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Archive for September, 2009

Extracts from Bob’s 1984 Diary… Volume 274

Sunday 30th September 1984

Got up at 10.00 and at 10.30 I rang Doug. Then I had some toast and at 11.00 Doug came. We got on our bikes and went down to the copse at Private Lane to get some conkers for Atkinson. We came back at 1.00 and counted the conkers, then had dinner.

After dinner we went to the big BMX track and met Hutch, then we came home and saw Mrs Haworth and Squeak on the way back. At 3.00 Doug went home and at 5.00 I had tea, then I listened to the charts till 7.00, when I played patientce.

At 7.15 I watched Child’s play, then I watched An hour of Live and let die, before switching over at 8.45 and watching the film of the Last of the Summer Wine. At 10.15 I went to bed.

I’d forgotten about our Conkers Commission! As we walked home across the swamp-like school field on Friday afternoon, I’d mentioned to Doug in passing that I fancied doing a bit of serious, Olympic-standard conker gathering over the weekend, and he swiftly agreed to join me in this noble quest.

‘You can get some for me as well if you like,’ a deep, ominous voice had rumbled from behind us. We spun around to find a grinning Ian Atkinson, two years older and twice the height of Doug and I stuck together, striding purposefully across the quicksand. Ian was a strapping, towering, blond-haired figure who’d been a mate of mine at Levendale Primary School, as well as (I think) one of Mr Hirst’s crack early 1980s football XI. There are probably a couple of forty-year-old former Egglescliffe Comprehensive School strikers still having the occasional nightmare about him.

‘I’ll pay you commission,’ he explained. ‘£1 for every 100 conkers collected, and a special bonus if you get 500. Come and find me on Monday morning and we’ll sort out the payment’.

That was enough for Doug and me. Pounds signs appeared in our eyes, our jaws dropped open with an audible ‘Ker-CHINGGGG!’ and – two days later – we were cheerily trespassing in private woodland half a mile from my house, furiously chucking sticks into tree branches and stuffing the resulting rain of conkers into the bulging Presto carrier bags that we’d brought in our Parka pockets.


‘Break them out of the shells, and we’ll be able to carry more!’ I shouted, cannily. But, really, we couldn’t be arsed. Within minutes, our bags had ferocious spikes sticking out at all angles, and we looked as though we were transporting instruments of medieval torture around the outskirts of Yarm.

(I would have gone back and made a short film, but the last time I went to collect conkers at this veritable horse chestnut hotspot, an old man came angrily out of his house and warned me that ‘This is a Private Road, you know, it’s not for any Tom, Dick or Harry to wander around with his dog’. I’d like to say that I offered the innocence of youth as my excuse, but this actually happened in 2006, when I was 33 years old)

I had an odd attitude to conkers as a kid. Really, if I’m honest, it was all about the thrill of the chase. I hardly ever bothered stringing them up, and only played the game itself a handful of times, having my pale knuckles rapped by Timothy Scott’s clearly vinegar-soaked 47-er once too often on a freezing, drizzly October dinnertime. But I loved collecting them. No copse, wood or parkland was safe from the prospect of a furtive, 11-year-old Fischer snaffling anything remotely brown and spherical from the forest floor. And, if I was lucky, it might even turn out to be a conker. 

Thursday Sug
I’ll also never forget the day, in Autumn 1980, that comedy genius Andrew ‘Sug’ Sugden (above)claimed to have found ‘the biggest conker in the world… a conker that’ll beat any other conker you can think of, hands down’. When questioned about its actual size by a baying prosecution counsel comprising me, Andrew ‘Stan’ Henry and Paul ‘Frankie’ Frank, he made a gesture with his hands that suggested something larger than the average watermelon was on the cards.

‘Bring it in tomorrow…’ we challenged, through narrowed slits of eyes.

‘Alright then,’ he snorted, defiantly.

The following morning, the tension at the school gates was palapable. Until Sug, bless him, wandered in across the grassy knoll, merrily swinging what was clearly a large Golden Delicious apple, daubed liberally with brown poster paint from Leslie Brown’s Toy Shop and with a three-foot length of string tied through the core. He gave us a cheery wink and smashed a passing Christopher Herbert over the head with it. We didn’t stop laughing till February.

I loved Autumn as a kid. Once the culture shock of the return to school had faded, you had September with its bramble-picking expeditions and steaming crumbles, and October with its conkers and Halloween – together with the travelling ‘Yarm Fair’ that took over the High Street in a riot of noise, colour and simmering violence on the third weekend of the month. November had Bonfire Night and my birthday, and – after that – we were firmly into the countdown to Christmas, and a sense of mounting excitement that would swell inside me for fully six weeks before exploding all over a pristine new Star Wars Annual and a king-sized Toblerone at 7.30am on a frost-speckled Christmas morning.

When I was a boy, Autumn came second only to Summer in my ‘Favourite Seasons’ league, but now that I’m 36 and my summers are just full of work and hassle and disappointing Bank Holidays, Autumn has firmly claimed the top spot. I still find everything mentioned in the previous paragraph impossibly exciting, and now combine those with a higher appreciation for swirling mists, mysterious dark nights and an infinitely better class of drizzle. Yay!

Anyway, great to see me settling down to enjoy Last of the Summer Wine, as well. The ‘film’ is undoubtedly ‘Getting Sam Home’, the 1983 feature-length Christmas special, in which Foggy, Clegg and Compo take their terminally-ill chum Sam for one final night with Lynda Baron’s delightfully accomodating Lily Bless ‘Er… only for him to pass away ‘on the job’, as it were. It’s one of my favourite-ever pieces of TV, and I recommend anyone who considers Last of the Summer Wine to have been nothing more than three decades of old blokes whizzing downhill in tin baths to hunt it down and have their preconceptions smashed into smithereens.

