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Daleks, Death Stars and Dreamy Sci-Fi Nostalgia…

Archive for March, 2009

Extracts from Bob’s 1984 Diary… Volume 85

Sunday 25th March 1984

Woke up at 10.00 and got up at 10.30 because Doug rang. Then I went down to Doug’s. First we had a muck around in the hut then we had a laggy band fight on the drive. After that we went to my house and had dinner.

After that we played a load of games on the ZX81 and when we got sick of that we went upstairs and I packed my stuff for Carlton. Then we went for a walk down on Woodlands drive and Clockwood Gardens, and met Sug and Clarkie. After that at about 4.20 We went home and had tea.

Then we played football outside and at 6.30 We went back to Doug’s house through the estate and came out near Yarm. Then Doug went home and I went back to my house and at 7.15 I watched One by One. Then I went in the bath and at 9.20 I watched That’s life. 10.10 Went to bed.


Forget your Cruise, your Pershing and your Exocets, I still maintain that the most potent and effective ballistic weapon perfected by mankind is the humble ‘laggy band’. What a shocking testament to our drive for self-destruction…


In a nutshell… stretch one end of the laggy band over the index finger, pull the other end to its maximum extended length, aim at your opponent’s head (or, for extra spice, goolies) and release. The resulting explosion of power is such that scientists have calculated that if the entire population of China took part in a mutual laggy band fight at exactly the same time, the resulting tidal wave would be enough to destroy Jupiter.


Anyway, laggy bands seemed to appear in our Parka pockets with alarming regularity. We never remembered actually obtaining them from anyway, they just seemed to be beamed in from the parallel Planet of the Laggy Bands, and occasionally became so numerous that a cull was required.

Hence a morning spent ducking behind Doug’s garage and garden hedges attempting to systematically maim, blind and sterilise each other. Yay!

It was, of course, important to select your weapon carefully. Thick laggy bands (like the one pictured above) could cause moderate amounts of pain over a wider area. But – for a ‘short, sharp, shock’  – then a thinner weapon was required, and was more likely to result in the much sought-after ‘stinger’ effect.

And if anyone at school really cheesed us off, then it wasn’t uncommon for them to be held down in the playground and shot ‘execution-style’ with a single thin laggy band drawn to maximum extension and fired ruthlessly to the temple at point blank range. Ah… simple, innocent times.


I’m amazed to see that, with five days still to go, I was already starting to pack up a suitcase for my week at Carlton Outdoor Education Centre. The suitcase was a brown leather affair with rusty hinges that I think my Great Grandfather brought home from Ypres at the end of World War I. It certainly still smelt vaguely of Bully Beef and mustard gas, although admittedly that might have been from our aborted holiday in Scarborough in 1976. 

It spent the entire week laid out on my bedroom floor, being slowly filled up with luminous socks, white ties, Doctor Who novelisations and other essentials for a week spent sleeping in a dormitory in the middle of the North Yorkshire Moors.

I’m amazed at this, because nowadays, on the rare occasions I leave the house for any length of time, my policy is never to spend more than ten minutes in total packing a suitcase. Although admittedly, in 1984, my packing regime was aided somewhat by the fact that I didn’t seem to change my clothes any more than once a fortnight.

Whether I needed to or not, etc.

Clockwood Gardens and Woodlands Drive are rather nice, posh areas of the Levendale Estate, home – of course – to our school. Sug was Andrew Sugden, an hilarious, wild-haired genius who was always drawing comics and cracking jokes. He was like an 11-year-old Spike Milligan, and was the acknowledged creator of the brilliant ‘Loonymen’, strange, green aliens that looked liked this…


That’s the first time I’ve drawn one of those for 25 years, and it feels utterly exhilarating. At least six of us drew them EVERYWHERE from about 1981-84, often accompanied by their bizarre catchphrase ‘Bow-De-Bow’. That’s ‘Bow’ as in ‘Take A…’ not ‘Tie A…’

I have no idea where any of this nonsense originated, but I absolutely love the fact that it did. I’ll sortly be copyrighting the Loonymen and using them as the basis for a series of million-selling children’s books. Sug, if you’re reading this, drop me a line and we’ll sort out the ownership rights.

And Paul ‘Clarkie’ Clarke was a firm member of the gang as well, a lovely, funny softly-spoken lad who (I think) had recently arrived at our school from a spell living in America, although he was from Teesside originally. Here he is on a school trip to Whitby in 1982…


(Notice a mint condition Presto Supermarket carrier bag in the bottom left-hand corner, no doubt filled with blinding white Mother’s Pride egg sandwiches, some Monster Munch and a Milk Club biscuit…)  

It was around March 1984 that I became seized by a strange obsession. Our family dog, Jenny – a gorgeous rough collie – had died in November 1983,  after a series of illnesses. She was only six years old, she was Poggy Doggy’s mother, and it came as a huge shock to us all.


