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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.


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


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.


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.


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.


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…


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.


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!


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…


(Again, CLICK HERE for a larger version)

And then, predictably…


(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!!!


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.


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.


‘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.


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’.


(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…


‘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! 


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.


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!


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)


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…


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.


‘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.


‘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.


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.


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.


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.


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….


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’.


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.


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.


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. 


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.


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.


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.

Extracts from Bob’s 1984 Diary… Volume 175

Saturday 23rd June 1984

Woke up at 8.30 and got up at 9.30. Rang Doug then went down there, and we went to the mud track. Someone had built a death slide so we had a load of goes on that, then at 1.00 I came home and had dinner.

At 1.30 Doug came and we mucked on in the copse for the afternoon. At 5.00 Doug went home and I had tea, and at 5.10 I watched Whiz kids. At 6.10 I watched Pop Quiz and then I went out all night till 9.00, when I came in, had a bath and went to bed.

A DEATH SLIDE!!! Fantastic, was there no end to the world’s quest to make our childhoods as dangerous as possible? Basically, somebody had strung a long, sturdy rope from the tree at the top of the bank down to, erm… the tree at the bottom of the bank, and slung another little length of rope across the top of the first length of rope for us to cling onto with our pale, increasingly calloused hands as we slid down towards OBLIVION…

I’ll use the opportunity to shamelessly flog the arse of this already over-exposed footage of the ‘mud track’… the rope ran from the tree I’m filming beside all the way down to the tree that’s in the centre of the screen exactly 14 seconds in…

We had no idea who’d done this, but by 10am there was already a steady queue of grotty oiks snaking around the swings ready, to take their chances. The key to success was – of course – to make sure you jumped off just before the end, otherwise you’d end up slamming at high velocity straight into the vicious-looking trunk of the lower tree, a fact that seemed to inexplicably evade a sizeable number of the idiots prepared to give it a bash on this silly, sunny morning.

As such, the quiet, Saturday morning ambience of Yarm was frequently rent asunder by a lengthy, high-decibel cry that went something like:


Anyway, I knew it was called a ‘death slide’ because I’d seen Simon Groom have a go on one on Blue Peter, plummeting from the top of Tower Bridge while various assembled Royal Marines giggled into their moustaches. I seem to recall he made a similar sound to the one transcribed above, much to Biddy Baxter’s disapproval.


Anyway, a couple of strange, disconnected memories from this very morning…

1. Doug met a GIRL the previous night!!! Much to my disgust, no doubt. What was he thinking of??!? What did she have that I didn’t?!?! I don’t think there was much in the way of hearts and flowers involved, but the previous evening he’d arranged to meet Wendy Brunskill at the ‘green’ on the Levendale Estate, a deal brokered (I think) as we traipsed back into school the previous afternoon after having our school photo taken. You can tell just by looking at the picture that Doug was up to something.


Remarkably, he was amazingly coy about the whole thing, and I think they’d just chatted and (steady on) held hands a couple of times. Altogether now… awwwwww! He told me all this as we flicked slugs in the long grass waiting for our turn on the Death Slide. And then we shook our heads, snapped out of it and starting talking in excessively deep voices about BUTCH, MANLY THINGS. Like football, bikes and, erm, Frankie Goes To Hollywood.


2. I was still convinced, rather bizarrely, that I had psychic powers. Long-term readers of this nonsense will remember me developing this theory a couple of months earlier during a cricket knock-up with my Dad, and I think a few weeks of watching ‘Manimal’ on BBC1 had reawakened my interest in the paranormal. As such, I tried to USE MY MIND to influence the slow-moving Death Slide queue to disperse, and claimed success when the pasty-looking skinhead two places in front of us said spat on the floor, said ‘F*** this’ and clambered onto a Diamond Back BMX to seek his thrills elsewhere.

