Wiffle Lever To Full!

Daleks, Death Stars and Dreamy Sci-Fi Nostalgia…

Extracts from Bob’s 1984 Diary… Volume 170

Monday 18th June 1984

Woke up at 7.50 and got up at 8.10. First at school it was assembly, then it was Topic groups. After that it was maths, and then we took a table outside and did our maths out there. Had dinner at 12.00, then I played cricket.

When we came in we read, then we all went in the hall and watched Joseph. When it had finished we went out, then I had my photo taken with my poster. At 3.15 I came home and at 3.30, Placie, Doug, Stan and Tucker came.

We went to the mud track, then down to the riverside and back up Spital bank to Goosepastures where we played on the tarzie. At 5.30 I came home and had tea, then I played on the computer till 7.10, when I watched Manimal. At 8.10 I watched The two ronnies and at 9.00 I went to bed.

Ah, you knew it was summertime when Mrs Keasey took a wistful look out of the window, nodded sagely and said ‘Anybody who wants to work outside today, take a table out through the main doors, but BE CAREFUL!!!’

At which point forty 11-year-old oiks would stampede towards the doors in a flurry of snot, farts and protractors, attempting to shoehorn gigantic tables out sideways onto the thin strip of grass that seperated our school building from the main field, and getting stuck in the doorways like tinier, smellier versions of Laurel and Hardy.


So yes, in a nutshell, on hot, dry summers days we ‘worked’ outside! I have endless, fond memories of chasing pages of lined A4 foolscap paper over the little hill to retrieve a full morning’s worth of (brrr) long division. I also have a bijou selection of other, strange, fractured memories that definitely all took place on this VERY DAY… (screen goes all wobbly, harp music plays…)

1) A strange, political discussion that makes me wonder if there was a local (or European?) election going on around this time…? My main contribution to this debate was an attempt to convince James ‘Placie’ Place that the initials SDP stood not, as had been widely assumed, for ‘Social Democratic Party’, but – in fact – for ‘Scummers, Doyles and Pricks’.  Newsnight, I’m here whenever you need me.

2. Singing a song called ‘Oochibar’, that I think MIGHT have come from either Carlton Camp or (possibly) one of Gareth ‘Gazzie’ Jones’ scout group meetings. Sadly, Google reveals nothing whatsoever but it must have come from somewhere… we didn’t make it up. In a nutshell… ‘Shoulders back, stomach in, chest out, and OOCHIBAR! OOCHIBAR! OOCHI OOCHI OOOCHIBAR!!!!’

Naturally, we bastardized it with utter filth. I can’t remember the exact details, but in our version it definitely WASN’T the stomach and the chest that were going in and out. Anyone any ideas where on Earth this might have come from?


3. Promising, on a whim, to show James ‘Placie’ Place (above) ‘somewhere haunted’ if he came round to my house in the evening. And then racking my brains for the rest of the day to come up with ANYTHING remotely spooky to show him… (da-da-daaaaa – that’s a cliffhanger, that is…)

OK, two days to go until our school’s production of ‘Joseph And The Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat’ took to the stage, and – naturally – our teachers gave us surly non-participants a sneak preview of the first dress rehearsal to avoid having to devise alternate methods of distracting us from disturbing the surrounding houses with another disgusting chorus of ‘OOCHIBAR’.

It was fab, but I’m going to reserve my full theatrical review for the opening night on Wed 20th June. I’m sharpening my pencil as we speak (and naturally I’ve nicked the pencil sharpener from Christopher Herbert’s Action Man pencil case…)


And mwah! Media attention! The photo that I had ‘taken with my poster’ was for our ‘third’ local paper. After the Evening Gazette and the Northern Echo came the lowly Darlington and Stockton Times – pretty much, well… the SDP/Liberal Alliance of our local printed media. This was all connected to the School Road Safety Poster Award, which I’d reached the final of. The full, sordid story (including a sensational confession from Tom Stainer in the comments section) is in this diary entry

So yes, all of us proud finalists trooped diligently to the front of the school and posed for the waiting paparazzi (all wearing long macs and trilby hats with little ‘press’ tickets tucked into the brim). And THIS IS THE PHOTO!!! (No doubt ordered from the Darlington and Stockton Times photographic department by my proud Mum the following week…)


I’m at the far right of the top row, and blog contributor (hello!) Tom Stainer is on the left. The only other lucky winner I can name is Simon James, the boy with the shield on the front row, whose mother was a Levendale dinner nanny and one of the local PTA’s most feared enforcers. There’s a much bigger version of the picture here if anyone would like a butcher’s

I bloody loved that black shirt, and wore it constantly. I’ve strived for the last 25 years to find one that I like even half as much.

And what a night. WHAT A NIGHT!!! James ‘Placie’ Place, clearly – and foolishly – cynical about my promise to show him ‘somewhere haunted’ had rounded up the troops and brought them over to mine to ensure I was as good as my word. And so it came to pass that I, Doug, Placie, Andrew ‘Stan’ Henry and Jason ‘Tucker’ Tuck pedalled furiously down to Yarm’s, erm, famously haunted playpark Snaith’s Field, known to Doug and I – naturally – as the ‘Mud Track’ (full details on this entry).