There was, however, a house in Clockwood Gardens that had two rough collies constantly pottering around the garden. And whenever Doug and I walked past, one of them would rush straight to the gate and bark maniacally at us. I managed to convince myself that this dog was, in fact, Jenny who had (in a kind of canine Elvis manoeuvre) faked her own death and simply moved across Yarm in order to begin a new life.

This wasn’t some sort of morbid in-joke that Doug and I concocted, I genuinely thought this had happened. I guess when you’re 11, and constantly immersed in fantasy books and ripping TV shows and adventure films, it’s easy to become convinced that real life is like that, too. In the movies we watched on TV, if an 11-year-old boy thought his beloved dog had died in heartbreaking circumstances, than you could bet your luminous socks that the shaggy pooch WOULD turn up alive and well before the end of the film.

Sadly, in real life, it wasn’t to be, but it was a nice fantasy for me to hold onto for a while. I dropped a few hints to my parents to see if they got all shifty at the conspiracy being uncovered, but in retrospect they clearly just thought I was bonkers. For a while though, I used to make a habit of walking past the house, and it was always lovely to see Jenny again… if only in my mind.

I’m just glad we never put into practice our plan to ‘spring’ her from captivity and keep her in our den in Doug’s garden.

Extracts from Bob’s 1984 Diary… Volume 84

Saturday 24th March 1984

Woke up at 7.30 and got up at 8.00. Got the 8.20 Bus into Middlesbrough. First I went in Smiths and got two Dr Who books – Kinda and the space war. Then I got some jeans from BHS, some socks and a sweater from Binns.

Then I went to Grandma’s and I started to read Kinda, But had a bacon sandwhich, and after that I finished Kinda. We came back to my house at 1.30 and I found a pound note on the bus. Arrived home at 2.30 and rang Doug but he was out so I played on the ZX81. Played on that till about 5.00 and at 5.14 We had tea.

At 5.45 we and mam took Poggy Doggy for a walk round the estate, and came out near the bridge. Came home at 7.00 and played on the videopac, and then I played on the ZX81. After that I typed some of my story and at 8.40 I watched Driving Ambition.

Then I typed some more and turned the clocks forward. 11.00 went to bed.

Wow! By my 1984 standards, this is a shopping spree of Paris Hilton proportions. I was, obviously, preparing meticulously for my week away with the school at Carlton Outdoor Education Centre, so it was important that I had some new jeans, some spare socks, a warm sweater and… erm, some new Doctor Who memorabilia.


OK, let’s get the books out of the way… Kinda was (and is) one of my favourite Doctor Who stories, with Peter Davison’s Doctor lost in the paradise-like jungle of Deva Loka with Nerys Hughes, Richard Todd and Simon ‘Jack Meadows from The Bill’ Rouse. It’s a rich, intelligent story that touches on themes of Buddhism, environmentalism and mental illness, although back in 1984 I mainly liked it because of the big monster snake that got knacked by a load of mirrors at the end.


And ‘The Space War’ was a retitled adaptation of the Jon Pertwee adventure ‘Frontier In Space’, with Daleks, Draconians and The Master all running riot around the universe. It’s good fun, and I’d read it in its hardback version, obtained from a visit to the musty wilderness of Acklam Library on a weekend visit to my Gran’s a couple of years earlier.

‘That one was great!’ I’d thought. ‘I’ll buy the paperback so I can read it again’. 25 years later, I still haven’t… it’s completely untouched in a box in the loft. I’ll get round to it one day.  

This seems incredible for an 11-year-old in 1984, but I think the pair of jeans I bought on this day were the first I ever owned. We were never a big ‘jeans’ family. My parents never wore them, and I used to slop around in an array of straight-legged black trousers from British Home Stores that did equally for school, home and arsing about in the streets and fields and woods.

I think Doug’s streetwise influence was having a healthy effect on me, though. Although I’m not sure if this was the day when I went succumbed completely to mid-Eighties sartorial madness and bought several pairs of these…


…Yes, the dreaded luminous socks, whose presence was spreading like blinding, Terry Towelling wildfire around Levendale Primary School. And they were, of course, only entirely effective if you wore them in ‘odd’ combinations, with green on the left foot and yell0w on the right being a particular favourite.

(Although even we never believed Christopher Herbert when he tried to tell us that sock combinations were, like earring formations, an unmistakeable clue to the bearer’s sexual preferences.  Did that really happen with earrings? It was, of course, ‘common knowledge’ when I was a kid that any man wearing an earring in his right ear was clearly fond of the company of other gentlemen, and would have to be physically restrained from dressing like Boy George and being called a ‘Gender Bender’ by the Evening Gazette. Mmmmmm, RIGHT…)

And yay, a POUND NOTE! Fantastic… for those too young to remember, they looked like this…


It actually makes me feel a bit giddy to see those, like seeing an old friend completely unchanged after many decades apart. It’s weird. And by jove, these things WERE my friends. The pound note was pretty much on its last legs by this stage – the £1 coin had been around for almost a year, and the notes were being gradually phased out – but they remained legal tender until 1988.