It’s dark, melancholy, hilarious and beautifully played, and Roy Clarke’s script is up there with the best work of Alan Bennett and Alan Plater when it comes to capturing surreal Northern whimsy, obsessed with the minutae of day-to-day mundanity and always ready to subvert it with a dash of blackly comic observation.

I’m delighted to say that this weekend myself and Sorcha and our equally misguided friends Drew and Emma made a respectful pilgramage to Holmfirth, where Last of the Summer Wine has been filmed for the last 35 years. And here we are!!! In Sid’s Cafe itself!!!! (It’s amazing, and does a lovely cup of tea… and even has its own website, www.sidscafe.com)

And naturally, Ivy wasn’t too pleased when Drew started fingering her buns…

Anyone know if anything’s left of the holiday camp from Hi-De-Hi? We’re already looking at our next exciting excursion…

Extracts from Bob’s 1984 Diary… Volume 273

Saturday 29th September 1984

Woke up at 10.20 and watched Saturday Superstore for a while, then I played Patiencte. Then I watched Lenny Henry, Shakin’ Stevens and Nipper the dog (to name three) do the Pop panel on Saturday Superstore.

That finished at 12.15, and then I mucked on till dinner at 12.30. After dinner I went out and played football, and when I came in I went upstairs and put all my papers into a file.

At 4.00 We went to Grandma’s (I carried the fish) and after a glass of sherry I had tea. At 5.10 I watched The Tripods, and at 5.45 I watched The Late Late Breakfast Show. Then I climbed The Tree, and at 6.30 we came home (On the way dad found some skirting board and I got an Eagle)

At 7.00 I watched Punchlines and at 7.30 I watched Bottle Boys. At 8.00 I watched Paul Daniels and at 9.00 I went to bed.

Saturday Superstore! The slightly knocked-off replacement for Swap Shop, with Mike Read replacing L’il Noel and a dubious department store theme shoehorned into proceedings (‘And now I think Sarah is over in the Menswear department… Sarah? SARAH???!?’) The show had debuted on Saturday 2nd October 1982, and – after the first edition – my Mum had offered the very perceptive criticism ‘Hmmm, it’s a bit BITTY, isn’t it?’

Thankfully by 1984 most of the more contrived shop elements had been discreetly brushed under the studio carpet (probably by John Craven in a headscarf and pinny) and the show was great fun. Legendary highlights that EVERYONE remembers…

1. Matt Bianco being called ‘a bunch of wankers’ by a live phone-in caller, much to their apparent amusement

2. The Flying Pickets offering, as a competition prize, a tea-towel decorated with the face of Karl Marx

3. Anthony Ainley calling the show live, in character as The Master, and – basically – offering Colin Baker out for a scrap. Sievehead the Robot looked decidedly troubled…

3. Margaret Thatcher being repeatedly asked ‘Where will you be if nuclear war breaks out?’ by a tiny girl, before  slinking off to the Pop Panel and pretty much demolishing the burgeoning career of Manchester indie-pop combo Thrashing Doves by expressing a liking for the below video…

I seem to remember David Icke being part of the early line-up as well, already wearing suspiciously turquoise Pringle sweaters and casting sideways ‘Is he or isn’t he a lizard man?’ glances at Keith Chegwin. Nowadays, of course, all of this deliciously inspired barminess has been expunged by the forces of TV cookery, and so my current Saturday morning routines are soundtracked by fat, plummy-voiced pillocks fiddling around with ‘Gratinated Scallops’ and doing obscene things to lobsters.

Oh they would be, if I didn’t stick two fingers up at the screen before switching off and finding something more entertaining to do. Like defragging my hard drive, or putting cigarettes out on my arms.


I’ve vague memories of Nipper, the HMV dog, being coerced to pass judgement on the latest pop videos alongside Shaky and Lenny Henry, and it makes me pine for a lost, golden age of Saturday morning childrens’ TV, before the BBC seemingly decided that kids weren’t really worth bothering about, and all of those cruddy pop videos and cartoons were better off stuck on some remote, desolate outpost of a digital channel rather than clogging up the regular schedules. Still, I’m sure that in 30 years time, a generation of media twats in early middle age will be getting all misty-eyed about the day, in their dim and distant childhoods, that James Martin made an olive oil mash and paired it up with a nice Baglio Rosso.

Anyway….! Needless to say, my memories of Saturday Superstore are lovely, and hugely evocative of long, lazy weekend mornings spent fiddling around with Doctor Who magazines in front of the telly while my Mum unpacked the shopping from Presto and my Dad did strange things beneath the bonnets of cars and waited for Football Focus to start. At which point, I would vanish upstairs and ‘put all my papers in a file’. Read it and weep, thrillsuckers!

(Please note: Proper, singalong, whistleable TV themes as well. Not some vague, washy, electronic mush cooked up by a recent media studies graduate who wants to be in Tangerine Dream. Am I just getting old here?)  

I’ve got a feeling that the fish I was trusted with in the car on the way over to my Gran’s house wasn’t a takeaway, but her pet goldfish – finally being returned to its natural home on the hostess trolley after a summer-long sojourn on our front room shelf while my Gran had been in hospital. We’ll have fastened a lid securely onto his tank and I’ll have gripped it tightly with my knees as we sped through the backstreets of Acklam. The goldfish equivalent of interstellar travel.

