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Daleks, Death Stars and Dreamy Sci-Fi Nostalgia…

Archive for May, 2009

Extracts from Bob’s 1984 Diary… Volume 152

Thursday 31st May 1984

Woke up about 8.30 and got up at 9.00. We went to Stockton and I got some spray paint from Halfords. Then I had a look in Smiths and when I got back at 10.15 I started to dismantle my bike.

When I was left with just the frame I sprayed it black, then left it to dry while I went in for dinner. After dinner I touched up the bike, then started to put it back together again. Before tea I had a ride around on the Strika, then I had tea.

Then Dad put some of the bike together, and at 7.05 I watched Tommorrow’s world. Watched Top of the pops at 7.35, and at 8.05 I watched Porridge. At 8.35 I watched We got it made, and at 9.00 I went to bed.

Yegods, how many times did I need to dismantle and paint that bloody bike? Today’s entry is, of course, the darker and more intense sequel to my ramblings from a mere three days earlier, when my attempts to take the Raleigh Chopper to pieces and coat it in metal primer paint ended up with my fuming Dad having to be dragged away from a bit of classic Arthur Negus-era Antique Roadshow and locked in the garage to put the bloody thing back together again.  

arthurnegus

Since then, I’d been riding around on a bike coated in nothing more than a thick, blotchy layer of grey primer paint, unable to muster the nerve or enthusiasm to dismantle it a second time and apply the final finish. I actually quite liked it… it had a rough, urban, industrial look about it, a bit of sharp relief to the poncy, dayglo BMX efforts on which most of my friends were now haring around.

mongoose

But the day had come, and – wise to the dangers of random bike dismantlement after Sunday’s disaster – I made a silent, valiant vow that, on this occasion, I’d take my bike to pieces incredibly methodically, labelling every individual part and arranging them neatly on the pages of the old Evening Gazette Late Final* spread out on the rough concrete floor.

That lasted for about thirty seconds before I thought ‘Aaaah, it’ll be alright’ AND THEN MADE A COMPLETE HORSE’S ARSE OF IT ALL OVER AGAIN!!!!

Cue my Dad having to be torn away from Northern Life (with, no doubt, another in-depth miner’s strike feature) for the second time in four days, and made to put my ‘bloody bike’ back together in complete silence with steam flying out of his ears while I wondered how the hell I was going to get the huge and numerous patches of jet black car paint out of my new denim jacket and jeans.

(*The back of our garage was an extensive archive for local newspapers and back issues of the Radio and TV Times. In the winter months, my parents used stacks of the things to light the spluttering coal fire in our front room, so no newspaper was ever thrown out of the house… they were chucked into a giant Hinton’s cardboard box at the back of the garage, there to remain until required. I remember, around this time, rooting through the box and finding a copy of the Evening Gazette from 1977 – the year we moved into the house. I was utterly fascinated by this window into another era, and used to regularly rummage through the pile whenever I was messing around in the garage. I wish I’d kept them all, I could make a killing on Ebay)

But we got there, and my Chopper was now sparkling, rejuvenated and ready for action (titter).

OK, Top Of The Pops! Hosted by the terrifying Radio 1 tag-team of Richard Skinner and Dave Lee Travis, and featuring the following motley assortment…

• David Sylvian – Red Guitar [Promo Video]
• Elton John – Sad Songs [Promo Video]
• Hazel Dean – Searchin (I Gotta Find A Man) [Performance]
• Madness – One Better Day [Performance]
• The Smiths – Heaven Knows Im Miserable Now [Performance]
• Ultravox – Dancing With Tears In My Eyes [Performance]
• Wham – Wake Me Up Before You Go Go [Promo Video]

A bit of a watershed moment for me, as this was the first time I’d ever heard or seen The Smiths, and Morrissey in particular, in action…

I’d love to say that it was a great Road To Damascus moment for me, and that by the time ‘Porridge’ started I was already wearing NHS specs with the lenses punched out and combing my hair into a towering quiff. But I actually thought, when I saw this, that it was a bit a joke act… the kind of thing that The Barron Knights or Jasper Carrott might have taken into the charts. Although that didn’t stop Doug and I spending most of the next week singing the ‘live or die’ bit in ludicrous falsettos while simultaenously grabbing our testicles.

Because that’s what you happens when your testicles are grabbed, your voice goes really high. Oh yes. Oh yes it does.

An early night as well, you’ll notice! A day’s worth of inhaling black car paint fumes were probably making me hallucinate weird dreams about Arthur Negus reading the Evening Gazette with a bunch of gladioli in his back pocket.

(NB The quiff, NHS specs and all-pervading Smiths obsession finally took hold in 1990 when I was in Sixth Form)

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Extracts from Bob’s 1984 Diary… Volume 151

Wednesday 30th May 1984

Woke up at 9.15 and got up at 10.00. At 10.30 mam and I went to Yarm and saw Clarkie and his mam. I got a Mad, then mam came home on the bus and I rode back. After a game of pacientce I rang Doug up and then came down to his house.