It’s funny how little bits come back to me as I read these diaries, and as soon as I read the line about the pound notes, I remembered that my Mum and I spent the bus journey talking to an elderly gent with the splendidly grandiose name of Les Honeyman. He was a softly-spoken chap who lived a few houses away from us, and was permanently clad in horn-rimmed glasses, a trilby and an overcoat. A dead ringer, in fact, for Alec Guinness in Smiley’s People. 


I found the pound note about five seconds after he’d left the bus at the previous stop to us, and I remember feeling a little bit guilty that it might have been his. Didn’t stop me pocketing it, of course.  And I loved the feel of having three or four pound notes scrunched up in my trouser pocket, all ready to be spent on Star Wars or Doctor Who-related loveliness. Mmmmmmmm…

‘The bridge’ that we emerged from with Poggy Doggy is a little hump-backed stone thing five minutes walk from my current location, and now the site for the busy Yarm Railway Station – although in 1984 it was just in the middle of a quiet road alongside a field of swaying crops.

And they call that progress…  (actually it is, because the station’s really handy for me). No doubt I’ll have been ‘breaking in’ my new jeans, and will have spent the entire walk stomping around Yarm’s estates like I’d soiled myself. Which, whenever I thought about my impending week at Carlton, I was more than inclined to actually do.

Still, clocks forward! Always exciting, because it meant I got to stay up late without actually putting the effort in. British Summer Time 1984, here we come…

Extracts from Bob’s 1984 Diary… Volume 83

Friday 23rd March 1984

Woke up at 7.50 and got up at 8.00. The bus was late again so I went to school with Slackie. First at school we had Topic groups and when we came out I started to draw a booking form for Topic but we went in for PE.

After that me, Ozzie and Frankie filled each other’s form in. then mam came in about Carlton. Had dinner at 12.00 and in the afternoon I started maths but had to show Mrs Baldwin my file. Then I did some more maths and at 3.15 I came home and played outside with the football.

At 5.15 I had tea and at 6.40 I watched Doctor Who. Then I played on the videopac for a while and I also typed some of the Fighting Fantasy book that I was writing. I did that for just about the rest of the night and at 9.30 I went to bed.

I’m not sure what disasters must have befallen our school bus for it to be late TWO mornings in a row, but clearly Slackie’s Mum (who’s lovely, and who still stops for a chat whenever I bump into her) took matters into her own hands and decided to drive Phil to school herself, picking me up on the way.


This seems utterly bizarre and outlandish now, but I’m sure in 1984 Mrs Slack was a bit of a rarity – being a Mum who could not only drive, but also had her own car. We were very much a one-car family, and my Mum didn’t pass her driving test until 1989, when she was 47. There seemed to be a general social assumption that it was Dads what drove (it’s men’s work, y’know… steering wheels are heavy, and driving requires LOTS of swearing) and the rest of the family should just tag along.

Or get the bus, obviously. Buses were for women. 


I can’t remember Mrs Slack’s make of car, but it was definitely a pale beige colour, which seems entirely in keeping with the rest of the early 1980s. It seems de rigeur now to stereotype the era as being filled with BRIGHT, PRIMARY COLOURS, but I remember it as being more washed-out and pastel-shaded. It was the era of the miners’ strike and the nuclear arms race, for crying out loud. Nobody was dancing around in luminous dungarees and Hawaiian shirts.  

(Apart from Timmy Mallett)  

The booking forms that we drew were all part of our attempt to construct our own holiday brochures, and when we ‘filled each other’s form in’ we were basically road-testing them with information about the holidays WE’D like to go on. Mine no doubt involving a week on Gallifrey with a pile of Fighting Fantasy books and Janet Fielding, although I’m not sure either Ozzie, Frankie or – indeed – Hoseasons would have been able to cater for me.

An indoor PE lesson as well, so it must have been raining, or Mr Hirst would surely have waited until the afternoon to drag us out onto the football pitch again. So no doubt we’ll have had the dreaded ‘apparatus’ out in the hall, together with a selection of pommel horses, blue foam mats, and school benches hooked onto slippery poles to make dangerous-looking slides.


And then we’d be left to our own devices to slog around them in a vague clockwise fashion. The system was foolproof until, well… thirty eleven-year-old fools got their filthy little mitts on it. It generally went tits up if Christopher Herbert was taking his usual twenty minutes to complete a forward roll on the blue mat, and Huggy or Frankie decided to overtake him on the inside (in a light beige PE kit) and press onto the next obstacle. Within minutes, social order had begun to break down completely, and by dinnertime it was like ‘Survivors’.

