Wiffle Lever To Full!

Daleks, Death Stars and Dreamy Sci-Fi Nostalgia…

Extracts from Bob’s 1984 Diary… Volume 208

Thursday 26th July 1984

Woke up at 9.00 and got up at 10.15. At 10.45 Doug came down and we went for a ride on the kebble estate. We came back at 12.30 and had dinner, then we took Poggy Doggy and Tina down Private Lane. We came back at 2.30 and went down a BMX track in Kirklevington.

Came back at 4.00 and mucked about in the garden till 5.00, when Doug went home and I had tea. Started to write a new Fighting Fantasy, then at 7.00 I watched Kick Start. At 7.30 I watched Top of the pops, and at 8.00 I watched Time of your life.

Went to bed at 9.00.

At last, I cracked! Starved of Doug’s company for almost a full week, I clung on for a couple of days longer than was strictly necessary (just to antagonise my mother, really) before making the call and seeing if my best mate fancied ‘mucking about’ on our bikes for the day. And thus leaving the house properly for the first time since our summer holidays had begun. Hey, there’s only SO much ‘Why Don’t You?’ that a man can take before he, erm, switches off his television set and does something less boring instead…

During my downtime, I had – of course – surrounded myself with graph paper and made endless, carefully-drawn maps of my beloved Fighting Fantasy books, gently easing myself into a teenage wilderness of shameless, perpetual geekdom. Doug, however, had been far more adventurous, and had been off seeking brave new worlds and final frontiers on the edges of our known universe…

‘I’ve found somewhere new and geedy to go,’ he nodded sagely, as we cycled aimlessly around the ‘kebble estate’, a labyrinth of 1970s executive housing that sprawled across the mile-long gap between my house and Yarm High Street.

‘Sounds smart…’ I replied. ‘What is it…?

‘You’ll see…’ he nodded. ‘Don’t tell your mam, though…’

cow

As preparation for this exciting new adventure, I took Doug to see Arnold The Cow, the amiable bovine that I’d befriended ‘down Private Lane’, a little tarmac farm path that meandered from the main road to the towering private manor house of Kirklevington Hall. Accompanied by the excitable yelping of Poggy Doggy and the, well… equally excitable yelping of his insane collie sister Tina (or Poggles Ponsonby as she was increasingly becoming known to my clearly bored-out-of-his-mind Dad) we trooped half a mile from my house to this charming little rural refuge.

And I went back there today, only to find that Arnold The Cow’s old stamping ground has been invaded by… wait for it… here we go…

SHEEP! Yes, the mortal enemy of the cow. But which docile farmyard animal is better? There’s only one way to find out…

Doug, whose Mum was Australian, subscribed wholeheartedly to the Antipodean notion of the ‘walkabout’ and never seemed at all deterred by the slight drawback of living in the middle-class suburbs of Yarm rather than the sprawland bushland of the southern continent. He would regularly clamber onto his BMX and cycle for miles and miles in the pursuit of adventure, excitement and all the other things that Jedi are supposed to, erm, seek not. (It’s difficult to paraphrase Yoda without sounding like a foreign national learning English as a second language. Or, rather…  *clears throat*  ‘difficult it is to paraphrase Yoda without a foreign national learning English as a second language sounding like’)

yoda

 
Once we’d returned the dogs and glugged down a plastic tumbler of Panda Cola each, we set out. This voyage saw the conception of a little catchphrase that soundtracked and summed up our summer holidays from this day onwards. I remember reading that, in the early days of The Beatles, John Lennon would shout ‘Where are we going fellers?’, and Paul, George and Ringo would reply, with perfect timing,  ‘To the tippermost of the toppermost, Johnny’ as their transit van pulled into the latest grotty roadside cafe at the side of the A1.

Doug and I had our own version of this, spawned as I huffed and panted along the main road from my house, my trusty Chopper (fnarrr!) struggling to keep up with his speedy new multi-gear BMX.

‘Where are we going, Doug?’ I gasped.

‘I dunno, but we’re certainly going to get there!’ came the beaming reply. 

It made no sense at all, but we liked that, and we’d knowingly repeat this exchange at the start of every aimeless bike ride for the rest of the holidays. We also had, as a fallback, Doug’s other catchphrase ‘Kindly remove your posterior from my airspace’, which was coined as I overtook him on the main road and stuck my arse in the air, pedalling frantically like some insane, 11-year-old Tour De France wild card.

chopper

I’d forgotten all about these until I started writing this entry, but it’s lovely to have them swimming around my head again!