We had a muck on in the school and then Huggy rang so we went down and played on the bikes. Soon after I came home, got the Strika and came back to Huggy’s on that. Harrison came and we had a mudfight, then we went in the garden and played Scramble. We all went in for a corner, then ran for a ball and tried to get back.

At 5.00 I came home and had tea, then we went to Weary Valley and saw an eclipse of the sun. It was geed! When we came home I watched the European cup – Liverpool v Roma. Liverpool won on penalties! Good match, but also a nice joke by Jimmy Greaves at extra time!

Oh, the anticipation! There was an ECLIPSE OF THE SUN due on the evening of this day, and didn’t we all know about it. Of course, what we fully expected to see filling the skies over Yarm was this…

eclipse

…and our day was filled with a sense of mounting excitement as we prepared to watch this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I even remember talking about it to Paul ‘Clarkie’ Clarke and his mother in Yarm High Street as I went in search of the latest Mad Magazine…

clarkie

Oddly enough, they didn’t seem QUITE as excited about it all, but then it’s possible that – unlike me – when they’d read the phrase ‘eclipse of the sun’ in the newspapers, they’d also noticed the crunch word ‘partial’ preceding it.

Anyway, I hurt myself on this day! And, amazingly, it wasn’t by jumping up and down and staring at the sun, blinking. Doug, Paul ‘Huggy’ Huggins and I set up an astonishingly complex system of BMX ramps in the cul-de-sac outside Huggy’s house, a towering network of bricks, planks and breezeblocks perfect for high-octane bike-related arsing around. Sadly, my Chopper (chortle) wasn’t the most nimble of vehicles, and more often than it ended up flopping (snigger) disappointingly off the end of the ramps, failing miserably to achieve the same kind of air-speed velocity as Doug and Huggy’s spanking new BMXs.

114_ramp

‘Shame you didn’t bring your Strika,’ said Huggy. ‘They fly like the clappers if you get enough speed up…’

By the time he’d finished the sentence I was halfway home to get it. I slipped my Chopper into the garage (titter), jumped onto my cobweb-strewn Raleigh Strika, and pelted back to Huggy’s, not even stopping to say hello on my return. I took a 100-yard-pedal up to the highest ramp, a blur of stonewashed denim and Dunlop trainers, mounted the ramp at a speed that would turned Alain Prost pale (well, paler), and hurtled along the length of the creaking plank before the Strika flew off the end, sailing gracefully through the summer skies like a slightly rust-infested seagull.

Unluckily for me, however, I didn’t go with it. As the bike took to the air, I slipped completely off the back of the undersized saddle and ended up clinging to the rear mudguard before crashing with a sickening thud to the pavement and scraping my elbows and knees across the surface of the road as the Strika dragged me helplessly along before crashing into a heap against Huggy’s brick-built garden wall.

strika

Up ahead, a vulture circled, ready to pick dry the four long streaks of pale, 11-year-old skin now adding a touch of colour to the melting tarmac by the roadside. Thankfully, I was still in good enough shape to chuck lumps of dried-up soil at Robert ‘Harrison’ Harrison and indulge in an insane round of ‘Scramble’, clearly some mental, health-threatening ball game of our own deranged invention.  

Two strange, disconnected memories from this day:

1. Singing ‘You take the grey skies out of my way, you make the sun shine brighter than Doris Day’ repeatedly on the way home, because they were the only words I knew from Wham’s ‘Wake Me Up Before You Go Go’. Apart from, erm, ‘Wake Me Up Before You Go Go’. I think after the 432nd rendition in the space of half a mile, Doug was more than ready to Jitterbug me into the foul-smelling beck by the cricket club and leave me there to ‘hit that high’ by myself.

wham

2. Having, quite laudably, a sensible conversation with Doug about racism, and agreeing beyond much reasonable doubt that it was a BAD THING. I can’t remember any more of the details than this, but it was probably one of the first times I’d ever talked about anything even remotely resembling politics. I’m not sure what prompted this momentary lapse in the usually ceaseless procession of farts, filth and knob jokes that passed for normal conversation in our world, and I’m sure we more than made up for it later on.   

