Wiffle Lever To Full!

Daleks, Death Stars and Dreamy Sci-Fi Nostalgia…

Extracts from Bob’s 1984 Diary… Volume 63

Saturday 3rd March 1984

Woke up at 7.30 and got up at 8.00. Got the 8.20 bus to Middlesbrough and first I got a book called The Moon of Gomrath from Smiths, then we had a look at the Tellys in DER. At 10.00 We went to Grandma’s and I read my book. Then I had a ham sandwich and at about 1.00 We went home.

Then when we got home Dad said Doug had rang so I rang him back and he came down and we got some gum from the garage. Then we went back to my house and had a muck about and at 3.40 We walked through Conyers (found a cricket ball) and walked to Yarm.

First we went in the library, then we went in Newsfare, then we went in Strickies, and on the way back we had some Monster munch.

Then Doug went home and I had tea. At 6.30 I watched Some Mothers do ave em, and at 7.00 I watched Butch Cassidy and the Sundance kid. 10.00 Went to bed.

Ah, yes… The Moon Of Gomrath. Alan Garner’s similarly brilliant, inspiring and atmospheric sequel to ‘The Weirdstone Of Brisingamen’ (see Diary Entry Volume 49). I’d only discovered its existence two days earlier, when Ian ‘Ozzie’ Oswald – in the midst of our Titchie Richie and the Weirdos farrago – told me he’d read it. At the time, we were  sitting on the side of the swimming pool at Egglescliffe Comprehensive, and I remember him shouting ‘The Morrigan is in it, but Grimnir’s done a bunk’ as he flopped into the water to embark on the first of his four widths.  

This sacred knowledge had burnt inside me for nearly 48 hours, and – on Saturday morning – I had no option but to demand we catch the earliest possible bus to Middlesbrough so I could make a purchase. Luckily, the bus stop was right outside our house. This is it, here…

(and since watching this back, you’ll be relieved to hear that I’ve HAD A BLOODY HAIRCUT)

I still remember having mild palpitations when I discovered that WH Smiths had a copy of the book in their Aladdin’s Cave-like downstairs section. Because, of course, back in 1984 there were no retail certainties… before the days of Amazon and Ebay, if you wanted a book (or a record or – if you were posh – a video) you had to traipse around shops all over the country in the vague hope that you might someday chance upon it.

But, on Saturday 3rd March 1984, I was in luck… I bought this, with 95p of my pocket money…


And, naturally, had another couple of heavenly hours curled up on the sofa in my Gran’s front room, losing myself amidst Celtic mysticism while Saturday Superstore and Grandstand burbled in the background. I was particularly entranced by the chapter about ‘The Old Straight Track’, an ancient pathway of the Old Magic that only appears on the hilltops at moonrise. I still keep an eye open for this whenever I take the dog for an evening ramble on the moors, and I’m determined one of these days to bring home a Mothan (read the book to decipher all this properly – it’s worth it!)

For some reason, I remember quite distinctly that the ‘gum’ we bought from the shabby cabin at the garage was the much-maligned Juicy Fruit…


…we chomped on it relentlessly as we yomped around the grounds of Conyers School, shamelessly purloining bits of misplaced sporting equipment. I had that cricket ball for years – in fact, our garage at home was a veritable treasure trove of what I believe the art fraternity refer to as ‘found items’. We lived next door to two school sporting fields, for crying out loud. If ever Tracey Emin fancied making an exhibition out of battered cricket balls, used golf balls, mud-spattered hockey sticks and old socks, then our garage would have been the place to start (although doubtless my Dad would have told her to ‘bugger off or I’ll let the dogs out’)

OK, a bit of retro shop fun…

DER was an uber-Eighties purveyor of electrical goods, up there with Currys, Dixons and Northern Electric when it came to completely square TVs the size of garden sheds – not big in a ‘wow, look at my 42″ plasma’ way, but big in a ‘bloody hell Doreen, we’ll never get that through the patio doors’ way. No idea why we were looking at ‘Tellys’, unless there was something interesting on at the time. 8.30am on a Saturday? Probably the Open University. Or Godzilla. 

Not sure what DER stood for either. Something Electrical Retail? Durham? Answers on the back of a bedsheet-sized Evening Gazette, please…

Newsfare was one of at least three small, independent newsagents still remaining on Yarm High Street in 1984. Proper, old-fashioned, family-run shops… a bit musty and fusty but lovely with it. All three have long since vanished and been replaced by (yep) an identikit Spar, in an entirely different location to any of them. 

‘Strickies’ is still there, though! Although I’m not sure Messrs Strickland and Holt (Established 1854) would ever approve of the abbreviation. It still looks exactly the same…


…a rather well-heeled treasure trove of books, posh clothes, old-fashioned board games, birthday cards, school gear (it had a sensational Shatterproof ruler selection) and assorted nick-naks. I was in there on Friday, and it’s barely changed. It’s also the only shop I’ve ever been in that has a cobbled floor.

And – sound the sirens – my first-ever 1984 reference to Monster Munch! Yep, the corn-based snack that features so prominently in ‘Wiffle Lever To Full!’ that, for the London launch, Hodder & Stoughton bought a vanload of it to hand around on paper plates. Altogether now, you can take the boy out of Teesside…



  Chris Orton wrote @

Just caught up with this entry. I assume that the Remand Centre would be Kirklevington? My Uncle Joe used to be a warder there. I think that at one point he left there to take a job at The Maze in Belfast!

I wonder which would be the safest place of the two?

  bobfischer wrote @

Yes, that’s the one! It ws a Young Offenders Institute when I was a kid, then it became (I think) the rehabilitation centre for long-term prisoners at the very end of their sentences. One of them used to work in Yarm Chippy (as was… it’s now part of the Barnacles chain, boooo). Now it’s the Remand Centre.

Would that be Joe Orton, then?

He kept that quiet… 😉

  Chris Orton wrote @

No, it’s an uncle on the other side of the family, although I *do* actually have another uncle called Joe Orton, believe it or not. He’s my Dad’s brother and is a very big cheese in library circles in east Durham!

It was the Y.O.I. that my uncle worked at and we had to pass it on the way to his house. “You two’ll end up in there if you don’t stop fighting”, was usually the cry from me Mam to me and my brother. She said the same whenever we passed the Bad Lads School at Aycliffe too.

  bobfischer wrote @


Every area had a Bad Lads School, didn’t it? It usually sounded like a better laugh than the boring normal school you were already at.

At least it did until I watched ‘Scum’…

  Richard wrote @

Ah yes, I’m really raking through old entries here it seems! But DER was where you’d hire your telly from. It stood, rather prosaically, for “Domestic Electrical Rentals”. It was “Rentals” rather than “Retail”, because practically everyone rented television sets in those days rather than buy; they were so expensive relative to the average monthly wage.

  bobfischer wrote @

Fabulous, thankyou! And yes, we rented a TV until the late 1980s, I’d have said. As well as the initial outlay, I think TVs were pretty unreliable until the 1980s, and seemed constantly in need of repair… so it made sense to rent, with a visit from the TV repair man being a free part of the service.

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