Wiffle Lever To Full!

Daleks, Death Stars and Dreamy Sci-Fi Nostalgia…

Extracts from Bob’s 1984 Diary… Volume 194

Thursday 12th July 1984

Woke up at 7.50 and got up at 8.00. At 8.30 I went to school and it was maths groups. Doug, Ozzie, Stothard and I did a maths game on a treasure island. At 12.00 I had dinner and at 12.30 we played cricket. When I came in we did some more of our game and at 3.15 I came home.

Went down to Doug’s and we came back to see the garage which had burnt down! Then we went to the Valley, where we met Stan, Huggy, Pitty, Whacky, Granger and Merrington. After a go on a geedy ramp we came home and I had tea, then I went out till 7.00, when I watched Junior Kick Start.

At 7.30 I watched Top of the Pops, then at 8.00 I watched Hi de Hi. At 8.30 I went out and at 9.00 I went to bed.

Some new names! The hot weather must have gone to my head, and I was – amazingly – starting to mingle outside my usual water-tight social group of Doug, Ozzie, Frankie, Huggy, and… erm… that was about it. ‘Stothard’ (notice how I skilfully make her look like one of the lads in my diary, to avoid any embarrassing questions about – yuk – ‘girls’ from my Mum) was Debbie Stothard, a dry-witted dark-haired girl who was happy, at the age of 11, to tell any passing teacher that she wanted to work in genetic research when she grew up.

Which must have come as welcome relief to Mr Millward, no doubt completely sick of hearing my frequently-stated ambition to become Teesside’s first-ever Time Lord.


I have vague memories of our pirate-related maths game, although I think – to gain the treasure – a bit of long division was required, so no doubt I resigned myself to a life of poverty long before the anchors were pulled up. We designed the game ourselves, and I remember having endless fun drawing the treasure map, and filling it full of caves, mountains, impenetrable woodlands and, erm.. goblin strongholds. Altogether now, you can take the boy out of Middle Earth, but you can’t take…


AND THE GARAGE!!! I’d forgotten all about this. On the corner of the street, over the road from my parents’ house, stood a ramshackle old petrol station. Long before the corporate giants took over the nation’s forecourts, this was a tiny, independently-run outpost owned by a fiftysomething bloke called Ron (a cigar-smoking Malcolm Allison lookalike who wore a camel-hair coat and drove an Austin Princess) and – fantastically – his superannuated Dad, permanently clad in a long, grey overcoat and aged at least 130. 


If you wanted petrol (of the full-fat, Four Star variety… none of this carbon neutral, unleaded nonsense) then Ron Snr would shuffle across the forecourt and ‘fill her up’ while you went into a ramshackle wooden cabin and paid Ron Jnr with a roll of banknotes, or – if he was in a good mood – a cheque. While you were paying, Ron Snr would totter back in, and –  if I was present – tell me a joke recently unearthed from the pre-Cambrian era archeological joke recovery project ongoing around the back of Middlesbrough’s Dorman Museum.

‘How do you make an apple turnover?
Push it down a hill…’

I’d smile politely while sucking on a red Fruit Polo.


Looking back, it’s amazing how tricky it was to actually acquire money in the1970s and 1980s. I don’t think ‘holes in the wall’ reached Yarm until the late 1980s, and our family certainly didn’t have credit cards (or even debit cards) until around the same time. In 1984, I’m pretty sure both of my parents were paid with a literal ‘pay packet’… ie a roll of banknotes in an envelope, complete with a remittance slip to indicate how much tax and national insurance had been deducted. As a result, our weekly money – for use on food, household gubbins, petrol, the occasional cheeky pint of John Smith’s Best Bitter etc – just came out of the envelope on the front room mantelpiece. And every week my Mum would catch the bus into Stockton and pay any surplus into their Halifax Building Society joint account.

Anyway, I digress…! As I set out on the usual half-mile walk from my house to Doug’s, even my usually impenetrable air of self-obsession was punctured by the fact that… THE GARAGE WAS ON FIRE!!! Or, at least, the little hut was. Two generations of Rons were standing anxiously on the street corner watching their business go up in smoke as fire engine upon fire engine (possibly even including the legendary Simon Snorkel) screeched around the roundabout and doused the roaring flames in thick, white jets of sickly-smelling foam.


‘I had 27 boxes of Double Deckers in the back office’ I heard Ron Jnr weep, disconsolately. I did what any public-spirited young citizen would have done in the same situation. I crossed over the road to get a better look.

