Wiffle Lever To Full!

Daleks, Death Stars and Dreamy Sci-Fi Nostalgia…

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…


  Mark Hirst wrote @

At that time Conyers held about 800 from my recollections, which increased rapidly as Ingelby B developed.

Philip Harker was a great kid and his mum used to have a racehorse, steeplechaser named `Eboracum`. Young Harker would tell me when it was due to run and tip me off if there was a `good result` expected. Lots of fiddling around the smaller racecourses in those halcyon days! It helped supplement my meagre teacher’s wages. He also used to bring me dried sugar beet, which my guinea pigs loved! Wonder where he is now??

Rod Nielsen lived in the same road as me in Acklam for a short while and we used to try and outdo each other in the tracksuit fashion stakes. In the tache domain, he was always king and I didn’t even try and compete. Quiffs were another matter!

  bobfischer wrote @

Was it only 800? Blimey, it seemed like a lot more. I suppose everything seems bigger when you’re young. Insert your own jokes here…

Mr Harker’s still around, and still on the farm, I think. I see him about occasionally but I don’t think he recognises me. Probably down to the fake Rod Neilsen moustache that I wear when I’m out in the public eye these days.

  Chris Orton wrote @

I went from a primary school of about 80 pupils (we had so few people that two year groups were often taught in the same class by the same teacher, and we had to join up with another local school just so that we could put out an eleven-a-side football team) to a secondary school of around 800. You were immediately in surroundings where there were ten times more pupils than you were used to.

It was very daunting for an eleven-year-old. Especially when you heard the tales about getting your head flushed down the bogs, and about the eight inch needle that would be used to administer the BCG vaccine.

Our school houses were called: Eden, Brancepeth, Auckland and Raby. We all thought that they were named after local streets, and not in fact famous local castles – failing to realise that the streets too (one of which I now live in!) were named after the same things as our school houses. I was a member of Eden house, and I remember that nobody ever wanted to be a member of Raby house as they were tarred with having ‘rabies’ if they were. Raby was later dissolved and merged with the other three houses, although I’m not sure if it was due to the aforementioned stigma that this happened!

First year pupils (I’m not having any of this Year Seven nonsense!) were commonly known as “Spelks” and received a pretty rough time of it for the first few weeks at least. I remember just feeling so *small*. All part of growing up I suppose…

  Chris Byers wrote @

Our trip to Conyers is certainly a day I remember very well. For me it was at that moment that the reality of changing schools really hit home and I can remember thinking to myself as we were shown around on Philip Harker’s magical mystery tour how I was ever going to find my way around this total maze. We just seamed to go down corridor after corridor through door after door and just when we thought we had reached the end we would just go into another building.

As for the PE lesson the thing I can remember most is that it took place in the sports hall which at the time I think it was probably the biggest building I had ever been in. As for what we did I cant remember much but I can remember we were put into teams with our future class mates form other schools.I think it was just some sort of team building game.

The size of Conyers during most of our time there it was about 1000 but I did read somewhere recently it is now about 1400

  Fiona Tims wrote @

Ahhhh we also did the day trip to big school and like you’re all saying-it seemed huge and terrifying *gulp*
From what I can remember, I had no-one from my junior school in my class (great way of making new friends in retrospect) and had been split up from my best friend.

I agree with Chris-as far as I’m concerned it will always be first-fifth years

  bobfischer wrote @

I’m glad it wasn’t just my school that had pretensions towards poshness and kept the tradition of ‘houses’! Ours were Conyers, Meynall, Chaloner and Flounders, all named after various local dignataries of years gone by. They didn’t seem to have any practical, day-to-day house, apart from the yearly house rugby tournament that I avoided like the plague. Unless I actually HAD the plague, in which case I’d go round there and breath all over them.

Cheers Chris B – yep, we were definitely in the Sports Hall… a terrifyingly vast building with an amazingly high ceiling (maybe 50 feet or more?) and no windows. I can’t remember what we played in there at all on this day, so thanks for stirring up a few memories!

And I have no idea whatsoever how the new, modern-day system of school year numbering works. I’ve tried to learn, but my brain just refuses to accept it and puts the shutters down.

  Fiona Tims wrote @

Just add 5 to get a rough idea of what year they’re in. Year 7 (+5) and you assume they’re 12/13 and so 2nd year 🙂

  Lisa Arnold wrote @

Brings back such memories reading this

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: