Wiffle Lever To Full!

Daleks, Death Stars and Dreamy Sci-Fi Nostalgia…

Archive for July, 2009

Extracts from Bob’s 1984 Diary… Volume 213

Tuesday 31st July 1984

Woke up at 9.00 and got up at 10.30. At 11.00 Doug came down and we went down the first BMX course and did some jumps. We did some stunts in the lay-by, then we came back and wrote a calculator program for the ZX81.

At 1.30 we had dinner, then we went down the copse, and got the tarzie down. After having a geedy spin around on it we came back and had a play fight. At 5.30 Doug went home and I played on the ZX81 till 7.20, when I watched Carry on Doctor.

Went to bed at 9.00.

At last! Put out the bunting, sound the horns and raise the flags… I’ve found somewhere more overgrown, untamed and inaccessible than it was in 1984!!!

Regular readers will no doubt already be bored to tears by my ramblings about how all the glorious, wild places of my 1980s childhood have been tidied up, pulled down and/or replaced by identical executive housing. But today I went back to ‘the copse’… the beautiful, wooded refuge that my mate Doug and I discovered in the summer of 1984 and made our own… stringing ‘tarzie’ ropes up into the trees and passing endless afternoons climbing the trees and talking muck.

robinofsherwood
I write about the day we discovered the place in this diarry entry… (and the copse gets a big healthy mention in Chapter 9 of ‘Wiffle Lever To Full!’ as well, in the Robin Of Sherwood bit. Now available in handy paperback size, ideal for the summer holidays, plug plug…)

Today I went back to the copse, exactly 25 years after our visit in my diary entry above. It’s just at the side of a main road, opposite some houses, so I did my best not to look like a shady, bearded 36-year-old man skulking around in the bushes and attempting to crawl through a tiny gap in the hedgerow only really big enough for 11-year-olds to access. And this is what I found…

A gorgeous place on a lovely day, with sunlight streaming through the leaves and lots of little buzzy things floating aroud in the syrupy air and biting tiny chunks from my arms. I couldn’t believe that it wasn’t possible to get a BIT closer to our old clearing, so I dived back onto the grass verge and managed to squash through an even smaller gap in the hedgerow (being slightly disturbed to notice that a man in the house opposite was yabbering away on the phone in the hallway… clearly alerting the police to the presence of The Phantom Hedgeknacker Of Olde Yarme Towne)

And this time I cracked it! This is DEFINITELY the little gap that Doug and I used to crawl through…

Still lodged in my equally overgrown and tangled memory is the fact that, throughout the summer of 1984, there was a little piece of corrugated asbestos – clearly left over from somebody’s extension or loft coversion – stuck in the bushes to the left of this makeshift entrace. These days that would probably be enough to have the entire area sealed off, and men in protective orange suits arriving in armoured vans. Pretty much like the final 30 minutes of ET.

Back in 1984, being left to take your chances with deadly, potentially lethal substances was pretty much part of everyday life. Just look at our school dinners, and the ubiquity of Arctic Roll*. 

(*great potential album title)

arcticrollAnyway, this was about as close as I could get to our old stamping ground (I suppose it might have been better if I WAS able to do some stamping, but I wasn’t wearing very sensible footwear… I put running shoes on, in case the armoured police vans pulled up while I was there…)

I’ve never seen six-foot nettles before, so I’m still not convinced that some strange, genetic experiment (like in Woody Allen’s Sleeper) hasn’t been conducted in those woods since my last visit in 2007. There was certainly some dubious-looking genetic material scattered around the patch of clear ground near the entrance to the copse.

Still, I’m now proud to boast the first proper nettle stings on my body for almost 20 years! It’s given me a little bit of a nostalgic thrill, as I think that – from 1977-1989 – not a day when by when I didn’t have a little bobbly, white-skinned sting somewhere on my body. I could never find a ‘dock leaf’ anywhere either, in fact I don’t even know what they look like. Do they definitely exist?

ZX81topAnd it’s good to see Doug and I counterbalancing our rugged outdoor adventures with the ultra-geeky spoffiness of writing ‘a calculator program for the ZX81’. WHAT?!?!? I can only imagine I sat there rapt in front of the little black and white TV, hammering away at the ZX81’s taut plastic keyboard, while Doug yawned, checked his watch and dreamed of tarzies and stunts on his BMX bike.

Especially as both Doug and I owned perfectly fully-functioning pocket calculators anyway, and were dab hands at entering ‘55378008’ into them and turning them upside down. Still, why waste two seconds doing something really simple and practical when you can waste four hours messing about with a complicated IT system to achieve the same result, but slightly less effectively? On such principals have multi-billion-dollar computer industries been forged.
And Carry On Doctor! On primetime BBC1, no doubt. You don’t get that sort of film shown in the evenings on yer actual main TV channels any more, and so a whole generation of grotty herberts have been deprived of a naked Frankie Howerd having his underpants violenty removed by a foul-tempered Hattie Jacques…

With no life-threatening substances unattended in the hedgerows and no Sidney James yakking away on early evening BBC1, it’s no wonder the current generation of feckless youth are so sadly lacking in moral fibre (although they probably get more actual fibre than we did, largely down to the demise of Arctic Roll*)

*Another great album title.

