Wiffle Lever To Full!

Daleks, Death Stars and Dreamy Sci-Fi Nostalgia…

Extracts from Bob’s 1984 Diary… Volume 203

Saturday 21st July 1984

Woke up at 8.30 and got up at 9.00. At 9.15 we went to Stockton, and I looked at the minitures in the model shop. Came back at 11.15 and started to map the forest of doom. At 12.00 I had dinner then I went out and played football.

Soon came in though, and finished mapping the Forest of doom. At 5.00 I had tea, then I started to outline the map. At 6.00 I watched The pyramid game, then at 6.30 I finished outlining.

At 7.00 I watched Ultra Quiz, then at 7.30 I went outside and played football with dad. Came in at 9.00 and went to bed.

The first day of the rest of my life! Freedom, adventure and excitement! And… erm, torrential rain. Lashing horizontally across the garden and battering the windows all day. So much, then, for the Great British Summer.


The first day of the summer holidays was always a strange, slightly surreal experience. Like Christmas Day, the anticipation always seemed far more feverishly exciting than the actual thing itself… and, on both occasions, I generally found myself standing in the front room thinking ‘OK… what do I do now?’ (An experience I now repeat on a thrice-daily basis, but only because I’ve forgotten why I went in there in the first place)

terileptilThe feeling was exacerbated by the fact that time passed at a significantly slower rate back then. I’m not sure if this was because a) I was 11, b) the pace of life in 1984 was more leisurely or c) Yarm was caught in a fiendish temporal vortex caused by a rift in the space/time continuum, the fearsome vanguard of an alien invasion force.

Possibly a combination of all three. 

But the six-week school holiday seemed like the equivalent of a 21st century YEAR (and a 1984 year felt like a long-term prison sentence, with Mr Hirst as our Fulton McKay. ‘Fisch-AH!!!’)  Things could change immeasurably during those 42 leisurely days, and – every September – I ALWAYS felt as though I was returning to school a different person… I looked different, I acted different, I even talked different (usually because Doug had taught me some exciting new words, picked up from one of his sister’s boyfriends). Nowadays, six weeks is over in the blink of an eye. I’ve got dirty socks in the laundry basket that have been there longer than that.

So, after months of build-up, I found myself at a bit of a loose end on my first morning of outright freedom. It was raining, I’d been on holiday for 45 minutes, and I had ‘nowt to do, Mam’. So I took a step that – in retrospect – would set me firmly on the road to geekdom forever… (brace yourself)


Oh, the horror. The Stockton Modeller was a proper, old-fashioned musty, wood-panelled shop at the end of the High Street… it had frosted windows, a solid mahogany door and – inside – was so dark and dingy that more experienced customers were wandering around wearing Aldis lamps on their heads. It had been there for decades, selling dusty Airfix kits and tiny pots of lead-fuelled paint to tank-topped boys and bespectacled gentlemen alike, and was a permanent fixture on the Teesside retail landscape. I have a feeling my Dad had actually been a regular visitor during his 1940s childhood, racing to press his face up against the windows the very moment that the ARP warden sounded the all-clear around the Roseworth estates. And the elderly, doddery gent behind the counter looked as though he’d been part of the fixtures and fittings since the late 19th century. I’m still not convinced that he hadn’t just been idling on a street corner one day in 1875 and been unable to escape as the shop was built around him.

I instantly fell in love with the place.

The ‘minitures’, I shudder to report, were something I’d read about in the new issue of Warlock, the exciting new magazine dedicated entirely to Fighting Fantasy gamebooks. For those without a deep and all-pervading knowledge of fantasy role-play (What have you DONE with your lives?!?!), they’re tiny, inch-high models of characters in the games… dwarves, elves, hobgoblins, orcs and other assorted nasties.


I’d decided these were to be my new passion, and my heart pounded with geeky excitement as I slowly rotated the creaky revolving display stand and saw an army of Middle Earth’s most-wanted gazing impassively back at me. Forget Star Wars figures, those were for KIDS. This was the future, and I wanted it now…

I hadn’t had my pocket money though, so I’d have to make do with some ‘mapping’ instead. I’d learnt this from Warlock as well, and decided that my project for the summer was to make detailed, gorgeous plans of all the settings for my Fighting Fantasy gamebooks. I managed to persuade my Mum to buy me a pad of graph paper from WH Smiths (presumably she thought this had more educational content than an inch-high orc chieftain holding a tiny broadsword… Hah! The FOOL!!!) and spent the rest of the afternoon lost in The Forest Of Doom* as a tropical monsoon swept across the front garden.

(*Not to be confused with its slightly less-exciting sequel, The Forest Of Dean. There proved to be a surprisingly little demand for Gloucestershire-based fantasy adventures)

theforestofdoomAnd, unusually, those aching, dragging hours flew by. I spent five hours commandeering the coffee table in the front room, amidst a mountain of graph paper and pens and dice… muttering under my breath as Ghouls, Wyverns and Wild Hill Men picked me off amidst the murky trees, with BBC2’s Pages From Ceefax burbling away in the background.

And then my Mum gave me three options. If you want to attack the Goblin, turn to 286. If you want to search the cave, turn to 313. If you want to avoid a good hiding, clear all this rubbish off the table and help me put the tea trays out before your Dad gets in from work.

I cast a Spell of Surly Sulkiness and settled down for The Pyramid Game.

Pyramid Game(NB Fantastically, I’ve just discovered to my shame that the Stockton Modeller still exists! The musty, High Street shop of my youth certainly vanished sometime in the 1990s, but the business is still going strong at a different location and with a nice snazzy website… http://www.stocktonmodeller.co.uk/ This has made me feel all warm and fuzzy inside, so much so that I think I’ll have a wander in there sometime soon and buy a few tins of Humbrol paint for old times’ sake.

I feel like I’ve just discovered some ancient, elderly relative, presumed long-dead, is actually alive and well and wanting to befriend me on Facebook)


1 Comment»

  bigbadbith wrote @

Nice one!

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