Wiffle Lever To Full!

Daleks, Death Stars and Dreamy Sci-Fi Nostalgia…

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.



  Chris Orton wrote @

Well, we had our tea even earlier than 5.00pm believe it or not. We were so ravenous by the time that we got back from school that tea was usually served between 4.00pm and 5.00pm. My Dad often wasn’t around at tea time as he worked shifts, so it was just me, my Mam and my little brother. I think that Mam liked to be all finished with the tea things before Coronation Street came on.

Who on earth wants to be waiting until 7.30pm for their tea? That’s a full six plus hours since I would have had my dinner. These southerners are weird…

  bobfischer wrote @

Yeah, looking back across the diary, we seemed to do that as well… I think my Dad was out of work for quite a bit of 1984, in which case tea was often 4.30pm. The front room coffee table would be cleared of my various Fighting Fantasy maps and Doctor Who magazines, and instead would play host to a huge tea-tray (decorated with a picture of two snuffly-nosed puppies) bearing the following…

1. A dark brown teapot with steam curling from the spout

2. A a plate of assorted cakes – usually a selection of almond slices, mini-Bakewell tartsn and snowballs.

3. The aforementions Soreen malt loaf on a saucer, with a couple of slices tantalisingly pre-cut (not tantalising to me, I hasten to add… I couldn’t stand the stuff)

4. A bottle of Heinz tomato ketchup and Hammond’s Chop brown sauce (the ONLY brown sauce worth worthy of the title, as far as I’m concerned), together with a little pepper pot and salt cellar.

The routine was absolutely identical every teatime, six days a week, through the first eighteen years of my life. And describing it now, I actually feel amazingly touched and hanker a little bit after such simple, family times. I really should spend more time with my parents.

  Chris Orton wrote @

I have to say that in terms of brown sauce, I tend to favour HP Fruity these days, although back then it was always Chop sauce or Daddies sauce (no sniggering at the back!).

We only had sandwiches on Saturday and Sunday tea times, as we would have had something cooked at dinnertime.

I’m not sure that this everyday minutiae of my childhood eating habits is really very interesting…

  Fiona Tims wrote @

Haven’t we had this brekkie cereal at night, conversation before?
I too am a member and as recently as my hol in Ireland last month, my friend’s cousin thought is bizaarre that I had a bowl of cereal before bed!

We had our tea at 5ish because my mum had to work in the evenings. I was reading an article on bbcnews the other day about tea at 5 oclock being a working calss northern tradition!

And then there is the whole Breakfast, Dinner, Tea/Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner argument ;p

  Patsy wrote @

I remember distinctly in the late 1950’s not just the 80’s, that mum laying the guilt trip on re the starving children of Africa (and with the same response from us kids too), In London, tea (or dinner as we would now call it – was never before 6 or 6.30!)

  bobfischer wrote @

Fantastic, I wonder if young mothers today still use the ‘starving children of Africa’ technique? It’d be a shame to see such a long-standing British tradition die out! It must have been a US thing as well, as Weird Al Jankovic’s spoof Michael Jackson song ‘Eat It’ contains the line ‘Don’t you know that other kids are starving in Japan…’

I think we have had the night-time cereal-eating discussion before, but I’ve never been afraid of rehashing material.

  bobfischer wrote @

I think we have had the night-time cereal-eating discussion before, but I’ve never been afraid of rehashing material.

  bobfischer wrote @

I think we have had the night-time cereal-eating discussion before, but I’ve never been afraid of rehashing material.

  bobfischer wrote @

I forgot about Viennese Whirls. There was always a lone Viennese Whirl on our teatime cake plate.

When I was very small, I thought they were called ‘Veeny’s Worlds’.

  Big Tom wrote @

I’m having to ration my consumption of your blog – mainly because almost without fail, each entry gives me the nostalgic equivalent of a punch in the stomach, which leaves me struggling to breath and close to tears (of laughter mainly) for a good half hour.