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Extracts from Bob’s 1984 Diary… Volume 212

Monday 30th July 1984

Woke up at 7.30 and got up at 8.20. At 9.00 I went to the dentist and had two teeth out, then I got a Mad Super Special from Smiths. At 11.30 I came home and Doug came down and we went and played on the swings down the mud track.

When we came back we played on the computer then at 1.30 Doug went home and I wrote some Fighting Fantasy. Then I went out and played football, then I came in and made a moosse. I read Mad till tea, and after tea I went out and played football.

At 7.10 I watched Star Trek, and at 8.00 I watched Only Fools and Horses. At 8.30 I went out and at 9.00 I went to bed.

‘I came in and made a moosse’ Ha! Ha! Ha! Yes, I started with the hooves and by 3am I was still on a stepladder in the kitchen putting the finishing touches to his antlers.

moose

I suspect what I actually made was, of course, one of these…

angeldelight

M-mmmmmmmm! Don’t listen to a word that them modern foodies tell you, Butterscotch Angel Delight is the single most erotic taste experience it’s possible to have. Throughout my childhood, whenever I was asked ‘what I wanted for tea’, I would repeatedly demand to eat TWO Butterscotch Angel Delights in one sitting, and absolutely nothing else. Naturally, this entirely reasonably request was always refused by my cold-hearted mother, who kept banging on insanely about ‘vitamins’, ‘proteins’ and ‘nutrition’ (before, ironically, serving me up a plate of lurid orange fishfingers, luminous green mushy peas and chips the size of breezeblocks)

I’d forgotten all about this until about three years ago, when I was sitting in front of Countdown one leisurely afternoon (I lead a busy life – I think I even had a notepad on my knee), and realised that my girlfriend was away, my Mum lived in France, and there was NOTHING IN THE WORLD stopping me from finally fulfilling my childhood ambition. So I drove to the miniscule ’70s food you thought had long since died out’ section of my local Tesco (it’s in Aisle 5) and grabbed myself two lightweight packets of beige powder.

angeldelight2

An hour later, I was lying sideways on the settee experiencing the most amazing combination of utter contentment, wistful nostalgia and excruciating nausea. I don’t think I moved until the end of Newsnight.   

Other great childhood puddings that seem to have fallen out of favour…

1. Blancmange. Angel Delight’s slightlier classier cousin, served at the temperature of molten lava* and – if not eaten within 20 nanoseconds of production – quickly developing a thick, rubbery skin that required industrial drilling equipment to penetrate. My Dad would always gleefully eat the skin from his blancmange, I would have to leave mine on the edge of the Soreen Malt Loaf saucer as the closing credits to Blue Peter rolled.

(*Is there any other kind of lava? Or is saying ‘molten lava’ the volcanic equivalent of ‘frozen ice’?’)

blancmange

2. Arctic Roll. A cylinder of solid, taste-free ice cream wrapped in a condom-like protective layer of fluorescent red jam (with no discernable fruit involved) and the most solid, spoon-resistant sponge imaginable. ‘If it’s still frozen, put it in front of the fire for two minutes,’ my Mum would say, as the music to The Magic Roundabout tootled out of the TV.

So I would. And two minutes later I’d eat the resultant liquid glop, now flavoured slightly by the addition of a couple of smoky cinders that had spat onto the hearth from the fire.

arcticroll

Given this sterling vitamin and protein-packed diet, it’s no wonder that I had to make yet another journey to Keith Herren’s dental surgery on Yarm Road, Stockton, to have two more baby teeth removed. I was down to my last handful now, and their adult replacements were still growing in a slightly higgledy-piggledy fashion, so much so that Mr Herren had decided to forcibly remove a couple of stubborn infant tussy-pegs so he could fit a brace to their slightly wonky sucessors.

And bloody hell, it was hard work. My abiding memory of this visit is hearing my Mum going ‘Sssssssssssss….’ and wincing, as Keith put one grey-trousered knee onto my chest to allow him to extra leverage to remove the offending teeth with a pair of pliers. Naturally I was anaestheticed up to the eyeballs (quite literally) by that stage, and so – twenty minutes later – I left the surgery with one side of my face hanging limp like the Elephant Man, and a blood-soaked Kleenex Mansize Tissue clutched to my drooling mouth.

elephantman

‘What do you want for tea tonight?’ asked my Mum as we walked back to the bus stop.

‘Mfffh Mffffh Mf MfffMfffMfff MfffMfff MffffMfffff’ I replied.

‘Oh no you won’t,’ she sniffed. ‘It’s eating rubbish like that that got you into this state in the first place. You need vitamins and protein and nutrition inside you. How about fishfingers, chips and peas?’

I would have offered a sarcastic comment back, but I’d been kidnapped by a Victorian Sideshow owner and paraded around Stockton High Street as ‘Bobby, The Human Heffalump’.

madsuperspecial

You’ll notice the downsizing in my consolation present, as well! I’ve mentioned before that when I was six and had a few teeth removed, I regained consciousness in my Dad’s Triumph Toledo to discover a brand new Palitoy TIE Fighter from Leslie Brown’s toy shop lying next to me on the back seat. Five years on, all I got for my troubles was the ‘Mad Super Special’ from WH Smiths… a little compilation of comic strips from the famous American satirical magazine.  That’s ‘Fatcher’s Britain for you.

The feeling in my face started return while I was on the swings with Doug, who found the whole thing utterly hilarious, and kept trying to prod me in the face to ‘see if it hurts yet’… (these are the very swings, by the way… I’m determined to get some good, repeated use out of these films!)

