Wiffle Lever To Full!

Daleks, Death Stars and Dreamy Sci-Fi Nostalgia…

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.


  Chris Orton wrote @

They did that weird thing in Boro in naming the streets that were built on the ruins of Ayresome Park after footballing-related terms. A similar thing happened on the site of the old Roker Park in Sunderland where there is now a Midfield Drive and a Goalmouth Close.

  bobfischer wrote @

Yeah, there’s even a street on the site of the old Ayresome Park called ‘The Turnstile’.

I hated that, and still do. It was a perfect opportunity, at the very least, to pay tribute to some of Boro’s most respected former players and managers, and to name the new streets after them. Pack the new names with colour, and character, and meaning. Instead, names like ‘The Midfield’ and ‘The Turnstile’ are so generic and bland as to be virtually meaningless.

The whole thing positively reeks of some dreary council focus group.

  Dr Giles Parcel wrote @

If you disagree with the above opinions, please write to me, Dr. Giles parcel at 27 Dropped Half of Inedible Meat Pie Gardens.

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