Wiffle Lever To Full!

Daleks, Death Stars and Dreamy Sci-Fi Nostalgia…

Extracts from Bob’s 1984 Diary… Volume 213

Tuesday 31st July 1984

Woke up at 9.00 and got up at 10.30. At 11.00 Doug came down and we went down the first BMX course and did some jumps. We did some stunts in the lay-by, then we came back and wrote a calculator program for the ZX81.

At 1.30 we had dinner, then we went down the copse, and got the tarzie down. After having a geedy spin around on it we came back and had a play fight. At 5.30 Doug went home and I played on the ZX81 till 7.20, when I watched Carry on Doctor.

Went to bed at 9.00.

At last! Put out the bunting, sound the horns and raise the flags… I’ve found somewhere more overgrown, untamed and inaccessible than it was in 1984!!!

Regular readers will no doubt already be bored to tears by my ramblings about how all the glorious, wild places of my 1980s childhood have been tidied up, pulled down and/or replaced by identical executive housing. But today I went back to ‘the copse’… the beautiful, wooded refuge that my mate Doug and I discovered in the summer of 1984 and made our own… stringing ‘tarzie’ ropes up into the trees and passing endless afternoons climbing the trees and talking muck.

I write about the day we discovered the place in this diarry entry… (and the copse gets a big healthy mention in Chapter 9 of ‘Wiffle Lever To Full!’ as well, in the Robin Of Sherwood bit. Now available in handy paperback size, ideal for the summer holidays, plug plug…)

Today I went back to the copse, exactly 25 years after our visit in my diary entry above. It’s just at the side of a main road, opposite some houses, so I did my best not to look like a shady, bearded 36-year-old man skulking around in the bushes and attempting to crawl through a tiny gap in the hedgerow only really big enough for 11-year-olds to access. And this is what I found…

A gorgeous place on a lovely day, with sunlight streaming through the leaves and lots of little buzzy things floating aroud in the syrupy air and biting tiny chunks from my arms. I couldn’t believe that it wasn’t possible to get a BIT closer to our old clearing, so I dived back onto the grass verge and managed to squash through an even smaller gap in the hedgerow (being slightly disturbed to notice that a man in the house opposite was yabbering away on the phone in the hallway… clearly alerting the police to the presence of The Phantom Hedgeknacker Of Olde Yarme Towne)

And this time I cracked it! This is DEFINITELY the little gap that Doug and I used to crawl through…

Still lodged in my equally overgrown and tangled memory is the fact that, throughout the summer of 1984, there was a little piece of corrugated asbestos – clearly left over from somebody’s extension or loft coversion – stuck in the bushes to the left of this makeshift entrace. These days that would probably be enough to have the entire area sealed off, and men in protective orange suits arriving in armoured vans. Pretty much like the final 30 minutes of ET.

Back in 1984, being left to take your chances with deadly, potentially lethal substances was pretty much part of everyday life. Just look at our school dinners, and the ubiquity of Arctic Roll*. 

(*great potential album title)

arcticrollAnyway, this was about as close as I could get to our old stamping ground (I suppose it might have been better if I WAS able to do some stamping, but I wasn’t wearing very sensible footwear… I put running shoes on, in case the armoured police vans pulled up while I was there…)

I’ve never seen six-foot nettles before, so I’m still not convinced that some strange, genetic experiment (like in Woody Allen’s Sleeper) hasn’t been conducted in those woods since my last visit in 2007. There was certainly some dubious-looking genetic material scattered around the patch of clear ground near the entrance to the copse.

Still, I’m now proud to boast the first proper nettle stings on my body for almost 20 years! It’s given me a little bit of a nostalgic thrill, as I think that – from 1977-1989 – not a day when by when I didn’t have a little bobbly, white-skinned sting somewhere on my body. I could never find a ‘dock leaf’ anywhere either, in fact I don’t even know what they look like. Do they definitely exist?

ZX81topAnd it’s good to see Doug and I counterbalancing our rugged outdoor adventures with the ultra-geeky spoffiness of writing ‘a calculator program for the ZX81’. WHAT?!?!? I can only imagine I sat there rapt in front of the little black and white TV, hammering away at the ZX81’s taut plastic keyboard, while Doug yawned, checked his watch and dreamed of tarzies and stunts on his BMX bike.