And the episode of Star Trek that my Dad and I watched on this very evening was ‘Mudd’s Women’… in which the rogueish Harcourt Fenton Mudd is beamed aboard the Enterprise from his destroyed spaceship, alongside three gorgeeeeous female passengers who are – get this – not quite what they seem…

Great stuff, and I was becoming slowly obsessed by the series at this point in my life, aided and abetted by my Dad, who rarely made much of a point of watching science fiction with me, but always seemed happy to make an exception for Star Trek. Particularly if it meant he could escape from washing up the empty blancmange and Arctic Roll dishes.

Extracts from Bob’s 1984 Diary… Volume 211

Sunday 29th July 1984

Woke up at 9.00 and got up at 10.00. I did some Fighting Fantasy, then at 10.30 I rang Doug but he wasn’t in. I did some more Fighting Fantasy, then I went out and played football. At 12.00 I had dinner, then I did more Fighting Fantasy till 1.30, when I called for Doug.

He was still out so I came back and played football till 2.00 when I did some more Fighting Fantasy. At 4.30 I had tea, then played football till 6.10, when I listened to the charts. At 7.00 Spike came into the garden, then at 7.15 I watched Are you being served.

At 7.45  I went out, then at 8.30 I came in and did some more Fighting Fantasy. At 9.00 I went to bed.

I’d just like to say the words ‘Fighting Fantasy’ a few more times, as I don’t think they got enough of a mention in my diary entry for this day. Fighting Fantasy. Fighting Fantasy. Fighting Fantasy. There we go. Ian ‘Fighting Fantasy’ Livingstone, if you’re reading this, can I have a cheque in the post please? A Fighting Fantasy cheque, obviously. Drawn from the Bank of Fighting Fantasy. Signed by you, or any of the other Fighting Fantasy people who worked on ‘Fighting Fantasy’, the popular range of Fighting Fantasy gamebooks. 

Mind you, I was always more of a Lone Wolf man myself.

deathtrapJoke!!! I wish I’d kept all the, erm, Fighting Fantasy books that I attempted to write around this time, I was clearly devoting a significant portion of my waking hours to them. I think the story I was hammering away at on this particular occasion was a shameless rip-off of Deathrap Dungeon called, with sad predictability, ‘Labyrinth of Death’.

Amazingly, I was utterly convinced that all of this hilarously knocked-off guff would be instantly snapped up by a publisher the second that I’d finished it… my previous attempts at great literature included ‘Space Wars’ (in which drippy farmhand Lars Starwalker takes on the evil overlord Dark Radar) and ‘Doctor Why’ (in which an eccentric ‘Time Baron’ roams the universe in a malfunctioning red telephone box).

I’ve grown out of this now, of course. I’m currently working on a TV sitcom set in a department store. It’s called ‘Have You Been Seen To?’ and features the camp Mr Touchwood getting into all manner of hilarious scrapes with his stuffy boss Sergeant Hampton and frustrated, middle-aged ladies assistant Mrs Mountjoy. Oooooh, have you been seen to? (Cue raucous laughter)

mrhumphriesAnyway, since yesterday’s sizeable entry (more chortles from the studio audience) I’ve seen concerns expressed that we seemed to have left Spike – the startled hedgehog that Doug and I rescued from the side of the busy main road – in a cardboard box alongside (brace yourself) a saucer of bread and milk. This is, of course, pretty much the worst thing you can ever give to a hedgehog, as their tiny stomachs find it very difficult to cope with… however, back in 1984, it was received wisdom that – frankly – they bloody loved the stuff and couldn’t get enough of it.

Thankfully Spike’s unadulterated, rich new diet didn’t seem to deter him too much, as – 24 hours after being released back into the wild (or, at least, the farmers’ field round the back of our house… that was about as wild as it got in Yarm) – HE CAME BACK FOR MORE!!! And no doubt my Mum dutifully obliged. He’s probably still in Hedgehog Rehab somewhere going through a Seven-Stage Plan to kick his two-loaves a month Mother’s Pride habit.

(NB A little saucer of catfood or dog meat is apparently what’s best for them… see, I’m not just here for the nasty things in life…)

I’d also like to point out that yesterday’s picture of our hedgehog-related indiscretion features a cardboard box with a strange coat of grey paint…

1_Spike the HedgehogUndoubtedly the remants of my poor cardboard K9 from this picture, taken over two years earlier in Spring 1982. My family was recycling decades before our local council got in on the act!

smalldoctor

The archetypal lazy Sunday then, really, although I do remember listening to the last hour of the Top 40 while lazing on the settee in the front room while my Mum chipped in with the occasional critical remark… ‘This is awful’ ; ‘Oooh, I quite like this’ ; ‘Is this a girl or a bloke?’, that kind of thing. I think this was the night when Simon Bates got so bored of playing Frankie’s ‘Two Tribes’ for the umpteenth week running, that he flipped it over and played the B-side instead, their sterling cover of Edwin Starr’s ‘War’…

And a song I definitely remember taking a liking to on this very day was Laura Branigan’s thumping power ballad ‘Self Control’, which I still have a bit of a soft spot for. And every time I hear it, it fills my head with a giddy rush of 1984 nostalgia, which is always a lovely thing…

Extracts from Bob’s 1984 Diary… Volume 210

Saturday 28th July 1984

Woke up at 7.30 when Poggy Doggy jumped on me, and got up at 7.40. At 8.15 we went to Middlesbrough and I got a FRANKIE GOES TO HOLLYWOOD book. Came home at 11.30 and had dinner, then I went to Doug’s. We came back to my house and found a hedgehog, then took it home and let it run around.

