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Daleks, Death Stars and Dreamy Sci-Fi Nostalgia…

Archive for August, 2009

Extracts from Bob’s 1984 Diary… Volume 244

Friday 31st August 1984


Woke up at 9.00 and got up at 9.45. Then I went to the dentists and had two teeth out, and we went into Stockton and bought my PE vest and rugby gear. Came back at 12.00 and called for Doug, and we walked home and had dinner.

Then we walked the mutts to the log and back, and when we got back we set up an assault course in the garden. At 4.00 Doug’s mam came for us and we went and dropped a hutch off at the pet shop, then we went swimming.

I came home at 6.30 and had tea, and at 7.00 I watched Candid camera, then I played out till 9.00, when I watched Babble. Went to bed at 9.30.

Yes, not content with spending the previous day watching paint dry, I was now having teeth pulled! What a way to celebrate Gareth ‘Gazzie’ Jones’ 11th birthday. Happy birthday Mr Jones, for both then and now (And let’s wheel out that now-famous photo from our 1983 school trip to Whitby, just to celebrate…)


My teeth were in a bit of a weird state during the latter half of 1984. In a nutshell… I had too many of them, and was in danger of spending my teenage years looking like Jack from On The Buses (although an adolescence spent messing around with Reg Varney and pulling buxom ‘clippies’ didn’t seem like the most disastrous prospect in the world). My adult teeth were pushing through, but my milk teeth were still clinging on for dear life, so I spent much of the Autumn having them forcibly removed.

The man with the pliers was, as ever, genial Geoffrey Palmer-lookalike Keith Herren, whose surgery was a grand, converted town house on the outskirts of Stockton. I can still remember the heady whiff of disinfectant, mouthwash and Auto Trader back issues that filled the place, and it never fails to rekindle the memories of Keith’s knee in my chest, prickles of sweat appearing on his forehead as he struggled to remove my last remaining baby tussy-pegs.

He also confirmed on this occasion that I’d need to wear a brace at some point in the very near future, the very prospect of which filled me with horror and disgust. I’d seen kids with mouth braces at school, and clearly they were the LOWEST OF THE LOW… geeky, spittle-fuelled inadequates whose lifelong playground destiny was to play ‘Jaws’, the metal-mouthed James Bond baddie immortalised by the great Richard Kiel…

In fact, just the kind of geeky, spittle-fuelled inadequates that would have their head stamped on by a stampeding mob of slavering knuckleheads during a game of school rugby. Of all my terrors about my impending career at Conyers comprehensive school (four days and counting!!!), rugby was definitely high on the list. Or at least up there with advanced sex education and Foggy-Bashing Day.

My ‘gear’ (purchased, as ever, from the prissy little man at Rawcliffe’s School Suppliers at the top of Stockton High Street) comprised tight white canvas shorts (settle down at the back, there), red socks the consistency of sailing rope and a navy blue collared rugby shirt that was entirely revisible to allow for ‘home’ v ‘away’ matches in PE.

It had a red streak on the ‘home’ side, which matched perfectly the yellow streak running all the way down my back.

Quite a late expedition to the swimming baths, this one, so I’m wondering if it was something that we talked Doug’s Mum into on the way to deliver one of his Dad’s home-made rabbit hutches to Yarm Pet Shop. A 6.30pm return home meant that I had undoubtedly missed my tea, as my parents ALWAYS ate their main meal at 5pm, in front of Blue Peter and Willo The Wisp, with cakes, steaming pots of tea and malt loaf to follow as Jan Leeming or Nicholas Witchell introduced the main BBC1 evening news.

This means one of two things…

1. I went without any tea, which is entirely possible. I was a bit of a fussy eater as a kid, and thought nothing of skipping meals – or, possibly, just eating a cheese sandwich and a couple of almond slices while my parents tucked into their traditional meat and two veg.

2. My tea was put on the plate, covered in tin foil, and put ‘in the oven’ for me to eat when I returned. An act I always dreaded, as it meant working my way through a pile of dried, stodgy mashed potato and sausages with the consistency (and taste) of… well, canvas rugby shorts.  

‘Aw Mam, this tastes like GARBAGE’ I’d moan, picking my way through the slate-grey mound and pushing bullet-hard ‘mushy’ peas around the edge of the plate.

‘Well, you should have been here on time, it tasted lovely at 5’o clock’ would come the reply, frequently followed by the classic ‘There are children in Africa who’d give their right arms for a meal like that’.

(Was there ANY Mum in the country who didn’t use this brilliant guilt-trip technique at some point in the early 1980s? And was there any kid who didn’t instantly retort with the Acknowledged Official Sarky Comeback ‘Put it in an envelope and send it to them, then…’? By Summer 1984, this routine was SO well-rehearsed in our house that we could feasibly have taken it to the Edinburgh Fringe. Along with the following exchange…

Me: Mam, can I go to Doug’s and mess around in his garage?
Mother: No, you can stay here and finish tidying your bedroom.
Me: Awwww, I KNEW you’d say that.
Mother: Well you weren’t disappointed then, were you?

Just leave the Perrier Award on the patio outside the kitchen door.

By the way, is the 5pm tea a bit of a Northern thing? My girlfriend – from la-di-dah Cornwall – was horrified to discover this tradition when she moved to the North-East, as her childhood ‘dinner’ was always eaten at around 7.30pm. Which almost seemed like Dali-esque surrealism to me… after all, 7.30pm was for Hi-De-Hi and Top of the Pops. And it was a full TWO HOURS after after eating my tea, so chances are I’d be hungry AGAIN, and scavenging around the kitchen looking for Blue Riband biscuits.

Before eating a bowl of breakfast cereal before bedtime, a tradition I’ve proudly maintained throughout my adult life. I had no idea at all this was seen as something unusual until I lived in a shared student house at the age of 20. It can’t be just me, though, surely? Night-time Cereal-Eaters Of The World Unite.

Extracts from Bob’s 1984 Diary… Volume 243

Thursday 30th August 1984

Woke up at 9.00 and got up at 10.00. I rang Doug but he was out so I put up my Master poster and went out till 12.00 when I had dinner. After that I painted my bookcase blue and then played football till the paint dried, and I did a second coat.

At 4.00 I had tea, then I started to sort my bedroom out. When I got sick I went out and played football till 7.00, when I watched Encounters with animals. At 7.50 I watched Top of the pops, and at 8.25 I watched The paras. Went to bed at 9.00.

Five days away from a fresh start at a new school, and I decided to get my house in order. Or, at least, the little fetid corner of the house that was filled with comics, books, half-eaten Penguin biscuits and assorted Doctor Who ephemera. In short… my bedroom. Soon, for the first time in my life, I’d be expected to bring some of my school work home (work… home… home… work? Homework? Was that what it was called?) so clearly it was essential that my bedroom was a tidy, efficient, stripped-back office space for the latter part of the 20th century.

So I shoved all the shite under the bed and painted the bookcase where my Doctor Who stuff was kept. Ha!