I got a sherry for my reward as well! The slippery slope to juvenile delinquency starts here. By the time I was 15, I was mainlining four bottles of Harvey’s Bristol Cream a day. Sherry was the first alcoholic drink I ever tried, an experience that came – brace yourself – at the age of five, at Christmas 1977. I was definitely allowed a small glass of sweet sherry at Christmas and New Year, my parents being very much of the philosophy that if they made alcohol a forbidden, out-of-bounds temptation in the house, then it would become far more alluring to me than if it was a matter-of-fact part of our everyday lives.

So by the age of 11 I was drinking the occasional glass of my Dad’s home-brew wine with my Sunday dinner (something that definitely SHOULD have been forbidden, possibly under the auspices of the Geneva Convention) and was also allowed to glug on the odd glass of supermarket cider on a weekend evening (and my Mum, disturbingly, still occasionally repeats her not-entirely-accurate mantra that ‘it’s only cider, there’s nothing in it’)

It’s a philosophy that worked out OK in the long run, and – let’s face it – a little noggin of QC Cream is just what you need to take the edge off Episode 3 of The Tripods.

Good to see my Dad’s eye for a scavenging opportunity undimmed by a spot of teatime imbibing, too. We were indeed driving back to Yarm past the Trust House Forte hotel on the Thornaby back road when he spotted a length of seemingly unsullied skirting board lying abandoned on the nearby grass verge. 

‘I’m having that,’ he exclaimed, and slammed on the brakes. ‘Bloody good stuff that. £1.50 a yard at Dickens…’ He slid it along the length of our Reliant Scimitar, and – within three weeks – it was covered in white Dulux gloss paint at the bottom of our dining room walls. There’s probably still a workman from the Trust Horse Forte 1984 refurbishment scheme wandering around the roadside, scratching his hard hat and looking despairingly under the bushes.

Extracts from Bob’s 1984 Diary… Volume 272

Friday 28th September 1984

Woke up at 7.35 and at 8.30 Doug came and then Gazzie arrived, and we played on the tarzie before going to school. First lesson was Basketball and we did some races.

Next was French and we had to write out another conversation, and after that was Geography in which Mr Flynn was trying to flog us some books about Yarm that he had written for 50p!

At 12.00 I had dinner, then it was maths. After that it was music, and then it was double science. First we had to measure the tennis courts, then the path outside. At 3.40 I came home with Doug across the field and when I got home I played football outside.

At 4.30 Doug came and we finished our maps of Yarm for Geography homework, then I hit old Poggy Doggy while I was on the tarzie. At 5.00 Doug went and I had tea then I played football till Blankety Blank at 7.00.

At 7.30 I watched Play your cards right, then came Me and my girl at 8.00 and We Love TV at 8.30. I watched Tell the truth at 9.00 and at 9.30 I had a wash and went to bed.

I remember Mr Flynn’s books! They provided a really nice little history of our medieval town, were neatly published in a homely DIY style, and were on sale at Yarm Bookshop, with all proceeds going to the Conyers school fund to help build us a new Sports Hall. Or to provide a new cage to house Mr Rolfe during full moons.  Obviously a lovely thing to have done, but – hey! – he was my Geography teacher, so I was duty-bound to be a bit sneery and dismissive of it all. Baaaaah! 

Meanwhile, in Music, Miss Stainsby was trying her best to instill some musical knowledge into minds that had been irreversibly formatted into ‘It’s Not Music Unless Peter Powell Introduces It With A Crap Joke’ mode. 25 years ago today, she had the thankless task of introducing us grotty oiks to the concept of the musical stave…

It looks like we were spelling out simple words by placing notes on the corresponding ‘letter’ on the stave. We did this, of course, by using the standard musical acronym ‘Every Good Boy Deserves Football’, as dictated to us by a twinkly-eyed Miss Stainsby. 

‘That’s not the F-word that I would have used,’ whispered Doug, nudging me with his elbow and winking salaciously. I smiled, but – amazingly – I wasn’t really in the mood for smut. This musical notation lesson was the first time at Conyers school that I remember feeling completely out of my depth… I just couldn’t comprehend how the brilliant pop records I heard on the radio could be translated into these weird dots and lines. A feeling not helped by the fact that our class seemed to be suddenly filled with pre-pubescant musical prodigies who’d been playing the Cor Anglais since the age of three.   

Still, not to worry – Double Science OUTSIDE!!! It was always hugely exciting to have a standard indoor lesson breaking out of the dusty confines of the classroom and heading for the wide, open prairies of, erm… the tennis courts. But when Mr Warren told us to ‘put your blazers back on, we’re heading outdoors for today’s important research’, a little frisson of excitement spread giddily around Class 1CW.

I’m still not certain why we seemed to be measuring every single straight line in Conyers School, but there was only one place this was going to end up – Simon Bentley’s amazing pudding-bowl haircut fringe. Before that, we had the tennis courts to consider… and our measurements were made using fabulous wooden wheel contraptions, pushed along with a burnished teak handle and making a loud ‘CLICK’ for every metre travelled. If you ran with them (and, naturally, we did) it sounded like a stampede of angry, giant Rubik Cubes.

Incidentally, I’ve just had a weird flashback to a little recurring theme from our science lessons around this time… Messrs Spayne and Mason re-enacting a gruesome torture scene from a film that they both claimed to have seen on TV. In a nutshell… the victim has his hand placed firmly on a table, with fingers splayed. The tormentor (played by Mason with a sterling ‘evil Nazi’ accent) then approaches it across the table with a knife, grinning maniacally and saying ‘Chop chop chop… chop chop chop… chop chop chop…’) as he brings the blade closer to the hand.

Double Science finger manglement inevitably followed, but has anyone any idea which film (or TV show) this might have come from?