Shamelessly seduced by the Dark Side of the Force, I naturally decided to use my new-found powers for EVIL, and spent the forthcoming school week attempting to influence Ian ‘Ozzie’ Oswald to do my long division for me. More on this as we get it…

(Yegods, I was MENTAL as an 11-year-old, wasn’t it? Mother, why didn’t you stop me watching so much telly? It clearly wasn’t good for me…)

Anyway, another lovely afternoon spent hiding in the ‘copse’ that was fast becoming our favourite secret refuge, and for those that missed it, I describe the place in a scary degree of detail in this diary entry. No doubt we passed the afternoon trying to kill each other on our home-made tarzies and snapping bits off perfectly happy trees. I will, I promise, make a film in this strange little enclave very shortly. Unfortunately, though, my camera has given up the ghost completely, so I’m waiting for my new one to be delivered!

In the meantime, I found this little gem in the loft at the weekend… undoubtedly dating from June 1984, this is an hilarious attempt of mine to transcribe the lyrics to Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s current single ‘Two Tribes’ by stop-start-stopping the fuzzy version that I’d tape-recorded from Simon Bates’ Radio 1 chart countdown the previous Sunday. Given the primitive nature of my equipment (stop giggling), all of my home-recorded songs sounded a little bit like they’d been taped at the bottom of the deep end at Durham Lane baths, which probably explains my hilariously innacurate interpretation…


On the other side of the page, I’ve had a go at Billy Joel’s ‘Tell Her About It’, but – amazingly – it’s too accurate to be funny. Bah!

Extracts from Bob’s 1984 Diary… Volume 174

Friday 22nd June 1984

Woke up at 7.50 and got up at 8.10. First at school it was maths groups, so I did maths till 10.30, when we had our photo taken. Then we went out and played cricket, and when we came in I did some more of my Indiana Jones story.

Had dinner at 12.00, then did topic at 3.15, when I came home. I went to Doug’s, and we went to the mud track and met Placie, Stan, Horsey and Tucker. We went along the river, then back home. I had tea, and at 5.15 I watched Different Strokes.

Went out at 5.45 till 6.45, when me, Dad, Poggy Doggy and Poggy II went on the field. Came back at 7.30 and watched Simon & Simon, and at 8.30 I watched Time of your life. Went to bed at 9.00.

School photo day! The only time in my seven years at Levendale Primary School that the entire school year (plus selected teachers) was shepherded outside and made to pose for a happy, jolly group picture. On a warm but decidedly grey day (rather like today, actually) we assembled at the edge of the school field, with a couple of blue foam mats from the PE cupboard on the ground (must have been raining overnight) and the usual cheeky school photographer chortling and calling us an ‘orrible lot’.


He always reminded me a bit of Jack from On The Buses – unlike our ACTUAL school bus driver, who was more like Mr MacKay from Porridge. Clearly something of a mix-up in the school’s strictly out-of-bounds Sitcom Character cupboard (kept in a corner of the Amazingly Hairy Mr Chalkley’s office, next to the stocks and thumbscrews)

And, exactly 25 years on, here’s the resulting picture…


Obviously it might be worth you clicking on this link here to find a bigger version! Lots of the ‘orrible lot’ mentioned in my diary are featured, mainly – if I’m honest – in the back row.  Here you go, your bluffers guide to the 1984 Class Picture…


On the far left, in the burgundy ensemble, is the utterly lovely piano wizard Mrs Gwen ‘Cross over the road, my friend’ Mulhern, and next to her – a vision in lilac – is my long-suffering form teacher Mrs Keasey, looking suitably relieved that my stint at Levendale was coming to a close, and she’d no longer have to spend her evenings marking 32-page sci-fi epics written in Berol Notewriter pen and illustrated with felt-tip drawings of robots and spaceships that invariably made the writing on the other side of the page even more difficult to decipher.