(I can hardly talk, mind. In the thirty-six years I’ve been alive on this glorious planet, I have never once managed to complete a satisfactory forward roll. I’ve just no idea how to do it. I start off OK, but I simply cannot help skewing sideways and flopping out into a mess of arms, legs and Debenhams pumps. I don’t suppose it’s a skill I’ll ever need these days, but it’d be nice to have it in reserve just in case the British Olympic Gymnastics team ever get REALLY desperate)  

And, hey – ‘mam came in about Carlton’. On the bus, obviously. I think she was making a special visit because – ahead of next week’s visit to Carlton Outdoor Education Centre – we’d been asked to declare any allergies, illnesses or special dietary needs. Naturally, for the latter two, I’d put down ‘cannot perform a forward roll’ and ‘needs fishfingers every six hours’.

For the former, though, I’d actually told the truth. ‘Allergic to open gas fires’.

It’s true. My Gran, in her legendary Acklam sci-fi HQ, had one of these…


…and within thirty seconds of it being turned on, I’d be choking for breath and producing enough thick, green snot to fill the average bathtub. So, until the day she passed away, the gas fire was never turned on when I went round to the bungalow. Friends parents had been tipped off too, and so it seemed sensible for me to declare my condition to Mrs Keasey. At which point my Mum was hastily summoned to the school to determine whether I was…

a) telling the truth, or
b) mental

After a brief discussion in the school’s reception, it was decided that, as Carlton Outdoor Education Centre didn’t have any heating of any kind whatsoever, I was probably on safe ground.

REALLY looking forward to my week away now.

(Incidentally, I forgot all about this strange allergy for decades. And then, one freezing January weekend in 2001, I spent the night in a mate’s flat in York city centre. It was sub-Arctic, and we conquered the conditions by drinking as much as humanly possible, the result of which was me falling asleep in an armchair in the front room.

At which point my mate put on his (very old school) gas fire for the night, before passing out as well. I woke up four hours later with what looked like two tins of mushy peas pouring out of each nostril)


And Doctor Who! ‘The Twin Dilemma’ Part Two, of course.

twinvhsBRILLIANT as ever, but this was the last episode of this story that I’d see until 2002, when I bought a second-hand VHS from Ebay. Suffice to say it wasn’t quite as exciting as a 29-year-old as it was when I was 11… but then what is?

Extracts from Bob’s 1984 Diary… Volume 82

Thursday 22nd March 1984

Woke up at 7.50 and got up at 7.55 because Doctor Who was on breakfast telly and at 8.30 I went for the bus. At 9.00 He was just going to Worsall so I went and was the only one on the bus. Arrived at school at 9.15 and did maths and at 10.10 I went swimming.

First I had a much about, then I got my 50 metres. At 11.30 I came back and at 12.00 I had dinner. After dinner I read and at 1.45 we went out for football. We won 10-3 and I scored four times. Came home at 3.15 and at 3.30 I went down to Doug’s.

First we had some biscuits and orange and then we went outside and played on the Walkie Talkies. Then we went for a walk on Levendale and met Ramsey and Huggy. Came home at 6.00 and had tea and at 6.40 I watched Doctor Who with Colin Baker.

At 7.30 I watched Top of the pops and then I wrote some of my story. At 9.30 I went in the bath, then I went to bed.

Well, this was the day! The first day of the Sixth Doctor’s reign on TV, so naturally it was Colin Baker who perched himself on the BBC Breakfast Time settee while a pouting Selina Scott gently grilled him about all things Gallifreyan. Ironic that I got out of bed early for this, when actually I could have had an extensive lie-in, because (DRAMATIC MUSIC) the school bus was late!!!


So, as I was leaning on my usual road sign, the bus was heading in the opposite direction to usual, half an hour late in its journey to Worsall village to pick up a handful of rural stragglers (including my friend Phil Slack) before turning around to collect me and complete its journey to school. So I got an ultra-rare solo journey to Worsall, and was already stretched out on the back seat smoking a huge sweet cigarette when Slackie and the rest of the gang piled on.


I’ll also have missed Mrs Keasey calling out the register, and remember this was the pre-mobile phone era, so there’ll have been no way for anyone at the school to work out what happened to us bus-bound latecomers. It’s a wonder that the amazingly hairy Mr Chalkley didn’t scramble a SWAT Team of Levendale Primary School Gurkhas to hunt us down.

But yay! I got a swimming certificate! I think I’d picked up my 10m and 25m certificates years earlier, but the 50m had evaded me for a long time. I kept trying and kept pulling up with a length left to go, covered in snot and panting for breath. I was so far behind the rest of the school’s swimmers that I think by this stage I was the only one with the 50m certificate still not under my trunks, because – gasp – I definitely did this as a solo effort while the rest of the group sat on the sides and watched.