Good to see Doug and I finally making use of the school field short cut home, as well. This inevitably resulted in our shoes and trousers from the knees down looking as though they’d been through a slurry vat, but hey! It took five minutes off our journey and only meant an extra two hours of cleaning and washing for our Mums, so where was the harm? This swamp-like journey brought us out through a large gap in the hedge near the garage across the road from my house and was an acknowledged route to and from Conyers School for pupils and teachers alike. Needless to say it’s now impossible to do, as the entire school grounds are surrounded by Colditz-style security fences complete with watch towers, searchlights and Mr Flynn carrying out random spot checks for passports and ‘papers’. Only those carrying Red Cross parcels are allowed access during the hours of daylight.   

And what a splendid night of mid-1980s TV! We’ve covered most of these before, but let’s have a bit of appreciation for ‘Me And My Girl’, with a dashing Richard O’Sullivan as a single Dad bringing up his wayward teenage daughter (Joanne Ridley, who – naturally – I fancied like mad).

Tim Brooke-Taylor provided sterling support as O’Sullivan’s bumbling work colleague, as I recall. I’d buy these if they came out on DVD. Which is probably no surprise to anybody.

Extracts from Bob’s 1984 Diary… Volume 271

Thursday 27th September 1984

Woke up at 8.00 and Doug came at 8.30. At 8.35 Gazzie came and we went to school. First we had double science, then music. Then it was Geography, and we finished our history of Yarm.

At 12.00 we had dinner, then it was DT. Next was RE and after that it was History. At 3.40 I carried Doug’s bag for him as he had his salad to bring home, and when Doug went home I played out till tea at 5.00.

At 7.00 I watched Tomorrow’s world and at 7.30 I watched Top of the pops. At 8.00 I watched The magnificent Evens, then Duty Free. Lastly I saw A kick up the eighties and at 9.30 I went to bed.

Ah, still measuring things… this time, the mass of different materials found around the science laboratory. ‘Put Anita Hargreaves on the scales, she’ll redifine the laws of physics,’ shouted Jo Spayne. ‘Get on with your work,’ replied Mr Warren, entirely reasonably. Did we really have such an impressive slab of marble in the science laboratories? And had the wax, as speculated, come from Simon Bentley’s ears?

I’m sure this will be as much of a surprise to him as it was to me, but Mr Flynn’s Geography lesson 25 years ago today provided one of the most exciting moments of my school career to date… not only did we finish our official History of Yarm (26th Sep 1805… Iron Bridge built, costing £8000. 13th Jan 1806… Iron Bridge collapses) but we also produced… THIS!!!

Yep, a home-made map of Yarm High Street and its surrounding environs, complete with – SURPRISE, SURPRISE – the first-ever site of Conyers School clearly marked. It was founded in 1590, you know. I believe the date was actually mentioned in a few of our lessons. Once or twice. Every twenty minutes. For seven years.

Anyway, after almost a full year of playing Fighting Fantasy books, my burgeoning inner geek had developed a fully-fledged love of map-making, and to discover that Yarm’s cobbled High Street ran almost precisely from South – North, and that the River Tees enveloped it in an exciting horse-shoe shape, was impossibly exciting. And this… why, THIS would explain why I could watch the Sun setting from my Eastward-facing bedroom window on an early Winter’s evening! Ah, the glories of modern science. I was genuinely overcome by these revelations, and my mind spent the rest of the day deliriously mulling them over. Good job I was only a humble schoolkid, and not expected to handle sharp objects or deal with heavy machinery in the course of my working day.


Yes, in ‘CDT’ (‘There’s no Design or Technology without Craft, is there n-‘ ‘YES MR HENDRY, WE KNOW!!!’) we were faffing about with industrial equipment and, erm, drawing nice pictures of it all while our genial, bearded Man Mountain teacher paced around the workshop in an oil-stained apron.

‘The vices used in the metal work room are fixed to the bench top. The jaws of the vice are HARD and will mark soft metals. To prevent this happening JAW guards are used. These are sometimes called SOFT jaws or vice grips’

That’s what I wrote in my CDT exercise book 25 years ago today, and the words in capital letters have been underlined in fine-nibbed pencil. CDT underlining had to be conducted with the utmost precision, and all lines were required to be EXACTLY ONE MILLIMETRE below the above text, or the fabric of the Universe (and Mr Hendry’s apron) would no doubt begin to unravel. I’ve no idea why such precision was required, but can’t help but speculate that somebody, somewhere in the CDT department had an undiagnosed form of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. (‘And remember, that’s OCD – there’s no Compulsions or Disorders without Obsessions…’)  

I also had a vague idea that the word ‘vice’ was vaguely rude and worthy of further discussion, but was unable to conduct my investigations properly because my usual partner-in-smut Doug was away in the Home Economics department making a delicious fruit salad. And then covering it in clingfilm for the precarious mile-long walk home while a procession of annoying 12-year-old oiks ran past shouting ‘Fruit Wanker!!!!’ and trying to knock it out of his hands.

And so to Top of The Pops. Gather around, ye Radio 1 presenters, and let’s see who’s got the short straw this week. Ah Peter Powell, well done sir! Now get out there and try to make this horrible lot look vaguely exciting…

• Animal Nightlife – Mr. Solitaire [Performance]
• Big Country – East Of Eden [Performance]
• Prince – Purple Rain [Promo Video]
• Sade – Smooth Operator [Performance]
• Shakin Stevens – A Letter To You [Promo Video]
• Stephanie Mills – The Medicine Song [Promo Video]
• Stevie Wonder – I Just Called To Say I Love You [Promo Video]
• U2 – Pride (In The Name Of Love) [Promo Video]
• UB40 – If It Happens Again [Performance]

‘These all sound the bloody same’ my Dad used to say, usually mis-timing his return from a regulation 20-minute bath and entering the front room at approximately 7.52pm. Just for once, it’s hard to disagree with him. Although it’s good to see my old favourite Shaky still going strong, and donning a flying jacket to spring a lissom 1980s Rapunzel using only a pad of A4 paper and a bi-plane…

I was hoping beyond hope that his message in the sky was going to read ‘UB40 ARE SHITE – SHAKY RULES’ but, aside from that, what a splendidly entertaining video!