How did the strange shop at the top end of Stockton High Street come to have its highly dubious monopoly on Conyers school uniform? Did the OFT ever investigate? My reversible Conyers rugby shirt got a lot of use, ironically not much of it at Conyers itself (“Tom surprised us all by opting to play tennis during the winter term”, Mr Ledgerwood memorably wrote in one of my reports. No surprise about it…myself and Ste Davis got to spend a double lesson unsupervised, in the warm sports hall, while the rest of the mugs ran round the cold, wet fields). I eventually grew into it, as my Mum predicted – when I was about 25 – and it became an invaluable under-layer for all sorts of other sports except rugby, including American Football, skiing, snowboarding and other cold-weather activities for the next two decades.

It’s been to New Zealand with me and saw its most recent action in a brief return to the rugby field for both of us in Edinburgh. I’ve still got (and still wear) the rugby socks which were bought for me. They must have been thigh length back then, as they almost reach my knees now.

The Stockton shop also provided my Dunlop Green Flash sports shoes, which my Mum kindly wrote my name on, in permanent marker, on the outside of the shoes…ensuring that all similar shoes would be known, for all time, as Dunlop Green Flash Stainers.

The Stockton dentist also told me I had too many teeth, which needed to “come out” (I beginning to suspect this was just a cunning business building ploy, charging to remove teeth which were due to drop out anyway). Got my first experience of the fun of hallucinogenic substances on the knock-out gas there – and usefully my first experience of the downside of tripping, when I spent the next four days dry heaving after they over-gassed me on my second visit.

  bobfischer wrote @

Hang on, you OPTED to play tennis in the winter term? What kind of madness is this? When Mr Ledgerwood took us for PE, we couldn’t opt to do anything! We went outside in the freezing rain at 9.15am and got trampled into the mud by six-foot 12-year-olds while he huddled into his hoodie on the touchline. Laughing. Laughing at us.

‘Any more for Spennymoor?’

Believe it or not, Rawcliffe’s school outfitters still exists, it’s just moved to Prince Regent Street. Apparently the area around Maxwell’s Corner is rather dodgy these days! I must admit, my Mum did things on the cheap, and we only bought from Rawcliffe’s when there was no other option – the school blazers and ties, and the Conyers-specific rugby gear. All my shirts, trousers, jumpers etc were bought in bulk from Woolies and British Home Stores.

Wasn’t dental treatment free in the 1980s? I don’t remember paying for anything at the dentist until about 2001! I never had gas though, so had to wait until the Summer of 1990 for my first hallucinogenic experience (after four pints of Webster’s Best Bitter in The Harvester)

Thanks so much for the kind words about the blog – that genuinely means a lot!

  Big Tom wrote @

I’d like to think we were the first enterprising youngsters to discover the “option” loophole in the PE schedule. However, I suspect it was just the system had changed and Neilsen and Ledgerwood had been forced to relinquish some of their dictatorial powers.

Can’t remember the details of the scheme, but it wasn’t until 4th/5th year that we found we could do it – whatever we did, it worked, and we spent the colder months in tennis whites, in the hall, half heartedly bashing a ball over a net – but probably most likely talking about computers and Dr Who.

Will have to see if I can unearth the old school report!

Was it the four pints of Webster’s Best which caused the hallucinogenic experience?

  bobfischer wrote @

Oh yes, sorry! There were no harder substances involved. Although I probably had some pork scratchings at some stage in proceedings.

I dinstinctly remember my Dad and his friends grumbling about the beer prices in the Harvester at that time, as a pint of Webster’s Best went for a mind-blowing 90p. ‘If it gets to over a pound a pint, they can shove it,’ said my Dad, and his 50-year-old friends all nodded and concurred. This was in 1990.

Nearly twenty years on, they still act out the same routine, although three pounds a pint is the new cut-off point.

  Doctor Giles Parcel wrote @

I, too, eat cereal at bedtime but in the name of scientific research. I shall discontinue this meal as soon as a box of Alpen passes the £3 barrier.

  bobfischer wrote @

‘They can stick their £3 Alpen up their jacksies. I’ll make me own bloody Alpen at home for next to nowt’

‘You’re right, Geoff, you’re right…’

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