And did I collapse under the weight of this pressure and public scrutiny? Pffffft. Nope. I showboated it. On the final length, I could hear Doug and Frankie and Gazzie Jones shouting ‘GO ON FISCHER!’ and I paused in mid-stroke to give them a cheeky Steve Ovett-style wink, wave and thumbs up.

At which point I distinctly heard Mr Hirst say ‘Stop showing off and finish the damn thing or we’ll be here all afternoon…’

And what better way to round off a fine day’s worth of sporting activity than with four girls in our afternoon kickabout? No doubt with Mr Hirst sporting his Bullet Baxter tracksuit (plain red Adidas, with the treble stripe all the way down both arms and legs) and ‘refereeing’, although he was the only referee I ever saw who would occasionally barge one of the strikers out of the way to apply a thunderous finish himself.

On the rare occasions when we were allowed to have the ball ourselves, it was also worth working on a few little routines to accompany the feat. Those of us useless enough not to make the school team would compensate for our ineptness by accompanying our on-the-ball actions with a) a running commentary, and b) the occasional fanfare. The school playing field was constantly awash with cries of ‘Fischer’s got the ball… oh, he’s beaten one man, and another… brings it down… TA-DAAAAAAAA… DIDDLE IDDLE DIDDLE… it’s a sensation… and BRRRRRAMMMMMM!!! He lamps it over into the playground because he’s got feet shaped like bananas’.


We’ll have eaten Mint Viscount biscuits at Doug’s. We always did. And we’ll have drank Presto’s own brand Orange Squash, a pale pink concoction that would have made the Man from Del Monte shake his head and blow through his cheeks, before ditching the white suit forever and dressing like Johnny Cash for the rest of his working life.

‘Huggy’, meanwhile, was Paul Huggins, who I’ve mentioned before – a strapping, sporty lad who liked a laugh and became increasingly good mates with Doug and me at this time. And ‘Ramsey’ was Graham Ramsey, one of my oldest mates from Levendale, another good footballer with a mop of black hair. They both lived around the top of the ‘cut’ seen in Diary Entry Volume 74.

ANYWAY!!! Doctor Who… and, of course, Part One of The Twin Dilemma, Colin Baker’s debut episode. Now, this story holds bitter-sweet memories for me, and probably not for the reasons you’re expecting. Yes, Colin Baker was BRILLIANT, Nicola Bryant was BRILLIANT, the twins themselves were BRILLIANT and the whole story and stuff and everything was BRILLIANT.


But I knew I’d never ever get to see Parts Three and Four in my whole life, because the following week I was off to Carlton Outdoor Education Centre, thousands of miles away from my front room TV, and nobody in my family owned a video recorder yet.

Curse you, Grey Lady of Carlton Camp. Curse you…

(and I’ve just remembered, we haven’t had a scary ghost picture from the ‘Myths, Monsters and Legends’ book in our school library for ages now. Here you go…)


And what would have been on Top Of The Pops? Why undoubtedly this little gem, at Number One in the charts that week…

Extracts from Bob’s 1984 Diary… Volume 81

Wednesday 21st March 1984

Woke up at 7.50 and got up at 8.00. First at school we went into Topic groups and we had to answer some questions. When we came out we had to do our own holiday brochure cover, and I did that all morning.

Had dinner at 12.00 and in the afternoon I finished my poster and after maths groups I did my maths. At 3.15 I went in for Boy’s games but Doug and Ozzie couldn’t go so my team was Gazzie, me and Tweddal, as it was indoor. We lost two and won one.

At 4.00 I walked home and met Doug, and we played with the CBs at his house. Came home at 5.30 and had tea, then I started a new Fighting Fantasy. At 7.40 I watched Day of the Triffids and at 8.30 I watched Fresh Fields. At 9.00 I watched Minder and at 10.00 I went to bed.

I’ve been holding this back for a while, but it’s probably time to unleash it… here’s a little re-enactment of my daily morning wander into school…

It felt incredibly strange to be standing in that playground again after SO many years away… it actually felt like I was visiting a film location, or somewhere I’d only seen on TV.


And when I looked into the little square of green outside the main body of the school, I was assaulted by an astonishing rush of memories and images… being showered with water during a science experiment with beakers; the luridly bright colours of Star Wars Weekly covers; banging a triangle in an unsuccessful school orchestra try-out; Mrs Keasey in a lilac suit marking our huge, green-backed register in baking sunshine.

And the terrifying, paranoia-inducing rattle of school dinner money in a British Home Stores trouser pocket. Don’t lose it… don’t lost it… don’t lose it…   

Anyway, I like the phrase ‘we went into Topic groups and we had to answer some questions’, which conjures up images of Mr Hirst shining a standard lamp into our faces, setting a breezeblock-sized reel-to-reel tape recorder rolling, and interrogating us with such pertinent inquiries as ‘What the hell do you actually DO all day, Fischer?’


