Wiffle Lever To Full!

Daleks, Death Stars and Dreamy Sci-Fi Nostalgia…

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?


  Thing wrote @

Woman, Woman’s Own, and Woman’s Weekly are all still around, and there are several other similar magazines which seem to have mostly the same format and content and to be aimed at an identical market. After a quick bit of research, here’s some of the titles.

There’s Bella, Best, The People’s Friend, Look, Now, Love It!, My Weekly, That’s Life!, New!, Real People, Take A Break, Pick Me Up, Full House and Reveal.

They’re possibly a little less middle class and reserved looking than the cover reproduced above, and are all similarly glossy, with the standard mix of real life stories, fiction, interviews, fashion, make up, and celebrity gossip. To that extent, there might have been some influence from the likes of Heat there. Some have subsidiary titles, like Woman’s Weekly Fiction, Take A Break’s Fiction Feast, and Take A Break’s Fate And Fortune, which seems to be about astrology, readings and the like. The People’s Friend was always supposed to be the staid one, wasn’t it? I think that might mainly be fiction.

  Dr. Giles Parcel wrote @

You have certainly brought that old sideboard to life for me. I feel as though I have spent ten minutes with my head stuck inside it. Whilst there I learned that 1971 was not a great vintage for the Blue Nun and that it’s never a good idea to allow Michael Douglas to change the way you look. I shall be a figure of fun over at the BMA until this gooseberry rinse has grown out.

  Chris Orton wrote @

There’s also a womans magazine called Chat (which has about five different spin-off variants) which Mrs Chris buys each week for some reason best known to herself. And she’s only 31 with no children, so it isn’t something exclusive to mams.

I think that every home in the 1980s had a sideboard of some kind, always with some unpleasant alcoholic beverage in there that never got drank. Ours also contained stuff like envelopes, pens, display glassware and, when we finally joined the modern world and got a telephone in *1991* – telephone books. One of the drawers in it too was where I remember my Mam keeping mine and my brother’s school dinner money too.

I always used to go blackberrying with my Dad, but I was usually a bit squeemish about it as inevitably there would be a collection of those maggots wriggling around in the bag that you collected them in. Round our way we had a load of hazlenut trees which me and Dad used to go and collect the nuts from at around the same time of year. I also used to pick pea pods and broad beans too (without my Dad), but as they were located in the allotments of old gadgies, I don’t think that I was really supposed to do it.

  Fiona Tims wrote @

Play d’oh is my fave childhood smell. The pots sold today don’t have the smell anymore 😦
However I have a couple of pots stashed away which still have the gorgeous smell :O)

  bobfischer wrote @

Thing – sterling work as ever! I’m amazed that all those old magazines are still going, as they actually felt a bit old hat even in 1984. The Cosmo revolution had very much begun. Woman’s Weekly in particular looked like its layout and content had been unchanged since the 1940s.

I’m sure I’ll still have some clippings from Woman’s Own and Woman, as occasionally they’d contain features on sci-fi people like Mark Hamill or Peter Davison (inevitably with a stereotypically female angle… ‘My Charming Home Life With Actress Sandra Dickinson’, that kind of thing) so I’d be allowed to cut them out and keep them in some scrapbook or other. And if I struck lucky, then the page on the reverse would be a mucky problem page, with Anne Raeburn dishing out advice to middle-aged women with tumultuous sex lives.

Dr Parcel – is there room in the lab to concoct the naughtiest strawberry shortcake recipe ever, or have you still got your hands full testing everyone in Britain for AIDS?

Chris – glad to hear sideboard-ownership was widespread in the 1980s. I’ve no idea what happened to our old one (I suspect my Dad just couldn’t be arsed moving it when they finally left the house in 2000) but I now have a brand new sideboard in my current front room! And yes, it’s STILL filled with a new generation of pens, paperwork, old photos and knitting gear.

Did you really not have a phone in the house until 1991? That’s amazing! If you don’t mind me asking… why? Didn’t that make life amazingly difficult?

Fiona – great that you’ve managed to stash some old school Playdoh away! It’s amazing how much smells bring back the past. I think a few weeks ago I wrote about a brand of soap called ‘Shield’ that was the soap of choice in our bathroom all the way through my childhood. I was shopping in Tesco today and saw some, and couldn’t resist! The first time I’ve used it in at least twenty years, and after my shower tonight I was slightly disturbed to discover that I smelt exactly like my Dad circa 1982. See, nostalgia can be both fun AND creepy!

The other smell that really gets me is smoke from an open fire, experienced outside the house itself. I was out on the moors last weekend, and walked past a remote farmhouse with a little plume of coal fire smoke trickling from the chimney. For about two minutes I was absolutely back in a black December night in 1981, hammering my football around the garden and waiting for Crackerjack to start… lovely.

  Justin wrote @

Talking of Chrlie Brown have you seen this rather amusing spoof done in the style of Frank Miller? Schultz City Part 1 and part 2.

Pure genius IMO 🙂

  Justin wrote @

I’ll try that Part 1 link again!

  Dr. Giles Parcel wrote @

Young Fischer your question reveals that you have got things the wrong way round where that magazine cover is concerned: my department has been resposible these last 25 years for testing everyone in Britain for strawberry shortcake. This is quite a task, as new people keep being born and becoming dessert-active.
Incidentally, your own (fully confidential) shortcake test is overdue. Please bring a sample to the portakabin any morning except Wednesdays.

  bobfischer wrote @

Justin – they’re great, thanks!

Dr Parcel, you know full well that I’ve been given the all-clear in the shortcake department. I’m more of a milk pudding man… that’s right, I’m UHT Positive.

  Dr. Giles Parcel wrote @

Your confidential result: the tests have revealed dangerously high levels of meringue cells in your system. Your eye-to-flapjack ratio is also causing some concern. Please ring 0875 K-I-P L-I-N-G at a convenient time.

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