Wiffle Lever To Full!

Daleks, Death Stars and Dreamy Sci-Fi Nostalgia…

Extracts from Bob’s 1984 Diary… Volume 196

Saturday 14th July 1984

Woke up at 8.30 and got up at 8.40. Got the 9.20 bus to Stockton and I got some model paint from Leslie Browns. At 12.30 we came home and I painted the spitfire. Then I went out and played football, and when I came in a put the stickers on the spitfire.

Then I went out for the rest of the afternoon and at 5.00 I had tea. At 5.10 I watched Whiz kids, and at 6.00 we went to Mr Brackenbury’s house and got some carpet. Came back at 6.45 and at 7.00 I watched Ultra Quiz.

At 7.30 I went out and at 9.00 I went to bed.

Achtung, Spitfire!!!

I’d started piecing together this dusty Airfix model (a leftover from Christmas… not sure which one, though) a couple of weeks earlier, and was now – amazingly, given my fruitfly-length attention span – giving it the finishing touches, no doubt preparing for a ill-advised inaugural flight out of the bathroom window.

spitfire

And there was no better place to go for a few finishing touches than Leslie Brown’s. A legendary, family-run Teesside toyshop, Leslie Brown’s filled my childhood with several years’ worth of Star Wars-related bliss. It was a rare visit to Stockton that didn’t result in me gleefully clutching a plastic Darth Vader (or Luke Skywalker, or Han Solo, or Zuckuss or Dengar or R5-D4) on the 294 bus home. I also went through a phase of buying ‘colouring posters’ – huge, A2 monochrome depictions of Scooby Doo or Battle of the Planets ready to be shabbily scribbled over with my collection of leaky felt-tip pens.

lesliebrownsshop

The modelling section of Leslie Brown’s was up a snaking flight of stairs (where Boba Fett once made a personal appearance in the Autumn of 1980… I still have a signed Empire Strikes Back book somewhere!) amidst a wonderland of model railways, tin soldiers and huge, dusty Lego kits. I bought the grey and khaki paint required, clutched them to my chest all the way home, then settled down on a surprisingly overcast afternoon to finish my masterpiece. No doubt with paint all over my face and my tongue sticking out.

lesliebrownsbag2The stickers, of course, were the Spitfire’s legendary ’roundels’, a word that already – even at this tender stage in my Doctor Who fandom – made me think of the circular patterns on the wall in the TARDIS console room, the only other context in which I’ve heard the word used. Terrence Dicks always used it in his Target novelisations. Obviously I got impatient with my stickering, and decided to apply them just a little bit too soon after painting the Spitfire’s fuselage, as a result of which they were both always a little bit wonky. 

You have to make sacrifices when there’s a war on. 

I’d forgotten all about Mr Brackenbury! He was the governer of the Young Offender’s Detention Centre hidden amongst the trees on the opposite side of the road to our house. A charming, well-spoken gent who – several times a week – stopped to chat at our garden gate in the middle of walking an absolutely gigantic St Bernard dog* called (I think) Ria. I was never sure if she was named after Wendy Craig’s downtrodden housewife in Butterflies. If she was, then I suspect Mrs Brackenbury was making a subversive political statement about their domestic arrangements.

(*as opposed to all those really small St Bernard dogs out there, obviously)

I’ve just had a rummage in the cupboard, and – fantastically – here’s Mr Brackenbury (and Ria) talking to my Mum at that very garden gate, probably sometime in early 1983…

mrbrackenbury

(Notice our cat, Sooty, looking decidedly nonplussed. And our house up for sale as well! I’d forgotten about this… from the moment we bought the house in 1976, my parents were perenially planning to ‘put it on the market and move somewhere quieter’, as the traffic on the main road increasingly drove my Dad up the wall. They finally got their wish… 24 years later, in May 2000!)

Mr Brackenbury had just taken early retirement, and he and his wife were in the process of selling up and moving lock, stock and barrel to join the rest of their family in Australia. They’d very kindly agreed to sell us some of their household furnishings at a knockdown price, and today was Carpet Day!

No doubt my Dad, in his typical spirit of derring-do, had said ‘It’s only a quarter of a mile, we’ll carry the bloody thing over’. So that was why I was ‘volunteered’ to help with the transportation. Two strange little memories from that day…

kennethwilliams

1. As we were standing in the Brackenbury’s front room, Kenneth Williams was on TV – probably a guest on ‘Child’s Play’ or some other early evening panel show. ‘Oh, I do ADORE him,’ cooed Mrs Brackenbury, a twinkly-eyed woman with close-cropped hair and gigantic tinted spectacles. ‘I assume he’s a fairy, is he?’

‘Oh, I don’t know…’ said my Mum, clearly a little flummoxed. At this stage in my life I had no idea what a ‘fairy’ was, although I guessed we weren’t talking about Mavis Cruet from Willo The Wisp and her sinister, flighty brethren. 

2. That carpet was weighed a bloody TON. It was dark blue with swirly patterns, had probably cost them the price of a small African Village back in 1972, and me and my parents carried it by hand across the busiest main road in Yarm.

I was a spent force by the end of Ultra Quiz, and Willie Rushton knew it.

(Leslie Brown’s closed for good in early 1991, by the way. I went on the last day and shed a single, salty tear when I saw the workmen tearing out the shop fittings and smashing up the shelves that had once played host to a thousand heart-bursting daydreams’ worth of Star Wars figures.  I was 18 years old)

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3 Comments»

  Fiona Tims wrote @

Did your folks have the ‘For Sale’ sign up for all those years???

I love that you got sentimental about your toy shop closing down. We don’t even have a toy shop or a hardware shop in town-just the usual generic crap. I wonder if anyone will be sentimental about them closing down?? (cherring more like, I know I will be!)

  Chris Byers wrote @

It was so sad to see Leslie Brown’s close down. It was a magical place with every toy, game or model that a child could ever want. Toys-R-Us may be massive in comparison but where is the magic? The modern out of town shopping centres will never be able to create the same sort of atmosphere as shops like Leslie Brown’s. I wonder if the kids of today will look back on Toys-R-Us with the same fondness? I doubt it.

  bobfischer wrote @

Ha! No, the ‘For Sale’ sign wasn’t up permanently. It seemed that every eighteen months or so my parents would jut out their jawlines and declare it was ‘time to move on’. The house would then be placed on the market for six months before they decided that ‘it’s not the right time’ and they would be better off staying put for the time being. At one point their plan was to buy the house next door but one – I’ve no idea why!

This pattern repeated itself for almost 24 years. Not once did I ever genuinely think we would be actually moving house. I was four years old when we moved in, and they were still living there in 1999 when I moved out, aged 27.

Weirdly, I drive past the house nearly every day and it doesn’t bring any pang of nostalgia back to me at all. Really strange, considering I’m usually such a sentimental bugger. Maybe it would be different if I actually went inside.

And yeah, I think you’re both right… those old, family-run shops had a poky, musty magic that I don’t think the megastores in the out-of-town shopping arcades can ever hope to reproduce. They were so small, yet utterly packed full of the most amazing toys, and they were run with utter love. The Brown family (and the Parrish family in Middlesbrough, of Romer Parrish fame) had run their shops for generations. It was in their blood, and you could tell.

I don’t think today’s kids will feel any more sentimental towards Toys R Us than I feel about, say, the Presto supermarkets that I went in as a kid.


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