At least I had a ‘poster’ to work on. I’m not sure exactly what this was, but I suspect it was, again, tied into our teaching staff’s forthcoming summer holiday in Tenerife. I was a half-decent artist at school (certainly up there with my closest rival, Stephen Mason, although neither of us could hold a candle to Jo Spayne) so I tended to get seconded into felt tip duties wherever possible.

The holiday brochure we were making was a joint effort between Doug, Ozzie and myself, and I distinctly remember Doug repeatedly nudging me like Eric Idle in the famous Monty Python sketch and whispering ‘Go on… draw a topless woman on the cover… go on…’

We should have never have been allowed near that nuddy calendar, it was clearly leading us into a sleazy web of vice and muck. You watch, within a fortnight we’ll be trudging the streets of Soho in our parkas, drinking Bass Shandy in the Raymond Revue Bar and grunting erotic fiction into our Walkie Talkies.


Speaking of which, you’ll notice our plastic, toy Walkie Talkies (with the 100m range – providing you held them two feet above your head and shouted into them like Windsor Davies’ Sgt Major – SHAAAADDDAPPPPPPP!) have now metamorphosed into the rather grander-sounding ‘CBs’.

Ha! Ha! Ha! Who was I trying to kid? I’d seen ‘Convoy’ on ITV in the Summer of 1983, and it had clearly stuck in my head. And I’ve now just had a terrifying flashback of sitting on Doug’s bed pooling our knowledge of American CB Radio slang and scribbling it down on a piece of lined A4 paper for us to use. Oh, wow! Off the top my head…

’10-4′ – Yes, I can hear you from around the corner of the sweets aisle in Walter Wilson’s.

‘I’m eyeball to eyeball with Smokey’ – PC Bedford is about to tell me off for riding my bike on the pavement.

‘I got my ears on, good buddy’ – I’m standing withy my Walkie Talkie two feet above my head, shouting into it like Windsor Davies’ Sgt Major.

‘I’m puttin’ the pedal to the metal’ – I’ve got to go home for my fishfingers, or my Mam will absolutely knack me when I get in.

I think we both had a handwriting sheet of jargon, and genuinely used to jabber away at each other while reading from it, thirty feet apart in the middle of Yarm High Street.

Anyway, a lovely delve into the TV Times for this day reveals the following nuggets…

1. A sensational double bill of Aussie soap! ‘A Country Practice’ at 2.30pm (‘The town turns out for a funeral, and there is conflict between two brothers’) and ‘The Young Doctors’ at 3.30… ‘Drama is provided by the lives and loves of the staff and patients.’ Pretty vague there, TV Times. Come on, get your act together.

2. ‘Luna’ at 4.20pm. ‘Futuristic children’s series with its own language. Andy is malpurposing all over the ‘viron again and it is time for his Molecular and Orthomechanical Tests (MOT). 8OH is after an egressing legibreach perpetrator and 32C is worried about her laugh lines’.

Why didn’t I watch this?!?! It sounds brilliant! ‘A Clockwork Orange’ for the ZX Spectrum generation…

(By the way, what IS Penny Cook actually doing in this clip?)

3. In ‘Fresh Fields’, ‘William (Anton Rodgers) discovers the true meaning of ‘Jaws’, and in ‘Minder’, ‘Arthur’s sortie into haute couture lacks the glamour he anticipated when he, not Terry, ends up minding the frocks. Oracle sub-titles page 170’.

I also notice that, on weekdays, Channel 4 doesn’t start broadcasting until 5pm. Making them possibly the only people in 1984 doing less during their average working daytimes than me.

Extracts from Bob’s 1984 Diary.. Volume 80

Tuesday 20th March 1984

Woke up at 7.50 and got up at 8.00. First at school I met Doug, then I went in for hymn practice. After that I did Topic and we had to do a piece of writing on our own island. When i’d done that I did maths and then me and Ozzie read a new Fighting Fantasy called Deathtrap dungeon which Slackie had brought in.

At 12.00 I had dinner and at 12.30 I went in for computer club. Me and Ozzie did the writing part for the Guardian. Came out at 1.45 and me and Oz read the rest of Deathtrap Dungeon. Came home at 3.15 and went down to Doug’s, and we went to Yarm and took the Talkers.

First we went in Newsfare, then Hintons, then we went to Strickies and we had a look at the books. I got the 2 new Fighting Fantasies. Then I went home and had tea, and then me and mam took Poggy Doggy for a walk. At 6.40 I watched Tucker’s luck. Then I read my books and at 9.30 I went to bed.