And so to the eclipse… I remember being a TINY bit disappointed when my Dad took me out into the side garden and what I actually saw out of the corner of my blinking eye was the normal, blazing sun with – just about visible – a tiny section of it missing. But hey… we got a free trip to Weary Valley out of it, so life was ‘geed’ after all. For the record, a partial eclipse of the sun looks like this, but not nearly quite as dramatic…

partialeclipse

And the European Cup Final! Normally I wouldn’t have been remotely interested in football at this stage in my life, but the prospect of Liverpool playing some funny foreign lot (my socially-conscious musings about racism were now six hours old, and therefore virtually ancient history, besides which it’s clearly ALWAYS alright to laugh about the Italians) clearly piqued my interest. For those that care about these things, this was the match in which Bruce Grobelaar, during the one of the most high-tension penalty shoot-outs of all time, did his now infamous ‘wobbly legs’ routine… (at about 7mins 40 in the below clip – have a look, it’s one of the coolest things ever!)

‘He’s bloody barking mad, him,’ laughed my Dad, as we jumped around the room and cheered. And the ‘nice joke by Jimmy Greaves’ still tickles me to this day. At the end of the normal 90 minutes, the camera stayed trained on the pitch, while ITV’s studio pundits had their heads placed into little circles, superimposed over the top of the action as they pontificated.

‘Great that we’re getting a bit of extra time,’ mused Greavsie, ‘even if it does mean my head gets stuck inside this funny little bubble’.

I can’t remember who was in any of the other bubbles, but no doubt one of them will have been Ian St John, throwing his head back and roaring with laughter. Quite right, too.

Extracts from Bob’s 1984 Diary… Volume 150

Tuesday 29th May 1984

Woke up at 9.00 and got up at 10.15. Then I went down for Doug and we came back to my house. After making two packed lunches we got on our bikes and went to the mud track, where we ate our packed lunches. Then we had a climb on the tree, and also had a muck on on the tarzie.

Then mam came with Poggy Doggy, and when she’d gone we went to the Doctor’s and rode down the steps. We went to my house then, and cooled down with a milk shake. Then we went on the Meadowings for a ride down the steps, and after that we both went home and I had tea.

Then we took Cat to the vets because he was all bloated, but there wasn’t really much wrong with him. When we came back at 8.00 I watched Morecambe and Wise, then at 8.30 I watched Sorry. At 9.00 I watched The young ones, and went to bed at 9.30.

A bakingly hot day. A brilliant, blinding white, sweat-dripping, sun-baked adventure. The tarmac was melting on the pavements, girls (and some boys) were wearing ‘Frankie Say’ T-Shirts and cut-off stonewashed jeans, the hedgerows were full of lolly sticks (with jokes) and the roads did that weird, shimmery, mirage thing twenty yards ahead of us as we cycled towards the mud track, and adventure.

I still remember the fantastic feeling of independence that making our own packed lunches gave us. I’m sure we made a bloody awful mess in the kitchen, with bits of Mothers Pride bread and egg and Stork SB everywhere, but the prospect of cycling out of our drive for the day with two Hinton’s carrier bags of mouldering ‘bait’ (and a Wagon Wheel) dangling from our wrists was thrilling beyond compare.

Food Site Pictures

And the ‘mud track’ was in full bloom as well. The tiny playpark with its swings and slide and excitingly high Tarzie seemed to have erupted overnight into a riot of daisies, daffodils and grass so lushly tall and green that Glenn Henman, our school’s resident Growth Hormone guinea pig, would never have made it from one side to the other without a pith helmet and a machete. We ate our ‘packies’ (I know, and it didn’t even occur to us…) on the swings, then both of us worked off a bit of tatrazine by scaling the groaning, wheezing tree in the centre of the park – full of the joys of life and determined to celebrate our new-found independence.

Although hands up who thinks my mother deliberately came down to check that we HAD actually gone where we said we were going?

Good to see us indulging in our new-found hobby of ‘Boneshaking’ again… getting our bikes up to full pelt and then turning a sharp corner to cycle down the steepest, hardest, most concrete-iest flights of steps we could find. Clearly after having exhausted every possible thrillseeking opportunity outside the Doctor’s surgery, we turned our attentions to the endless, almost vertical expanses of stone steps that punctuated the nearby Meadowings housing estate. I’ve walked through there recently, and it looks like a Maurice Escher drawing but with satellite dishes.

escher

And we ‘cooled down with a milk shake’… Yeah, right. In our kitchen was a cheap and cheeful food blender from Argos, and I’d discovered that if I stole a big block of ice cream from the freezer and whisked it up in the blender, the resulting glassful of lurid, freezing sludge was the perfect pick-me-up for two 11-year-old boys visibly flagging because they hadn’t had any sugar or artifical colourants for well over three hours by this stage. Mmmmm!

neopolitan

(This was pre-sexy ice cream, by the way… not the modern, nutty, fruity stuff that comes in plastic bowls with little twirls and whirls all over it. These were giant, solid slabs of brightly-coloured frozen glop, housed in cardboard that was occasionally so difficult to remove that it regularly just got incorporated as part of the dessert. After close examination, I’ve concluded that Darth Vader uses the Neopolitan variety to freeze Han Solo for his trip to Tatooine in The Empire Strikes Back)

