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Archive for June, 2009

Extracts from Bob’s 1984 Diary… Volume 182

Saturday 30th June 1984

Woke up at 8.30 and got up at 10.00. Doug came down and at 11.30 we went to the mud track and had a muck on. At 1.00 We came back and had dinner, then we built an assault course. At 2.30 we went and saw Arnold the cow, then at 4.45 We went and played football on Conyers.

At 5.10 Doug went home and I came back and watched Whiz kids. Had tea at 6.00 and at 6.10 I watched Pop quiz. Then I went out and played on the tarzie, and at about 8.00 dad came out and took some penaltys at me.

At 9.00 I came in and had a shower and at 9.15 I went to bed.

The Fischer family personal hygeine revolution starts HERE!!!

Can you spot the amazing, exciting and unprecedented new addition to our executive lifestyle? Yep… a SHOWER. The refurbishment of our (very 1970s looking) bathroom was one of our major household projects for the summer of 1984, and you’ll remember I spent a decent portion of the previous Sunday hacking at tiny strips of floral wallpaper with a bendy kitchen spatula.

gregorypeckThings were clearly moving on apace, and my Dad spent this whole, blazing, uncomfortably hot Saturday fiddling about converting our clanking bath taps into a modern shower unit, and constructing a sturdy rail and curtain to reduce the chances of his idiot 11-year-old son turning the bathroom into a scene from Moby Dick (although my Mum probably wouldn’t have minded Gregory Peck turning up in his captain’s uniform)  

Let’s make no bones about this… I was a mucky little oik. Looking back through my diary, having a bath tended to be very much a weekly affair for me – usually on a Sunday night, and all of my memories of watching ‘Thats Life’ also incorporate sitting in front of the coal fire with dripping wet hair, wearing powder blue pyjamas and stinking of Shield, ‘the soap deodorant’.

Apart from that, my daily ablutions tended to consist of a quick wash of my face and hands when I got up, and – if I could be bothered – before I went to bed. You’d think I must have REEKED, and yet I don’t recall this being especially outrageous behaviour amongst my peers. My Dad, who tended to be working on building sites every day, had a bath every weeknight at 7pm before returning downstairs in clean clothes for the evening’s TV, safe in the knowledge that he’d thankfully managed to miss Doctor Who and/or Terry and June.

terryandjune

But, for me, ‘bath night’ meant just that – a one-off, special arrangement. I guess I grew up in the 1970s, the age of power cuts, strikes and conserving energy, when some hapless government minister or other (who WAS it???) caused a national sensation by suggesting that the crisis could be alleviated if couples shared a bath together. For our generation, ‘putting on the immersion heater’ when not strictly necessary was a luxury comparable to pouring vintage champagne over your Sugar Puffs every morning. 

It’s amazing how much the personal grooming revolution has transformed the nation’s whiffiness since then. Perhaps Teesside was especially backward in this respect, but I never even HEARD of a man using underarm deodorant until at least the mid 1980s. My Dad certainly didn’t bother – in fact, I don’t suppose he’s ever used it in his life. A bath every few days (and the occasional splash of Blue Stratos if you were going out on the pull) seemed more than sufficient personal hygeine for most Teesside males.

Anyway, apart from brief, sub-Arctic rinsings at Thornaby Swimming Pool, this day almost certainly marked my first engagement with a ‘proper’ shower, and it had an almost instantaneous effect on my love life… yes, I was asked out on a date by a girl within a mere SEVEN YEARS of this revolutionary event taking place.

Other, weird, disparate memories from this particular day…

1. The assault course! Garden assault courses were a regular feature of my childhood, and the whole thing undoubtedly began in the summer of 1981, when – on a mind-numbingly hot day – Paul ‘Frankie’ Frank and myself constructed an insanely hilarious hotch-potch of planks, holes, paddling pools and piles of bricks to clamber over, under and around, timing our breathless circuits of the course with a digital watch as we laughed and laughed and laughed and laughed and laughed. I daresay any passing 1980s Royal Marines wouldn’t have given it much of a second glance* but to us, this was the TOUGHEST OF THE TOUGH, and it’s good to see the tradition being maintained long into the ‘Mates with Doug’ years.

*with the possible exception of Prince Edward

marines

2. There’s no easy way of putting this, but – at the mud track – we found half a rabbit. The rear half, with the business end (ears, whiskers, cute twitching nose etc) completely missing. It was just sitting there in the short grass next to our favourite climbing tree. I felt decidedly queasy when I saw this, and couldn’t get it out of my mind for the rest of the day. I distinctly remember struggling to get through one of my Mum’s giant shepherd’s pies while watching Whiz Kids, as images of said disembodied bunny kept flashing back into my consciousness. Urgh.

3. I HAD A SHOWER!!! Have I mentioned this already? I didn’t wash my hair, though. I’d done it on the 17th June, so it was good for another fortnight yet. It’s not as if I was Prince Edward or anything.

PS If my ‘one bath a week’ regime left me somehow smelling relatively savoury, how infrequent must Christopher Herbert’s ablutions have been for him to honk like a dead polecat in the middle of a major sewage outlet?