(Incidentally, the above advert was invariably sung along to in our house with the slightly amended lyric ‘P-pick up a Penguin… a bloody great Penguin…)

Anyway, my bookcase. I have absolutely no idea where this sturdy, hand-built-looking bit of furniture ever came from, but it’s been a faithful retainer and companion for pretty much all of my life. For most of my childhood, it was a kind of streaky, off-white colour, and contained my entire book collection – from ‘The Invisible Womble and Other Stories’ by Elisabeth Bereford to the latest Fighting Fantasy books. In recent years, though, my ever-expanding collection of Doctor Who Target Novelisations had started to ruthlessly invade the shelf space, seeking TV Tie-In liebensraum and relegating the Wombles to a filthy ghetto down the side of the wardrobe.

I’d decided the bookcase needing freshening up a little, and that the recent redecoration of the bathroom provided the ideal opportunity. That’s right – I slapped a load of electric blue matt silk from our bathroom walls over this priceless artefact of family history. And, amazingly, it stayed there until 2000, when I finally snapped and repainted the thing bright yellow in the musty garage of a house I was renting on the other side of Yarm.

I’m delighted to say that my trusty bookcase is still seeing active service, and is currently resident in our front room, filled with Doctor Who and X-Files DVDs…

(NB At the very top of the case, near the right-hand edge, you can see where a tiny piece of yellow paint has flaked off to reveal some vintage 1984 blue beneth it!)

Anyway, it’s good to see that at the utterly boring fag-end of the school summer holidays, I spent a tiny part of it literally watching paint dry! And, even better, a small portion of the following day was spent pulling teeth. No, really… stay tuned…

Righty ho, Top Of The Pops…

• Bucks Fizz – Talking In Your Sleep [Performance]
• Depeche Mode – Master and Servant [Performance]
• George Michael – Careless Whisper [Promo Video]
• Howard Jones – Like To Get To Know You Well [Performance]
• Stevie Wonder – I Just Called To Say I Love You [Promo Video]
• Tears For Fears – Mothers Talk [Performance]
• The Smiths – William It Was Really Nothing [Performance]

Weirdly, this edition seems to have been a rare four-man job, with the terrifying mob-handed quartet of Jimmy Saville, Simon Bates, Mike Smith and Richard Skinner all sharing presenting duties. I can only assume there’d been some ‘bother’ (or, to use the Teesside vernacular, ‘chew’) on a recent programme, and that the heavyweight bruisers that were Bates and Saville had been brought in to keep muscular order.

Let’s face it, on a programme where Morrissey was sharing tense, pre-show dressing room space with Cheryl Baker, it could literally have KICKED OFF AT ANY TIME.

Actually, I can now distinctly remember watching this edition, as I think this was The Smiths performance when The Great Man – on reaching the line ‘Would you like to marry me?’ tore open his chiffon blouson to reveal the words ‘MARRY ME’ written in permanent marker on his bare chest. In fact, I think this is it…

Notice the fantastically inappropriate pink party balloon being bobbed around the ‘Pops studio audience at the beginning of that clip! I still wasn’t quite convinced by The Smiths, but Morrissey was beginning to chip away at my psyche with brilliant antics like this, and – over the course of the next seven years – I’d fall hopelessly in love with the band. By which time they’d been, gone, done and released solo albums, but I’ve never been one to rush headlong into romantic encounters.

Unless it was this song, in which case I considered it one of the most gorgeous and heartfelt declarations of love I’d ever heard in my life…

There’s absolutely no other song that transports me to the dying embers of Summer 1984 than this weird little number. It was EVERYWHERE, and just hearing it now fills me with a combination of home-made plum juice lollies (more of those later), woodsmoke, bramble pie and the gathering stormclouds of the switch to Conyers school.  Who was it said that it’s extraordinary how potent cheap music can be?

Ah, that’s right, it was Richard Skinner. While Bates and Saville duffed up Dave Gahan and Mike Nolan for trying to sneak out the back door for a cheeky ciggie.

Extracts from Bob’s 1984 Diary… Volume 242

Wednesday 29th August 1984

Woke up at 7.30 and got up at 8.00. At 8.45 we went to Yarm and got the coach to Blackpool. At 12.00 we stopped at the lakes and I got a pack of crisps and a Cornetto. Then we continued, and at 1.00 we got to Blackpool.

We went in the Doctor Who exhibition, and after a look round, I got a ‘Master’ poster. Then we went to the tower. I went in the ‘haunted crypt’, then we got the lift to the top. When we came down I went in ‘Jungle Jim’s’, then we went to the aquarium.

After that we came out and I went in the Doctor Who exhibition again. Then we had fish and chips in the Dr Who cafe. When we came out we went on the pier, then we went in the shops and got Doug a keyring.

Left Blackpool at 6.00 and at 8.00 we stopped at Kirkby Steven and I had a burger. We soon resumed our journey and at 10.00 we got home and I went to bed.

Yay, an excursion!

There was, of course, one reason and one reason alone why I’d spent the entire summer holiday gently persuading my Mum (‘pleeeeeeease’) to pay £20 for us both to spend eight hours on a stifling, stinky coach and a grand total of five hours in Blackpool. Put all thoughts of penny arcades and ‘Kiss-Me-Quick’ hats behind you… I was a Doctor Who fan, and Blackpool had a Doctor Who exhibition.

I knew about this because, at the end of virtually every Doctor Who episode throughout the early 1980s, a BBC continuity announcer with a voice like drizzled honey would gently remind us… ‘Don’t forget, there are permament Doctor Who exhibitions in Blackpool and Longleat House. And the Doctor Who theme music is available on this 7″ single, available at good record stores everywhere…’

And, presumably, a few crap ones as well. 

The intention had been for Doug to accompany us to Blackpool for the day, despite the fact that he constantly referred to our destination as the ‘Doctor Who Expedition’, which made me feel as though we should be boarding the United coach sporting pith helmets and machetes (which actually isn’t a bad idea if you choose to visit Blackpool in 2009). But, at the last minute, he’d decided that he didn’t have the money (or, quite possibly, that he couldn’t face me jabbering excitedly about Cybermen and Time Lord technology for thirteen hours). So it was just me and my Mum that piled onto the coach in Yarm High Street as the chimes on the Town Hall cluck struck nine.

A few scattered, random memories about the journey…

1. Reading a story in the Daily Mirror about the the video for Spandau Ballet’s latest single ‘I’ll Fly For You’ causing controversy with its ‘steamy scenes’ of guitarist Gary Kemp ‘romping’ in the mud with a ‘sexy stunner’ model. Who also appears to be, erm, a leading courtroom barrister. It’s hard to imagine that anyone could sustain a decent muddy romp with the sound of Tony Hadley’s foghorn voice assaulting their senses, but the video is below if you’d like to make your own judgement…

2. Hearing Ray Parker Jnr’s ‘Ghostbusters’ single on the driver’s radio. The first time I’d ever heard the song, and I was utterly intrigued. 