Extracts from Bob’s 1984 Diary… Volume 270

Wednesday 26th September 1984

Woke up at 7.50 and got up at 8.15. At 8.45 Doug came with Gazzie and we went to school. First it was art and I got one third of a merit, and then came history and maths.

At 12.00 I had dinner, then it was French. Next was English, and finally Science. At 3.40 I came home and had tea, and at 5.00 I watched Think of a number. At 5.30 I watched The good life, then I went out.

Came in at 7.00 and did my homework, then I watched Benny Hill at 8.00. At 8.30 I watched Fresh Fields, and I watched Minder at 9.00. Then I watched the end of the Black Adder before going to bed at 10.00.

Good to see Gareth ‘Gazzie’ Jones joining mine and Doug’s little walking-to-school arrangement… I think his parents had just discovered that it was far easier to drop him at my house then get clogged up in the procession of Ford Escorts and Volvos gridlocking the entrance to Conyers School. Which suited us down to the ground, and gave us an five minutes of smutty cameraderie to help us through the day.

The mornings were starting to get seriously damp and miserable now, with mushy brown leaves and the odd premature conker dotting the pavements, but there was always that sturdy old favourite ‘Tuthankhamen’ to warm our 11-year-old cockles…

Scribbled in coloured pencils exactly 25 years ago today, with drizzle hammering against Mrs Ansbro’s first floor window, this was probably the 4,315th drawing of the Teenage Pharoah that I’d attempted since starting school in 1977, and will undoubtedly not have been the last.

Still, credit to Mrs Ansbro for kindly debunking the ‘Curse of the Pharoahs’ myths that had so terrified me during our Ancient Egyptians topic work at Levendale Primary School in early 1981. I’d been so shaken by Mrs Keasey’s stories of King Tut’s Curse that I’d taken to assuming ANYTHING older than the previous Tuesday’s Evening Gazette had potential to bring death, woe and famine upon my family. This culminated in me refusing to touch a 1920s halfpenny coin that my Dad brought home after discovering it in a Teesside garden during a bit of part-time building work.

‘I’m not going anywhere near it…’ I insisted, backing up nervously against the dining room wall.

‘Why?’ he frowned. 

‘It might be cursed. I’ve been reading at school about The Curse Of The Pharoahs’.

‘It’s alright, it’s not from a tomb in the Valley of The Kings’

‘Where’s it from, then?’

‘A council house garden in Hemlington’

I weighed up the options and decided I’d still rather not take the risk. I was still terrified of the house spiders that landed in our bathroom sink every Autumn, I wasn’t doing anything that might provoke a plague of locusts.

Thankfully, by 1984, I was of more of a scientific mind, which came in handy when Mr Warren set us to work measuring the laboratory with a meter rule…

I’m not sure what the scientific hypothesis for this experiment was, but the practical result was an outbreak of metre-rule swordfencing that made the exploits of the Three Musketeers look like a minor punch-up down a Thornaby back alley. Conclusion: Science Class 1CW are a bunch of annoying gits.

Still, I made up for it by watching Think Of A Number with Johnny Ball, still one of the greatest educational TV shows ever made, and with a title sequence that has the power to strip away the past 25 years like old Vymura wallpaper…

And ‘The Black Adder’ was, of course, the first series of the now legendary historical sitcom – although this was a repeat, as the original screening was in summer 1983. A very underrated series though, often overlooked in favour of the bawdier sequels, and with lovely little cameos from the likes of Peter Cook and Brian Blessed…

Extracts from Bob’s 1984 Diary… Volume 269

Tuesday 25th September 1984

When Doug came over, we went to school and first it was assembly. Then it was English, then RE, then English again. Lastly we had drama and at 12.00 we had dinner.

Then, when we came in it was French, followed by Maths. Lastly we had HE and I made an apple crumble. Luckily Doug carried my bag for me so I got home in safety.

At 5.00 I had tea and at 5.10 I watched Star Trek. Then Doug came and we went to the youth club disco. After a good lark on down there I came home and went to bed at 9.00.

Ooooh, Conyers assembly! As far as I recall, these were rare and hallowed occasions, conducted only once every few weeks and usually at times of great moral outrage. Outbreaks of mascara-wearing amongst the lower sixth form boys, reports of pre-pubescent heads being inserted into toilet bowls, that kind of thing. The entire school population would pile into the gym, where our headmaster – the terrifying Mr Metcalfe, a towering, black-clad, bald-headed man with scary slits for eyes – would lecture forth about the importance of the school community spirit.

(I should add in his defence, that I got to know Mr Metcalfe a little bit better during my sixth form days, and he was an undisputedly charming and fair-minded chap. And once complimented me on my shirt, which put me in a good mood for the rest of the week. Until a Boro home defeat to Watford intervened)

No idea why such an assembly had been called on this particular morning, but there’ll have been the few usual warnings of vile retribution on boys that tucked their jumpers into their trousers, and undoubtedly someone will have enthusiastically broken wind during our recital of the Lord’s Prayer. If Alistair Burton was on form, he could often even get one in before we reached ‘Hallowed be thy name’.