We went to the BMX track and had a race around, then on the way back we met dad. When we got back at 4.30, Doug went home and I had tea. I wrote some Fighting Fantasy at 5.30, then at 6.10 I watched 1 on the road.

At 7.00 I watched Russ Abbot, then after letting the hedgehog go we went to the Black Bull and had a drink. Then we went to the George and Dragon and had another drink. Came back at 9.00 and went to bed.

I’d like to say I’d forgotten the sheer, snuffly, cuddly thrill of having a large dog jump onto your bed in the mornings, but I haven’t. Because it still happens to me every single day. 25 years after Poggy Doggy started doing this, I still get woken at 9am every day by a lanky, wet-nosed border collie called Tally who pulls himself up onto the bed and actually walks along the length of my body before flopping down on my head. He’s the hairiest alarm clock in the world.

1_Poggy Doggy Shades
(This is Poggy Doggy, by the way, and not Tally. I’ve just found this picture in a pile of other stuff, and I think it was taken on Saturday 7th July 1984, the day I bought those mirror shades. What a fabulously, hairy, shambling, shaggy beast! I’ve subconsciously modelled myself on him throughout most of my adult life…)  

And a FRANKIE GOES TO HOLLYWOOD book! So exciting that it required entirely superfluous capital letters. To be honest, I think describing it as a ‘book’ is a bit generous… what I actually bought could be more accurately referred to as a ‘pamphlet’. It was a pure impluse buy from a tiny newsagent in Middlesbrough’s Hill Street Centre arcade. For my £1.25 (the price of a Doctor Who Target novelisation – I was MUGGED!!!!)  I got about 20 pages,  all filled with huge pictures of the band, and interspersed with the odd paragraph of (very large) text. I can’t find the bloody thing anywhere, but I remember reading two exciting facts from its pages as we walked past the escalators opposite Burtons Menswear…

frankiegoes1. The band’s favourite meal was ‘Scouse’, the traditional sea-faring stew made from scrag end of lamb and chopped onions. I don’t believe this for a bloody second, and I’m sure this whole spurious story must have been invented by a cackling press officer, who might as well have gone the whole hog and claimed that Paul McCartney was the band’s Auntie and that their entire debut album was written on ‘Der Ferry Cross Der Mersey, la’  

2. Their debut album ‘Welcome To The Pleasure Dome’ was due before the end of the year. Yay!!! I nearly fainted near the entrance to Fine Fare.

I used to read a lot while walking behind my Mum on shopping expeditions to Middlesbrough, and once got so caught up in a Charlie Brown book that I lost all sense of where I was going… I heard my Mum shout my name from a surprising distance away, and when I looked up from the book I was in the middle of a pedestrian crossing behind a woman wearing an identical coat to her. The Green Cross Code Man was sitting on the steps outside British Home Stores, weeping.

(By the way, I’d forgotten all about the Green Cross Droid until I saw this! I assume Dave Prowse was busy making Return of the Jedi, and some cheeky bugger in the advertising department decided – effectively – to replace him with R2D2. And have I imagined this, or were there TWO Green Cross Code men in the 1970s? I’m sure I remember both Dave and another, possibly blond-haired, man working as a kind of road safety tag team. I might have dreamt it, though…)

Anyway, I took my FRANKIE GOES TO HOLLYWOOD book down to Doug’s to show him (he shrugged and grunted a bit) and, on the way back, we found a hedgehog. My diary makes it sound as though we kidnapped the poor thing to be our spiky slave, but I’m sure it was snuffling around close to the edge of Yarm’s busy main road, so we considered our actions to be a mission of mercy.

And then we put our special new friend in a box to keep FOREVER, and we would love him and hug him and squeeze him and feed him and pet him and we would call him George…

1_Spike the HedgehogYes, I have pictures! I’m amazed I didn’t mention this in my diary, but the ancient Fischer family camera (which always looked as though it should have a black hood and a burning rod of phosphorus attached) was dragged out to commemorate the arrival of our hedgehog (who we actually called Spike – oh, we were nothing if not predictable) into the garden. Here’s Doug, clearly in no discomfort whatsoever and shamelessly hamming it up for the camera…

1_Doug 2(I’ve just noticed, for the first time ever, the incredibly wonky drainpipe in the background of this picture… Dad, get your act together!)

And here’s me, dressed like a twat and attempting to remove the terrified Spike from the clutches of the evil Poggles Ponsonby…

1_Mirror Shades
Notice my legendary ‘tarzie’ hanging from the tree just behind my left shoulder! And, just for good measure, here’s Doug sharing a joke (and no doubt a filthy one) with serial early-morning bed disturber Poggy Doggy…

1_Doug 1

You can see Doug’s yellow BMX bike parked up against our garden gate, and the vague, floaty haze just visible above the top of the gate is the swaying farmers’ field that we inexplicably christened ‘Guanderlarn’ and claimed for our own strange purposes in this diary entry. The building you can see in the distance is the back of Yarm cricket pavilion, at least half a mile away. (Although all you can see from that position now is the gigantic executive housing estate that sprung up towards the fag-end of the Eighties)