Oh, the excitement! As I shambled off the school bus, Doug came racing across the playground to meet me, and we both jumped up and down on the spot for ten minutes solid as we celebrated house-to-house contact on Doug’s toy Walkie Talkies! (see yesterday’s entry).

Well, not quite house-to-house, as Doug revealed that he’d got halfway between his place and mine (a distance of about a quarter of a mile) before my strange, high-pitched ‘OBLEDEEEE’ signal crackled out of his receiver. But still… this was clearly THE FUTURE OF HUMAN COMMUNICATION and much better than those rubbish ‘phone’ things whose global network of influence was just tantamount to showing off.


(By the way, in 1984 our old phone still looked like this… I think this is gorgeous, and I want one in my office, even if the process of dialling a modern mobile number will require at least ten minutes to complete and might lead to early onset arthritis in my right index finger.


I told my friend Stuart this week that I still remembered my old phone number from being a kid, with the ancient ‘0642’ dialling code at the start. He suggested I try calling it straight away, to see if we could get through to my Dad in 1984. A non-starter, really… it doesn’t matter what era you phoned my Dad in, he’d just grunt and shout ‘Doreen, it’s for you…’)

ANYWAY! Basically… a school day of which the entire afternoon was spent playing on the computer and then racing through the new Fighting Fantasy book! And they say kids today are lazy, self-obsessed and only interested in computer games. Pfffft… we had all of that cracked over 25 years ago.


Slackie was Phil Slack, and he was – and is – great. A fabulous sandy-haired anarchist who, even at the age of 11, acted like a heavy metal drummer. It was practice that stood him in good stead though, because when I bumped into him in the mid-1990s, for the first time in years, he was indeed… a heavy metal drummer. He gets a mention in ‘Wiffle Lever To Full!’, in the Discworld chapter, because in our teenage years he became Flaxman Orcslayer, scourge of the Dungeons and Dragons table round at Neil ‘Elrond Goldenbow’ Braithwaite’s house.

All of that was to come though… in 1984 he was just our mate Phil, who liked Fighting Fantasy books and pulling moonies in PE lessons.

Anyway, Deathrap Dungeon! Here it is:


An utter classic of the genre, set in the ‘twisting labyrinth of Fang’, where Ozzie and I took up the ‘Trial of Champions, devised by the devilish mind of Baron Sukumvit, riddled with fiendish traps and hideous creatures of darkness’. 

Sounds like Middlesbrough town centre on a Thursday night. And I should know, I’ve just driven through there on my way home from work.

Ozzie and I spent over two hours of our school day ‘reading in the library’ with Slackie’s copy, and I think we actually completed it, although admittedly we didn’t bother messing around with any of that paper and pencil nonsense, we just stuck fingers in the book to mark every decision. And if we were killed by a Mirror Demon or a Manticore, we could easily retreat to the previous finger.

This could obviously get complicated, and at one point we had at least six different fingers (three each) stuck into the pages of the book, contorting ourselves into strange, perverted shapes as we prepared to face the evil Skeleton Warrior (turn to 331). The following day, we saw Mr Hirst pinning up a note to the effect that ‘PLAYING “TWISTER” IN THE SCHOOL LIBRARY IS EXPRESSLY FORBIDDEN’ but we were sure it must just have been a strange coincidence.


Off to Yarm, then, with the ‘Talkers’, clearly essential accessories in case Doug found himself marooned in Aisle 7 of Hinton’s supermarket and needed to urgently contact me over by the chewing gum (or ‘chuddy’) rack.


The ‘other’ Fighting Fantasy, by the way, was ‘Island Of The Lizard King’. They came out on the same day. £1.50 each, so I spent a massive £3 on books in one fell swoop!  Still, surely worth it for the chance to fight the ‘mad and dangerous Lizard King, who holds sway over his land of mutants by the strange powers of black magic and voodoo…’

Come here Ozzie, I need any fingers you can spare…

Extracts from Bob’s 1984 Diary… Volume 79

Monday 19th March 1984

Woke up at 7.50 and got up at 8.00. First at school I went into assembly and when we came out it was Topic groups, and we had to take notes down about Tenerife. Then when we came out I did some writing on Tenerife. At 12.00 I had dinner and after dinner we went into Maths groups.

Then we came out and me and Pond’s Eye started some fractions, but  I went into Topic group again and didn’t get it finished. At 3.15 I came home and at 3.30 I went to Doug’s. Met him half way.

At his house we played on the Walkie Talkies and in the hut. At 5.15 I came home and brought a Walkie talkie to radio Doug from house to house. At 5.20 I had tea and at 5.30 I picked Doug up on the WT. Then I read my Beano and generally mucked about and at 8.00 I watched Points of view. At 8.10 I watched Duty Free and at 9.30 I went to bed.