Extracts from Bob’s 1984 Diary… Volume 181

Friday 29th June 1984

Woke up at 7.50 and got up at 8.10. At school we did maths, then started a poster for Topic. Had dinner at 12.00, and in the afternoon we did some more of the poster. At 2.00 we went out and played rounders, and at 3.15 I came home.

I went to Doug’s and we went to Yarm, and after getting a new brake cable we went to my house and took Poggy Doggy up the gate. At 5.30 Doug went home and I had tea, then I played on the front with Alan.

At 7.30 I watched Simon and Simon, and at 8.30 I watched Odd one out. Went to bed at 9.00.

Another blisteringly hot day, and as such – I think – we ‘took the tables outside’ again to work on our poster, with the added spice of being divebombed by wasps and getting hideously sunburnt. Nobody gave a toss about exposure to ultra-violet rays in 1984, and pale-skinned children like me were frequently ordered by parents and teachers alike to ‘go outside and get some sun on your face’, especially on days when the playing fields of Yarm resembled the plains of the Serengeti.

brightsun

I never wore suncream as a kid, and frequently returned home with my neck and arms the colour of raspberry yoghurt. At which point, my Mum would roll her eyes and ‘get some After-Sun on that, and it’ll go brown’. And cancerous, no doubt, in the fullness of time. Although I don’t think sun-related skin cancer was invented until about 1989, so I might have escaped unscathed.

Ironically, the poster that Doug and I worked on for our Topic Group was all about the dangers of woodland fires, and handily advised our otherwise unsuspecting peer group not to light naked flames in tinderbox-dry forests on hot summer days. Or, indeed, within the thirty-yard exclusion zone surrounding Christopher Herbert, who scientists now estimate was responsible for at least 14.7% of the UK’s mid-1980s methane production.

fart

And Alan! Blimey, I’d forgotten about Alan. Don’t worry, we’re not adding an imaginary friend to my spiralling catalogue of pre-pubescent mental health issues. I never had an imaginary friend as a kid… the closest I ever got was a vague, nagging hope that – one day – the TARDIS would materialise on top of our coal bunker, and that Peter Davison’s Doctor would whisk me away to galactic adventures.

I did, at one stage in 1984, have in my head a full 24-episode series based around our ensuing antics, but the only one I can remember is the story in which the Doctor transported me forward in time to 1991, and I met a white-faced Poggy Doggy and a chiselled, muscular, fabulously wealthy 18-year-old version of myself. This might have sown the seeds of the crushing depression I suffered in the ACTUAL 1991, when my 18-year-old self turned out to be a scrawny, acne-ridden geek with terrible dandruff and a bizarre fascination for Carter The Unstoppable Sex Machine. Although, in my defence, Poggy Doggy was still alive and he did have a white face.

fifthdoctor

But no! Alan was the grandson of Mr and Mrs Cogan, our elderly next-door neighbours. His parents had moved to Northern Ireland when Alan was very small, and only seemed to return once or twice a year, but when they did we were usually happy to knock a football around the garden for a few hours, while his older sister Debbie watched us with a wry smile on her face. Alan was my age, and – as a result of his upbringing – had the strongest Northern Irish accent I’d ever heard outside of the Belfast editions of ‘Why Don’t You’.

(I’m sure that, after every Belfast Why Don’t You, Barry Took on Points of View would be inundated with letters from Mrs Bagshott-Rowe of Tunbridge Wells, sniffily protesting about the ‘decline of the English language on BBC Television’ and so on. All I can really remember about Why Don’t You is a) the theme tune and b) its early use of video diaries, usually made by slightly weird-looking 14-year-old boys who lived in the Cotswalds and had intimate relationships with ponies)

Anyway, two things that I remember about my encounter with Alan on this day…

chopper2

1) When he first popped his head around the garden gate, I was busy fixing the new brake cable to my (guffaw) Chopper. My bike was still looking – or so I thought – pretty swanky after its recent respray, and I was pretty damn proud of my refurbishments. Until Alan piped up with the soul-destroying opening gambit – ‘Bloody hell, IS THAT YOUR BIKE?!?? How do you ride THAT? I’ve just got a new Diamond Back’. I’d never felt so crushed since Adric died at the end of Episode Four of ‘Earthshock’.

2) On the front garden, we played with his ‘Impossiball’. This quintessentially mid-1980s gizmo had been advertised relentlessly in the breaks during TV-AM all summer, its manufacturers clearly determined to retire to the Bahamas before the end of the six-week holiday. Bascially a light, plastic football with all kinds of strange weights and things inside it… so that, whatever you did with it, it would wobble and ping and bounce at all kind of insane angles. If you threw it through the air, it would veer away at a 90 degree angle, hit a tree, bounce vertically upwards, richochet around the branches, then hit the lawn at a dead stop and rest for a few seconds before someone bent down to pick it up, at which point it would suddenly restart and shoot off across the garden.

I think it was powered by hamsters. Or black magic. Or some strange combination of the two.