On the right-hand side we’ve got the mighty Mr Millward, of course, being unceremoniously shoved out of the way by Mrs Baldwin, about whom rumours that she’d ‘given up a million-pound modellin’ career to be a teacher, swear down, it’s true’ were rife amongst a few hot-collared male members of the Fourth Year Juniors.


The back row is a fine array of ‘The Usual Suspects’ from my 1984 Diary. From the left… Phil ‘Slackie’ Slack, Simon ‘Mally’ Malyon (who I didn’t know very well, hence his absence from my diary!), Andrew ‘Sug’ Sugden, Tim ‘Scottie’ Scott, Doug, Paul ‘Huggy’ Huggins, Paul ‘Wacky’ Whitehead, Gareth ‘Gazzie’ Jones, James ‘Placie’ Place, Jo ‘Spaynie’ Spayne and Graham ‘Ramsey’ Ramsey.  Fabulous to see such a fine array of 1980s haircuts on display, particularly amongst the boys that had patriotically grown their own bearskin hats for the recent Trooping Of The Colour.


In the middle row, on the far left is Ian ‘Ozzie’ Oswald (no doubt with The Warlock Of Firetop Mountain’ still in his back pocket) and on the far right is Paul ‘Clarkie’ Clarke, looking relieved at finally having gained a photo on this website that doesn’t feature him sitting on a park bench in Whitby in 1983.

Oh go on then, for old time’s sake…


In the middle, well… girls, frankly. I hardly wrote anything about girls in 1984, because I didn’t speak to them and didn’t understand them. And a succession of girlfriends (including the current, long-suffering one) will no doubt testify that precious little has changed in the intervening 25 years. But hello to Joanne Oxley (long blonde hair, standing up in the blue top) who I know reads this, and has fond memories of organising a special ‘Duran Duran’ table at Levendale, from which occasional volleys of rubbers and Shatterproof rulers would occasionally be launched at passing Spandau Ballet fans. 

Wendy Brunskill, the most frequent willing victim of Doug and I’s barbed wit (and yegods, she gave as good as she got) is third from the right in the standy-uppy-row, sporting the Princess Diana hairdo and the pale green ensemble. And Janet Haigh, who I think looks in here from time to time, is sitting down in the row in front, second from the left, wearing pink. Hello!

I’m kneeling in the middle of the front row, looking cheeky in my pale grey zip-up jacket and that OMINPRESENT BLOODY BLACK SHIRT that my Dad frequently complained made look ‘like Oswald bloody Moseley’ (a reference that went a bit over my 11-year-old head)

In the same row are (left to right) Paul ‘Frankie’ Frank, Andrew ‘Roy’ Harding, Andrew ‘Stan’ Henry and Karl Tweddall, who I always seem to think was in the year below us, but clearly wasn’t… unless he’d just sneaked into the picture without anyone noticing.

NOTICEABLE ABSENTEES (who clearly sneaked OUT without anyone noticing)

1. MR HIRST!!! Where was he? We played cricket straight afterwards, so undoubtedly he was around on this day. I can only assume there was some IMPORTANT BUSINESS to attend to in the staff room (and not the second day of the second test match between England and the West Indies, oh no, absolutely not, hell no, nope, no way) and he VERY RELUCTANTLY had to excuse himself from proceedings. He was probably busy planning our Third Year Junior’s annual high wire walk across the highest part of the Grand Canyon.


2. Stephen ‘Mason’ Mason! No doubt at home, drinking Lucozade in front of ‘Pebble Mill at One’ and moaning softly that ‘I’m starting to feel a little bit better now’ while pushing himself up against the radiator to make sure his temperature was at the required level. Ditto regular blog contributor Chris Byers! Where were you Chris? Come on, did you skive it? The time is right for a confession!  

3. Christopher Herbert. Even in 1984, rudimentary Health and Safety requirements prevented the odious Herbert from being placed in such close proximity to members of the public. I think he spent the day locked in his ‘special room’ while Mrs Powell pushed Cheesy Wotsits through the grille in the reinforced door. 