We cycled two miles along the main road to the leafy, well-off village of Kirklevington, then turned right past the Crown Hotel pub as the road descended into the heart of the village. Past the little playpark with its rickety seesaw, past the amusingly-titled ‘Pump Lane’ (which never failed to raise a smile) and then up a tiny, steep-sloped cut-through which brought us out into a deserted, very expensive-looking cul-de-sac.

‘Through there…’ said Doug, pointing vaguely into the distance. I followed the line of his finger and saw a slightly askew farm gate hanging from its hinges at the bottom of a drive belonging to an expensive-looking bungalow. On the other side of the gate was a thick expanse of woodland, and a myriad of signs proclaiming ‘PRIVATE PROPERTY – BRITISH GAS – DANGER – TRESPASSERS WILL BE PROSECUTED’

keepout

A winding, cracked path seemed to amble past the woodland and head off to some kind of gas substation in the distance. We thought about the moral implications of this impending trespass for approximately 40 nanoseconds before creeping up the drive, silently lifting our bikes over the gate, and disappearing into the trees.

And it was amazing!

What Doug had discovered, hidden away in this most private of woods, was a fully-fledged BMX track. Clearly nefariously constructed by Kirklevingtons local ne’er-do-wells, it was a little maze of tracks, jumps, ramps and ditches that wound around the trees. We jumped up and down with indescribable excitement and began pedalling manically through the trees in our own, private version of the speeder chase from Return Of The Jedi.

Looking at my diary, we can’t have stayed there for much longer than an hour, but it seemed like days went by in this new addition to our ever-expanding range of private, rural retreats from the adult world. We never really DID much in them… just rode around and jumped up and down, and – when we got tired – lay in the grass twiddling bits of sticky weed around our fingers and talking filth. But they were clearly important refuges for us, and – looking back – it’s the memory of these places that I treasure the most.

What IS that sticky weed called, by the way? This stuff…

stickyweeds

It used to be everywhere, and I’d regularly come home with bits of it stuck to the backs of my legs and T-shirt, and – if I’d really been seriously arsing around in the woods – in my hair. It doesn’t seem to be anywhere near as prevelant these days, though… it’s probably been outlawed by a local council Health and Safety ruling. One website I found suggests it’s called ‘Sticky Willy’, which would have reduced Doug and I to whimpering wrecks had we known that back in 1984.

Anyway, I had a wander back to the old BMX track today to see if it was accessible at all, but it isn’t… the gate and the woods are still there, but they’re very much part of somebody’s house and drive, so I thought I’d better leave well alone. As a scrawny 11-year-old clambering over the gate, the worst I really expected was to be told to bugger off. As a bearded 36-year-old, I suspect police intervention would probably have swiftly followed…

Anyway, two stupid, entirely pointless memories from this day:

1. As we climbed back over the fence on the way out, Doug was singing the song from an Australian TV advert for milk… with Glen Miller’s classic ‘In The Mood’ coverted to contain lyrics about being ‘in the milk mood’. I was hoping Youtube might have the actual advert, but sadly not. I did find this stupidly entertaining, though…

2. The Fighting Fantasy book that I started writing was completely inspired by our new woodland discovery, complete with BMX-related monsters doing wild and crazy things, brazenly ignoring warning signs erected by the Middle Earth Gas Board.

OK, the usual weekly trawl through the Top of the Pops archive…

• Frankie Goes To Hollywood – Two Tribes [Performance]
• Hazel Dean – Whatever I Do(Wherever I Go) [Performance]
• Jeffrey Osborne – On The Wings Of Love [Performance]
• Neil – A Hole In My Shoe [Repeat Performance]
• Phil Fearon & Galaxy – Everybodys Laughing [Performance]
• Queen – Its A Hard Life [Promo Video]
• Shakatak – Down On The Street [Performance]
• Windjammer – Tossing & Turning [Promo Video]

There’s a lot of repeated stuff and videos this week, so you have to wonder if half the ‘Pops’ staff had buggered off on holiday. Not Janice Long and Dave Lee Travis though, who were holding the fort with their usual aplomb. Here’s a bit of Shakatak to help us all through the day…

By the way, after six days of brazenly ignoring my mother’s pleas to ‘get out of the house’, on the day that I finally took her advice, she went mad at me when I’d got back. My fault, really, for stupidly ignoring Doug’s recommendation not to tell her where we’d been.