It was enormously entertaining for about five minutes before you realised it had no practical use whatsoever and seemed to be inextricably drawn to the busy main road on the other side of the conifers. You’ll notice I stuck it out for an hour before coming inside to have raspberry yoghurt rubbed on my sunburn while watching Paul Daniels on the telly.

Extracts from Bob’s 1984 Diary… Volume 180

Thursday 28th June 1984

Woke up at 7.50 and got up at 8.10. At school we did maths, then I went in the library till dinner at 12.00. In the afternoon it was Topic groups, then me, Frankie, Tucker and Doug did topic.

At 3.15 I came home and went to Doug’s and we went on Levendale. Had a ride around, then I came home at 5.30 and had tea. Then Dad, Poggy and I went to the gate and at 7.30 we went to visit Grandma. Came home at 8.15 and I played out for a bit, then Dad took some penaltys at me.

Went to bed at 9.00.

I think – amazingly – this might be a 1984 day on which I watched virtually NO TELEVISION ALL!!!

There was probably a bit of TVAM chuntering away in the morning as I got ready, and then we’ll have eaten our fishcakes and mashed potato accompanied by the BBC Evening News and Look North (with the legendary Mike Neville), but in terms of me actually sitting down and deliberately watching something that interested me… blimey! I didn’t!

It’s been pointed out by several people over the last few months that I seemed to spend a staggering amount of my childhood watching TV – either the genre sci-fi and fantasy stuff (Doctor Who, Robin of Sherwood, even – yikes – Manimal) that was turning into a lifelong passion, hit sitcoms (Only Fools and Horses, The Young Ones, etc) that made me laugh uproariously as I sprawled across the front room armchair (‘Can’t you just sit in the bloody thing properly?’ my Dad used to regularly ask) and odd little bits of contemporary ephemera… That’s Life, Blankety Blank, 3-2-1 and all the other shows that, when I see them back now, give a far more evocative impression of 1984 than almost anything else from the era.

Looking back, I wonder if we Eighties kids were the peak generation for watching (and being influenced by) TV. It seems ironic that, since the explosion of multi-channel TV, its grip on the younger generation’s imagination seems to have considerably lessened.  And yet, back in 1984, those four simple channels – often broadcasting nothing more than a test card for most of the night and even some of the afternoons – seemed, in part, to make us the people that we are.

I don’t get that so much from kids today. I guess young people will always gravitate towards the buzziest, flashiest technology of the day. Back in 1984, that was TV, and there wasn’t much in the way of competition… home computers were little more than basic (and often very unreliable) games machines, and the phone was something that stayed on a little table in the corner of the hallway and allowed your Mum to yabber away about fishcakes and Mike Neville to elderly relatives a couple of times a week.

phone

Nowadays, poor old TV is a bit of a poor relation to everything else that kids love, and I still (genuinely) can’t decided whether that’s a good thing or not.

Anyway, another relatively quiet day… clearly my Gran was still recovering from her hip operation in Middlesbrough General Hospital, and I took advantage of the light nights to further perfect my ‘Bruce Grobbelaar’ routines in the front garden with my Dad.

I’ll take advantage of a quiet-ish day, then, by showing off this nonsense… I’ve mentioned a few times in the Blog that, in my last few years at Levendale Primary School, I was an enthusiastic cartoonist, and – on long, rainy afternoons – myself, Mark ‘Fozzie’ Foster, Andrew ‘Sug’ Sugden (below) and a handful of equally grotty Whizzer and Chips obsessives would hole up in a quiet corner of the school and produce our strange, slightly surreal comic ‘Frosty’. 

Thursday Sug

Huge thanks and belated applause goes to all of our teachers at Levendale Primary School, who – brilliantly – positively encouraged these little outbursts of creativity, and were happy for us to push the latest maths textbook to one side if it meant that the latest of ‘Frosty’ was pinned to the middle room wall for the rest of our year to peruse.

We tried to get out at least three issues a year – Easter, Summer and a bumper Christmas edition, and I suppose it gave us all a little brush with celebrity. I’d long since assumed that they’d all been chucked into the school bins as soon as they were considered past their sell-by date, but – to my utter delight – I managed to find an entire edition in the loft last week!

smallfrosty1

Click on THIS LINK to see a bigger version! I think this is the Easter 1983 edition, and it’s all complete – it’s been stapled together to resemble a proper comic, but you can see pin-prick holes where, in a previous life, it was stapled to the classroom wall in a long, continuous line of A4 paper… like the Bayeaux Tapestry, but filled with Loonymen and cartoon dogs and Doctor Who.

This is undoubtedly one of my cartoons, and I remember Sug laughing like a drain at Targ the Loonymen with his dark glasses and goofy teeth…

smallfrosty2

(Again, CLICK HERE for a larger version)

And then, predictably…

smallfrosty3

(CLICK HERE for the bigger version – and yes, it’s the presence of the Black Guardian that makes me suspect this is from Spring 1983!)