In RE, our whistle-stop tour of the world’s religious beliefs had moved onto Animism, which led me to draw this – let’s face it – rather offensive depiction of (ahem) a modern, 1980s African village…

25 years on, I apologise unreservedly. I think I based my entire knowledge of African tribal life on the conversations between Rigsby and Philip in Rising Damp.

Aside from the occasional ‘helping out’ spell in the kitchen with my Mum, this was the first time I ever attempted anything approaching a serious bit of cooking. Our Home Economics department consisted of a dozen, upright gas cookers hidden amongst the 1984 World Tupperware Mountain. The gas hobs required lighting using a ‘clicker’ (basically a plastic gizmo with a bit of sparking flint at the end) which was also – we quickly discovered – also pretty good at singing the edges of school jumpers.

apple crumble3
Alistair Burton, Ian Farrage and Marc Thompson were all in my HE class, and somehow – between endless arsing around and some expert margerine-flinging when the feared Mrs Gillson wasn’t watching – we managed to concoct three slightly pathetic-looking apple crumbles between us. Here’s the recipe if anyone fancies making a better job of it… 

Notice a generous whitewash of Tippex sloshed across the page. The fact that I made a complete horse’s arse of WRITING DOWN THE RECIPE doesn’t bode extraordinarily well for the actual cooking process, but I’m sure my parents manfully struggled their way through it in front of Northern Life. 

And God bless Doug for helping me home with the interminable thing. That’s what mates are for… he carried my ubiquitous Puma sports bag while I teetered along the main road with my crumble-filled Pyrex dish in my hands. That’s what I mean when I say I ‘got home in safety’ although my dramatic turn of phrase suggests that I was expecting to be ambushed by Yarm’s notorious Apple Crumble Highwaymen somewhere between Conyers School gates and Crossroads Petrol Station.

It was probably still repeating on me at the Youth Club Disco. 

PS Thought it was worth mentioning that last Saturday, I saw my old 1984 English teacher Mrs Macdonald for the first time in years! She was crossing the street outside the Princess Alice pub in Middlesbrough as I was walking back from our 5-0 home defeat to West Bromwich Albion. I wasn’t sure she’d know who I was, so I didn’t say hello, but she doesn’t really look any different.

PPS I’m away for a couple of days now, so it might be Sunday evening before I can do a proper catch-up. But have a fun weekend, and don’t flush anyone’s head down the bogs until I get back to supervise.

Exclusive Rubber Knob Update!

Regular readers of this Blog will no doubt remember Volume #265 of this rubbish (dated 21st September) when I bemoaned the difficulty in obtaining authentic pictures of genuine 1970s-style school wooden benches, complete with white rubber knobs and hooks for easy attachment to wall-based PE apparatus.

Huge thanks are therefore due to my old Levendale Primary School teacher Mr Hirst, who has gone WAY beyond the call of duty to provide us all with the following SEXSATIONAL SCHOOL BENCH PHOTO SHOOT!!!!

Come on lads, feast your eyes on this beautiful bevy of benches, all ready for double PE on a drizzly Thursday afternoon and a couple of toe-knacking rounds of bare-footed Benchball. PHWOARRRRR!!!


Extracts from Bob’s 1984 Diary… Volume 268

Monday 24th September 1984

Woke up at 8.45 and got up at 8.00. At 8.35 Doug came and we went to school. We had maths, then History, followed by double rugby indoor. After tackling a continuous line of wets, I had dinner at 12.00.

Then it was French, and that was followed by English. Next came Geog, and then Doug and I finished the sheet in maths and did an answer sheet. At 3.40 I came home and played out for a while.

Then I came in and whitened my trainers, and at 7.40 I watched Get Set Go. Then I mucked on till Kelly Monteith at 9.00. Went to bed at 9.30.

That’s not a typing error in the opening lines… I really do claim in my diary entry for this day that I got out of bed 45 minutes before I woke up. This is either the result of…

a) sleepwalking
b) a successful time-travelling experiment conducted in my bedroom using a complex system of Doctor Who paperbacks, Pritt Stick and fluff
c) Making a horse’s arse of my diary

The only time I ever sleepwalked as a kid was in the Autumn of 1983, when I opened my lounge door in my pyjamas (funny place to have a door, but there you go) and walked in on my Dad, watching the end of Newsnight and drinking a knobbly pint glass of Trophy Best Bitter (complete with handle). Amazingly – in my sleep – I claimed that my  ‘bedside clock was upside down, and I thought it was half past six in the morning’ which I’m still incredibly proud of. What an astonishing act of subconscious bullshitting. I wish I could be such an inventive liar when I’m actually awake.

And I refuse to believe that my diary got anything less than my undivided attention, so let’s go with the time-travelling theory. I was *this* far away from constructing a full TARDIS time rotor (complete with winking lights and wobbly oscillator) in the middle of my bedroom.

I spent my entire first term at Conyers School playing outdoor rugby in the pissing rain and freezing cold every Monday morning, so the fact that this day’s activity was moved inside to our cavernous sports hall suggests that the weather on Teesside must have combined tropical monsoon conditions with Scott-of-the-Antarctic-style temperatures. ‘I’m going outside now, I may be gone for some time…’ said Mr Anderson. ‘Actually, bugger that, you lot run about in the Sports Hall while I do the Daily Mirror Quizword’.

I remember, oddly enough, on this very day, that – bizarrely – I challenged a lad called Gandhi to a fight, in the queue outside the changing rooms. Every school in the 1980s SURELY had a grotty bespectacled oik with this nickname, but I’ve no idea what our version did 25 years ago today to puncture my normally mild-mannered demeanour. The conversation went like this, though…

Him: Do you want a fight about it?
Me: Yeah, alright. 
Him: OK, nice one.

