Wiffle Lever To Full!

Daleks, Death Stars and Dreamy Sci-Fi Nostalgia…

Extracts from Bob’s 1984 Diary… Volume 156

Monday 4th June 1984

Woke up at 8.45 and got up at 10.00. Mam went out and I rang Doug to come down. He came and when mam came back Doug and me took Poggy Doggy down to the woods at the bottom of the field. Then we went to the woods over the road, and then to the copse on the side of the field.

We decided to make a tarzie so we got some rope from Doug’s, then went back to the copse and made a tarzie. Then we went to my house, had dinner, got some rope and made another tarzie in the copse. After that we went to the mud track and had a muck on, then went back to the copse and had a swordfight.

Then Doug went home and I had tea, and at 6.40 I watched Tom and Jerry. At 6.50 I watched Manimal, then at 8.00 I watched Points of view. Watched the 2 Ronnies at 8.10 and went to bed at 9.00.

Wonder why I wasn’t back at school on this day? Another ‘occasional day’ off, possibly? Or an NUT strike? Or had we been given an extra day because the Spring Bank Holiday a week earlier had fallen during our half term break?

Whatever the answer, I’m sooooo glad that we weren’t at school, because this was a glorious day, and one that completely set the tone for the fabulous summer to follow.  I actually write about this day in ‘Wiffle Lever To Full!’ in the Robin of Sherwood chapter, and get all misty-eyed when I revisit, as an adult, the overgrown copse that Doug and I made our own throughout the sunshine-filled afternoons of 1984. It was our retreat, our haven and Our Own Private… well, alright, maybe not Idaho but definitely Thornaby Newtown.

One of my friends told me that he actually shed a tear when he read about this day in the book, which goes to prove that either a) I can actually turn my hand to some proper writing when I fancy it, or b) I have some incredibly soppy friends.

I’m veerying towards the latter.  

It WAS a glorious day, though. Alright, a bit of scene-setting… my house was right on the edge of Yarm, surrounded on two sides by a field of rippling barley belonging to the genial, bearded farmer Robert Smith, whose elderly mother lived in the house next door to us. The ‘woods at the bottom of the field’ were off the main road as you headed south from my front door, just a little copse surrounding a muddy track that tailed away from the pavement and went… well, nowhere really.

It was a dark, musty enclave of trees that still contains the remains of a World War II gun emplacement, and Doug and I occasionally walked down there to throw rotting conkers at each other and attempt to cycle vertically up the Sessile Oaks on our bikes. 

‘The copse on the side of the field’ was in the other direction. And this was the one that really blew our minds. It was a completely overgrown and self-contained tangle of trees and bushes sandwiched inbetween the road to Conyers School and Robert’s endless, swaying fields of crops, and it was this little hidey-hole that Doug and I really took to. Hang on, a map would probably help…

woodymap

It doesn’t look much from above, but when it’s worth it when you crawl inside. And when I saw ‘crawl’ I’m not joking… to reach our private, wooded Nirvana, you had to approach from the grass verge at the side of the main road, and look for a tiny gap in the towering, tightly-knitted hedge that kept this magnificent refuge hidden from the lumpen, unenlightened masses. There was only about a square foot to crawl through, and we had to do it on our hands and knees, no doubt getting torn-up bits of Razzle magazine stuck to our jeans on the way. We’d then emerge into this glorious place…

copse1

Neither of us had ever been here before, and we’d found it entirely by chance after a bit of random exploring, so it felt like OURS. Here we could chat and fight and arse around, safe in the knowledge that no-one would ever see or overhear us, although admittedly the constant smell of farts, Monster Munch and Wham Bars might have been a reasonable giveaway if our worried parents ever decided to call in the sniffer dogs to find us.

This was THE hottest day of the year so far, a riot of sticky armpits, burnt shoulders and rolled-up jeans, and we found… well, in the immortal words of ‘Wiffle Lever To Full!’ (Chapter 9)  ‘…the air was thick and treacly, with an overpowering smell of wild garlic and a constant mist of feathery dandelion seeds hanging lazily in the afternoon sunlight’.

And naturally, the best way for us to appreciate and absorb the glory of the English summertime, was to… well, build a couple of tarzies. So we did… nicking bits of rope from our respective Dad’s garages and slinging them up onto overhanging tree branches. Doug, being a practical kind of chap, knew far more about knots and things than I ever would, so he did the donkey work while I arsed about in the hedgerow opposite, trying to piece the various discarded bits of Razzle magazine back together. Doug’s tarzie was constructed on this tree…

copse2

…and mine was just opposite. (I’ll do some films here soon, I promise, but my camera is playing up at the moment!)  