And the cat! Our poor cat, Sooty. Here he is, looking deeply suspicious of the nasty nine-year-old oik forcing him to pose for a picture…

catcatcat

He waddled painfully into the front room in the middle of our tea, forcing my Dad to stop dead in mid-bite of a relieved Findus Fishfinger. ‘Bloody hell, what’s happened to that thing?’ he gasped. ‘He’s the size of a bloody football…’

And he was. In fact, poor Sooty looked like he’d had an Espana ’82 World Cup football violently inserted into his innards, with his tiny legs and tail hanging pathetically in mid-air. Our tea plates were hastily cleared away and he was quickly raced to Whimpster’s Veterinary Surgery in Stokesley, where the splendidly be-quiffed Mr Whimpster prodded him with a gentle finger.

‘The blockage is definitely in his stomach,’ he mused. ‘Have you been feeding him more regularly than you normally would?’

We shook our heads, nervously.

‘I think we should give him 24 hours and see if it passes through…’ he smiled. ‘I’m pretty sure there’s nothing seriously wrong…’

And indeed there wasn’t. When we got home, the Cat sloped off to his usual sunbathing spot on top of our dusty old coal bunker. And my Dad, pottering around the garden, found the scant remains of two enormous pigeons beneath the front room window, a pathetic bundle of beaks, feathers and bones clearly very recently picked clean by, we decided, the GREEDIEST BLOODY CAT IN THE WORLD. 

Anyway, a cracking night of TV… ‘Morecambe and Wise’ was undoubtedly a special tribute to the late, great Eric Morecambe (see yesterday’s entry), ‘Sorry!’ will have been great fun as ever, and ‘The Young Ones’ was back, after a fortnights gap (anyone know why?) with the boys acquiring a video recorder and running foul of Alexei Sayle’s South African vampire (and Rumbelow’s store manager) Harry The Bastard…

Oh, have we got a video?

Extracts from Bob’s 1984 Diary… Volume 149

Monday 28th May 1984

Woke up at 9.30 and got up at 10.30. Went downstairs and had some toast, then I played on the videopac. After that I painted the bike, then was playing cards when Doug came and we went down to the mud track and played on the tarzie.

Then I climbed a tree and got stuck. Eventually I jumped down into a puddle. After that we went to the Doctor’s and rode down the steps, then back to the mud track for a last muck on. After that we came back, and Doug went home and I had tea, then I went out on the bike.

At about 6.00 we took Grandma home (I climbed the tree), then we came back at 7.10 and watched The Montreax golden rose pop festival. Went to bed at 9.00 after a bath and a bowl of Cornflakes.

All well and good, but oddly omitted from my diary entry is the fact that Monday 28th May was a sad day for British comedy. And a horrible tug on the heartstrings for those of us who had grown up in front of the telly in the 1970s, obsessed by our TV heroes and eternally grateful for the little chinks of magic and laughter that they brought into our strange, little lives.

Eric Morecambe died on this day.

morecambeandwise

It happened in the early hours of the morning after a one-man show in Gloucestershire, but the news didn’t break until later in the day, and I remember us finishing our post-dinner Swiss rolls and almond slices as the dramatic opening stabs of the BBC1’s Evening News programme (still broadcast at 5.40pm, and not yet shifted to the monolithic Six O’Clock start) parped from our tinny TV speakers and filled the corners of our sun-drenched front room.

Back in 1984, BBC1’s main news programme still looked like this…

As soon as the first headline started, we knew exactly what was coming. ‘The comedian Eric Morecambe, known to millions as…’

There was no need to carry on listening, really. But we did… still chomping on our almond slices, and all feeling decidedly miserable at the realisation that such an incredible, umatchable part of our collective TV experiences had drifted away forever. Eric is still, to me, the crowned king of 1970s TV, a figure who united the nation in a way that Ted Heath and James Callaghan never managed in those odd, fragmented remnants of my very early childhood.

EVERYBODY watched Morecambe and Wise, and EVERYBODY talked about it afterwards. Especially on Christmas Day, when the toys would be cleared away and my Mum and Dad and Gran and Uncle Trevor (and whoever else was about) would start to reclaim the evening from us grotty kids, and settle back on the settee with a glass of QC Cream and a box of After Eights to let this utterly magical TV experience wash over them in waves of glee. And I’d be there too, entranced by the funny man in the glasses who never, ever failed to make me laugh.

Especially in this clip from Christmas 1976, watched by nearly half the population of the United Kingdom (and Lord alone knows what other half were doing) and still the No. 1 topic of conversation the following day, when my Dad took the dogs down to the Cross Keys pub in Yarm to find EVERYONE talking about Angela Rippon’s legs…

So thankyou, Eric. And Ernie too, whose contribution was equally gargantuan and yet whose legacy sometimes seems comparatively overlooked. In the middle of bleak 1970s winters, it was impossible to overestimate anyone so readily capable of (hey) bringing so much sunshine into our gloomy and freezing front rooms.

