Wiffle Lever To Full!

Daleks, Death Stars and Dreamy Sci-Fi Nostalgia…

Extracts from Bob’s 1984 Diary… Volume 94

Tuesday 3rd April 1984

When we got up we had breakfast, then it was inspection. After that we went into assembly, and after a go in the playground we got our packed lunches and set off for a walk to Whorlton Castle. We stopped on a hill and drew a landscape, then after another load of walking we arrived at Whorlton church.

Mr Hirst showed us the leper room, and we had to go and find two pirate graves. After finding them we moved on to Whorlton castle and ate our packed lunches. After a little explore we drew the castle, then Mr Hirst told us the story of the black heart.

Then we went to Swainby and had a walk in the river, and then we went back to the centre and had tea. Then it was inspection, and after that we went in the classroom. Then we had supper, and after that me and Gazzie told some jokes in a Talent contest. Then we went to bed.

And now my raggle-taggle exercise book version…  

Tuesday 3rd April 1984

We packed our Backpacks, then set off on another walk. We hadn’t hardly gone out of Carlton when we had to draw a landscape of an old church and boring old castle. We set off again and arrived at Whorlton church.

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Mr Hirst told us some rubbish about some old codger seeing ghosts coming out of the leper room. A likely story but I’ll keep under the sheets tonight just in case. They can haunt Gazzie instead. However, there was blood splattered all over the wall. At least that’s something.

After finding and drawing two pirate graves, with Henry Todd and some other pirate that i’ve forgotten the name of six foot under, we moved on to Whorlton castle. After feeding our face Mr Hirst told us a story about a geezer called Richard Courteney going off to war, and another chap called Richard Valance taking over his castle.

When Courteney came back he splattered Valance and poked his heart out, and it was black. He got a leper to take the heart out, and it started beating to he dropped it in a hole in the floor and scarpered.

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That was yonkers ago and in 1972 a manky old fleabag of a tramp came in and slept the night. He was woken up by a beating in the walls, and scatted to a pub. He spent the night there and when they went to see him in the morning he’d died of fright.

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The worst bit was though was when a post-mortem of the tramp was carried out, half his heart was OK and half was back! WIERD! We walked to Swainby next and had a water fight, then on the night we had a talent show.

Woah! Can you tell we’re ramping up the supernatural tension here, ahead of our ultimate, end-of-the-week encounter with Carlton Camp’s feared and terrible Ghost Of The Grey Lady?

This was a glorious, hot, sunny day… just as it was exactly 25 years on. I remember being unfeasibly sticky and sweaty in my nasty orange cagoul, and actually being decidedly relived when we sat down on a hilltop with our sketchpads.

(SKETCHPADS! Fantastic. I will, of course, have pretended to be Turlough in the opening scenes of the The Five Doctors. Mr Hirst might have CALLED it Whorlton Church, but I knew that, really, we were looking down over the Eye of Orion).

Anyway, here’s a photo taken during our first sketch-stop…

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That’s my mate Doug on the left, Paul ‘Huggy’ Huggins hiding behind a bona fide V-sign, and Andrew ‘Stan’ Henry in the hat. And yes – if you look carefully you can see Mr Hirst’s foot in this picture, and… and… erm… is that a legwarmer?

I guess if the past is another country, then 1984 is the Isle of Wight…

(You’ll also notice the sinister dark shadows of supernatural powers encroaching from the right… don’t let anyone try to tell you this is simply an 11-year-old idiot child’s thumb… oh no, these are the forces of EVIL…)

Anyway, this is what we were sketching, the lovely country churchyard of Whorlton:

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And ‘The Leper Room!’ Brilliant. The bricked-up enclave where Medieval lepers were brought to die, hidden away in a secret church compartment that’s now only visible through a tiny slit in the wall. We queued up, one after the other, to look into it.

‘YURRRGHHH!’ exclaimed Stephen Mason. ‘That’s gross! There’s blood and gunk splattered all over the walls!!!!’ 

And there was. Well, strictly speaking, there wasn’t, but that didn’t stop the rumour spreading like… well, leprosy I suppose. 25 years on, the hole is still there, but the blood and gunk seemed to have been (ahem) neatly cleaned off. Here’s the intrepid Gareth ‘Gazzie’ Jones investigating…

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And see if you can spot the ‘blood and gunk’ yourself! (NB You can’t)

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The pirate graves are certainly real, though. There are two of them, and each has an amazing engraving on the top of the headstone – a skull and crossbones surrounded by a noose – and vague, euphemistic inscriptions about ‘dying in foreign seas’ and ‘souls to redeem’, that kind of thing. Whorlton churchyard is pretty isolated, about 10 minutes walk uphill from the village of Swainby, but if anyone fancies a look then the graves are both easy to find, on the far side of the church as you enter from the road.

