Wiffle Lever To Full!

Daleks, Death Stars and Dreamy Sci-Fi Nostalgia…

Extracts from Bob’s 1984 Diary… Volume 197

Sunday 15th July 1984

Woke up at 9.30 and got up at 10.00. At 10.30 I rang Doug and at 10.45 he came down. We went to the mud track and had a muck on, then at 12.30 we came back. I had dinner, then we played some tapes upstairs.

At 2.00 Doug went home for his dinner, then at 2.10 he came back because it wasn’t ready. We mucked on in the front garden, then at 3.00 Doug went. At 3.30 I watched Battlestar Galactica and at 4.30 Doug came back and we played football on Conyers field.

At 4.45 we came back and I had tea, then we watched The Goodies at 5.00. At 5.30 we went out on Levendale, then at 6.30 Doug went home and I came back. I recorded Neil off the radio, then at 7.00 I went out.

Came back in at 9.30 and had a shower, then at 9.30 I watched That’s life. Went to bed at 10.10.

Poor Doug! At least he got some exercise in on this blisteringly hot summers day. It was exactly half a mile from Doug’s house to mine, so by my reckoning he travelled a total three miles between the two locations, mainly because he didn’t know whether his dinner was ready or not. I was about to go on a typically patronising rant about kids today with their mobile phones, blah blah, don’t know they’re born, blah blah, in our day, etc etc… then realised that, at any point, Doug could just have phoned his Mum from our house. Bah!

I’m amazed he was so desperate to be over at our place, as I’m pretty sure our house was in a state of magnificent chaos at this stage… my Dad was laying down the Brackenburys’ carpet (see yesterday’s entry) across our adjoining front room and dining room, so half of our furniture had been wheeled out into the kitchen while my Dad crawled around the floor swearing profusely as he attempted to hack apart pieces of underlay* with a kitchen knife.

(*Not the modern, foam-based underlay, the old-school stuff – a thin layer of unidentifiable hard-wearing fabric that looked like it had been knitted from the coat of a Yorkshire Terrier)

Amidst all of this, I gleefully added to the tension by demanding that I was allowed to watch my ‘favourite programme’ (it was nothing of the sort) Battlestar Galactica in the middle of the afternoon. ‘Can’t you just bugger off with your mates and get out of the bloody road?’ grumbled my Dad, as I pulled the last remaining armchair underneath the front room window and switched on the TV…

(That’s Patrick ‘Avengers’ Macnee doing the voiceover, isn’t it? First time I’ve realised that!)

This was, of course, OLD SCHOOL Battlestar Galactica… the brilliant late 1970s series. I’d fallen in love with Apollo, Starbuck and the gang after seeing the 1979 film at the ABC Cinema in Middlesbrough – a nice bit of sci-fi methodone to tide me over before the next shot of pure Star Wars heroin came along. Tyne Tees spent most of the summer of 1984 showing the accompanying TV series on Sunday afternoons, and I remember really well that this was the episode in which Lt Starbuck (Dirk Benedict) meets an ageing conman who claims to be his long-lost father.


The conman, brilliantly, was played by Fred Astaire, who’d taken the role because his grandchildren were big science-fiction fans. ‘Is that Fred Astaire?’ grunted my Dad, still on all fours with a kitchen knife clenched between his teeth. ‘Bugger me, he must be desperate…’

Good to see me finally obtaining a copy of Neil’s current chart smash ‘Hole In My Shoe’ from the crackly chart rundown on my tiny (and, indeed, tinny) transistor radio, anyway. The song’s hypnotic, surreal, psychedelic vibe was still pounding through my head as I embarked on (dramatic music, please) A SECRET MISSION…

I’ve disguised this in my diary, but it definitely happened on this day. Normally when I write that I ‘went out’, I just mean that I pottered around the garden with a football or swung about a bit on our tarzie, but on this occasion I actually did go on an adventure. At some point during the day Doug had promised to show me a ‘secret entrance’ to the vast, sprawling farmer’s field visible diagonally opposite my garden. We cycled past this field every day on the way to each others houses, but it was bordered by a towering, seemingly impenetrable hedge of hawthorne, bramble and other assorted spiky nasties that we’d tried and failed to negotiate in the past.


Doug promised that if I came down to his place for 7pm, he’d show me his exciting new discovery. So I did, without telling my Mum what we were up to, and without mentioning it in my diary.  I met Doug at the bottom of his front garden, and we cycled to seemingly the thickest part of the hedge before he waved his arm and nodded sagely to me.

‘This is it’.

We left our bikes in the dried-up ditch (covering them over with leaves and branches, just to be on the safe side), before Doug lay flat on his front at the bottom of the hedge and somehow managed to squeeze himself through a gap that seemed no bigger than the average letterbox.

‘Come on,’ he shouted from the other side, ‘It’s easier than it looks!’

I gingerly flopped to the ground, shut my eyes against the cascade of muck, birdshit and spiders that dropped from the hedge, and somehow wriggled through. And, when I emerged, I saw…

…a sight so glorious that we might as well have passed through a portal to another dimension. The field was a sprawling, sunbaked expanse of yellow nothingness beneath a luminous blue sky, with towering, rectangular haystacks dotting the horizon. It was utterly silent, and seemed to belong to a different reality… the air was hot and hazy, and shimmered before our eyes, and the old houses in the distance looked like cracked, ancient paintings.


‘Let’s get up on one of the haystacks!!!’ shouted Doug, already pelting across the field with mad, loping strides.

So we did. We found a prickly, pale yellow office block of a haystack and clambered to the top, where we sat for the rest of the night – two 11-year-old best friends surveying the world from the bestest secret place they’d ever found. 

‘We need a name for this place,’ I said. ‘I think we should call it… (I paused for dramatic effect) Guanderlarn’.

I’ve no idea where this came from, presumably a vague conglomeration of all the mythical names I’d read about in the Narnia Chronicles and Tolkien and Fighting Fantasy. It seemed to fit, though. We were on our private, luxury haystack in Guanderlarn.

‘And we’re the kings of it,’ smiled Doug. I’d never felt so happy in my life.

If you want a heartbreaking end to this story, it’s that Guanderlarn doesn’t exist any more. Only in my head. By the end of the 1980s, our beloved mystical refuge had been sold to developers, and – although the hedge is still there – now it’s merely a portal to one of the largest, most expensive executive housing estates on Teesside.

I think Doug and I got the best out of Yarm. Although, naturally, we kept it quiet.



  Fiona Tims wrote @

Poor kids today miss out on a lot of these magical places because a lot of them have been built on 😦
I loved your description of that day-brought a smile to my face. Wish I could discover a place like that now!

I can never say underlay without thinking of some mexican saying “underlay, underlay”

  bobfischer wrote @

Absolutely, so many of my favourite little woods and fields and wild places are gone now. Kids just have endless estates to play on now, it must be very boring.

And yes, I do the ‘underlay’ thing as well… *blushes*. I think it’s a Speedy Gonzales thing…

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