And yet… saddened as I was, life plodded on for me. I suppose it does when you’re a kid, doesn’t it? There’s a always a tree to climb… or, in this case, two trees. Clearly influenced by the antics of Robin of Sherwood’s gang, I’d decided to scale as many leafy branches as I could in the hope of ambushing any passing Norman soldiers on their way to buy an Evening Gazette Late Final from Mr Murray’s newsagents. And sometimes, I was even capable of getting down again…

(By the way, the tree that I got stuck in at the ‘mud track’ is visible on the below film, 6 seconds in. It’s the one on the opposite side of the grey path, standing by itself with the tall thin trunk. What a big girl’s blouse I really was…)

And the steps at ‘The Doctor’s’ were, amazingly, nothing to do with my favourite Time Lord on this occasion. The doctor’s surgery in Yarm had (and still has, although it’s now an oestopathic clinic, and our spanking new ‘Yarm Medical Centre’ is twenty yards away across the car park) a little flight of stone steps leading up to the front door that were just BEGGING to be ridding down on a rickety Raleigh Chopper whose new coat of paint wasn’t QUITE dry at this stage.

‘Cycling down steps’ (or ‘Boneshaking’ as we instantly nicknamed it) became an insanely obsessive pastime for Doug and I over the following week or two, and we scoured the streets of Yarm looking for steeper and lengthier flights of steps to sate our ceaseless quest for thrills, excitement and outright stupidity. 

I think the scabs, bruises and grazes on my arms and legs only descended into single fingers once I turned 17 and discovered cheap cider and cigarettes instead. 

(Although amazingly I’ve never had stitches or broken a bone – maybe not such a big girls’ blouse after all, eh? EH?!)

I’ll try and get down to the old surgery tomorrow and make a little film. By the way, I LOVE the fact that the only medical practitioners in Yarm had to be reached by ascending a steep, unwieldy flight of steps. Why not go the whole hog and erect a sign stating ‘NO ELDERLY OR INFIRM PEOPLE ADMITTED’?

And the Montreux Golden Rose Pop Festival! Fantastic. Hour upon hour of the world’s biggest rock sensations performing in a venue seemingly slightly smaller than the back room of The Ketton Ox on Yarm High Street…

No wonder I needed a bath and a bowl of Cornflakes to calm me down before bedtime.

Extracts from Bob’s 1984 Diary… Volume 148

Sunday 27th May 1984

Woke up at 10.00 and got up at 10.10. Put some posters on the wall, then went downstairs and played cards till dinnertime at 12.00 because it was raining. After dinner the rain stopped a bit so I went out and played on the bike, then I started to paint the chopper with Black undercoat.

After that I had tea, then after tea I did some more of my bike till 7.00, when I helped in the kitchen. At 7.15 I watched last of the summer wine. After that I played cards again till I watched Mastermind at About 8.00.

When that finished I just lazed about but at 9.00 I went out on the bike again. Had to come in at 9.30 to watch That’s life, then I went to bed at 10.15.

Ah, a week of half-term holiday panning out ahead of me, and what better way to negotiate a bout of filthy, unseasonal weather than by retreating to the garage and performing some essential maintenance on the second-hand Raleigh Chopper I’d bought from Doug a couple of months earlier?

So I decided, for the second time in six weeks, to ‘paint my bike’. Except this time I did it properly. This is what I did…

1. Raided my dad’s toolbox and removed every last nut, bolt, screw and washer from the bike, before proceeding to dismantle the brakes, handlebars, wheels, gears, mudguards, saddle and anything else that wasn’t surgically attached to the main framework of the Chopper (chortle)

2. Prised open a claggy tin of metal primer paint from Halfords and proceeded to splash it all over the metal frame.

3. Stood staring with an open mouth at the random piles of nuts, bolts, screws, washers, brakes, handlebars, wheels, gears, mudguards, and saddle parts scattered haphazardly around the garage floor as it slowly dawned on me that I hadn’t got a bloody clue how to put the thing back together again.

It won’t be a surprise to anyone that knows me that, six hours later, I had to drag my Dad away from Northern Life by his jumper sleeve and lock him into the garage to help me reassemble the damn thing once the paint was dry. I think it took another ten years before he was prepared to admit that he’d actually quite enjoyed himself.

114_poggy

My bike maintenance wasn’t helped by the fact that I think this was the day our dog, Poggy Doggy, excelled himself. At some point during the afternoon, my Dad had let the hapless hound into the back garden to perform what always described as a ‘pony’. Ten minutes later, the poor shaggy beast still hadn’t returned. An intrepid search party (me and my Mum) scoured the garden with a vague air of panic before catching, on the breeze, the vaguest hint of a pathetic whimper coming from the direction of the garage.