I know I write about this endlessly, but I love the fact that there was an exciting lack of ‘stuff’ around when we were kids. It’s only when I look back at these pictures that I realise how empty and ‘unfinished’ Yarm looked back in the mid-1980s… lots of the swish estates, shops and amenities of my current life were, back then, just vast fields of crops, derelict buildings and tangled thickets of woodland. It made out childhood almost a blank canvas, ready to have our own strange imaginings projected onto it, and I loved that. I wouldn’t have wanted to be a kid at any other time (apart from possibly 1180, when I would have joined Robin Hood’s gang)

Although, I had, I’d no doubt have still had my Dad checking up on me! After two days of vague disapproval from my parents about the makeshift BMX track that Doug and I had discovered in the woods two miles away, you’ll notice – that on the Third Day – we ‘met dad’ who ‘just happened’ to be walking Poggy Doggy towards those self same woods. Hmmmmm…. (strokes chin and narrows eyes)

Anyway, what better way to round off a glorious summers day than with a bit of Russ Abbot and a night down the pub? The Black Bull and the George and Dragon are both in Yarm’s busy High Street, and both still going strong. Although back in 1984 Yarm’s pubs were very old-fashioned affairs, probably undecorated since the 1960s and filled with farmers, smoke, horsebrasses and the gentle clack of dominoes.

These days, all of the pubs on Yarm High Street form a kind of ‘weekend party central’ for Teesside… people arrive in coachloads on Friday and Saturday nights and the (trendily refurbished) bars have bouncers on the doors and queues snaking around the sides of the buildings.

blackbull
It felt fabulously grown-up to ‘go for a pint’ with my parents, though, and I remember sitting in the lovely beer garden round the back of the Black Bull, chugging on a pint of lemonade, into which my Dad would occasionally drop a splosh of his beer to make a cheeky shandy. I was fighting the landlord and singing filthy songs about hedgehogs on the way out.

Extracts from Bob’s 1984 Diary… Volume 209

Friday 27th July 1984

Woke up at 9.00 and got up at 9.30. At 10.15 Doug came down and we went down the BMX track. When we came back it started to rain, so we sheltered in a bus shelter, then came back at 12.30 and had dinner.

After dinner we walked the dogs down Private road and met Arnold the Cow. It started to rain again so we sheltered in a wood, then ran back and played with an Action Force pilot.  

At 5.00 Doug went home and I had tea, and at 5.15 I watched Diffrent Strokes. Then I wrote some Fighting Fantasy till 7.30, when I watched Simon and Simon. Went to bed at 8.30.

Ah, the sheer rebellion of youth! After receiving an out-and-out bollocking the previous day for cycling two miles down the main road to an illicit BMX track, I took on board everything my mother had said, had a good think about what kind of young person I wanted to be… and then WENT THERE AGAIN!!! Booo… hiss… (young Fischer cackles manically and swirls a pantomime cape around his face)

To be fair I think I placated my Mum by telling her that we’d cycled all the way on the pavement, taken extra care when crossing the main road, and under NO circumstances was our new discovery hidden away on British Gas property only accessible by sneaking down someone’s drive and climbing over a rickety old fence covered in warning signs. Oh no. Absolutely not. Not a chance. Nope. Pfffft.

Anyway, the Gods punished us for our transgressions, because it absolutely pissed down all day. The first few drops fell as we left the BMX track, and within seconds a full-scale tropical monsoon was hammering against Yarm’s previously sun-baked pavements. To escape the onslaught, we had to dive into a bus shelter that smelt so strongly of wee that we were soon producing our own tropical monsoons, streaming down our faces from each eye…

So there we sat, T-shirts soaking wet and plastered to our skins, hair hanging limply over our foreheads, in a choking cloud of sulphorous urea so unpleasant that the old lady waiting for the 295 bus to Stockton was wearing a full protective radiation suit and gas mask. Amazingly, the smell seems to have gone completely now, so I can only assume that the quality of beer served in the nearby Crown Hotel has improved immeasurably over the last 25 years.

Incidentally, several years later, that bus shelter played host to one of the funniest incidents I’ve ever seen in my life. February 1991, and myself and a few sixth form friends were joined in the Crown by a younger lad from our school, a cheery lad with a shock of peroxide hair who was chugging back pints of Fosters at an extraordinary rate. As we passed the bus shelter on our way out, his eyes alighted on something glinting in the long grass.

solventabuse

‘Fantastic, an aerosol can!’ he exclaimed. ‘I’ve always fancied taking a hit on one of these…’

He raised it to his mouth, clearly intending to inhale the solvent-based propellent left in the empty tin.

‘Don’t be bloody stupid, you’ll kill yourself…’ we protested.