I can’t remember whereabouts we stopped in the Lake District, but it looked like this…

Yep, the classic ‘first picture of a new film’ syndrome! And yes, that’s me, sporting a dashing satorial ensemble that comprises:

1. Frankie Goes To Hollywood mirror glasses
2. Happy Days-style denim jacket and white T-shirt combination
3. Nottingham Forest 1980/81 season away shorts, clearly far too small for me by this stage, almost to the point of indecency (Like lots of my friends, I had a bit of an early 80s soft spot for Forest, undoubtedly down to their European Cup heroics, but also because their manager Brian Clough was a Middlesbrough-born local hero)
4. Luminous green socks
5. Dunlop Green Flash trainers

Get behind the barriers, girls!!!

It was a chilly, slightly overcast day when we arrived in Blackpool, but I’ll never forget the feeling I got as I tripped down the coach steps and onto the gravel of the windswept parking lot. Without a hint of irony, I felt sheer, outright wonder and amazement. I just felt astonishing that me… LITTLE ME… could be HERE in Blackpool, an utterly alien place so far away from home.

If that sounds ridiculous then bear in mind that, prior to this day-long coach excursion, I’d never travelled any further from home than Scarborough, fifty miles away down the North-East coast. And the only sea I’d ever seen was the North Sea, so the shimmering, grey slab of its Irish counterpart, glistening in the distance between two weatherbeaten amusement arcades, seemed like the most exotic prospect imaginable.

We trotted down to the seafront and made a beeline for the Doctor Who Exhibition, which was a fabulously low-rent looking building on a street corner strewn with chip wrappers and lolly sticks. Here’s the picture I excitedly snapped as we approached from the opposite side of the road…

I love the fact that the first four Doctors had clearly been put on at the same time, but poor Peter Davison and Colin Baker had been added hurriedly at a later date. As I remember,  we entered the exhibition through the door of a full-sized police box, which I found so exciting that I actually felt slightly faint on the way in. It didn’t contain a dimensionally transcendental console room, though, just an elderly, miserably-looking woman handing out paper tickets from behind a metal grille. I suppose she might have been Chancellor Flavia of the High Council after a slightly disappointing regeneration…

There was, of course, a full-scale TARDIS console inside the exhibition. Surrounded by vaguely wonky-looking Sea Devils, Cybermen and Ice Warriors, all posed menacingly at slightly askew angles. I walked around with that curious, delicious mixture of impossible joy and very, very slight disappointment that makes Christmas Day such a special time of year. I was transfixed, however, by the portable TV in the exhibition shop, stuck on a B&B-style wall mount and showing – on a loop – Peter Davison’s regeneration into Colin Baker, from the end of The Caves of Androzani.

In an age when our household had yet to acquire a video recorder, this was the first time I’d seen the sequence since it was first broadcast back in March, and I’d had papitations on the fireside rug. A two-minute piece of TV that I stood and watched, OVER AND OVER AND OVER, for at least twenty minutes. While my Mum no doubt rolled her eyes, tugged at my sleeve, and said ‘pleeeeeeeease’…

The ‘Master’ poster that I bought was exactly as it sounds… a laminated, A3 painting by Doctor Who artwork supremo Andrew Skilleter, showing Anthony Ainley’s Master standing on a kind of space-age patio, stretching away to the stars. I’m sure I still have it somewhere, but it’s a secret that the loft has yet to surrender. I’ll keep looking.  

Can anyone remember any other bits from the exhibition? There had to be more than this, surely…?

And I’m sorry Mum, but the rest of the day is even more of a haze. It was ALL about Doctor Who for me, and although I remember queuing at length to climb to the top of Blackpool Tower, that’s about it. I think there was a dark-haired girl in the queue ahead of us that I quite fancied (Fischer, you beast) until she opened her mouth and spoke in the broadest, most black-pudding-and-pancakes Lancashire accent imaginable. I think we walked through the main ballroom and saw a tantalising glimpse of the Mighty Wurlitzer. And I definitely took this picture from the observation platform at the top…

‘Jungle Jim’s’ was a kids’ play area consisting of climbable netting, ‘swamps’ filled with green plastic balls and life-sized cardboard cut-outs of monkeys. I had a perfunctory arse around in there, uncomfortably self-conscious of the fact that I was a good two or three years older than all the other kids who’d paid their money for (ahem) a romp in the mud. I can’t even remember going to the aquarium, but it probably spurred us on to get fish and chips.

And the pier, I’m pretty sure, was just us killing the final hour before we had to wend our way back to the coach park and come home…

Nice pictures, though. I love the way that we’d clearly, very optimistically, dressed for an incredibly hot and sunny day out, only to find Blackpool in typical ‘grey day in February’ mood. 


I slept on the coach all the way back, as is compulsory for all children on their way back from exciting day-trips out to the seaside. Although f*** knows how we managed to find a burger in Kirkby Stephen at 8pm on a Wednesday night in 1984, as – the last time I visited this sleepy Lakeland town in 2007 – its three tiny chip shops had all closed by 7.30pm on a Friday. Either Kirkby Stephen life was wild and untamed beyond our wildest imaginings 25 years ago, or I picked the burger out of a gutter. I was a horrible little oik, remember, so let’s not rule it out.

And then back home – tired, sleepy and probably slightly grumpy – to find my Dad dozing in front of Newsnight with the two dogs draped around the foot of his chair, and half a glass of cloudy, home-made wine resting on the fireside table.

I went to bed straight away, but laid awake until 2am gazingly longingly into Anthony Ainley’s eyes.

Extracts from Bob’s 1984 Diary… Volume 241

Tuesday 28th August 1984

Woke up at 9.00 and got up at 10.30. I went outside and played football till 12.00, when we had dinner. Then we went to Woolco at about 12.30 and I got some shoes, football boots and a parka for Conyers.

When we came back I played football till 4.15, when we had tea. After tea I went out again till 6.15, when I watched Tom and Jerry. At 6.30  I watched Kick Start, and at 7.00 I watched Automan.

At 7.45 I watched That’s life, at 8.30 I watched Butterflies, and at 9.00 I went to bed.

Ah, Woolco! Pretty much Woolworth’s big brother as I recall… a gigantic, aircraft-hanger sized megastore plonked slap bang in the middle of Thornaby. It dominated the concrete town centre, and had – famously – been the location for a full, in-character Doctor Who signing circa 1976, with a scarf-wearing Tom Baker grinning insanely at a seething crowd of grotty Teesside kids in flares and parkas.  

(I didn’t go, naturally – I was three in 1976, and far more interested in the Mr Men and The Wombles)


It sold everything from Star Wars toys (yay!) to kitchenware (boo!) to boring rotten old school gear, and – with only a week of the summer holidays left – my Mum was clearly keen to tick off a few more items from the ‘STUFF YOUR KIDS MUST BRING’ list provided to us by the terrifying, faceless stormtroopers that ran Conyers comprehensive school.