We found Poggy Doggy trapped helplessly between the glistening frame of my half-painted bike frame and the garage wall. He’d clearly seen something he liked the look of (a spider, a pigeon, a portal to another universe, could be anything really) and bounded over to have a good snuffle around. At which point he’d managed to make the bike frame toppled over towards him, and found himself pinned beneath it (Bear in mind that bicycles in those days were not your modern lightweight affairs… the Chopper in particular seemed to be constructed from breezeblocks and old bits of scaffolding). 

I think it took the rest of the afternoon to remove the auburn dog hair from my still-tacky bike, and the rest of the year to get the black Halford’s metal primer paint out of poor, traumatised Poggy Doggy’s mane.

OK, a few bits and bobs… one of the posters I put on my wall was undoubtedly this one: 

drwhoposter

It had been given away free with Doctor Who Monthly earlier in the year, and I’d been meaning to Blue-Tack it to my woodchip wallpaper for ages. I was very nervous about the prospect of switching schools to Conyers comprehensive later in the year, but the one lingering consolation was that I’d be able to wear a school uniform just like Turlough.

I didn’t think  I’d get away with the camp hand-on-hip look in the Conyers dinner queue, though.

When I say I ‘helped in the kitchen’ this won’t have been any demonstration of my culinary expertise – you’ll notice we’d already had our tea by this point. I can only assume my Dad was going through one of his fortnightly ‘let’s knock a wall through’ phases, and I’d been drafted in to help assemble some kitchen units or mix the grouting for the tiles.

Some of this may or may not have been punishment for making such a horse’s arse of my bike.

And Mastermind! Still presented by the mighty Magnus Magnusson at this stage, and with train driver Chris ‘Eggheads’ Hughes as its current reigning champion. My Dad always fancied himself as a bit of a TV quizzer, and Mastermind was one of his favourites, especially in the days when the questions were ABSOLUTELY ROCK SOLID and the specialist subjects were more likely to concern the death of Mary Queen of Scots and Freud’s Theory of the Unconscious rather than ‘Sex In The City’ Season 3 and the life and work of Marian Keyes.  

I love the fact that I ‘had to come in at 9.30 to watch That’s life’  as well. Clearly my parents saw oddly-shaped vegetables and badly-stuffed cats as an integral part of my cultural education. And rightly so…

Extracts from Bob’s 1984 Diary… Volume 147

Saturday 26th May 1984

HALF TERM

Woke up at 8.30 and got up at 9.00. Got the 9.20 bus to Middlesbrough and  got two books – Robin of Sherwood and Fighting Fantasy. Then we went to Grandma’s and I had 8 bacon sandwiches and a climb on the tree.

We came back at 3.30 and I saw Lisa on the bus, then I went to Huggy’s, and me, Doug, Huggy and Merrington played on our bikes. Came home at 5.00 and had tea, then after that I read Robin of Sherwood.

At 6.00 I watched the Grumbleweeds, then at 6.30 I watched the last Robin of Sherwood. After that I went out on the bike, then I came in and just generally mucked on. Went to bed at 11.00 and then read till 11.20.

Blimey, two books bought on a single morning! For me in 1984, that was a shopping spree of Paris Hilton proportions. Well, alright, maybe not quite Paris Hilton. Leicester Hilton, possibly. Or the Dragonara Hotel in Middlesbrough. Still quite impressive though, given their combined total of (counts on fingers, sticks out tongue) £3. I shelled out £1.75 for Fighting Fantasy (on the instructions of Ian ‘Ozzie’ Oswald, remember – see yesterday’s entry) and £1.25 for Richard Carpenter’s novelisation of the first Robin of Sherwood series.

fightingfantasy

Fighting Fantasy wasn’t quite what I expected… I’d THOUGHT it was going to be a step-by-step guide to writing my own Fighting Fantasy stories, but it’s actually an introductory guide to (gasp!) playing Dungeons and Dragons. The opening section covers simple concepts like the Gamesmaster and his duties, whereas the closing chapter tells you in detail about which Iron Maiden LPs to listen to, and the best places to buy cheap super-strength cider and Quinoderm Acne Cream. It took me another four years to throw myself fully into the world of Role Playing madness, but when I did there wasn’t an Orc safe within ten miles of Yarm (I think it was mainly the smell of Quinoderm that put them off).

Great cover, by the way – who doesn’t want to see a half-man half-tiger fighting his way out of a square eggshell on the moon?

robinofsherwoodbook

The Robin of Sherwood book, meanwhile, presented me with a mind-boggling conundrum… containing, as it did, beautifully-written adaptations of the entire first series, the final episode of which (gasp!) HADN’T BEEN BROADCAST YET!!! It was on TV later that very evening. I wrestled with my conscience for fully thirty seconds before giving in completely and, predictably, turning straight to that chapter before reading any of the previous ones. Yes, I was an 11-year-old spoiler whore!