In Summer 1983, Fozzie – who was a year older than us – was swept into the terrifying educational wildnerness of Conyers comprehensive, and I don’t think we really made any more comics after this. He was, in every possibly respect, the Spiritual Leader of the Loonymen. Our Kim Jong-Il. Making these strange, half-crazed efforts was a huge part of my childhood though, and I’m so thrilled that at least one of them has survived.

If I can find any others, then I’ll scan a few pages again.. I’d be particularly delighted if the classic 1981 Christmas Special turns up, as I remember us working against a staggeringly tight deadline to get this finished, and then gleefully stapling it to the classroom wall ourselves (occasionally pinging a rogue staple at a passing Christopher Herbert) while attempting to simultaneously sing ‘T’was the Night Before Christmas’ (Mr Millward’s famous ‘chanted’ version, to be performed en masse at the school’s festive production) and The Human League’s ‘Don’t You Want Me’.

Happy days. 

Extracts from Bob’s 1984 Diary… Volume 179

Wednesday 27th June 1984

Woke up at 7.50 and got up at 8.10. At school I did Topic all morning and at 12.00 I had dinner. In the afternoon it was maths groups, so I did maths, then at 2.30 we read. Came home at 3.15 and played out till tea.

After tea I went out for a ride on Levendale but there wasn’t anyone about so I had a quick muck on in the green, then came back home and played out. Then I came in, went upstairs and listened to some tapes and things.

Then had a quick kickabout outside before I had a bath and went to bed at 9.00.

Congratulations everyone, we’ve reached the most boring day of 1984 so far!!!

yawn

Erm… not a lot to go on here, is there? Although June 1984 was the height of my conviction that I was blessed with STRANGE PSYCHIC POWERS, so it’s possible that I thought I could get away with not actually WRITING much in my diary… that I’d be able to BURN the words in later with THE POWER OF MY MIND. Or something. 

In a nutshell… during a gentle game of cricket with my Dad in the back garden a few weeks earlier, I’d become convinced that I was using the POWER OF MY MIND to influence his bowling… and that if I screwed my face up really tight (like a kind of ultra-constipated Jedi) I could project my thoughts into his head and make him lob the ball exactly where I wanted it. Bear in mind that I’d been watching a LOT of Robin of Sherwood at this stage.

Since then, I’d been trying out my telekinetic abilities on all kind of other odds and sods. I remember sitting in Doug’s garage attempting to convince him that the gentle swinging back and forth of his garden gate was the result of my increasingly focused special powers, and not the blustery Teesside wind that was already scattering plastic plant pots haphazardly around the patio.

pots

By this stage, I was even combining the screwed-up face with an outstretched hand, the fingers splayed with rigid intensity, a move I’d undoubtedly nicked wholesale from The Emperor in Return of the Jedi. If I’d been able to find a black, hooded cowl in the Middlesbrough branch of British Home Stores then doubtless I’d have been dressing up in that as well.

The natural extension to this nonsense was my ability to read minds, and this might have been the day on which I decided to bring my powers to a wider audience. We were definitely working on our maths at the time.

emperor

‘Why are you looking at me like that?’ asked Ian ‘Ozzie’ Oswald, knocking off a page of quantum physics with one hand tied casually behind his back. 

‘I haven’t told anyone this before,’ I muttered, mysteriously. ‘But… I… CAN… READ… YOUR… MIND…’ 

‘Oh if you say so,’ he sighed. ‘Go on then, what am I thinking now?’

‘You’re thinking about Conyers. About the scary transition from this school to our next one. About the loneliness we might find there, and the difficulty in adjusting to a new way of life. You’re thinking about the teachers, and the exams, and the terrifying legend of Foggy Bashing Day’. 

‘Wrong,’ he tutted. ‘I was thinking what a dick you are’.

There was a brief and playful flurry of punches, interrupted by Mrs Keasey clearing her throat in the most impressively theatrical manner.

‘Robert Fischer,’ she warned, ‘If you don’t finish that Maths today, you won’t go out for rounders this week…’ 

I looked up at her with a vacant expression.

‘Why are are you looking so shocked? You know it has to be done by Friday…’

‘I’m not looking shocked,’ I replied, ‘I just haven’t got any eyebrows, remember?’

I got my maths finished quick smart, and I don’t think I bothered trying to channel and cultivate my psychic powers any further. Shame really, if I’d worked on them I’d probably be able to finish this blog entry from afar rather than leaving it abandoned in the middle of a…

Extracts from Bob’s 1984 Diary… Volume 178

Tuesday 26th June 1984

Woke up at 7.50 and got up at 8.10. At school it was hymn practice, and when we came out it was Topic groups. Did Topic all morning, and at 12.00 I had dinner.

At 12.45 we walked to Conyers and were told our houses and form teachers. Me and Doug are in Conyers 2, teacher Miss Metcalfe. Then Harker showed us round and then we got changed and had a PE lesson.

At 3.00 I ran home and played out till 5.00 when I had tea. Then Dad, Poggy Doggy, Tina and I went to see Arnold the cow but couldn’t find her. Came back at 6.40 and watched Star Trek, and at 7.30 I watched Little and Large.