A great picture anyway, and one that instantly melts away the intervening 25 years. If I had the time, energy and organisational skills, I’d love to organise a reunion version of it! And if anyone’s on there and would like to say hello, please do… it’d be lovely.

Extracts from Bob’s 1984 Diary… Volume 173

Thursday 21st June 1984


Woke up at 7.50 and got up at 8.10. First at school I read, then at 10.10 I went to the baths and got my 100 metres certificate. At 11.10 I came back to school, and just mucked on till dinner at 12.00. After dinner we played cricket, then when we came in we watched Joseph on the telly (it had been filmed this morning on video tape).

When it had finished me and Ozzie did Indiana Jones stories, and at 3.15 I came home. I went to Levendale, then I went to Doug’s and met Doug and Frankie. Then Stan and Placie came and we went through Layfield school to the estate and met Horsey and Lavvy.

We went to the mud track, then along the river and to Goosepastures. Came home at 5.45 and had tea, then I went out till 7.15, when I watched Top of the pops. At 8.00 I watched Porridge and at 9.00 I went to bed.

Take note everyone – the pinnacle of my lifetime swimming achievements! 100 metres was, oddly, seven lengths of the freezing Durham Lane baths that we traipsed to every Thursday morning… although we hadn’t been for a couple of months by this point, and we didn’t go the following week, so I’m wondering if this was a one-off visit to allow stragglers, slackers and smelly scummers (and I had a bit of all three about me) to FINALLY collect some sort of certificate to prove that YES, we had actually picked up SOMETHING in the five years that we’d been visiting the place. Even if it was only athlete’s foot.


So, two things worth pointing out here…

1. SEVEN lengths made 100 metres? That means a length of Durham Lane baths was 14.285 metres. Who built the bloody thing, some sort of metric pervert?

2. I have never continuously swam a greater distance than 100 metres since this fateful day. In the (ahem) dozens of visits I’ve made to a public swimming baths in the last 25 years, I’ve done nothing more than splash about aimlessly, stopping sporadically to remove stray bits of elastoplast from my face. And never failing to inspect them afterwards to see if the little strip of white gauze has a tiny dot of red blood in the middle, for the full ‘Japanese flag’ effect.


It’s also safe to say that hardly any of my mates were there to ‘cheer’ me on (‘SCUMMER! SCUMMER! SCUMMER!!!’) as it seems our schools production of Joseph And The Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat was actually being filmed (FILMED!) for posterity during the morning, and as pretty much ALL of my friends were amongst the main cast, I can only assume that my grand sporting achievement was witnessed only by Mr Hirst, Mrs Marlow from the baths (who, in the unlikely event of ‘Durham Lane – The Movie’ ever being greenlit, would undoubtedly by played by Miriam Margolyes), and the whiffy Christopher Herbert, whose doctor had prescribed complete immersion in chlorinated water once every six months as the only solution to his permanent aroma of urine, farts and Fine Fare sports biscuits.

Oh, the glory!

And it’s good to see that, after an untimely spurt of educational activity earlier in the week, we were now back to far more leisurely pursuits. Our school spent the morning filming a private performance of ‘Joseph’ (Mr Millward no doubt balancing a Matsui VHS video camera on top of a wobbly tripod and shouting ‘ACTION’ to Mrs Mulhern on the piano) and the WHOLE AFTERNOON WATCHING IT BACK!!!! This was, lest we forget, the third time I’d seen ‘Joseph’ in its entirety in the space of a week, a record only matched by the night in 1993 when me and my student friends, fortified by a night at the Stonewell Tavern, watched Carry On Behind back at the house, and enjoyed it so much that – as soon as the end credits rolled – we wound the tape back and watched the whole thing over again.

And then we watched it again the following evening. Eeeeeeeeeere, stop messin’ aboouuut!