(By the way, I love the fact that on the cover, just below Michael Praed’s fingers, you can clearly see a bloke in a brown leather jacket and jeans faffing about on the beach with his family. My 11-year self would undoubtedly have tried to ‘retcon’ this into the programme itself, probably inventing a time-vortex-portal-thing through which day trippers from the Spring half-term holiday in 1984 were travelling to medieval times and causing all sorts of bother for Robin and his chums.) 

And ‘8 bacon sandwiches’! I should point out in the name of modesty that they were actually pretty small. My eight sandwiches consisted of four slices of bread sliced into quarters, rather than sixteen slices of bread eaten whole. All served with a dollop of ‘red sauce’ as Saturday Superstore ticked towards its final moments and Grandstand prepared to take over the afternoon schedules…

(Although I’m still quite jealous of my 11-year-old self for being able to relentlessly shovel this stuff down his neck without putting on a scrap of weight. Until the age of 17, my body looked as though it had been constructed from five white drainpipes stuck loosely together with Bostik. It’s hard to imagine what I started doing in my sixth form years that made my weight balloon so dramatically *coughcidercough*)   

‘The tree’ was a small, jagged lilac tree that had been in my Gran’s front garden for as long as I could remember. The lowest branches were only a couple of feet off the ground, so from an early age I was able to haul myself up into its trembling canopy and watch the world go by. In the summer of 1981, a passing policeman (On foot! On a housing estate! It’s a different world…) once smiled and told me gently to ‘get down from there,’ so I did, and went inside. It took me at least five years to realise that he clearly thought I was trespassing in someone else’s front garden…

And ‘Lisa on the bus’ was Lisa Wheeldon, a girl my age whose parents’ garden backed onto my Gran’s. We’d been friends since we were toddlers, and used to speak to each other through a tiny hole in the fence between the two gardens. Lisa was great fun, liked tap-dancing and Blondie, and had a black cat called Tabitha. For about the first ten years of our lives, we saw each other every weekend and never stopped racing around the estate on our bikes, or looking for Mr Men underneath my Grandma’s laburnum trees. It was a kind of strange alternative childhood, parallel to the one I had in Yarm, and it was quite, quite brilliant.

A few random memories of weekend stuff with Lisa…

1. Making a ‘fruit machine’ from cardboard boxes and stuffing endless quantities of chocolate money into the top, where it ran down a long cardboard toilet roll tube before plopping out at the bottom and rolling off the end of the coffee table (where it would often be snaffled by a passing Collie dog)

2. Wearing cowboy hats and taking my new cap gun around the block, where we fully intended to commit a Bonnie and Clyde-style hold-up of Mr Murray’s newsagents. Give us the Sherbert Dib-Dabs, or it’s CURTAINS!!!

3. Holding a Halloween Party in my Gran’s kitchen in (I think) 1980, when October 31st fell on a Friday. I was round there nice and early and ‘helped’ my Dad carve out a turnip in front of Crackerjack (CRACKERJACK!) before we stuck a candle in there, traipsed around the estate on a glorious, chilly, windswept night doing ‘The sky is blue, the grass is green’ and came back to bob for apples in the kitchen sink.

(I don’t think I’ve seen these opening credits for 25 years, and they’re amazingly evocative – I can almost smell those distant Friday nights in long-ago Autumns… crispy frost on grass verges, orange street lights cutting through the fog and the slow, impossibly exciting march towards Christmas… mmmmm….)

4. Carol-singing, every Christmas from about 1978 to 1981. We widened our eyes, sang ‘Away in a Manger’ over and over and over again, and absolutely RAKED IT IN. Utterly cynical, but great fun.

Anyway, by 1984 my weekends at my Gran’s house were becoming less and less frequent, so I didn’t really see Lisa as much as I used to, but I do remember chatting to her on the bus on this particular day. Hello if you’re reading this!

Good to see more mucking about on bikes, no doubt with all manner of dangerous plank-and-brick constructions set up in the road down the end of Paul ‘Huggy’ Huggins’ cul-de-sac. ‘Merrington’ was Paul Merrington, a dark-haired, bike-obsessed lad from the year above us at school… I think he was just passing, and decided to show us ‘how it’s done’ before making our jaws drop with a fine selection of BMX bunny hops, wheelies and, erm, twisty turny things. Or something.

And Robin of Sherwood… I knew what was coming, of course, but it didn’t stop me being glued avidly to the final episode of an absolutely brilliant series that still holds up perfectly well 25 years later. I think I even had the book on my lap in front of the TV, to see how closely the two versions matched. And the following day I tried to persuade Doug to re-enact the brutal wrestling scene between Clive Mantle and John Rhys-Davies, but he wasn’t having any of it.