At 8.00 I went out, and at 8.30 I watched Now get out of that. At 9.00 I watched Film buff of the year and at 9.30 I went to bed.

Ahhhhh… approaching us all like a dark, rumbling stormcloud… Conyers School. By this stage, everybody in my year was down to their last four weeks at Levendale Primary School, and then – after the sprawling summer holiday – we’d all be swept up into the terrifying educational machine that was Conyers School, our local comprehensive… a vast, labyrinthine mess of red-brick buildings, tarmac courtyards and seething teenage hormones.

I wasn’t looking forward to it. Levendale Primary School felt like a sleepy country hamlet, a tiny, friendly community of gentle souls who sang ‘Cross Over The Road, My Friend’ every morning and dreamed away the afternoons idly twatting fluffy tennis balls over the roof of the VG shop with a plastic cricket bat. Whereas Conyers felt like a CITY – a scary, dark metropolis… rainswept, dangerous and dystopic, like Blade Runner but with (slightly) better gym facilities.

Title - Bladerunner

Nevertheless, we had to go, and so – like World War I Tommies being given a tantalising sneak preview of the trenches at Ypres – we were sent on a little day-trip to Conyers School… with Mr Chalkley and Mrs Mulhern walking forty of us brave footsoldiers a mile through the mean streets of Yarm, through the twisting Kebble Homes estate (‘These houses are bloody awful’ moaned Stephen Mason, gaining a withering look from Mrs Mulhern) and to the looming, metal rear gate of Conyers. It reared above us like the tradesman’s entrance to Mordor.

sauron

It was the sheer scale of the place that terrified me more than anything. Levendale probably played host to a couple of hundred pupils at any one time (Mr Hirst might know better… Mr H?) whereas I think Conyers, at this time, had around 2,000 students. Most of whom I wouldn’t know, as they’d come from Yarm’s other three feeder primary schools, as well as the outlying villages. It all seemed scarily impersonal, and I had nightmare visions of being seperated from everything I held dear – Doug, Doctor Who, Frankie Goes To Hollywood – and held prisoner in a tiny room to practice my French Oral Skills forever.

Quel dommage!

I would have died rather than admit any of this out loud, of course. Doug’s sister Jen, three years older than us and already a Conyers veteran, met us at the gates and ruffled her little brother’s hair with an evil grin. And then we trooped into the school’s vast gymnasium, an echoing, warehouse-sized building in which scary-looking teachers with stern-looking faces shouted out the small print of next year’s form classes and made straight-faced jokes about the dreaded ‘Foggie Bashing Day’.

schoolbully

(This was Yarm’s longest-standing Urban Legend, ‘Foggies’ being green-faced first year pupils at Conyers School, and ‘Foggie Bashing Day’ being an acknowledged annual free-for-all festival of unsolicited violence, upon which unsuspecting newcomers were mercilessly punched, pummelled and tweaked by … well, everyone else at the school. Including the teachers. It was an annual tradition dating back centuries, and the date was never fixed – just tacitly agreed at short notice amongst the older boys and girls and acted upon the following day with swift and terrifying force. It also, of course, didn’t exist, but we weren’t to know that at the time…)

I was delighted to discover that I was being placed in the same Conyers form group as Doug, a decision that I think had been swung by Mrs Keasey, who – a couple of weeks earlier – had discreetly asked us if we were going to ‘stick together’ when we moved on up to ‘big school’. If it’s true, then I can’t thank her enough. And regular Blog contributer Chris Byers was placed in my form as well, so no doubt he’ll have plenty to say when we reach Conyers in September! 

Stephen ‘Mason’ Mason and Jo ‘Spaynie’ Spayne were in there too, so I did start to feel a bit better about things… moreso, seemingly, than my future form tutor Miss Metcalfe who, as far as I know, quit the school completely during the summer of 1984. She certainly wasn’t there when we came back in September, but more of that at the time…

stairs

‘Harker’ was Philip Harker, a nice, dry-witted lad and the son of a well-known local farmer. He was a year older than us, and an ex-Levendale veteran, so we knew him well and it was nice to see him again – even if he looked decidedly strange in his crisp Conyers uniform… charcoal blazer, grey jumper and striped blue-and-red tie. His tour of the building was spectacularly funny and half-hearted. ‘These are the stairs,’ he said, to ripples of laughter. ‘That’s a door… and this is the wall between the stairs and the door… that’s a window…’

Ever get the feeling he’d been reluctantly ‘volunteered’ for this?

I can’t remember the PE lesson at all, other than the fact that it took place indoors (which is odd, because it was a sunny day – maybe they just didn’t want us outside making the fields look untidy) and that it was conducted by Mr Nielson, a wise-cracking madman with a sensational Freddie Mercury moustache and the obligatory Adidas tracksuit. Daley Thompson’s increasing world domination had made the ‘black slug’ school of facial hair pretty much de rigeur amongst all budding 1980s atheletes, and in retrospect I’m only amazed (and indeed impressed) that Mr Hirst didn’t follow suit! 

daley

Mr Millward, of course, did, although his moustache always had more of ‘Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’ about it than anything overtly sporty. I can’t imagine him, or indeed John Lennon, ever slipping into a Red Adidas tracksuit.

sgtpepper

My house was virtually over the road from Conyers, so – amazingly for me – I showed a bit of initiative and, at the end of the day, asked permission from Mr Chalkley and Mrs Mulhern just to go home, rather than waste half an hour traipsing back to Levendale before waiting for the official school bus to take me right back to where I’d started from. They looked decidedly uncomfortable about the prospect (probably concerned about some nascent, 1980s Health and Safety issue) but let me go anyway. 