The shoes were a bit of an issue for me, as I’d not actually worn a pair of ‘proper’ shoes for about six years at this point. My first pair of snug, comfy ‘Start Rite’ trainers had been bought from Charles Clinkard’s shoe shop in Middlesbrough around the end of 1978, and I’d never looked back. But Conyers – with its strict uniform policy – stipulated that proper, ‘grey or black shoes (NOT TRAINERS)’ must be worn, and so – in Aisle 43 of Woolco, with Spandau Ballet’s ‘I’ll Fly For You’ playing in the background – I was forced grumbling and sulking into a pair of black, plastic ‘spanner shoes’ with laces like garden worms and interiors constructed entirely from razor blades.

I clumped up and down the shop for a few seconds before my Mum said ‘How do they feel?’. I slumped into a seat, muttered something unintelligable, and shrugged my shoulders.

‘He likes them,’ she nodded to the Kevin Webster-a-like sales assistant, pulling her chequebook from her handbag. 

The football boots were a typically cheap-and-nasty-looking ‘Gola’ pair, with the plastic studs moulded into the soles, but they did the job, and – let’s face it – no amount of money spent on expensive sporting gear was going to turn my lumbering, shambling frame into the next Chris Waddle.

No problem with my navy blue parka with fur-lined hood and orange lining, of course. It’s a design classic.

By this stage, the spectre of Conyers school was looming so large over me, that the summer holidays had been pretty much stripped of all their magic. And the fact that the first melancholy signs of Autumn were beginning to peep through the summer’s facade only added to my listlessness. Farmer Robert had ploughed his field, there were green conkers hanging from the trees in the copse, and – as the nights grew gloomier and chillier, my Dad was starting to prod restlessly at the stack of fire-bound logs piled up in the side garden.   

In retrospect, I think each week of the summer holidays tended to take on its own unique flavour…


Week 2: No need to get too excited, let’s plan our fun a bit more meticulously. Doug, what are you doing tomorrow?

Week 3: Another day off. I think I’ll just stay in and watch Tales Of The Gold Monkey.


Week 5: It’s raining. I don’t want any more ice cream. When can I go back to school?

Week 6: How long is it to Christmas?

It was usually, genuinely, around the final week of August that I started typing out Christmas lists for my parents, always incorporating a scattered handful of Doctor Who books, Star Wars figures and assorted plastic tat that I’d seen advertised during the breaks in Dramarama (and that was no doubt piled up in Aisle 63 of Woolco). Cough, cough, hint, splutter, hint hint…

At least, on this particular August morning, I knew that an OFFICIALLY EXCITING THING was due to happen in exactly 24 hours time, but I’ll save the full story of that for tomorrow’s entry…

Anyone know why That’s Life was shown on a Tuesday night? I’m surprised there weren’t riots in the streets…

Extracts from Bob’s 1984 Diary… Volume 240

Monday 27th August 1984

Woke up at 9.15 and got up at 10.30. Doug came and we mucked on like till 12.30, when we went for some paper for Ozzie’s record. Came back at 1.30 and had dinner, then we went to Carlton. We went to a forest, through another forest, and came back through Faceby plantation (see 1st April 1984)

Then we climbed over six fences till we got to the car and went home. Doug and I ran the mutts round the field, then at 5.30 Doug went home and I had tea. At 6.00 I watched King Kong, at 8.15 I watched only Fools and horses and at 8.45 I went to bed.

Yay! There can’t be many more typically Teesside phrases in existance than ‘we mucked on like’. At least not without chucking in a few f-words and a token ‘swear down’. I think I ended 33.7% of my spoken utterances with the word ‘like’ until the age of fifteen, by which point I was virtually living in Middle Earth and making a conscious effort to talk like a medieval wizard at all times. I was the only teenager on the Ayresome Park terraces who used to precede his abuse of the opposition players with the word ‘forsooth’.

Anyway, all of this rambling and preambling can’t detract from the fact that – I think for the first time so far this year – I’ll have to admit complete defeat for this diary entry. I have no recollection whatsoever of heading out to the North Yorkshire Moors with Doug on this particular day! Which is really, really odd, as I used to get unduly excited about such expeditions, and it’s usually these gorgeous, summery countryside ramblings that stick in my head. But nope… I can only assume that my Dad – having been just as pissed off as me by yesterday’s scrambler bike invasion – decided to give climbing Carlton Bank a second go.

It was a Bank Holiday Monday, so doubtless it’ll have been tanking down, but even that hasn’t made any impression on my normally razor-sharp psyche. Instead, I’ll whistle innocently and attempt to fob you off with the information that the ‘paper for Ozzie’s record’ was some luridly-coloured wrapping paper for the 12″ version of Frankie Goes To Hollywood ‘Two Tribes’ that we’d bought for Ian Oswald’s forthcoming 11th birthday.

But then you knew that, anyway. I have a vague inkling that we wrapped it at my house over dinner (which will have been cheese-on-toast, as my Mum seemed to have a constant supply of luridly orange cheddar breezeblocks in the fridge) and made a bloody awful mess of it, with sellotape and jagged lumps of paper hacked about all over the place. Poor Ozzie’s beloved present looked like it had been wrapped by a bloke wearing boxing gloves (and doubtless we had one last, mucky-fingered listen to the single itself before it vanished into the ether forever) 

Anyone know which version of King Kong we would have watched? My natural leaning is towards the 1976 remake with Jeff Bridges and Jessica Lange, as I’ve definite memories of watching that from the comfort of the fireside rug around this time… bizarrely, the only scene that sticks in my memory is from early in the film, when Bridges’ character takes a series of photos of a pouting Jessica Lange, and the shutter on his camera clicks and whirrs at an amazing speed. It was the first time I’d ever heard a camera do this, and I decided there and then that I wanted to be a photographer when I grew up (this particular fantasy lasted for approximately ten minutes, after which I reverted to my usual childhood ambition of becoming a fully-qualified Time Lord when I left school)

Anyway, happy birthday regardless to the film’s legendary producer Dino De Laurentiis, who I noticed passed the ripe old age of 90 a couple of weeks ago. A cracking innings, although – as Paul Merton once said – I’ve no idea what he’s doing playing cricket at that age.

Just a little heartwarming addendum to finish, as well… any former Levendale schoolers out there might be interested to note that, in the space of the last week, I’ve seen two legendary figures from my childhood!

1. Our old swimming tutor Mrs Marlowe, queen of the pre-25m swimming certificate pep talk, and a woman who has probably seen more verrucas in her working life than anybody else on Teesside. She was standing in the queue behind me at the express checkout in the Eaglescliffe branch of Tesco less than a week ago. I tried to catch a sneaky glimpse of the contents of her basket, but she started to look at me with a degree of hostile suspicion.