Yikes! Further proof, as if any were required, that our so-called ‘Topic’ groups were merely an excuse for Mr Hirst and Mrs Keasey to have us researching their potential summer holidays (not spent together, I should probably stress). ‘We had to take notes down about Tenerife’!!! For crying out loud, it’s a slippery slope from this to testing Presto’s own brand Sun Cream with a bunsen burner and using long multiplication to calculate the most cost-effective brand of Sangria (Walter Wilson’s, in case you were wondering).


I never went on holiday as kid. I think my Mum and Gran attempted to take me to Scarborough for a week in 1976, and I cried so much that they gave it up as a bad job and brought me home after three days.  It’s an attitude towards ‘getting away from it all’ that I’ve never quite shaken off. I hate going on holiday, I get bored after about eight hours and start looking for Wi-Fi connections. It’s probably hereditary: my Dad is exactly the same, and as such my childhood excursions were limited to day trips to York, High Force waterfall and Lightwater Valley.

So let’s take this further opportunity to emphasise how utterly terrified I was by the prospect of going to Carlton Outdoor Education Centre for a week at the end of March 1984… and it wasn’t ALL down to the Ghost of the Grey Lady.

Although I’ll shamelessly plug ahead and reveal that myself and one of my Levendale Primary School contemporaries spent a full day last weekend tramping around the moors and making TEN (yes TEN) ‘Then and Now’ films to parade on this website when the time comes. Yay!

Tantalising eh? (You can say ‘no’ if you like,  I won’t be offended).


In the meantime,  Walkie Talkies! I’d forgotten all about them. They were Doug’s, and I think they’d been lying disused in a box under his bed since some long-distant birthday party. We used to spend the occasional afternoon ‘mucking about’ in Doug’s bedroom, which was a little cubby hole with a single bed pushed up against the wall. Four things that intrigued me about Doug’s bedroom…

1. He had a Spiderman duvet. I wasn’t intrigued by Spiderman (the webby little bugger was everywhere in 1984) but I’d never had much experience of duvets before. Our beds at home still consisted of a nylon sheet on top of the bed, another nylon sheet on top of this (and you inserted yourself between the two), a fuzzy nylon blanket with a lovely, soft-feeling cool polyester strip across the top that I loved to rub across my face, and a blue or yellow nylon bedspread.

Our house generated so much static electricity at bedtime that Poggy Doggy was frequently able to float downstairs for a drink.

2. He didn’t have any wallpaper. His smooth, shiny walls had been tastefully plastered and painted over with a thin layer of Adriatic Cyan by Crown Paints. I’d never seen this before, as there wasn’t a single inch of our house that wasn’t coated in Vymura blown vinyl and smothered in Magnolia Emulsion. I asked my Dad if I could have the same effect in my bedroom, to which he replied ‘You must be joking, this bloody house has got walls like Wookey Hole’.

3. He had a hand-held Donkey Kong machine on his bedside table. He’d bought it in a stopover at Singapore Airport on the way to visit his Mum’s family in Australia, and could get to Level 7 without losing a life. I thought this was the singularly most exotic and impressive thing I’d ever heard. Especially the bit about Level 7, as the end of Level 6 was an absolute bugger.  

I’m amazed to say I’ve found a brilliant picture of the exact thing that Doug had! This was it…


4. The Walkie Talkies. I bet you thought we’d never get there.  

These were very much toys rather than anything you could actually practically USE to keep in touch with each other, but they did just about work. They were leightweight bits of plastic with a wobbly aerial on the top and a big orange button on the side, but with the addition of a couple of HP11 batteries, it was possible to hear distant, crackly, distorted versions of each others voices. Imagine the teachers voices from Charlie Brown. Over the phone. And then routed through a faulty baby alarm. With a low battery. 

Although their range was so short that it was usually much easier and more effective just to shout to each other…

Still, it didn’t stop us concocting an Important Scientific Experiment. I took one of the Walkie Talkies home with me, and we agreed that at exactly 5.30pm (just after tea) I would lean out of my bedroom window and begin shouting the strange, secretly coded signal of ‘OBBLEDEEEEE’ (done in a weird, high-pitched voice – no, me neither) repeatedly into my Walkie Talkie while Doug set out from his house half a mile away and walked slowly towards mine until he picked up the signal. 

And it worked! I still remember the utter thrill when, after a few minutes, a distorted version of Doug’s dulcet tones (Imagine the teachers voices from Charlie Brown. Over the phone. And then… etc) came crackling out of my tiny speaker. It only lasted a few seconds, but I was jumping around with excitement. I felt like Alexander Graham Bell speaking to Thomas Watson, although they probably had a better signal than we did.

Of course,  I had no idea how close Doug had got before picking up my ‘OBBLEDEEEEE’s, that revelation would have to wait until school the following morning.

Consider that a cliffhanger… dot… dot… dot…