I think the Cuban Missile Crisis started with a similar altercation. 

At the start of our indoor rugby lesson, Mr Anderson split us into two groups, putting each motley rabble into an orderly queue. In turn, one boy from Group 1 would walk to the edge of the standard 1980s blue ‘crash mat’ while the corresponding oik from Group 2 would race headlong towards him from the far end of the hall, screaming whatever foul-mouthed oath came to mind (‘SPANDAUBALLEEEEEEEEEEEET’) before demonstrating a ‘textbook’ rugby tackle on his opposite number.

This led to much hilarity all round (especially when a yodelling Stephen Mason hurled himself at a terrified-looking Simon Bentley with a full-on belly flop, sending them both crashing off the edge of the mat in a flailing melee of limbs, hair and farts). However my own laughter ceased when the fates decreed that I would – of course – be tackling my stoic-looking nemesis Gandhi. I ran. I screamed. I threw my full weight against his weedy legs and tried to barge him over. He didn’t budge an inch.

I never mentioned the fight again.

Good to see us tackling a bit of local history in, erm, our Geography lesson. With twinkly-eyed Mr Flynn, strutting around the classroom with wild enthusiasm as he told us about Yarm’s presence in the Domesday Book, and we furiously scribbled down notes…



You’ll notice another opportunity to shoehorn the 1590 foundation of our school into a piece of academia seized violently with both hands!

I’d forgotten all about our trainer-whitening regime, but Mr Anderson had indeed instilled into us the importance of keeping our PE sandshoes in tip-top condition at all times, and as such we were ‘encouraged’ (with a knee in the small of the back and one arm bent agonisngly up towards the shoulder blades) to smear our ‘pumps’ in a sticky white goo purchased in small bottles from Bill Gates Sports Shop and with aromatic narcotic properties that would have made Keith Richards and John Lennon shake their heads in resignation and stick to Trophy Best Bitter.

I think I watched ‘Go For It!’ in a strange, hallucinogenic daze, so I might just have imagined a young Michael Barrymore bouncing up and down doing Basil Fawlty impressions while guiding three luridly-tracksuited couples through a cheap and cheerful BBC1 Krypton Factor knock-off. But then again, maybe not… 

Extracts from Bob’s 1984 Diary… Volume 267

Sunday 23rd September 1984

Woke up at 9.00 and got up at 10.20. I tidied my desk, then I started to draw a map of the world. At 12.00 I had dinner, then I finished my map and put it on my bedroom wall.

After that I went outside and played football, then when I came in I listened to the charts. At 6.00 I had tea, then I listened to the charts again.

At 7.00 I went out and at 8.00 I had a shower. When I came down I coloured some more of my Cliff Hanger adventure book and at 9.30 I went to bed.

Ah, the ‘map of the world’! This was a recurring childhood project for me, and I think I drew a new one at least once every couple of years. In early 1982 I got carried away and created a giant, luridly-coloured effort that spanned at least eight pages of A4 (all stuck together with slightly yellowed Sellotape) and saw off a full packet of WH Smiths’ felt-tip pens.

It absolutely obsessed me, and I spent every waking hour crinkling this gigantic behemoth of cartography and noisily colouring in the coast of Bolivia while my Dad rolled his eyes and tried to watch Northern Life with one hand over his ear. I was tracing all of the countries from an ancient paperback-sized book that my Uncle Trevor had used for Geography lessons in the early 1960s, so this created two minor drawbacks for my project…

1. The representations of each country weren’t all on the same scale, so my map had a gigantic Iceland brushing up against a surprisingly modest-looking Scandinavian coast, and so on.

2. The book was almost thirty years old, so my map contained impeccable guides to non-existant political states like Rhodesia, British Honduras and French Indochina. Let’s face it, anyone who attempted to use it to circumnavigate the globe would probably have ended up marooned on a jagged shard of rock about six miles off the coast of Plymouth. Luckily, I just stuck all eight pages on the bedroom wall and left it there until the Summer of 1984, when Doug pointed and laughed at the miniscule size of Australia.

Hence the new version. My ‘desk’ by the way, was not quite as grand as it sounds… it was a toy school desk that had been bought for me at the age of five. It had a flip-top lid and a little yellow chair, but when I attempted to use it at the grand old age of 11, it was vaguely reminiscent of a scene from Gulliver’s Travels.

Good to see me still glued to the Radio 1 chart rundown, this week’s edition being the last to be hosted by Simon ‘Our Tune’ Bates before Richard ‘Roundtable’ Skinner took over the duties. Not a vintage charts this week, although it did see one of my favourite pop songs of all time CRASH into the Top 40 at, erm, No 39…

Whenever I hear ‘Together In Electric Dreams’, there’s a little part of me that’s always transported back to my parents front room, sprawled on the carpet with my ear pressed against the speaker on our Stereo system because my parents were watching the Antiques Roadshow and didn’t want to hear ‘that bloody rubbish’.

Which sounds harsh, until you realise that ‘I Just Called To Say I Love You’ was still at No 1 in the charts.

Extracts from Bob’s 1984 Diary… Volume 266

Saturday 22nd September 1984


Woke up at 9.00 and got up at 10.00, when Doug came. We watched telly till 11.30, when we went to the dentists and I had another impression done. Then we went to Grandma’s and Doug and I walked round Devil’s bridge.

When we came back we had dinner, then we went to Acklam sports centre and had a swim. When we got back we went down devil’s bridge again. Came back to Grandma’s at 5.20 and watched The Tripods. At 6.00 we watched some of the A-Team, then we came back to Yarm at 6.30 and Doug went home.