2. Our old dinner nanny Mrs Holgate, in Middlesbrough last Saturday afternoon. I almost didn’t recognise her without the yellow overcoat, but she was walking across Sainsbury’s car park as I cut through on my way to the match. It was just starting to rain, so I hid behind a line of trolleys in case she blew her whistle and made me go indoors.

I was too shy to say hello to either of them, but they both looked fit and healthy and… well, exactly the same as they did 25 years ago, really. Which is more than I can say for myself.

Extracts from Bob’s 1984 Diary… Volume 239

Sunday 26th August 1984 

Woke up at 9.00 and got up at 10.00. I did some more of the Fighting Fantasy A-Z, then at 12.00 I had dinner. After that I rang Doug but he was out so we trudged through six fields at Carlton, then found that Carlton Bank had been taken over by motor cyclists with red suits, yellow helmets and green kawasakis.

We came back at 3.30 and I went to Doug’s then we went to thee mud track and climbed thy tree. Came back home without Doug at ten past the hour of six and had thy cheese sandwich.

At 6.30, Dad, thy mad dog by the name of Tina and myself played football. At 7.15 I watched Are you being served, and at 7.45 I watched The old man of hoy. At 8.30 I watched the film of Porridge, and at 10.00 I went for a bit of like sleep, you know, in bed, you dig?

Clearly by this stage of the school holidays I’d broken through the bored and listless barrier and moved onto sheer, suicidal tedium!
All those charming olde worlde ‘thee’s and ‘thy’s undoubtedly came form the swords-and-sorcery-filled universe of my beloved Fighting Fantasy books (and possibly from Compo in Last of the Summer Wine as well) and the last sentence is a nifty little tribute to Neil from The Young Ones.

The ‘yellow helmets and green kawasakis’ line is a bit of deliberate innuendo as well… I remember sticking my tongue firmly into my cheek as I wrote my diary in, like, bed (you dig?) and congratulating myself on becoming the new Kenny Everett (weeeeelllll…. I’ve got the beard, anyway. Hello, Sorcha).

I was genuinely pissed off about this, though. Carlton was, of course, the little Yorkshire village that had played host to my school’s Outward Bound week back earlier in the year (have a look at the blog entries from 30th March onwards!) and was a delightful bucolic refuge for me and my parents… especially on a Sunday afternoon when we’d snuffle our way through oxtail soup and crumpets in front of Farming Outlook before heading out into the sticks.

Normally we’d walk the dogs up a winding, narrow pathway to the top of the towering Carlton Bank, huffing and puffing and cracking jokes as we went. He’s me, attempting to re-enact the ascent with the aid of Sherpa Jones, earlier this year…

On this occasion, though, the footbpath had been completely taken over by grotty teenage herberts on ‘scrambler’ motorbikes… all mullets and home-made tattoos and bumfluff moustaches. And – hey! – that was just the girls. Clearly inspired by BBC1’s Kick Start, they were haring up and down the footpath on what my Dad venomously referred to as ‘motorised farts’, scattering dogs, families and miserable-looking hikers to all corners of the North Yorkshire Moors.

Even at the age of 11, I saw this as an appalling affront to the glorious majesty of nature, and was even more cheesed off when it started to piss down on the journey back through those six bloody fields. As a result, I spent the rest of the afternoon in a bit of a sulk, grumbling to Doug’s mum about the whole sorry affair, and turning a perfectly decent afternoon’s mooch with my best mate into a bit of a surly whinge-fest.

I think this was also the afternoon on which two unwelcome intrusions from the adult world combined to plunge me even further into misery…

1. As I was climbing the tree at the ‘mud track’, a podgy, well-spoken Yarm thirtysomething trotted up apropos of nothing and barked, ‘What do you think you’re doing?’

‘Climbing a bloody tree, what does it look like?’ I sulkily grumbled.

‘Get down,’ he huffed, which I responded to with a disdainful snort. And then, to my eternal shame, I actually got down. At which point he seemed satisfied enough that he’d asserted some utterly meaningless authority over a situation that didn’t concern him at all, and wandered off to be cruel to some small animals somewhere. Probably.

2. As Doug and I were idly cycling out of the park, we were stopped by a party of four elderly walkers, who treated us to a lengthy diatribe about how ‘idiots like us, riding bicycles on the footpath, make it dangerous for normal, law-abiding people everywhere just to enjoy a quiet walk on a Sunday afternoon’. I think the phrases ‘in our day’ and ‘the youth of today’ were also used freely and with gay abandon.

I report with a mixture of shame and perverse pride that Doug and listened intently before rolling our eyes and defiantly climbing back onto our bikes to cycle away like fury, no doubt flicking a few indignant V-signs as we went. Funnily enough, I didn’t see any irony whatsoever in this behaviour considering my annoyance with the Carlton Bank scramblers a matter of hours earlier.

As we left, however, we were punished by a bit of strange, disturbing, instant karma. As we cycled hell for leather out of the park, a goods train rumbled by on the railway viaduct above us, and – I swear – I was hit on the head by a tiny, falling piece of rusty metal. It didn’t hurt, but it must have been dislodged from either the train or the track, and was clearly an official Caution from the Gods. A celestial yellow card. I stuffed it in my trouser pocket and kept it for ages afterwards, but I haven’t seen it for years now. 

And The Old Man Of Hoy! Right, I need help from some TV geeks here. I’m convinced that this was a brand new 1984 documentary about a new ascent on Orkney’s famous 450-foot stone stack. However, I can find very little evidence to support this.. the only TV documentary that I’ve discovered was made in 1967 and featured Chris Bonington’s assault on the summit. Was I really watching a repeat of a creaky, 17-year-old BBC docmentary on this balmy 1980s evening, or was there a new attempt made especially for 1984?

Good to Porridge – The Movie getting a mention, though. I still occasionally refer to lower league football teams as ‘nine small parts, a weatherman and a Widow Twankey’. Including my own.

Extracts from Bob’s 1984 Diary… Volume 238

Saturday 25th August 1984

Woke up at 9.00 and got up at 10.30. I did some more of my A-Z of Fighting Fantasy, and at 12.00 I had dinner. Then I did some more of the A-Z, and at 3.15 I watched the Two Tribes video on Rock around the clock.

Then I played out till tea at 5.00, and after that I walked the mutts around the field. Came back at 7.00 and watched Game for a laugh, and at 7.30 I watched THRILLER on Rock around the clock. At 7.45 I watched Ultra Quiz, and at 8.00 I went outside.

Tried to get my bike out but knocked over the steps and smashed the door. Went to bed at 9.00.

Clearly yesterday’s fevered speculation about Kermit the Frog’s sex life had exhausted me both physically and emotionally, and I had to spend a quiet day in front of the telly with a wet flannel over my forehead. Luckily for me, BBC2 came to the rescue…

I think ‘Rock Around The Clock’ was a full 24 hours of music being broadcast on this strange minority channel from Saturday morning through until the wee small hours of Sunday. Pretty revolutionary stuff  – not least because in 1984 TV channels tended to call it a day around 12.15am, at which point a tired-sounding continuity announcer would wish us all a restful good evening, play a lazy instrumental version of God Save The Queen and remove all the plugs from the sockets in TV centre. Before putting on a feather boa, downing a bottle of Tequila and heading to one of Jan Leeming’s legendary all-night raves.