So here’s an obligatory ‘pirate face’ made by a 36-year-old idiot child being entirely disrespectful to the mortal remains of Henry Todd…

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From the church, it’s a mere two minutes walk to the tragically neglected ruins of Whorlton Castle. This was a regular port of call during my childhood, as my Dad was a bit of a history buff (well, he had a GCE) and it really hasn’t changed in the thirty-plus years that I’ve known it. Apart from, sadly, the addition of graffiti, crushed-up beercans and several thousand gallons of alcoholic teenage urine. 

Still, the Legend Of The Black Heart! I remember sitting on a sun-baked rock munching on a tin foil-wrapped egg sandwich as Mr Hirst told us this amazing tale. Naturally I tried to write this up in my diary entry above, however Mr Gareth ‘Gazzie’ Jones, at the foot of Whorlton Castle itself, will now attempt to re-enact Mr Hirst’s dramatic recitation of this little-known local legend..

I quite like the fact that our recollections of it are slightly different… that’s what makes legends fun, isn’t it? However, since Google reveals precisely bugger all about the Whorlton Castle’s Beating Black Heart, I’m now not entirely convinced that Mr Hirst didn’t make the whole thing up just to keep us on our toes throughout the rest of our stay in Carlton. 

It did the trick for me, anyway. I distinctly remember going for a wee around the back of a fallen tree trunk in the castle grounds, and getting half of it down the sleeve of my burnished orange cagoul. Good job I’d eaten my sandwiches first (although I think I still had to pick through a packet of Hula Hoops pretty carefully).

Anyway, here (to coin a phrase) is ‘Where the Heart Is’…

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The fact that we ‘had a walk in the river’ sounds incredibly brave and dramatic, however I suspect the word ‘river’ was slightly misused here, as the stream that trickles through the middle of beautiful, scenic Swainby rarely swells any higher than the toes of the average welly. This felt like the bestest finish ever to a glorious day’s walking and ghost-hunting – jumping and splashing around in the sunshine, fuelled by ice cream from the old-fashioned corner shop, and kicking glorious, cooling sheets of water all over each other’s cagouls.

And yes, I made sure quite a lot of it washed over my right hand sleeve.

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And then the Talent Show! Held in Carlton’s main hall, this was definitely a joint effort between Levendale and Seaton Carew schools, as I distinctly remember one of ‘their lot’ – a strapping lad with a nifty rat’s tail haircut – doing a perfectly reasonable impersonation of the mighty Jimmy Cricket.

Not to be outdone, Gazzie Jones and I tramped onstage and did an impromptu set, the latest step in our ceaseless quest to become the new Cannon And Ball. I rambled on vaguely about ‘finding money in the street – why do you only find halfpenny pieces and never five pound notes? Eh? Eh?’ and Gaz ran off a string of those hilarious ‘What do you call…’ jokes that seemed to be EVERYWHERE in 1984.

What do you call a man with a spade in his head? Doug.
What do you call a man without a spade in his head? Douglas.

Just leave the Perrier Award outside the door.

And so to bed, no doubt with dark thoughts of the Beating Black Heart of Whorlton Castle whirling around my head. You’ll notice my Carlton Diary is very swift to pooh-pooh all of the spooky stuff as ‘rubbish’, but I suspect that this grotty 11-year-old protesteth far too much. I knew full well that the Grey Lady was coming to get me, and it was clear that when she did, she’d be holding the Beating Black Heart of Whorlton Castle in her skeletal hand. Probably.

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Another strange memory has just returned to me, as well… Gazzie Jones, being the burly rugby-playing chap that he is, had a little paperback of ‘Classic Rugby Songs’ with him. Nothing too obscene, but still pretty risque stuff for 11-year-olds – ‘The hair on her dicky-di-do’, all that kind of nonsense. Anyway, by this point during the week, Mr Hirst had taken to asking nicely if he could read my official diary entries every night, once he’d finished settling down the mayhem in the dormitories. I was really flattered that he wanted to, but on this occasion his beady eye rested on Gazzie’s book.

And…

…naturally…

…he confiscated it. I’m not sure if Mr Jones ever received his book back, even after we returned from Carlton, but I’ll do my best to find out.

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2 Comments»

  Dr. Giles Parcel wrote @

Someone with a filthy (and probably unscientific) mind might wonder if there was someone behind that gravestone with you. Just slightly too low down to be in shot…

  bobfischer wrote @

It’s the ghost of Henry Todd. You know what sailors are like.


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