We climbed to the top of this bank…

…and, basically, I showed them the railwayman’s hut that rested in the middle of the tangled weeds, half-overgrown and a matter of feet from the main railway line to Thornaby and Northallerton. To be fair, it WAS a bit creepy… a half-collapsed asbestos shack, filled with rusted railway parts, twisted shards of metal and ageing, spider-filled donkey jackets hanging on broken hooks.


‘Where are the ghosts then?’ asked a wide-eyed Placie as we all gathered, trembling together, in the shade of the doorway.

‘OY!!!!!!’ came the reply – a booming, echoing, baritone rumble that filled the summer sky. Five 11-year-olds swopped momentary startled glances, then scattered like buckshot back down the hill, terrified of the spectre of the long-dead, Victorian railway worker that had returned from the grave to steal our mortal souls (and our Wham bars).

Two minutes later we were still cowering behind the swings when Rodney Jones, two years older than us and with a freshly-broken voice, strode manfully down the hill, said ‘Evening, girls’ and blew us all a kiss. He’d been up there having a crafty ciggy and had hidden round the back of the shed when he’d heard us coming up the bank.


From there, our Yarm Tour 1984 (T-shirts available in the foyer) went to the ‘riverside’… the acrid-smelling, slow-moving, hogweed-infested bank of the River Tees that envelops Yarm High Street like a horseshoe. In the 1980s, Yarm was home to a thriving ‘skinyard’ – basically a tannery, a dark, towering Victorian building where animal hides were stripped, rolled and hammered by cheery, fag-smoking men in blood-stained aprons. The smell – especially on a hot day like this – enveloped the entire town… it was thick, pungent and utterly unique, and the merest whiff of it now would undoubtedly instantly transport me back 25 years.

As we pushed our bikes along the winding gravel track to the waters edge, one of the workers flashed us a cheery smile. ‘Alright lads,’ he grinned, stretching a freshly-harvested sheepskin over a makeshift worktop that he’d dragged from the factory floor so that he could work outside in the sunshine.

‘Are you the knacker man?’ asked Placie, with a giggle.

‘Aye, that’s me!’ he laughed, with admirable good humour. ‘I’m up to me bloody lugholes in knackers…’

We swopped a bit of genial banter with him for a few minutes before getting bored and wandering on our way, loudly singing ‘Whistle up the knacker man…’ to the tune of a TV advert of the time (although the telly version was, sadly, about the ‘muffin man’ rather than our new good-humoured friend).

The skinyard lasted until the early 1990s before closing down forever, and when I think of the place (and its accompanying stench) these days, it seems to belong to a completely different era… one in which Yarm was a slightly rough-arsed, rural farming community, where shabby, family-run shops were hemmed in by cobbled wynds, allotments and… well, characters from James Herriot novels. In 2009, the wild, tangled riverbank has been tamed and landscaped to within an inch of its life, and expensive, executive apartments stand on the site where the skinyard once sprawled. It’s really not worth wandering down there with your bikes these days.

Still, it wasn’t all knacker men, skinning sheep and ‘Eee Bah Gum, Mr Farnon’. Tramping into the little tangled wood of Goosepastures on the way home, Tucker asked nervously if we were ‘allowed to play in here’.

‘Don’t worry,’ said Doug. ‘I think this land belongs to my piano teacher’.

Four metaphorical handbags were raised to our chests, and the phrase ‘Ooooooooooooooooh!’ was sarcastically chorused in harmony. I had no idea Doug even PLAYED the piano before this day, but I was already making plans for us to storm the charts as the ‘new’ Soft Cell.



  Tom S wrote @

Marvellous. You’ve just given me one of those embarrassing memory ambush moments – not strictly connected with the Joseph exravaganza…although I think my part in that was cringeworthy enough…but a another Levendale musical offering.

I can’t even remember the play, but Simon Greer was playing a king and I a minstrel (for some reason and before the age of health and safety, precariously balanced on a scaffolding “gallery” what seemed many meters above the ground, but was probably less than six feet). On King Greer’s command I was meant to amaze the crowd with a guitar rendition so beautiful it would bring tears to the eye. Instead, nerves and Mrs Mulhern’s insistence on mixing up the arrangement, meant what actually drifted over the audience was, to paraphrase Morcombe, all the right notes in definitely the wrong order. Long silence followed while it seemed the whole audience looked at me. A stiffled snigger from somewhere near the back. The figure of Mrs M right at the back making a “just keep going gesture” and then, thankfully, King Greer having the presence of mind to improvise something about having my head cut off and launching into the next scene.

I just can’t wait for your Joseph memories.

  bobfischer wrote @

Ooooh, who did you play in Joseph? I was struggling to remember most of the cast. Were you one of the brothers?

Cracking stuff with the guitar heroics! And I bet the gantry was easily as high as you remember. I can’t imagine that a school happy to dangle its 10-year-old pupils over the edge of a 100-foot waterfall would have had any qualms about plonking you on top of a 15-foot lighting rig in the name of entertainment. I’m only surprised Mrs Keasey didn’t set it alight as the curtain rose, just to add a little extra spice.

I have got a strange feeling we starred together in the 1983 Christmas production, with me in a tin-foil cape as Good King Wenceslas, and you (possibly) as the narrator. I’ll see if I can find a picture.

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