Wiffle Lever To Full!

Daleks, Death Stars and Dreamy Sci-Fi Nostalgia…

Extracts from Bob’s 1984 Diary… Volume 158

Wednesday 6th June 1984


Woke up at 7.50 and got up at 8.15. Got the bus to school at 8.30. First at school we had assembly, then it was maths groups. When we came out I did maths, then we had topics. Me, Doug, Frankie and Gazzie were in heat and after seeing a match light a candle we watched some magnesium ribbon burn.

Had dinner at 12.00, then I did Topic and some of my painting. Came home at 3.15 and went to Doug’s, then Doug, Huggy and I went to the copse. Then we all went home, and I had tea. After that Doug rang and I went round his house, mucked on till 7.45 Then came home and had hair washed.

At 8.00 I watched Jim Davidson then at 9.00 I went to bed.

Ha ha ha ha ha! ‘Me, Doug, Frankie and Gazzie were in heat’! I make it sound like it was mating season at Levendale Primary School. Clearly the opening episode of Manimal two nights earlier had driven us all to unseemly levels of excitement.

What I meant, of course, was that our new Topic Group was dedicated to heat, fire and all manner of arsing about with inflammable, incendiary substances. I can’t help but think that this might not have been the wisest subject with which to engage the interest of a bunch of hyperactive 11-year-olds, some of whom would gladly throw themselves into a bit of practical extra-curricular research (matches, creosote, abandoned railwaymens’ hut) given half a chance. But Mrs Mulhern had a determined, steely look in her eye, despite Mr Millward’s repeated attempts to make ‘Sitting Down Quietly And Reading Something Inoffensive’ the subject of all Topic Groups between now and the end of our Levendale careers in six weeks time.  

(And all railwaymens huts were made of asbestos in 1984 anyway. Don’t ask me how I know)

And what a fabulous dichotomy of 1980s Health and Safety practices! A year earlier, in early 1983, forty of us shambling oiks had been taken on a school trip to High Force waterfall, up near the source of our famous local river in Middleton-in-Teesdale. It’s almost 100 feet high, and the deafening white waters crash at an alarming rate over jagged, razor-sharp rocks. This is it, here…


As part of our educational experience, we trembling 10-year-olds were escorted one-by-one by Mr Hirst and Mr Millward to the very top of the rapids, and then allowed to lean right over the (unguarded, completely unsecured) edge of the 100-foot-drop and peer straight down into the cascading waters while our two teachers, standing behind us,  took hold of an arm each to ensure that we wouldn’t fall over to our almost certain deaths. I’ve never been great with heights, and I was literally shaking when my turn came around.

And yet no-one minded, no-one complained, there were no angry letters from parents and the only permission required in advance was the usual ‘Loco Parentis’ form to say that our parents were happy for our teachers to take us off their hands for another blissful day.

And yet, despite this death-defying, mind-buggering, Charles Blondin-esque escapade over the edge of a white-water rapid, when Mrs Mulhern lit a candle with a match in our Topic Group on this day, WE ALL HAD TO WEAR SAFETY GOGGLES!!!

I only remember this because (wait for it) there was a new kid in school, and this was his first day. He was in the year below us, he was called Andrew Power, and he REFUSED TO WEAR HIS GOGGLES. ‘I don’t need to,’ he told Mrs Mulhern, ‘I’m a firebug’. Amazingly, he said this without a hint of irony or self-awareness. I think I even heard the eternally stoic Gareth ‘Gazzie’ Jones whisper the word ‘twat’ under his breath. And probably Mr Millward as well.

And yay! The first recorded sighting of the ‘burning Magnesium ribbon’ experiment that would be demonstrated at least thrice-yearly in one classroom or another throughout the ensuing seven years of my school career. Brilliantly, on this (and every other) occasion, we were told in no uncertain terms to ‘watch it through your jumpers, so you don’t damage your eyes’.