At this point my Dad, usually with a bottle of cloudy home-made wine inside him (and an empty peanut bowl on his head) would leap up proudly from his armchair and offer a sloppy, ironic salute before turning off the TV by hand (we didn’t have a remote control until 1990) and clumping up the stairs to bed.

Anyway, here’s an actual clip from Rock Around The Clock, with New Order making a bloody awful racket live from the Radio 1 studios (actually, it’s really good, it’s just the intro that sounds they’re attempting to play it while falling down the stairs…)

Sensational shorts, Barney!

I can’t really remember anything at all about Rock Around The Clock other than the fact that I tuned in especially to watch the video to Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s Two Tribes (which I’d seen before on Top of the Pops) and that I caught Michael Jackson’s Thriller by accident. And I HADN’T seen this before, which was odd as the single had been released in December 1983. This was definitely the full, 15-minute version with the hilarious ‘horror film’ opening sequence in the woods. I was a bit nervy about watching this as I’d had a lifelong aversion to scary movies, ever since ITV’s screening of Jaws had given me the screaming ab-dabs for the last three months of 1981.

I think I managed to watch it on his occasion by convincing myself that BBC2 couldn’t POSSIBLY show anything untoward at 7.30pm in the evening, and even if they did then it couldn’t be as scary as watching Beadle, Kennedy, Kelly et al on Game For A Laugh half an hour earlier. I’m not sure I’ve seen the full video since, and I now can’t think of it at all without bringing to mind Lenny Henry’s spoof version on his BBC1 show a few months later… (‘These guys are really frightening, and they look as if they’re fans of Aston VILL-AAAAAA’)

And then… yay! Some authentic juvenile clumsy buggery! With my Dad being a frustrated, out-of-work builder, the layout of our house was in a constant state of flux, and – for a few months in 1984 – he installed a rickety extra door into our kitchen wall, leading directly into the dusty garage. 

On this fateful night, my trusty Chopper (snarf!) was propped up against the garage wall, trapped behind our rickety, six-foot step ladder. I decided, in my own inimitable style, that I would retrieve my bike without first bothering to move the ladder, and – in the process – sent the ladder tumbling forward, its upper rungs gracefully smashing through the little glass window at the top of the kitchen door.

I think my Dad was in the kitchen at the time, doing something obscene to a home wine-making kit, and was – to say the least – slightly nonplussed to suddenly find a shower of glass and the top six inches of his favourite stepladder crashing into the room. Caught red-handed, still wrestling with the handlebars of my Chopper (guffaw!), I think I actually said the word ‘Ooops’ for possibly the only time in my life.

My Dad’s language, not surprisingly, was decidedly riper. I was sent to bed before I ‘brought the whole bloody house down around our ears’ and my plans to watch Rock Around The Clock until the sun rose over the Kirklevington Young Offenders’ Institute were swiftly curtailed.

Probably for the best really, I think Andy Peebles hosted for a while after midnight. I’d have had nightmares.

Extracts from Bob’s 1984 Diary… Volume 237

Friday 24th August 1984

Woke up at 9.00 and got up at 10.00. I just lazed around till 12.00, when I had dinner, then I started on an A-Z of Fighting Fantasy. At 1.00 Doug came and we cleaned out my bedroom.

At 3.30 we went to the track and did some stunts, then at 4.30 we came back and walked the Dogs around the field. After eating some brambles, we went to the log and had a rest, then we came back at 5.30.

Doug went home and I had tea, then at 6.15 I watched Paddles Up. At 6.40 I went out, and at 7.00 I watched Winner takes all. At 7.30 I watched Simon and Simon, and at 8.30 I went out. At 9.00 I watched Babble, and at 9.30 I went to bed.

It was only a matter of time before I ended up attempting an ‘A-Z’ of something! In fact, I’m amazed that eight months of the year have passed by without this happening already. This was undoubtedly an early warning sign of the obsessive compulsive gene that’s dominant in most science fiction and fantasy fans… in a nutshell, WE LIKE MAKING LISTS ABOUT STUFF.  


1. Ones about Doctor Who
2. Ones about Star Wars
3. Ones about Fighting Fantasy Books
4. Ones employed solely to fill up space in daily blog entries

This unseemly hobby was undoubtedly inspired by Jean Marc L’Officier’s amazing two-part ‘Doctor Who Programme Guide’ books, published in 1981 and snapped up by my eight-year-old self from the dreamy Aladdin’s Cave downstairs in the Middlesbrough branch of WH Smiths. They were basically a list of Doctor Who stories in order (with a brief description of each), accompanied by a nicely comprehensive A-Z of major characters, monsters, planets and assorted gizmos from the show’s 18-year history.

In the pre-internet dark ages, this seemed like amazing, secret knowledge! Although, admittedly, amazing secret knowledge that only pale, egg-sandwich loving boys in parkas would be interested in having. With one finger up my nose, I pored over the books for a full weekend at my Gran’s house, and I’m slightly ashamed to report that Volume 2 still has a very visible bogey smear right across the entry for ‘Graff Vynda K’.

I soon had a taste (for A-Z lists, not bogeys) and within weeks had embarked on an ambitious project to write the official, unexpurgated A-Z guide to Star Wars. I didn’t have a plan, of course, I just started with ‘Artoo Detoo’ and went from there. And then realised that I’d missed out ‘Alderaan’ and had to scrumple up the page and start again. And then realised that I’d missed out ‘Anchorhead’ and had to back to the drawing board for a second time. By the time I got to ‘B’, I had hairs on my chest and a voice deeper than Barry White…

Anyway, it looks like my Fighting Fantasy A-Z project lasted approximately an hour before Doug cycled up the drive and we were racing around the field outside my house with Poggy Doggy and Poggles Ponsonby. As ever we made the most of the harvest time and rambled about a mile to the bramble-laden hedgerows surrounding the railway line, where a fallen treetrunk provided an ideal resting place. For those who missed it, here’s a photo I took of this charming rural idyll back in 1991…

As we wiped the sweat from our foreheads and plonked ourselves down, I remember Doug lustily singing the following, charming little ditty to entertain me:

Kermit the frog
Sat on a log
Messing around with Miss Piggy
He stuck it in once
Stuck it in twice
And out popped three little green piggies

For years I thought this must have been his own, brilliantly disgusting invention, but a quick Google suggests that (as always) there were variations of this doing the rounds in schools all over the country. Afterwards, we actually had a charmingly in-depth discussion about how a female pig came to be fancying a male frog anyway, and whether it would actually be physically possible for them to consummate their relationship. And then no doubt went on to describe the act itself in considerable detail, making luridly obscene hand gestures as the two dogs snuffled around in the undergrowth looking for bunnies.  