‘It’s alright, I know what I’m doing…’ he winked, and promptly pressed the button, confidently unleashing a thick spray of luminous red paint that completely coated his face from the top lip upwards. Combined with the peroxide blonde hair, he looked like a mutant six-foot Oompa Loompa. As the rest of us fell about in the bus shelter, he stormed home muttering about ‘breaking into my Dad’s garage to the get the turps out…’

OompaLoompa

Anyway, I think I’ve missed a little section from my 1984 diary on this day, possibly to prevent me getting into even further trouble. On the way back from Kirklevington to my house, in a small section of woodland at the side of an entirely dubious-looking laybay, we found another little home-made BMX track. Looking nervously around to make sure I wasn’t being followed, I went back there today…

I can’t believe that was still there! I think, even at the age of 11, we were aware that these woods were the kind of place mentioned in news reports that contain the line ‘The body was discovered early on Tuesday morning by a man walking his dog…’

It didn’t stop us, though. Unlike the winding, maze-like paths of the ‘big’ BMX track, this one was just a long, straight track cut out of the bracken, and dotted with ramps, ditches and fallen logs intended to provide an amusing challenge for any grotty 11-year-old hurtling through at full pelt on their souped-up Raleigh Choppers. If I’d ever bothered eating breakfast, my arse would have gone over it at least half a dozen times on this filthy, rainswept afternoon.

actionforce
We decided to take out our frustrations with the weather by constructing and then terminating WITH EXTREME PREJUDICE an ‘Action Force SAS Pilot’. This was, basically, a rather blank-looking Action Man spin-off who’d been occupied on pointless manoeuvers around my bedroom since being deployed under our Christmas tree 18 months earlier.

‘Let’s see how good at flying he really is…’ cackled Doug, as we tied a Presto carrier bag to his back, and threw him with all of our strength into the trees over the road from my bedroom window. 

The body was discovered early on Tuesday morning by a man walking his dog.

Extracts from Bob’s 1984 Diary… Volume 208

Thursday 26th July 1984

Woke up at 9.00 and got up at 10.15. At 10.45 Doug came down and we went for a ride on the kebble estate. We came back at 12.30 and had dinner, then we took Poggy Doggy and Tina down Private Lane. We came back at 2.30 and went down a BMX track in Kirklevington.

Came back at 4.00 and mucked about in the garden till 5.00, when Doug went home and I had tea. Started to write a new Fighting Fantasy, then at 7.00 I watched Kick Start. At 7.30 I watched Top of the pops, and at 8.00 I watched Time of your life.

Went to bed at 9.00.

At last, I cracked! Starved of Doug’s company for almost a full week, I clung on for a couple of days longer than was strictly necessary (just to antagonise my mother, really) before making the call and seeing if my best mate fancied ‘mucking about’ on our bikes for the day. And thus leaving the house properly for the first time since our summer holidays had begun. Hey, there’s only SO much ‘Why Don’t You?’ that a man can take before he, erm, switches off his television set and does something less boring instead…

During my downtime, I had – of course – surrounded myself with graph paper and made endless, carefully-drawn maps of my beloved Fighting Fantasy books, gently easing myself into a teenage wilderness of shameless, perpetual geekdom. Doug, however, had been far more adventurous, and had been off seeking brave new worlds and final frontiers on the edges of our known universe…

‘I’ve found somewhere new and geedy to go,’ he nodded sagely, as we cycled aimlessly around the ‘kebble estate’, a labyrinth of 1970s executive housing that sprawled across the mile-long gap between my house and Yarm High Street.

‘Sounds smart…’ I replied. ‘What is it…?

‘You’ll see…’ he nodded. ‘Don’t tell your mam, though…’

cow

As preparation for this exciting new adventure, I took Doug to see Arnold The Cow, the amiable bovine that I’d befriended ‘down Private Lane’, a little tarmac farm path that meandered from the main road to the towering private manor house of Kirklevington Hall. Accompanied by the excitable yelping of Poggy Doggy and the, well… equally excitable yelping of his insane collie sister Tina (or Poggles Ponsonby as she was increasingly becoming known to my clearly bored-out-of-his-mind Dad) we trooped half a mile from my house to this charming little rural refuge.

And I went back there today, only to find that Arnold The Cow’s old stamping ground has been invaded by… wait for it… here we go…

SHEEP! Yes, the mortal enemy of the cow. But which docile farmyard animal is better? There’s only one way to find out…

Doug, whose Mum was Australian, subscribed wholeheartedly to the Antipodean notion of the ‘walkabout’ and never seemed at all deterred by the slight drawback of living in the middle-class suburbs of Yarm rather than the sprawland bushland of the southern continent. He would regularly clamber onto his BMX and cycle for miles and miles in the pursuit of adventure, excitement and all the other things that Jedi are supposed to, erm, seek not. (It’s difficult to paraphrase Yoda without sounding like a foreign national learning English as a second language. Or, rather…  *clears throat*  ‘difficult it is to paraphrase Yoda without a foreign national learning English as a second language sounding like’)

yoda

 
Once we’d returned the dogs and glugged down a plastic tumbler of Panda Cola each, we set out. This voyage saw the conception of a little catchphrase that soundtracked and summed up our summer holidays from this day onwards. I remember reading that, in the early days of The Beatles, John Lennon would shout ‘Where are we going fellers?’, and Paul, George and Ringo would reply, with perfect timing,  ‘To the tippermost of the toppermost, Johnny’ as their transit van pulled into the latest grotty roadside cafe at the side of the A1.

Doug and I had our own version of this, spawned as I huffed and panted along the main road from my house, my trusty Chopper (fnarrr!) struggling to keep up with his speedy new multi-gear BMX.

‘Where are we going, Doug?’ I gasped.

‘I dunno, but we’re certainly going to get there!’ came the beaming reply. 

It made no sense at all, but we liked that, and we’d knowingly repeat this exchange at the start of every aimeless bike ride for the rest of the holidays. We also had, as a fallback, Doug’s other catchphrase ‘Kindly remove your posterior from my airspace’, which was coined as I overtook him on the main road and stuck my arse in the air, pedalling frantically like some insane, 11-year-old Tour De France wild card.

chopper

I’d forgotten all about these until I started writing this entry, but it’s lovely to have them swimming around my head again!