School sciences were fabulously dangerous in the 1980s. My first-ever proper athsma attack occured in September 1987, when a Physics experiment with burning sulphur went disastrously wrong in room 33A and I inhaled a sizeable proportion of the hellfires of Hades before a smiling Mr Dillon ushered my wheezing frame through the back door into the school field, reassuring me with the immortal words ‘What were you playing at? This stuff isn’t cheap, you know…’

And are school bunsen burner mats still made of the same type of crumbly, flaking asbestos used to construct abandoned railwaymen’s huts? Surely not…

OK, a couple of strange memories from the evening’s activites…

1. Paul ‘Huggy’ Huggins was already round at Doug’s house when I arrived straight after school, and yep – we took him to the secret copse that we’d discovered two days earlier. Oddly, I’ve no recollection of what we did when we got there (although I’m sure tarzies were involved) but I do remember that he (very laudably) phoned his Mum first to ask her permission to wander off on this wild adventure. I was put on the phone specifically to lie through my teeth and tell her that ‘it’s just a few trees at the end of my garden’, as opposed to the truth, which was ‘it’s a big, dark, dangerous wood nearly half a mile away’. I was nearly as scared doing this as I was when Mr Hirst dangled me over the edge of High Force.

2. My second, post-tea visit to Doug’s house was to make the exclusive badges that formed a huge part of our promotional push for ‘THE SCUMMER CLUB’ (see yesterday’s entry). We did this by dismantling a small collection of existing badges in a cardboard box under Doug’s bed (Adam and the Ants, Shakin’ Stevens, Bucks Fizz, that kind of thing) and inserting our own SCUMMER CLUB drawings in there, indeed featuring – oh, the shame – a cartoon drawing of a pair of soiled Y-Fronts.

I’m slightly more proud of the fact that also made a single, ‘fake’ badge that just bore the legend ‘THE CLUB’ and a drawing of a smiling, happy child’s face. This was a shameless dummy to show Doug’s Mum, on the almost-certain chance of her sticking her head around the bedroom door to ask what her son and his 11-year-old idiot friend were giggling at. ‘It’s a club we’re launching at school,’ said Doug, with an amazingly straight face, when this finally happened. ‘Just so kids who like to get out and play sports and ride bikes can get together and plan little organised games and outings’.

‘Oh, that’s nice,’ she smiled, and went back to the kitchen. I don’t suppose she believed a word of it, but she was probably too scared to ask what we were REALLY doing, in case it involved abandoned railwaymens’ huts and magnesium ribbon.



  Justin wrote @

Go on, admit it, you deliberately avoided making a comment on watching Jim Davidson and laughing at his (now viewed as at least politically incorrect and more likely quite offensive) humour… 😉

  bobfischer wrote @

Where did I say I laughed at it? Eh? Eh? This is verging on the libellous… 😉

(Actually, I’m wondering what the show actually was… I’ve got vague memories of Jim doing a Summer Special Roadhshow type thing in front of a live audience around this time, and – amazingly – getting most of the surviving cast of Dad’s Army onstage with him, in character. Could this have been it?)

  Mark Hirst wrote @

Ha! those were the days. Can’t get near the edge of a river bank these days without filling a pile of forms in!. High Force has become a virtual `no go` zone. You can look at it from a safe distance now and from behind the fence.

Not content with `graphic horror stories` designed to unsettle young children, it would appear that I was more than happy to place them in serious and terrifyingly real danger!

Looking back, certain characters could have slipped carelessly, but deservedly, from my tight grip. Regular readers, choose your favourites!

Whereas Chrissy Herbert would probably have stuck fast, a thin strand of tensile strength mucus keeping his snotty little paw permanently attached!

Happy days!

  bobfischer wrote @

Looking back, that day at High Force was one of the few occasions when I thought ‘Nah, that can’t have happened. Can it? No. Surely not… really? Blimey, yes it did…’

I’m pretty sure we all ate our foil-wrapped regulation issue packed lunches while sitting idly on the rocks at the top of the waterfall as well. I’ve vague memories of Slackie scrabbling to retrieve a rogue Hula Hoop as it cascaded over the rapids, only to be restrained at the last second by an firmly-clenched adult hand (probably yours) on the hood of his cagoul.

  Mark Hirst wrote @

You’re right Bob. Our packed lunch venue was a tad precarious. Thinking about it now, with the sense of responsibility that comes with age, I go quite cold thinking about it!

The Slackie incident sounds highly likely. I can’t remember his minor scrapes, as everything pales into insignificance following the infamous `Carlton moon`.

  bobfischer wrote @

The Health and Safety Police are raising a generation of namby-pambies, though. A generation who have never known the sheer, adrenaline-fuelled thrill of eating an egg sandwich and a fig biscuit on top of a waterfall.

Your rough and ready approach made men of us all, Mr H. Even the girls.

(In fact, ESPECIALLY some of the girls. Brrrr…)

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