounds much better.

  bobfischer wrote @

I want a go on one now. Anyone know of any good ones around Teesside?

  PJEUK wrote @

Tarzie was definitely in use at Wolviston Court Estate in Billingham, We used to have several rigged up in the “roughie”, a large field next to Northfield School, usually from someone’s dad’s tow rope.

Although Billingham and Yarm are seperated by a distant 8 miles I can spot so many parallels with our growing up it’s spooky, comforting and warmly nostalgic reading your blog. Making me very homesick for a time and place so very distant.

  bobfischer wrote @

Ha ha! Yes, I think Teesside in the 1980s was filled with confused-looking Dads searching high and low for their suddenly absent tow ropes…

Thanks for the kind words, as well – that’s really nice. I sometimes wonder if I dwell too much on the past but I can’t help it – it’s such a nice place to visit. I feel very old reading some this stuff back, though. 🙂

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