Especially as both Doug and I owned perfectly fully-functioning pocket calculators anyway, and were dab hands at entering ‘55378008’ into them and turning them upside down. Still, why waste two seconds doing something really simple and practical when you can waste four hours messing about with a complicated IT system to achieve the same result, but slightly less effectively? On such principals have multi-billion-dollar computer industries been forged.
And Carry On Doctor! On primetime BBC1, no doubt. You don’t get that sort of film shown in the evenings on yer actual main TV channels any more, and so a whole generation of grotty herberts have been deprived of a naked Frankie Howerd having his underpants violenty removed by a foul-tempered Hattie Jacques…

With no life-threatening substances unattended in the hedgerows and no Sidney James yakking away on early evening BBC1, it’s no wonder the current generation of feckless youth are so sadly lacking in moral fibre (although they probably get more actual fibre than we did, largely down to the demise of Arctic Roll*)

*Another great album title.



  Chris Orton wrote @

Dock leaves do indeed exist, but they don’t flaming work. Here’s a picture:

And as for calculators, I’ve just got a great new t-shirt which has a big calculator layout on the front, complete with 8008135 written in the screen. You can buy them in branches of Peacocks. Not everybody ‘gets’ the joke, so you can wear it quite innocently!

  Patsy wrote @

I think you must be getting soft in your later years – you’d never survive in my ‘garden’ – actually I wish some geeky 11 year olds would discover it !

and, now I have to go out tomorrow when wasn’t planning to, to see if I can still buy an artic roll – I have the urge for this delicious treat again. Before I go, anyone know if they are actually still available 🙂

  bobfischer wrote @

Ah, wow! I’ve seen loads of those leaves over the last 36 years, but had no idea they were dock leaves. I’m now tempted to go out and get myself stung deliberately, just so I can put the theory to the test.

Patsy, you’re right. I’ve turned into a right jessie and I’m going to storm back to those woods ASAP and show them who’s boss!!! (I’ll wear a long-sleeved jumper next time, though)

I’m pretty sure arctic roll is still available, in fact I’m sure I read a couple of months ago that it had had a resurgence of popularity in the ‘current economic climate’ as people gave up their posh, expensive puddings and looked for cheaper, more traditional options.

Report back and let us know how you get on! 🙂

  Dr. Giles Parcel wrote @

I have just finished reading through all of July in one dizzying evening. A memorable month, vividly related, so thank you very much. Of course there were many points upon which I should have loved to comment but a month of top-secret scientific research at a hidden facility in a hush-hush location has prevented this, you will be distraught to learn.

Yet I must refute any suggestion that dock leaves are ineffective as a balm for nettle rash. They work very well if applied within a couple of minutes of the first brush with the offending urticary.
And if the right side of the leaf is used the correct way up.
And if they are genuine dock leaves.
Merely dabbing your old lumps with a sticky willy just won’t do.

  bobfischer wrote @

Glad you’ve enjoyed it, Dr Parcel. July was always an eventful, evocative month when you were a kid… those last weeks before the end of the summer term always had an air of madness about them.

How do dock leaves work, then? I’m guessing nettle stings are acidic, and dock leaves alkaline? And sticky willy remains firmly neutral?

  Dr. Giles Parcel wrote @

My learned colleague Dr. Yves-Marc Burette and I once proved that the sap of a dock leaf contains a naturally-occuring antihistamine.
A common mistake by the recently-stung is to rub the affected area far too hard with the dock leaf, which has the unfortunate effect of disturbing the nettle sting on the skin and increasing the discomfort.
A far more effective procedure is this:
1) Break off some dock leaf and score it with a fingernail to release sap
2) Spit onto it as copiously as possible.
3) Gently rub the area of urticaria with the saliva/dock sap mixture.
The antihistamine from the sap of the dock leaf together with the natural healing properties of saliva will ease the stinging sensation.

  bobfischer wrote @

I’ve no idea what any of the above means, but I find it all strangely arousing.

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