 ‘You went to KIRKLEVINGTON??? Down that BUSY MAIN ROAD???? It’s TWO MILES AWAY!!! Are you STARK RAVING MAD????’

I watched Kick Start in a silent sulk.

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8 Comments»

  Justin wrote @

Well that sticky weed does look quite a lot like one of the piccys on the Wikipedia entry for ‘Galium aparine’which does indeed have various ‘common names’ including Sticky willy (also: Cleavers, Clivers, Goosegrass, Stickyweed, Catchweed, Robin-run-the-hedge and Coachweed)… you’re right that it doesn’t seem so common now (and that Sticky Willy would have been great to know when we were 11!)

  bobfischer wrote @

Aha! I thought we might have called it ‘Goosegrass’ as a kid, but when I googled that I found pictures of a different weed entirely. I guess lots of these common names probably varied from region to region.

If I’d heard ‘Robin-run-the-hedge’ when I was 11, that would have sparked me off into no end of Robin of Sherwood fantasies…

And I’m glad it’s not just me that hardly sees it anymore! It was absolutely EVERYWHERE when I was a kid – tangled up in every single hedgerow. But now I walk my dogs in lots of local woods and fields, and can’t remember having seen it for years (and I would do, as they’d end up all tangled up in the stuff)

Can we launch a ‘Save The Sticky Willy’ campaign? Who do we write to?

  Justin wrote @

Can we launch a ‘Save The Sticky Willy’ campaign?

I’ll start the ball rolling, if someone can tell me how to make cuttings… yep, I have some in my back garden!
…and you’ll be pleased to know that when I discovered this the first thing I did was surreptitiously stick a piece on my wife’s back and not tell her until ages later, grining like a loon all the time we were doing the washing up 🙂

  Chris Orton wrote @

That sticky stuff used to be everywhere! And it had fuzzy, hairy little… pairs of… er… balls on it didn’t it?

I’m fairly certain that we once covered somebody in it from head to toe. Nasty little swines that we were!

  bobfischer wrote @

Justin – fantastic… I hope the offending weed was attached to your wife’s back via an affectionate pat and a loving, complimentary remark. Just to rub it in, y’know…!

I’ll have a deliberate look on my next dog walk and see if I can find some as well… it MUST still be out there somewhere!

Chris – I know exactly what you mean, but is that definitely from the same plant? We used to call them ‘sticky buds’ when I was kid – tiny fuzzy green balls that would attach themselves to anything. My dogs still get covered in them.

I once loaded one into an air rifle and shot Paul ‘Frankie’ Frank with it. Drew blood from his hand. Sometime in summer 1981. How come, in the early 1980s, an air rifle was a perfectly legitimate ‘want’ for boys under the age of 10? A few of my friends had one, with the full blessing of their parents.

It’d make front pages these days, I’m sure…

  Justin wrote @

Re stickybuds… yep my long haired cat is forever getting them caught in his (extrememly bushy) tail, like your dogs. Great fun trying to get them out if he’s in a bad mood; luckily he’s a pretty laid back cat!

Re air rifles… just don’t get me started! I actually never had one (my Mum didn’t like them) but that didn’t stop my Dad buying me a 10-12 inch Kukri (Gurkah knife) when I was about 12… I’d get locked up for 5 years for having that now!

  Justin wrote @

Oh, and BTW it’s now illegal for anyone under 17 in the UK to even own an airgun. Below 14 you can’t even shoot one unless supervised by someone over 21 or at an offical range…

  bobfischer wrote @

Amazing how times change, at the turn of the 1980s airguns were definitely seen as a perfectly legitimate thing for a 10 or 11-year-old to own… the kind of thing you’d get as a ‘main’ Christmas present, akin to a bike or a drumkit. I had a few friends at primary school who had one in their bedroom and would regularly tramp off into one of our local woods on a weekend and loose off a few shots and random inanimate (and occasionally animate) objects.

The very thought fills me with terror now!

Our secondary school had an insane knife craze as well, around 1986. It came to head on a summertime visit to the PGL Outward Bound course in Keswick, when ALL of my friends – during a visit to town – popped into one of the outdoor shops and bought huge, curved hunting knives with their weeks’ spending money. No questions asked. We were 13 at the time.


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