A couple of random memories from this very day…

1. I climbed right to the top of one of the tarzies, then promptly slipped and fell off, crashing a good six feet to the dusty ground. Doug’s main interest in this matter was whether my life flashed before my eyes in the split-second before I fell, as he’d read that dying men often experienced this phenomenon. ‘No,’ I spluttered. ‘The only thing that flashed before my eyes was you, laughing your stupid head off’.

2. Our ‘swordfight’ was a tribute to Robin of Sherwood, conducted in mid-flight on the tarzies itself, with me playing Friar Tuck and him being Little John. We swung at each other headlong, both brandishing a jagged, four-foot branch and determined to knock each other to the ground. My ‘sword’ swooshed inches over Doug’s mop-topped head. His clobbered my squarely in the testicles and battered me wheezing to the ground for the second time in a single afternoon.

‘Nice one!’ he laughed, hysterically, gasping for breath with his hands on his knees, ‘You’ll be able to sing like Jimmy Somerville now…’

I think, ironically, I had two tinned plums for my tea.

But woah – what a sensational night of classic 1984 TV! Tom and Jerry was, of course, legendary stuff, and this will have been one of the classic 1940s cartoons, the opening credits to which ALWAYS prompted my Dad to shout ‘GOOD OLD FRED!!!’ whenever Fred Quimby’s name appeared onscreen. I can still hear him doing it when I watch the following clip…

And MANIMAL! Yegods. A short-lived but sensational US TV import starring Britain’s own Simon McCorkindale* as Dr Jonathan Chase, a shape-shifting crime-fighter able to transform himself into ANY ANIMAL IN THE WORLD (providing it was a hawk, a panther or a snake) in the ceaseless vigil against rumness and wrong-doings.

*My mum, whenever Simon McCorkindale appeared on TV, would match my Dad’s ‘Good Old Fred!!!’ and raise it with a gossipy ‘Oooh, isn’t he married to Susan George?’. I can still hear her doing it when when I watch the following clip…

The only thing I can really remember about Manimal is that just before Dr Chase underwent his amazing transformations, the backs of his hands would go all bubbly and wobbly. By the end of the evening, I’d perfected a reasonable facsimile of this for demonstration at school the following day, and I can STILL DO IT if anyone meets me and wants to request a performance.

(I’ll make a film of it before the end of the series, but my camera’s knackered at the moment, remember…)

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4 Comments»

  Chris Orton wrote @

Ah, I’ve got my bearings now! I must have passed your house loads of times on the way to my Auntie and Uncle’s in Kirklevington back in the 80s. I stopped off at that filling station the other week too when me and Mrs Chris were visiting Yarm (we didn’t stop though as there seemed to be some complex car parking arrangements in place that I couldn’t fathom).

Manimal was one of a number of those short-lived American series that were all the rage back then – see also, Automan, Streethawk and Blue Thunder. Strange to think that none of them really lasted very long – only Knight Rider seemed to have any kind of staying power. Like you say, Manimal only ever seemed to turn into one of three creatures, and I remember the bubbling hands too which I then remember mostly being followed by talons appearing from his curled up hands as he turned into the hawk. Didn’t McCorkindale have magnificent hair in those days too? His copious use of hairspray must have been immense. In fact, I’d wager that his make-up artists are directly responsible for global warming.

  Fiona Tims wrote @

Ooooh I love that Bronski Beat song (not that version though). It’s one of those songs that really takes me back in time, just by the first few seconds of it.

  bobfischer wrote @

Ooooh! How strange. Yes, you’ll definitely have gone past my old house – the Shell garage is a matter of yards away. I’m surprised I wasn’t in there other week buying Kit-Kats and Monster Munch!

Manimal was great fun. Is it out on DVD anywhere? And his hair was amazing… I suppose you could just about claim that the koala bear sitting on top of his head was a fourth animal.

And oh yes, I love a bit of Bronski Beat. Great singles band.

  Dr Sally Manimal wrote @

“Manimal” was due to be released on DVD in the USA a couple of years ago but it never actually happened. I like to think that the reason for its disappearance from the schedule is that nobody could agree which of the Manimal animals ought to be on the cover: the speedy cougar, the frenzied crow, the darting gourami, the agressive shrew etc.


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