Wiffle Lever To Full!

Daleks, Death Stars and Dreamy Sci-Fi Nostalgia…

Extracts from Bob’s 1984 Diary… Volume 188

Friday 6th July 1984

Woke up at 7.50 and got up at 8.10. At 8.30 I went to school and it was Topic groups, then we had a maths test. After that we went out and when we came in, Tucker and I did a picture for Topic. Had dinner at 12.00 and then we went out for rounders but got beat.

At 3.15 I came home and played football, and at 5.00 I had tea. Then I built a model Spitfire and at 7.05 I watched a repeat of Doctor Who and the king’s demons. At 7.30 I watched Simon and Simon and then I went out and played football with dad.

At 9.00 I went to bed.

Ooooh, a maths test! Three days after having our language skills assessed, it was time to shuffle back into the specially laid-out school hall (individual tables, austere silence, Mrs Mulhern pacing up and down wearing knuckledusters) to see how many of us had progressed beyond counting on our fingers (or, if we were really advanced, whipping off our Debenham’s socks and counting on our toes as well. Thankfully Christopher Herbert never managed to count beyond ten, so we were spared the overpowering pickled bunion whiff of his bare feet)

I was never as good at maths as I was at writing, although I’d got a dartboard for Christmas in 1980 (instead of a bloody Millenium Falcon, grrrr) so I was pretty adept at speedy mental subtraction. I never really got the hang of fractions, and long division defeated me completely, so much so that I broke with my usual reserved sang-froid one rainy Tuesday afternoon in 1983 and issued a formal complaint to Mrs Keasey.

‘Why do we have to do long division?’ I asked, rooting around inside my left air with the tip of a Berol Notewriter. ‘It’s stupid and pointless and it’s not as if we’ll ever use it in real life’.

‘Stop complaining,’ she sniffed. ‘Long division’s a handy skill to have in life, just like all written arithmetic’.

26 years on, I’m starting to feel a little vindicated, as I’ve now managed to reach the age of 36 without doing a scrap of long division (or indeed any other written arithmetic) since the day I sat my GCSE Maths exam in the summer of 1989. If I need to count to more than 10, I can always take my socks off. And if I need to count to over 20, I tend to ask other people to take their socks off. I’ve hosted some cracking parties over the last two decades.

I got an ‘A’ in GSCE Maths, by the way. F*** knows how.


Good to see Tucker and I collaborating on yet another ‘picture for Topic’, only two days after Doug and I had finally finished our deliberate week-long faffing over the previous, no doubt almost-indentical, piece of felt-tip artwork. I actually heard a snip of Jeremy Vine’s show on Radio 2 today, and one of his topics was ‘Is your child’s school deliberately winding down in the run-up to the summer holidays…?’ I can’t help but think if the rate of industry at Levendale Primary School has wound down any further over the last 25 years, the place might now actually be running backwards in time. I’ll have a walk past there tomorrow and see if I can spot an 11-year-old Stephen Mason trying to feed a protractor to Christopher Herbert.


The ‘model spitfire’ that I built was a bona fide Airfix kit, bought for me the previous Christmas by (I think) my Auntie Norma and saved for a rainy day. So, with my natural rebellious streak coming to the fore, I actually constructed it on a really sunny evening. Predictably, I managed to get my fingertips stuck together with modelling glue, and the sight of the half-completed aircraft provided my Dad with a chance to reel off his proud repertoire of German phrases, stolen wholesale from the 1950s British war films of his youth. These were, in order of preference…

1. Achtung, Scccchpitfire!!!
2. Gott in Himmel!
3. Schnell! Schnell!
4. Ja, Das Ist Mein Underpants

I’m not entirely sure which film the final phrase came from, but I imagine it was Anton Diffring that said it. NB My Spitfire didn’t look anywhere near as good as the one in the picture above. Its wings were all lop-sided, and it had smeared glue (and little fragments of toilet paper) all over the fuselage. Never… in the field of human conflict… has such a pig’s ear been made of an Airfix model… by such a ham-fisted little oik.

One of my literary heroes (and good friend, bless him) Harry Pearson points out in his excellent book ‘Achtung Schweinhunt!’ that, spiritually, the Second World War lasted until at least the late 1970s in this country, and he’s right… I have distinct memories of us boys drawing Vulcan and Lancaster bombers on scraps of paper at school in around 1978, and playing ‘German spies’ in the playground possibly a couple of years after that. Commando, Warlord and Victor comics were also still very widely read, and taught a generation of grotty British schoolboys that Japanese soldiers all shouted ‘AAAAAIIIIIEEEEEEE!’ as they died. 

I’m sure our school library also had a fair selection of action-packed Second World War-themed books for children, including a full range that tied in with the Action Man toys… in fact, yes! Here you go…


This is the one that I definitely remember being there, but there were others – including ‘Snow, Ice and Bullets’ (based on a February afternoon in Thornaby) and the marvellously-titled ‘The Tough Way Out’. And, on a slightly unrelated tangent, I’ve just been reminded by writing this rubbish of the other themed range of ‘Boy’s Fiction’ stocked by our school library… Willard Price’s ‘Adventure’ series…


I don’t think I ever read a single one of these, but Timothy Scott used to rave about them. Maybe I should give them a go sometime.

And wow, a Doctor Who repeat! These were few and far between in the 1980s, and as my family had yet to join the video recorder revolution, an absolutely unmissable opportunity to watch some ‘old’ Who on the telly. The King’s Demons is a strange little two-parter from Spring 1983, with Peter Davison’s Doctor visiting the 13th Century and discovering The Master faffing around in the court of King John, seemingly in an attempt to derail the Magna Carta. Nobody seems entirely sure why, but the story does contain Doctor Who’s own C3PO, a fabulously camp and tormented shape-shifting robot called Kamelion… (who, brilliantly, can play the lute)

I saw this on TV and instantly wanted one of my own, especially as he looked a dab hand at long division.


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