We cycled two miles along the main road to the leafy, well-off village of Kirklevington, then turned right past the Crown Hotel pub as the road descended into the heart of the village. Past the little playpark with its rickety seesaw, past the amusingly-titled ‘Pump Lane’ (which never failed to raise a smile) and then up a tiny, steep-sloped cut-through which brought us out into a deserted, very expensive-looking cul-de-sac.

‘Through there…’ said Doug, pointing vaguely into the distance. I followed the line of his finger and saw a slightly askew farm gate hanging from its hinges at the bottom of a drive belonging to an expensive-looking bungalow. On the other side of the gate was a thick expanse of woodland, and a myriad of signs proclaiming ‘PRIVATE PROPERTY – BRITISH GAS – DANGER – TRESPASSERS WILL BE PROSECUTED’

keepout

A winding, cracked path seemed to amble past the woodland and head off to some kind of gas substation in the distance. We thought about the moral implications of this impending trespass for approximately 40 nanoseconds before creeping up the drive, silently lifting our bikes over the gate, and disappearing into the trees.

And it was amazing!

What Doug had discovered, hidden away in this most private of woods, was a fully-fledged BMX track. Clearly nefariously constructed by Kirklevingtons local ne’er-do-wells, it was a little maze of tracks, jumps, ramps and ditches that wound around the trees. We jumped up and down with indescribable excitement and began pedalling manically through the trees in our own, private version of the speeder chase from Return Of The Jedi.

Looking at my diary, we can’t have stayed there for much longer than an hour, but it seemed like days went by in this new addition to our ever-expanding range of private, rural retreats from the adult world. We never really DID much in them… just rode around and jumped up and down, and – when we got tired – lay in the grass twiddling bits of sticky weed around our fingers and talking filth. But they were clearly important refuges for us, and – looking back – it’s the memory of these places that I treasure the most.

What IS that sticky weed called, by the way? This stuff…

stickyweeds

It used to be everywhere, and I’d regularly come home with bits of it stuck to the backs of my legs and T-shirt, and – if I’d really been seriously arsing around in the woods – in my hair. It doesn’t seem to be anywhere near as prevelant these days, though… it’s probably been outlawed by a local council Health and Safety ruling. One website I found suggests it’s called ‘Sticky Willy’, which would have reduced Doug and I to whimpering wrecks had we known that back in 1984.

Anyway, I had a wander back to the old BMX track today to see if it was accessible at all, but it isn’t… the gate and the woods are still there, but they’re very much part of somebody’s house and drive, so I thought I’d better leave well alone. As a scrawny 11-year-old clambering over the gate, the worst I really expected was to be told to bugger off. As a bearded 36-year-old, I suspect police intervention would probably have swiftly followed…

Anyway, two stupid, entirely pointless memories from this day:

1. As we climbed back over the fence on the way out, Doug was singing the song from an Australian TV advert for milk… with Glen Miller’s classic ‘In The Mood’ coverted to contain lyrics about being ‘in the milk mood’. I was hoping Youtube might have the actual advert, but sadly not. I did find this stupidly entertaining, though…

2. The Fighting Fantasy book that I started writing was completely inspired by our new woodland discovery, complete with BMX-related monsters doing wild and crazy things, brazenly ignoring warning signs erected by the Middle Earth Gas Board.

OK, the usual weekly trawl through the Top of the Pops archive…

• Frankie Goes To Hollywood – Two Tribes [Performance]
• Hazel Dean – Whatever I Do(Wherever I Go) [Performance]
• Jeffrey Osborne – On The Wings Of Love [Performance]
• Neil – A Hole In My Shoe [Repeat Performance]
• Phil Fearon & Galaxy – Everybodys Laughing [Performance]
• Queen – Its A Hard Life [Promo Video]
• Shakatak – Down On The Street [Performance]
• Windjammer – Tossing & Turning [Promo Video]

There’s a lot of repeated stuff and videos this week, so you have to wonder if half the ‘Pops’ staff had buggered off on holiday. Not Janice Long and Dave Lee Travis though, who were holding the fort with their usual aplomb. Here’s a bit of Shakatak to help us all through the day…

By the way, after six days of brazenly ignoring my mother’s pleas to ‘get out of the house’, on the day that I finally took her advice, she went mad at me when I’d got back. My fault, really, for stupidly ignoring Doug’s recommendation not to tell her where we’d been.

 ‘You went to KIRKLEVINGTON??? Down that BUSY MAIN ROAD???? It’s TWO MILES AWAY!!! Are you STARK RAVING MAD????’

I watched Kick Start in a silent sulk.

Extracts from Bob’s 1984 Diary… Volume 207

Wednesday 25th July 1984

Woke up at 8.15 and got up at 8.45. We went to Stockton and I got some new sandshoes for Conyers. When I came back I finished mapping Island of the Lizard king, then I went out till 12.00, when I had dinner.

After dinner I started to map City of Thieves, but I soon got sick and went out. I came back in at 3.30 and finished mapping City of Thieves and at 4.30 I had tea. At 5.15 I watched Who’s baby, then at 5.45 I went out and played football with dad.