This was impossibly exciting, and I sprinted home like Daley Thompson (without the moustache though, that was Mr Nielson’s department) and collapsed in front of the telly for an evening’s worth of fun.

‘Now Get Out Of That’ in particular was a favourite of mine, and I’d forgotten all about it! Two teams of fresh-faced, annoying middle-management types would be stranded in the country and forced to complete ludicrously over-ambitious tasks (spring the imprisoned Adolf Hitler from his underground woodland bunker in Hertfordhsire) by building hand-built rafts and bridges to cross lakes and boggy woodland terrain, and – inevitably – get absolutely covered in shite for our amusement. And then argue, usually because Roger from Accounts was refusing to acknowledge that Penny from the Stationary Department could tie a far better reef knot than him, and she was clearly just trying to show him up because she hadn’t forgiven him for the time he got Stephanie from reception up against the notice board at Garry’s leaving do (blonde Stephanie that is, not dark Stephanie – he wouldn’t touch her with somebody else’s) and… and… so on, and so on. Brilliant fun, and all linked together from the studio by the mighty Bernard Falk.

And ‘Film Buff Of The Year’ was my Dad’s favourite TV quiz show, a proper, rock-hard, grown-up film quiz on (yikes!) BBC2, hosted by twinkly-eyed Robin Ray and featuring whiskery middle-aged men in corduroy jackets (and leather elbow patches) answering questions about Jimmy Stewart. I think I watched it in the vague hope of catching a tiny glimpse of Star Wars one week…

Extracts from Bob’s 1984 Diary… Volume 177

Monday 25th June 1984

Woke up at 8.00 and got up at 8.00. At school it was assembly, then when we came out it was Topic groups. Then we had PE, and after that I did Topic. At 12.00 I had dinner, then me and Ozzie did maths till 2.00, when we went out for rounders. Dammit! We lost.

Came home at 3.15 and made some badges, then I had tea. After that Dad, Poggy Doggy, Tina and I went down the gate, then to Private road and met… *ARNOLD THE COW!!!* At 7.10 We came back and I watched Manimal, and at 8.10 I watched Scully. Went to bed at 9.00. 

Badges! Forget this misleading talk of ‘topic’ and ‘maths’ and ‘assembly’, what I really did on this stiflingly hot Monday was set up a home-based cottage badge-making industry with Doug. Spurred on by our success dismantling old ‘I LOVE ET’ badges and reassembling them to bear the logo of our short-lived ‘SCUMMER CLUB’ (see this diary entry), we decided to clink Tizer cans together, smile smugly and GO INTO BUSINESS, DAMMIT!

et

And so, when I claimed I was ‘doing Topic’, what I was actually doing was ‘taking orders from gullible children willing to pay me 10p for a shoddy-looking Frankie Goes To Hollywood badge that, in reality, they’re never ever going to receive’. The idea being that Doug would hustle for business, and I would use my artistic flair (and my WH Smiths felt-tips) to produce custom-built badges paying tribute to our willing victims’ favourite pop groups. (Providing they were Frankie Goes To Hollywood, Wham or Bucks Fizz, the only three pop groups I could actually draw)

bucksfizz

Naturally, Wendy Brunskill was cornered as our first client. This it the conversation that I remember…

Doug: How about Frankie Goes To Hollywood?
Wendy: OK…
Doug: Fischer, is that OK?
Me: Yep!
Doug: Consider it done. How about Wham?
Wendy: OK…
Doug: Alright, Fischer?
Me: Yep!
Doug: Consider it done. What about Buck’s Fizz?
Wendy: Hmmmm…. bit old, aren’t they?
Doug: They’re going to make a big comeback soon, mark my words…
Wendy: Err….
Doug: Is that a yes?
Wendy: Sorry, I was just distracted by Fischer’s shoes. Those are the chunkiest shoes I’ve ever seen in my life.

At which point, the deal collapsed and we had to start thinking about voluntary redundancy packages.

She was right though, I WAS wearing ridiculously chunky shoes. They were a pair of bright red Beetlecrushers that I’d seen in the window of the Middlesbrough branch of Dolcis and fallen in love with. Combined with my ubiquitous black shirt and brushed up hair, they made me a dead ringer for Russ Abbott’s comedy Teddy Boy, Vince Prince…

vinceprince

This was also, and there’s no easy way of saying this while retaining a single scrap of dignity, the day on which I decided to remove my eyebrows.

Again, it came from a whimsical conversation between Doug, Wendy and me that quickly descended into heated debate. ‘Eyebrows are utterly pointless!’ I ranted. ‘They don’t DO anything, they just sit there under your forehead!!!’

‘If they’re that pointless, then why don’t you cut yours off?’ asked Wendy.

‘Alright then, I will’. And right there and then, at the maths table in the middle room of Upper Band, I snatched a pair of plastic-handled safety scissors from Christopher Herbert’s sweaty grip and started snipping casually away at my eyebrows, much to the hilarity of the rest of the table.

scissors

‘Mrs Keasey, Robert’s cut his eyebrows off!!!!’ laughed Doug, as our long-suffering form tutor walked past, blissfully unaware of this inexplicable act of self-mutilation.

‘Oh, for God’s sake’, she tutted, rolling her eyes. By the time I’d finished, I was joining in with the laughter myself, and immedately raced to the ‘Boy’s Bogs’ to assess the damage. At which point the laughter stopped. I looked like a mild burns victim, so much so that – the following day – our elderly neighbour Margaret Smith discreetly took my Mum aside and asked if ‘Robert has been messing about with aerosol cans’.

I told my Mum I’d done it without realising, and that I’d been concentrating so much on some ‘dead hard maths’ that I’d idly rubbed away my eyebrows with my fingertips. I don’t suppose she believed a word of it, but she couldn’t be bothered to find out the truth. They grew back in a week anyway. I might do it again if I’m bored one afternoon.  

And *ARNOLD THE COW*!!! Fantastic. I’m quite proud of the fact that I was so adept at building utterly dreary everday events into something far more exciting, and I suppose – pffff – I do it for a living these days. With my Gran in hospital, we were looking after her dog, Tina. She was Poggy Doggy’s sister, and the arrangement would soon become a permanent one, just like her equally inexplicable nickname ‘Poggles Ponsonby’.

So my Dad and I walked both dogs to the ‘Private Road’. It’s just a little country lane that snakes into the fields and woodland about half a mile from my parents’ old house. As we ambled down there, an interested-looking cow ambled over and mooed in our direction. We stopped for a giggle, and fed the gentle beast a few clumps of grass and dandelions, which she gingerly but gratefully snaffled from our open palms.

cow

‘What do you think she’s called?’ I asked. 

‘Arnold,’ smiled my Dad, with a finely-honed sense of the ridiculous. ‘By the way, have you been messing about with aerosol cans?’

I spent the rest of the night watching telly with one hand across the top of my eyes. Great to see a mention of ‘Scully’ though, a slice of brilliantly and comically bleak Channel 4 drama. Written by Alan Bleasdale and set in dole-ridden Liverpool, as 64.7% of TV drama HAD TO BE, by law, in the mid-1980s. Elvis Costello sang the theme tune, and (I think) acted in it as well, playing the title character’s model train-obsessed brother…

Extracts from Bob’s 1984 Diary… Volume 176

Sunday 24th June 1984

Woke up at 9.45 and got up at 10.00. Went on Levendale but no one was around so I came back and took the wallpaper off the bathroom. Then I had dinner and played football till 2.00, when I went to Ozzie’s.

We played Manic Miner first, then Jet Set Willy, then Jetpac. Then we went out and played cricket, and at 5.00 I went to Grandma’s and had tea. At 6.00 Dad and I went in Albert park and then to the hospital, where we met mam and visited Grandma.

Came home at 8.30 and played out, then had a bath. At 9.30 I watched That’s life and at 10.10 I went to bed.

Don’t worry, I wasn’t beginning to indulge in acts of wanton vandalism! I had every required permission to remove the wallpaper from the bathroom, stamped, signed in triplicate and with a few dabs of Fine Fare own brand Magnolia Emulsion smeared across the bottom. Yes, our house in the 1980s was in a permament state of redecoration, and I always at hand to help out. Providing some vague form of willful destruction was required.

wallpaper

The novelty, obviously, always wore off incredibly quickly once I realised that I wasn’t going to be swinging through the wall of the kitchen on a huge iron ball, like Vyvyan in The Young Ones. Instead, I’d be despatched to the bathroom with a flimsy metal scraper the size of a butter knife, and asked to embark on removing several million square feet of blue 1970s floral wallpaper seemingly stuck to the walls with Araldite.

THE WALLPAPER-REMOVING DREAM:

That you peel off the bottom corner of a strip of wallpaper, grip it in your fingers and then walk backwards, at which point the entire strip, from skirting board to ceiling, comes away in a single, glorious, heart-bursting moment, with a satisfying ‘ZZZZZOOOOOOPPPP’ noise. Behind it is a pristine, bare, perfectly plastered wall just ready to play host to your next creation.

THE WALLPAPER-REMOVING REALITY:

You spend six hours removing a patch of wallpaper the size of a frying pan with – effectively – a kitchen spatula, as microscopic strips of paper flutter to your feet with soul-destroying infrequency. Behind them, you quickly discover, are six previous layers of spot-welded floral nastiness, the last of which dates back to VE Day. And the bare plasterwork underneath looks like the surface of Venus.

scraper

Not surprisingly I lasted an hour or so before giving up because ‘my hands hurt’.