And another en masse after-school adventure, pretty much retracing our steps from Monday 18th June, no doubt desperate for another encounter with the now-legendary ‘Knacker Man’ (he wasn’t there, though). The splendidly-named ‘Horsey and Lavvy’ were Richard Horseman and Richard Laverick, who (I think) might have been in the year below us. I can’t find a picture of ‘Lavvy’, but ‘Horsey’ is on the left of this picture (accompanied, of course, by the immortal Stan, and that’s Jason ‘Tucker’ Tuck down the bottom)

Sunday Faceby 1

A rare appearance in Yarm from Paul ‘Frankie’ Frank as well. He rarely popped up in our after-school adventures as he lived a few miles away on a farm in Ingleby Barwick, a brilliant rambling patchwork of fields, barns and woods that played host to at least three of my childhood summer holidays, and now – heartbreakingly – plays host to Europe’s largest executive housing estate. Bah.

Two strange, disconnected memories from this evening’s antics…

1. We looked for Jason ‘Tucker’ Tuck everywhere, but couldn’t find him. His mother said he was (and I’ve transcribed the quote in its entirety here) ‘out’, and an extensive search of Yarm’s streets, playparks, building sites and dangerous railway lines completely failed to locate him. We seemed to spend half our lives ‘looking for’ various wandering mates and acquaintances, a fun activity now undoubtedly completely vanquished by the fingernail-sized mobile phones carried ubiquitously by all children over the age of four.


2. At the mud track, there was a teenage couple snogging furiously, laid out completely prone on the dry grass by the swings and going at it hammer and tongs. When I was a kid, such grotty displays of public affection were reasonably commonplace, and me and my friends would react appropriately by hiding behind the nearest solid object, giggling into our sleeves, and offering up a whispered John Motson-style running commentary. ‘Are they just snoggin’, or are they actually DOIN’ IT?’ ‘They’re doin’ it, swear down, they are. Aw god, that’s DISGUSTIN” etc.

On this occasion, the received wisdom amongst our experienced troupe of sexual conquistadors was that our romantic couple were ‘doin’ love bites’. I’d never heard of this phenomenon before, and took it entirely literally. ‘WHAT?!?!? Really? They actually BITE each other? With teeth and everything? Doesn’t that KNACK???!?’

Whatever the answer, at least two members of Yarm’s teenage community would be sweltering through a baking ‘O Level’ English Literature exam the following day wearing thick, woolly scarves. Or possibly a snood.


And Top of the Pops! Presented by Radio 1’s own Burke and Hare double act of Simon Bates and Gary Davies and featuring the following motley selection…

• Associates – Those First Impressions [Performance]
• Bronski Beat – Smalltown Boy [Repeat Performance]
• Cyndi Lauper – Time After Time [Promo Video]
• Elvis Costello – I Wanna Be So Loved [Performance]
• Frankie Goes To Hollywood – Two Tribes [Performance]
• Gary Glitter – Dance Me Up [Performance]
• Lloyd Cole & The Commotions – Perfect Skin [Performance]
• Ollie & Jerry – Breakin’… There’s No Stopping Us [Promo Video]
• OMD – Talking Loud & Clear [Promo Video]
• Pointer Sisters – Jump (For Your Love) [Promo Video]


With (ahem) one notable exception, this looks like a line-up I’d love to bits now, but – Frankie aside – it probably held pretty slim pickings for the 11-year-old me. Although OMD’s ‘Talking Loud And Clear’ was the song that led Ian ‘Ozzie’ Oswald to attempt to convince me that the clarinet lessons he’d been taking since the age of five could YET result in him becoming an international pop star. Still waiting…

NB It’s just struck me that VHS copies of our filmed production of ‘Joseph’ were almost certainly sold to proud parents willing to cough up £3 towards the school benevolent fund – which means there must be copies of it out there somewhere!!! Does anyone think that their parents might still have a copy? Tom? Come on, this is Youtube gold in the making…