At which point my Mum, clearly alerted by the noise (and flames, and thick, choking smoke) grabbed me firmly by the arm.

‘This is AMAZING!!!’ I burbled. ‘I’ve never seen a real-life fire before!!!!’

‘Get away from the flames, you stupid sod,’ she snapped. ‘There’s 10,000 gallons of petrol under this forecourt’

I hadn’t thought of it quite like that before. I nodded sagely, and ran the rest of the way to Doug’s. Halfway there, I passed half the pre-pubescent population of Yarm, crawling out of the estates like swarming ants to have a bloody good gawp. And good for them. ‘The garage is on fire!!!!!’ I gasped, as Doug’s Mum opened the front door to let me in. ‘What?!?!?’ she yelped. ‘Get your shoes on everybody, we’re going to have a look…’

You had to make your own entertainment in those days. There were only four TV channels, and it was fifteen years till the next Star Wars film was due.


‘The Valley’ was our new, slightly more (cough) mature name for the tangled, dangerous patch of riverside woodland previously known to us as ‘Deadman’s Creek’. Just in case you’ve forgotten, I’ll shamelessly flog the arse off the film I made there a couple of months ago (it’s dead boring now, and bears no resemblance to the dark, scary wilderness where Andrew Sugden once claimed he’d invoked The Devil by putting a 10p piece on top of a dead tree stump and running round it three times)…

It’s funny the things you remember. I’ve no recollection at all of who ‘Granger’ was (any former Levendaleites want to put me out of my misery?) but I do remember a conversation I had with Paul ‘Whacky’ Whitehead on this very day, as it invoked my own personal Devil and made my blood run cold.

‘We’re getting the first Sex Education film in the morning…’ he grinned, with a gleam in his eye. 

‘REALLY???’ I stammered. ‘What’s actually in it?’

He paused for thought for a second. ‘They say “THIS IS A MAN” (at which point he mimed the traditional ‘flasher’s pose’, jumping into a star-shape and pulling open an imaginary dirty mac) and then “THIS IS A WOMAN'” (accompanied by a slightly more demure and feminine flasher’s pose)

The rest of us, including the mysterious Granger, collapsed into hysterical laughter. On the way home, I quizzed my personal smut guru and spiritual leader Doug about the matter.

‘What do they really show you in the Sex Education films?’ I asked, turning uncharacteristically sincere for a second.

‘They show you people havin’ it off,’ he replied. I didn’t sleep that night.


I think I dozed off a bit during Top of the Pops, though. Radio 1 heavyweights John Peel and Tommy Vance presenting, and the following motley assortment parading their dubious wares…

• Alison Moyet – Love Resurrection [Promo Video]
• Bluebells – Young At Heart [Performance]
• Echo & The Bunnymen – Seven Seas [Performance]
• Frankie Goes To Hollywood – Two Tribes [Performance]
• Neil – A Hole In My Shoe [Performance]
• Phil Fearon & Galaxy – Everybody’s Laughing [Performance]
• Shakatak – Down On The Street [Performance]
• Tina Turner – What’s Love Got To Do With It [Promo Video]

Actually, this isn’t bad, is it? My love affair with Frankie Goes To Hollywood had reached new peaks at this stage. Two Tribes was still at No 1, but their previous single Relax had shot back up the charts to No 2, giving them an incredible double whammy! It was still banned by the BBC, but I’d been tipped off that commercial radio were still playing it, so I’d managed to tape a copy from the Sunday night rundown on our local Radio Tees station.

They were still turning up relentlessly to mime Two Tribes in the ‘Pops studio every week, and clearly livening things up for themselves by dressing up and fooling around. One week they did it with the full band decked out in beautiful white tuxedos, another week drummer Ped and bassist Mark swopped places and cheekily winked at each other all the way through. Naturally, Youtube doesn’t have either of these legendary moments, so treat yourself to this instead…

I’ve heard rumours recently that the full original line-up are planning on a reunion tour in 2010. If it happens, I’ll be there… I’ll be down the front… and I’ll have tears streaming down my face. 



  Fiona Tims wrote @

I love fruit polos and went through a phase in my last temp job of having a packet everyday.

I’m still giggling at the thought of everyone from the estate running to see the fire-it’s still like that here now!

  bobfischer wrote @

There’s nothing brings a community together more quickly than having a good gawp at somebody else’s misfortune. 😉

I didn’t realise you could still get Fruit Polos! I’ll have to see if I can find some on the way home.

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