But what a treat in store for the afternoon! A lift over to Ian ‘Ozzie’ Oswald’s house, and my first-ever glimpse of….

JET SET WILLY!!!!!

Yes, THE ZX Spectrum game that EVERYBODY was talking about. Apart from girls, obviously. And cool kids. But those of us IN THE KNOW were desperate for a crack at this BRAND NEW game, and I couldn’t believe that Ozzie had a copy ready, willing and available to play in his front room. Providing we were willing to pace up and down the front room for seven minutes while ‘Jet Set Willy Loading’ flashed up on his TV screen. And then rewind the tape to the beginning and try again when the Spectrum threw a hissy fit and all we got for our troubles was the dreaded ‘R: TAPE LOADING ERROR’.

jsw

Amazing stuff, though, and my determination to – gasp – OWN A ZX SPECTRUM AS SOON AS HUMANLY POSSIBLY was now resolute and carved into stone tablets. The rest of the year would now consist of an Olympic-standard parental pester (‘PLEEEEEEEEEEEASE’) conducted on a daily basis in the run-up to my birthday (in November) and Christmas, six weeks later.

Two more strange, disconnected memories from this day…

1. I was a twat when it came to the cricket. Really. It was just the two of us, having a gentle knock-about in Ozzie’s back garden, and he very sensibly elected to bowl underarm to me with a fluffy tennis ball. And, on every single occasion, I absolutely LEATHERED his deliveries mercilessly over the fence into next door’s garden. Without fail. I thought it was hilarious. NB We stuck to Jet Set Willy when I went around in future.

2. Getting into an awful mess tying my shoelaces on the way out. I’d always had trouble with shoelaces, and never quite got to grips with the traditional ‘make a loop and wind it round’ method. I’m still not entirely comfortable with them, and prefer just to wear socks wherever possible. Or bare feet. I have feet like a Hobbit, and I’m proud of them.

feet

And awww… my Gran was in hospital. So this, naturally, meant two things…

1. We all piled round to her empty bungalow and had our tea there rather than making a mess in our kitchen.

2. Her hip must have been playing up again. Throughout my 1970s childhood, it was understood that my Gran was ‘a bit wobbly’ and, when I stayed over at weekends, I remember her taking endless brightly-coloured tablets to combat her crippling arthritis. In early 1983, aged 73, she’d been whisked into Middlesbrough General Hospital for an early hip replacement operation… and it hadn’t worked.

The rest of her life seemed to be an endless, gruelling battle of hospital stays in order to correct and replace her crumbling joints, and it placed a bit of a strain on all of us. I certainly grew to dread the long, winding corridors of the hospital… the overpowering smell of disinfectant, the incredibly elderly ladies crumpled into pink dressing gowns in wheelchairs, the desperate, hopeful optimism of the visitors with their wilting flowers and boxes of Terry’s All Gold.

albertpark

You’ll notice my Dad and I let my Mum visit the hospital by herself first, while we wandered aimlessly around Middlesbrough’s leafy Albert Park (above), with its vast, timeless War Memorial on which we’d look for interesting and exotic names, and formulate theories as to how they’d arrived on Teesside. We then trooped into the hospital itself for a gentle half-hour with my Gran, in the days when visiting times were strictly enforced, and any attempts to stay longer than the allotted time usually gained you short shrift from a Hattie Jacques-esque matron. 

Oddly, Middlesbrough General Hospital was virtually shoulder-to-shoulder with the old Ayresome Park football ground. I remember one grey Saturday afternoon visit to my Gran in 1983 during which my Dad, noting that visiting time finished at 3pm, decided on a whim to walk the 100 yards around the block to watch Middlesbrough play Wolves in the old Second Division, and I – equally on a whim – went with him. 

ayresomepark2

We walked from sterile hospital ward to crumbling terrace in less than five minutes to watch Boro eke out a dreary 0-0 draw in front of barely 10,000 fans. The only part of the game I can remember is veteran Wolves midfielder Kenny Hibbitt, during a break in play, sitting on the advertising hoarding in front of the threadbare Holgate End and swopping some smiley-faced banter with the ‘auld gadges’ in Boro scarves at the front of the terrace. Saturday 23rd April, 1983. I’ve just looked it up… a strange and frozen moment in time.

kennyhibbitt

Anyway, those two iconic buildings – Ayresome Park and the General Hospital, went shoulder-to-shoulder and hand-in-hand as cornerstones of the town… immovable, immortal institutions that seemed to have taken root beneath the Middlesbrough streets and dug in for eternity. Generations of Teessiders were guaranteed to end up resident in one (or both) of them at some point in their lives.

middlesbroughgeneral

I only mention this because neither of them are there any more. At all. Ayresome Park was demolished in 1995, and the General Hospital has gone within the last couple of years. They dominated the town’s family lives for over a century, and now there’s barely anything in that part of Middlesbrough to suggest that either of them ever existed. The passing of the years can be a strange and cruel process, can’t it? Treasure those memories, frozen in time as they are.