Wiffle Lever To Full!

Daleks, Death Stars and Dreamy Sci-Fi Nostalgia…

Extracts from Bob’s 1984 Diary… Volume 29

Sunday 29th January 1984

Woke up at 9.30 and got up at 10.15. I played  on the videopac until 11.30, When I rang Doug to see if he wanted to come over for the day. He asked me if I could come swimming with him, and I could, so he said he would pick me up about 12.00. When I came off I played on the ZX81 and Doug came at 12.20.

We went to the baths after picking up Claire Hamilton and Doug’s cousin. At the baths we mugged Jenny and then when we came back we went to Doug’s house and got the tape recorder then me and Doug went back to my house and had dinner. We were going to write a Poggy Doggy program on the ZX but it wouldn’t work so we went out and played cricket.

Then we came in and played on the videopac upstairs. We had tea after that and at 5.30 Doug went home. At 6.45 I recorded some songs off the radio and also an electoronic bark for K9. 9.5 Went in the bath and at 9.20 I watched That’s life. 10.10 Went to bed.

Woop! Woop! First mention for the ZX81!

As our transatlantic neighbours might say, I’d like to hear some love, please. Some love for this gorgeous little black plastic computer. It had a mighty 1K of memory, unless you bought a 16K rampack to plug into the back of it, which I did. And it overheated so much that occasionally it required a cold carton of milk from the fridge shoving up against it to stop it exploding all over the Teesside Times.


But OH MY WORD I loved it to bits. I got my ZX81 for Christmas in, erm, 1982, and for almost a year it was my best friend. Then Doug arrived in my life, and I was dazzled by the lure of the even newer and shinier ZX Spectrum, but even so… the sheer puerile glee of typing…

20 GOTO 10

…into a ZX81 is a primal, basic thrill (or even a BASIC thrill – arf arf) that goes back to the Incas. Especially if you do it to all the ZX81s on display at Dixons in Middlesbrough town centre to liven up another dreary shopping expedition.

The game I was playing will undoubtedly have been the brilliant 3D Monster Maze, in which you, yes YOU were transported to a thrilling, infinite labyrinth in which you desperately hunted for the exit while being pursued relentlessly by a terrifyingly realistic Tyrannosaurus Rex. Here it is, here…

Yes, yes, I know that in this cynical, post Wii-Me era, it looks like a game carved out of papier mache by chimpanzees. But I swear, in 1983 when I first saw this, it felt like two electrodes had been attached to my temples and I had been transported into the year 3156. I had NEVER experienced anthing like this, and the prospect of playing it AT HOME on MY PORTABLE TV was the pre-pubescant 1983 equivalent of heading down to your local Dog & Duck and pulling the Pussycat Dolls. Amazing.

Anyway… back to Sunday 29th January 1984, and Jenny was – of course – Doug’s elder sister, and Claire Hamilton was her friend, with the most astonishing  long mane of luxuriant blonde hair. Naturally I was terrified of both of them, so when I say that Doug and I ‘mugged’ them at Thornaby Baths, what I actually mean is that Doug enthusiastically splashed water over them while I hid behind him and half-heartedly joined in.

‘Ha ha!’ we shouted. ‘You’re getting wet!’

‘Of course we’re getting wet, we’re in a swimming pool, you MORONS,’ they respondered, with the expert, withering sarcasm of intelligent 14-year-old girls everywhere.

‘Oh yeah,’ we said, and looked at each other stupidly for a second before carrying on.

‘Ha ha! You’re getting wet!’ 

And so on and so on until a pot-bellied man in a tight yellow T-shirt and crotch-hugging trunks wandered over and blew a whistle to signal the end of the session for everyone wearing green wristbands.  

I don’t remember exactly which songs I recorded off the radio, but our favourites at the time included Joe Fagin’s ‘That’s Livin’ Alright’ (the closing number from my beloved Auf Wiedersehen, Pet), Fiction Factory’s brilliant one-hit wonder ‘Feels Like Heaven’ and this pop masterpiece from Matthew Wilder, which Doug and I used to sing while balanced on the fallen Redwood-sized tree trunks that  my Dad regularly left scattered around the garden…

Believe it or not, in 1984 Middlesbrough, lots of heterosexual men actually looked and acted like this. I must try and find my old TDK C90s somewhere… I’ve probably still got this very recording, made by pushing a plastic portable tape recorder up against the speakers of my parents ancient wooden stereogram, and hoping beyond hope that my Dad wouldn’t interrupt Simon Bates’ chart rundown by shouting ‘Turn that shite off, the Antiques Roadshow’s on in two minutes…’

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