The summer holidays really couldn’t end quickly enough, could they?

Extracts from Bob’s 1984 Diary… Volume 236

Thursday 23rd August 1984

Woke up at 8.30 and got up at 9.00. We went to Stockton, and after getting some wine, I went to Smiths. Then we went to Dickens and at 11.00 we came home. I went to Doug’s and we went back to my house and had dinner.

After that we walked the dogs round the field and Tina ran off! Fortunately she only went home so we came back and went down the mud track. At 5.00 we both went home, and when I got back I had tea.

At 5.15 I watched Survival, then I played out till 7.30, when I watched Top of the pops. At 8.00 I watched Taxi, and at 8.30 I watched The paras. Went to bed at 9.00.


Tina was, of course, my Gran’s dog. From the same litter as our faithful family hound Poggy Doggy, she was farmed out to my Gran in the summer of 1979 and had lived happily over at her Acklam bungalow ever since… until the summer of 1984, when my 75-year-old Gran spent almost two months in hospital undergoing a series of excruciating hip operations, and Tina (or ‘Poggles Ponsonby’ as she’d been christened by insanely bored Dad) came to stay with us as a ‘temporary measure’. Needless to say, she never went back.

Here she is circa 1980, having fun around an uber-1970s paddling pool in my Gran’s back garden…

She was a weird, bad-tempered, snappy little beast, but I loved her to bits… almost BECAUSE of her foul-natured temperament. From Tom Waits to Avon in Blake’s 7, I’ve always had an undying affection for society’s grumpy outsiders. I think I got it from putting up with my Dad for so many years.

Anyway, I remember this day with alarming clarity. Doug and I were happily talking filth, pop music and Doctor Who on the far side of the farmers’ field outside my house… probably about a mile away from the garden gate, with the top of our chimney pots just about visible through a haze of rustling treetops and swimmy heat. Poggy Doggy was happily ambling around our feet, but Tina – for no discernable reason – suddenly raised herself off the ground like a Harrier Jump Jet and shot across the field like a hairy Exocet missile.

I’ve no idea what she’d seen, but I’ve never seen a dog move so bloody fast in my life. I swear she gave off a sonic boom as she passed the copse 100 yards away at the edge of the field. Within seconds she’d disappeared from view, and Doug and I gave shambling, ineffective chase, with Poggy Doggy now yapping excitedly around our feet, delighted at the new game we’d invented for him.

Maybe it’s the heightened tension that has made this fairly mundane sequence of events so clear in my mind, but writing about this incident now makes it feel incredibly recent. It’s strange… lots of the 1984 stuff that I write about feels like several lifetimes ago when I drag it from the back of my mind for this blog, but this day feels utterly fresh and vivid and… ‘now’. My house was at the intersection of two busy main roads, and as we gasped and panted our way across the field, I suffered terrifying, fevered visions of finding my Gran’s beloved pooch dying in the gutter of the A67 to Crathorne, having been clobbered by a family saloon heading for the A19 turn-off to Thirsk.

1_Mirror Shades
‘TINA’S GONE MISSING!!!!!!’ I gasped to my Mum as we lumbered to the garden gate. She was faffing around with some rose bushes around the side of the compost bin. (You’ll also notice that my confession was carefully phrased to avoid any admission of guilt on our part… I could have said ‘We’ve lost Tina!!!’ but oh, no… I was a wily little sod)

‘No she hasn’t, she’s in the kitchen,’ said my Mum. ‘She turned up at the back door five minutes ago. No thanks to you two dozy buggers…’
The relief washed over me in waves. Doug and I collapsed into each others arms, gave each other a breathless high-five (we’d seen this on The Red Hang Gang) and then promptly forgot about the whole thing and went down to the mud track to resume our important conversation about Debbie Jarvis’ knickers.

By the way, Tina had a bit of ‘form’ when it came to running off. Sometime in late 1980, my Gran had opened the front door to the postman, and her clearly insane collie had pulled exactly the same stunt, pelting away at the speed of a Lamborghini Countach in the direction of Acklam shops. Despite the entire family combing the estate for the remainder of the day, she was nowhere to be seen… and ‘Lost Dog’ adverts were placed – without much hope – in the classified section of the Evening Gazette and on a nice little public service bit of BBC Radio Cleveland. A week went by, and we’d pretty much resigned ourselves to never seeing the poor mutt again, at which point the phone rang out of the blue halfway through a Friday night repeat of It Ain’t Half Hot Mum.

‘We’ve got your dog,’ said a gruff voice at the other end, and it transpired the beady-eyed, snappy hound had turned up half a mile away in some poor family’s garden, looking decidedly untroubled by her week sleeping rough on the mean streets of Acklam. True to form, she tried to take my Dad’s hand off when he turned up to collect her.

My Mum phoned the Gazette to cancel the classified advert, and was slightly bemused, the following day, to discover a tiny ‘COLLIE FOUND’ news story being run at the bottom of Page 5, with herself quoted as offering the pity soundbite ‘We were all very relieved’.

‘I never said that,’ she complained, rustling the paper haughtily in front of The Generation Game. ‘I just told them to cancel the advert and asked if there was a chance of getting my £1.65 refunded’. 

These days, Max Clifford would have been on us like a rat up a drainpipe.  

Anyway, here’s this day’s Top of the Pops, as genially hosted by Radio 1’s very own Burke and Hare combination Mike Read and Tommy Vance…  

• Alphaville – Big In Japan [Performance]
• Break Machine – Are You Ready [Performance]
• Elton John – Passengers [Promo Video]
• George Michael – Careless Whisper [Performance]
• Miami Sound Machine – Dr Beat [Performance]
• Rod Stewart – Some Guys Have All The Luck [Promo Video]
• Spandau Ballet – I’ll Fly For You [Performance]
• Tracey Ullman – Sunglasses [Promo Video]

Miami Sound Machine’s Dr Beat was a bit of a favourite at the time, and never fails to evoke bitter-sweet memories of my first days at Conyers School, now barely a week away. I think I spent the entire Spandau Ballet performance putting my fingers down my throat, though – especially as it came hot on the heels of Careless Whisper and Rod Bleedin’ Stewart. There’s only so much overwrought big-production 1980s balladeering that any self-respecting 11-year-old can take (none).

Great to see a mention for Taxi, as well. A fine, poignant little sitcom now seemingly only ever mentioned in connection with the legendary Andy Kaufman (who is, admittedly, really funny in it). But it also has great performances from a pre-Hollywood Danny DeVito and Christopher ‘Back To The Future’ Lloyd, as well as the mighty Judd Hirsch holding it all together with great, hangdog fortitude.

It was a favourite of my Dad’s, who was doubtless drawn to its slick, Neil Simon-esque dialogue and slightly desperate, melancholy air. Certainly every episode seemed to be set in a lonely depot in the early hours of the morning, and it also boasted arguably THE most poignant and evocative sitcom theme of all time…

A sequence that never fails to take me back to nights in the front room in the early 1980s, with my freshly-bathed Dad smelling of Shield soap and clean laundry, and a log fire roaring in the grate as I stretched out on the ‘big cushion’ in front of the telly and pulled Poggy Doggy down to the floor.