Probably scared of breaking one of my five white drainpipes in half.

Extracts from Bob’s 1984 Diary… Volume 146

Friday 25th May 1984

Woke up at 7.50 and got up at 8.10. First at school I read, then I finished Maths 3 with Stan and started Maths 4. Had dinner at 12.00 and after that we played Tip it. Did Maths 4 all afternoon and at 3.15 I came home and played patientce.

Then I played on the ramp outside till tea. After tea I went out again, and at 7.00 I watched The pyramid game. At 7.50 I watched Odd One Out, then at 8.20 I watched Time of your life.

After that I went out, then I came in and played patience. Went to bed at 11.20.

‘You can go out with Doug and Paul Huggins, but you’re back to school in the morning’. I imagine that had been the proviso attached to my exploits the previous evening, and I hadn’t been able to resist. So after two days of ‘illness’ attempting to cultivate a hacking cough and pretending I was ‘off my food’ (as I pushed a Findus Crispy pancake around a plate), I was piled back onto the Worsall bus and sent to endure a rare day of education before the half-term holidays.

I remember Doug and Ian ‘Ozzie’ Oswald meeting me off the school bus at the entrance to our playground. ‘Where have you been?’ asked Ozzie, with a raised eyebrow. ‘I’ve had the bug,’ I growled, ‘I really shouldn’t be here…’.

I did this in an entirely unconvincing ‘I AM ILL’ voice, pitched somewhere between Clint Eastwood at his hoarse whisperer peak and Phyllis Pearce from Coronation Street.

‘Bollocks,’ said Doug. ‘We were out on the bikes last night and you weren’t talking like that’.

I shut up for the rest of the day, and concentrated on my maths.

phyllis

Good to see Andrew ‘Stan’ Henry and I completing the latest of our Maths books… I think we had four of these to finish throughout the course of the year, so we now had half a term left to race through ‘MATHS 4 (THE VOYAGE HOME)’ before putting aside childish things and leaving Levendale Primary School for the terrifying bigness of Conyers, Yarm’s sprawling comprehensive.

I was never much cop at maths. In fact, I struggled so much with simple multiplication that, at the age of six, my Mum made a rare foray into the school staff room to speak to Mrs Keasey because the trauma of attempting to multiply six by nine was keeping me awake at nights. And I’ve still never mastered long division. I HATE IT, HATE IT, HATE IT and – after deciding at the age of eight that I was never going to be able to do it, I just gave up there and then. I’m actually slightly proud of the fact that I managed to get through a further ten years of state education without any of my teachers really noticing.

I never washed my neck or behind my ears, either.

longdivision

A couple of strange, haphazard memories that undoubtedly stem from this day…

1. Telling Ian ‘Ozzie’ Oswald that a new book, simply called ‘Fighting Fantasy’ had been issued, containing detailed instructions on exactly how to construct your OWN Fighting Fantasy book. ‘Get it!!!’ he hissed, his eyes aflame. I tapped my nose and said I’d do my best.

2. Saying the word ‘Maths’ with a strange, hissy ‘s’ sound on the end, as in ‘Mathshshshshshshsssss’. This was inspired by Paul ‘Frankie’ Frank unwittingly mispronouncing the word during casual conversation, a mistake inevitably seized upon by the rest of us grotty oiks and cruelly exploited for comedy value for at least the next six months.

3. Doing ‘backwards talk’ so much throughout the course of the afternoon that Mrs Keasey (or Srm Yeseak, as I was now calling her) told me, in no uncertain terms, to ‘jack that in. NOW’.

‘KO’, I replied, bravely, and ran away.

I’d been slowly cultivating this utterly pointless talent for a few months, ever since first being entranced by Bill Homewood’s shambling Australian character in the ‘The Adventure Game’, but it all came to a head on this particular afternoon. Doogy Rev, Doogy Rev.

adventuregame

OK, a few entirely inconsequential TV bits for those that haven’t been paying attention… ‘One By One’ was a cosy, thoroughly entertaining BBC drama starring Rob Heyland as vet Donald Turner, treating exotic animals in a variety of zoos and constantly crossing tranquiliser darts with the mighty James Ellis, playing grumpy Irish dung-sweeper Paddy Reilly. I presume it was intended as the ‘new’ All Creatures Great And Small, and it ran for three series until 1987.

‘Odd One Out’ was an amiable Paul Daniels-hosted quiz show, punctuated throghout with some marvellously jaunty organ music. Here’s the gripping final round…

And Time of Your Life was Noel Edmonds taking Random Celebrity Of The Week (Dave Lee Travis, Barry Cryer, Barbara Dickson etc) and immersing them in the music, film and TV of a time when they were doing particularly well in their career.

I probably practised doing a bit of long division while this was on.