At 8.30 I came in and had some supper, then at 9.30 I went in the shower. Went to bed at 9.40.

This was the day my Mum finally cracked. We were walking along Stockton High Street on the way to Rawcliffe’s, the ‘official’ Conyers school outfitters, and she asked me what my plans for the afternoon were.

‘I’m going to finish my map of the Island of the Lizard King, then move onto City Of Thieves…’ I replied, dreamily.

‘Oh COME ON, you can’t spend your whole summer holidays indoors messing about with graph paper….’ she exploded. ‘Give Doug a ring and take your bikes out somewhere. The weather’s bloody gorgeous. Go and get some fresh air, for crying out loud…’

stocktonhighstreetBut I was lost in a world of my own. Mainly Middle Earth, with little bits of Allansia and Gallifrey thrown into the mix as well. I think I was still day-dreaming about overthrowing Fire Island’s cruel Lizard Man overlords when we reached Maxwell’s Corner, the odd, semi-circular shop front at the very top of Stockton High Street.

This was the home of the aforementioned Rawcliffe’s, the austere and delightfully old-fashioned shop that had provided Teesside’s grotty oiks with smart school uniforms and assorted PE gear for several generations. There was no concession to idle browsing or any other kind of fancy retail chicanery. Approximately 87.3% of the shop consisted of wooden shelves upon which piles of starchy white shirts, blazers and ‘pumps’ were neatly stacked. The other 12.7% was taken up by a little, grey-haired man with spectacles on a chain, who would silently purse his lips as you presented him with your requirements (this actually came in the form of a typed list that had already been posted to us by Conyers School) and then fuss around the shelves, nimbly piling the required attire into your outstretched arms. 

pumps2In 1984, the prospect of wearing school uniform seemed amazingly alien and arcane to me. There had been no dress code whatsoever in my seven years at Levendale Primary School… we just wore whatever we wanted. Within the limits of British decency, of course… I still fondly remember the day when Simon Bentley was summoned to our headmaster Mr Watson’s office, proudly sporting a T-shirt that featured Buzby, the sprightly yellow bird starring in a series of early 1980s British Telecom adverts (and voiced by the legendary Lord Bernard of Cribbins, bless him).

All of which would have been fine, had the T-shirt not also boasted the not-entirely-inaccurate slogan ‘BUSBY IS A TIT’ in large, friendly letters. Teeth were sucked, heads were shaken, phone calls made, questions asked in the House of Commons… 

buzby

But the prospect of having to wear a uniform was one that appalled me slightly, even though I knew it granted me daily opportunities to pretend to be Turlough, the weird, green-eyed public schoolboy alien from Doctor Who. Luckily my Mum was breaking me in gently, and today we just bought a pair of white, brand-less utilitarian sandshoes, for use in Conyers School’s towering, sixty-foot high ‘sports hall’, with the sternly-worded warning ‘NO BLACK SOLES BEYOND THIS POINT’ Blu-Tacked to the main double doors outside.  

(They had accompanying ‘stuff’ with them as well, a kind of bottled ‘Tippex for sandshoes’ thing… basically, when your sandshoes became scuffed and marked after repeated abuse of the Pommel Horse, you could spread this sticky white glop on them in an utterly fruitless attempt to return them to their former glory. In actual fact, you just ended up looking as though a stallion had ejaculated all over your shoes. Can anyone remember what it was called?)

cityofthievesAnd then it was back home on the rickety, tartan-seated 294 bus to Yarm, ready to continue the ceaseless quest to ‘spend my whole summer holidays indoors messing about with graph paper’. I battled through the mean streets of Silverton, overcoming goblins, leaf beasts and serpent queens on my way to meet the wizard Nicodemus and overthrow the evil Zanbar Bone (this is in Fighting Fantasy book No 5, City Of Thieves, by the way. Not on the way back from Stockton. Although if you go to the High Street after 7pm on a Friday night, you’ll see similar scenes…)

At half-hourly intervals, my Mum kept popping her head around the front room door, offering such subtle interjections as ‘Phew! It’s bloody gorgeous out there! It’d be a lovely day for a bike ride…’

I think she was just desperate to get me from under her feet so she could do the hoovering.

And ‘Whose Baby?’… blimey, I’d forgotten all about this! Pure ITV mid-80s light entertainment madness, with Bernie Winters (and his permanently panting St Bernard, Schnorbitz*) presenting, and a celebrity panel (Kenneth Williams, Rula Lenska, Barry Cryer, etc) interrogating terrified-looking children in an attempt to uncover the identity of their famous parents. ‘Is your Daddy famous for music?’ (silent nod, thunderous applause from studio audience, cut to proud dad Alvin Stardust grinning in a hidden, darkened corner of the studio)

In fact, here’s a sensational clip!

I was convinced that one day, my own children would take part in this, silently confirming to a genial Willie Rushton that their Dad was, in fact, the recently-cast Eleventh Doctor Who. Sadly, 25 years on, I’m still childless, the new Doctor Who is ten years younger than me, and both Bernie Winters, Schnorbitz and Willie Rushton have long since joined the heavenly Light Entertainment panel game invisible. 

schnorbitzSometimes life just doesn’t turn out how you want it to. Best to stay indoors, out of harm’s way, and mess about graph paper all summer.

*I once knew a girl called Sonia who owned a hamster called Schnorbitz. I thought this was one of the funniest things I’d ever heard in my life. I was 22 years old.