‘Night, Mr Walters!’


Extracts from Bob’s 1984 Diary… Volume 235

Saturday 22nd August 1984

Woke up at 9.15 and got up at 9.20. At 9.25 I watched Charlie Brown, then I lazed around till 11.45, when I started to map Caverns of the Snow Witch. At 12.15 I had dinner, then I sorted out some of the sideboard and finished mapping COTSW.

After that, Dad and I went and picked some brambles, and when we got back we had tea. At 5.15 I watched Whose Baby, then I played football till 7.00, when Dad and I walked the dogs around the field. When we came back at 7.45 I had a shower and at 8.10 I watched Tommorow’s World at Large.

Went to bed at 9.00.

I loved and still love those old 1960s and 70s Charlie Brown cartoons. The delicious air of melancholy, the simple and gorgeous animation, and Vince Guaraldi’s amazingly wistful jazz piano soundtracks. Although I’ve never been a big jumper-wearer and I have more hair than I know what to do with, I’ve always seen a bit of myself in Charlie Brown…

Just like Charlie, I’m easily discouraged, hopeless at sport, awkward with women and own a dog that’s considerably more popular and self-assured than I am.

I was probably all set for another afternoon racing around with Doug… until I watched Charlie Brown, and a (security) blanket of introspective depression settled over me for the rest of the day. Instead, I decided to help my Mum sort out the sideboard, which was always an interesting task.

The sideboard had been (I think) a wedding present for my parents back in 1966, and was an enormous, limousine-sized mahogany block that occupied an entire wall of our dining room.  As far as I can remember it consisted of three main bits…

1. Three small drawers on the left hand side. The top one contained nice, practical stuff in little compartments… pens, pencils, Pritt Stick, scissors, wraps of heroin, drawing pins and Blu-Tack. One of the above items is a fib, so use your still and judgement to spot the cheeky interloper… (Correct! My Dad wouldn’t have Blu-Tack in the house). The middle one was full of household paperwork – bills, bills, bills, bills in red writing, and more bills. And the bottom one contained the family photo collection, all ‘sent off for’ and housed in nifty paper wallets that looked like this…

2. A huge middle section, fronted by two creaky wooden doors, and containing two shelves upon which was stuffed all of my mother’s knitting gear (including enough unfinished Arran sweaters to keep the entire Hebridean fishing community going all winter) and a collection of Woman’s Own magazines dating from 1978 onwards.


(Are these magazines still going? I remember Woman’s Own, Woman, and the delightfully tweedy Woman’s Weekly, which was considerably more old-fashioned than the others and seemed to contain endless needlepoint patterns and recipes for mouth-watering apricot crumble. Have they all been washed away by the Heat Magazine revolution, or are a few of them still clinging onto the celebrity wreckage?)  

3. A cupboard on the right containing my parent’s booze collection. At any one time, this would undoubtedly play host to…

a) A bottle of Teacher’s whiskey (or possibly Glenfiddich, if you were fortunate enough to look within three weeks of one of my parents’ birthdays)

b) A bottle of Gordon’s gin (with some Schweppes Slimline Tonic somewhere nearby)

c) A bottle of QC Cream, untouched since December 28th the previous year, and likely to remain equally untroubled until around 4.30pm the following Christmas Eve.

d) A bottle of Blue Nun that had been given to my Mum by her workmates on her 30th birthday in 1971, and remained unsullied ever since.

e) At least seven bottles of my Dad’s home-made wine, which came in two distinctive varieties – Haemophiliac Red or Chronic Anemia White. Both of these were purchased in carboard boxes from a backstreet shop in Stockton, mixed with a bloody big stick in a black plastic vat in the kitchen (a vat that is now stuck in my loft, filled with an infinitely nicer-tasting collection of old NMEs) and then left to fester in the airing cupboard with a dirty tea-towel over the top for anything up to six months, by which time the resulting fumes had cleared a vat-sized hole in the Earth’s Exosphere, approximately 400 km above my parents’ bedroom cupboard.

‘Bloody gorgeous, that…’ my Dad would say, gingerly sipping the stuff with a face-crumpling grimace that made him look like a gruesome cross between Les Dawson and Barry Stuart-Hargreaves from Hi-De-Hi. ‘I don’t know why people bother going to pubs when you can make stuff like this for next to nothing in the kitchen…’

Three hours later, he’d invariably be propping up the bar of the Cross Keys in Yarm High Street, taking hearty glugs on a pint of John Smiths’ Best Bitter while intermittantly scrubbing his tongue with carbolic. Incidentally, in writing all of the above, I can actually distinctly bring to mind the beautiful waft that used to emanate from our sideboard… a gorgeous, evocative haze of beeswax, furniture polish, wood and Gordon’s gin. It must be ten years since I even saw that bloody sideboard, but its distinctive aroma still lingers on in a secluded corner of my brain. Smells are definitely the most evocative of the senses.  

cavernsCaverns of the Snow Witch was another Fighting Fantasy book, this time pitching me headlong into the Crystal Caves of the Icefinger Mountains, where the titular witch herself was indulging in some vaguely nasty faffing around with Hill Trolls, Goblins and Ice Giants. Good to knock off a bit of intrepid evil-foiling before heading out to…


Fantastic. This was a major family tradition, and an experience tinged with both joy and sadness. Joy because I LOVED it. Me, my Mum, my Dad and whichever dogs we had would ALWAYS troop out into the fields and woods around our house and fill up countless Presto carrier bags with piles and piles and piles of ripe, gorgeous blackberries. We walked for miles, and picked thousands of them… our arms would be covered in scratches, our fingers stained purple with the juice, and the sun would hammer down on the backs of our necks as we laughed, joked and said ‘OOYAZ!’ in glorious, family harmony. And then, for weeks afterwards, my Mum would bake the most amazing bramble pies, which we’d drown in Carnation evaporated milk before letting the whole, gorgeous concoction explode upon our gasping taste buds. 

And sadness because I knew, just KNEW that if bramble-picking season had arrived, then undoubtedly the summer was reaching its’ latter stages. The sun still shone during the day, but the nights were darker and just a fraction chillier, the crops had all been gathered and the fields were standing lifeless and dry, and the rustling spectres of autumn were gathering in the woodland.  The transition from summer to autumn is such a gloriously melancholy time of year… the Charlie Brown and Snoopy of nature’s drifting cycle.

Still, there was always Tomorrow’s World at Large, although I’m not altogether certain how this differed from our regular Tomorrow’s World instalments. Was it a Radio 1-style roadshow, with Judith Hann and Kieren Prendeville kicking inflatable football-sized representations of molecular structure into a roaring, half-pissed crowd on the beach at Lytham St Annes?