At 7.00 I watched Punchlines, and at 7.30 I watched Bottle Boys. At 8.00 I watched Paul Daniels, and then I coloured some of my ‘Cliff Hanger adventure book’. At 9.30 I watched David Jason on ‘Wogan’ and at 10.15 I went to bed.

Aaaaah… a day riddled with poignancy and oddness. The first official day of Autumn, and didn’t we just know it… golden, crinkled leaves were gusting around the streets of Acklam, clogging up the grilles in drizzle-flecked gutters and peeking cheekily from the top of towering piles of dog poo.

And this was pretty much a final mad 1984 excursion for Doug and me. We’d spent all summer living in each other’s pockets, but now we’d been deluged with long school days and homework, and the nights were getting darker and colder as a bleak Teesside winter raced helplessly towards us. I don’t know why Doug elected to make a visit to my Gran’s house on this breezy, rain-flecked Saturday afternoon, but I’m really glad that he did.

It felt odd, but lovely. My Gran’s bungalow in Acklam was barely eight miles from my house in Yarm, but I managed to maintain entirely seperate lives in these two disparate locations. Acklam was all about Swap Shop and Grandstand and walking the dogs down Devil’s Bridge. My Uncle Trevor would come to visit, and we’d eat cream cakes from a cardboard box and watch Doctor Who and 3-2-1.

These things hardly ever happened at my house in Yarm. My life there was all about school, and bikes, and weeknight telly and visits from Doug. Only once previously had one of my Yarm friends made the visit to Acklam – in Summer 1982, when Paul ‘Frankie’ Frank stayed over prior to a coach trip to a freezing, rain-whipped Scarborough. We ran for cover to the amusement arcades and played Space Invaders in the pissing rain while singing the theme from ‘Fame’.

So having Doug at my Gran’s house for the day felt like the clashing of two very different cultures, but it was all the nicer for that… because it reinforced Doug as part of our family, and I LOVED that feeling more than anything else in the world. Cracking jokes, pulling faces and kicking each others backsides on the way into the dentists… this was what friendship was all about.

Details? I’ll give you details. Sadly the ‘impression’ I received at Keith Herren’s dental surgery in Stockton wasn’t Tommy Cooper or even Denis Healey (the silly billy). It was another lump of chalky white goo inserted into the roof of my mouth and allowed to harden (stop it) to give Mr Herren a blueprint for my forthcoming (whisper it) dental brace. B-Day was racing towards me with horrifying inevitability, but Doug – bless him – was full of reassurance. Telling me I’d be able to drink boiling water and bite through solid cables like Jaws from the James Bond films.

Devil’s Bridge is a little beauty spot (and cycle path) five minutes walk from my Gran’s old bungalow. Way back in January this year, in the very earliest days of this blog, my Mum and I went back there and made a charming little film. So bugger it, I’m getting my money’s worth out of her…

Acklam Sports Centre was part of Boynton and Hustler School, a sprawling mass of conjoined comprehensive educational establishments a few minutes walk from my Gran’s house. In short – two bloody big schools sharing a gigantic complex of buildings with a swimming pool and a sports hall attached. The pool – fantastically – was open to the public at weekends, and – as you might expect for such an avowed lazy bastard – I hardly made any use whatsoever of this facility during the fourteen years that I spent regularly visiting my Grandmother.

(In fact, my only memory of using the pool prior to this day was a visit in around 1979, when – aged seven – myself and Lisa Wheeldon from the house around the corner were taken there by Lisa’s Mum. I didn’t have any trunks, but nobody seemed to mind me entering the pool in my orange and brown patterned underpants. And, afterwards, I tip-toed home with my shoes on the wrong feet. Plus ca change…)

Three memories from my adventures with Doug on this day…

1. We didn’t really do any swimming in the pool. We were nearly 12 now, and considered ourself way too cool for such juvenile frippery. We bobbed up and down by the steps into the deep end, talking filth and making whispered, lascivious comments about the various teenage girls with ubiquitous Princess Diana haircuts that were splashing merrily around the middle of the pool. At some point I’ll undoubtedly have used my Dad’s patented swimming pool wisecrack ‘Half-naked women everywhere, and all you can drink for £2.50’. Wahey!

2. On the way out of the pool, with wet hair sticking up all over the place and soggy towels under our arms, we bit into a couple of bars of ‘Highland Toffee’ that we’d bought earlier in the day from sturdy old Acklam newsagents. Doug immediately winced and cried out, and when he gingerly took the toffee from his mouth, his final baby tooth was sticking out of the end of it, still with a tiny, wispy root and a fleck of blood attached. He took it like a man. Grrrrrr!


3. On returning from the swimming baths, we had an altercation! We were climbing in the lilac tree in my Gran’s front garden when a grotty-looking youth in a blue anorak stopped and stared intently at us. He had an orange bag of Evening Gazette Late Finals strapped over his shoulder.

‘Oy!’ he yelled. ‘Get the f*** out of there. This is my f***ing Auntie’s house, you dickheads…’  

Knowing a rabble-rousing bullshitter when I saw one, I dropped defiantly out of the tree. ‘In that case – hello cousin!’ I jeered. ‘This is my Gran’s house. Now go on – bugger off’. 

(NB I’d never have had the nerve to talk like this if Doug – who was a big, strapping lad for his age – hadn’t been with me)

‘Don’t f*** with me,’ said Gazette Boy. ‘If this is your Gran’s house, why don’t you go in the front door and come back out again?’

So I did. Much to my parents and Grans’ bemusement. They were sitting in the front room ticking off the pools coupon in front of the Grandstand vidiprinter. EAST FIFE 0 COWDENBEATH 6 (SIX)

I marched back into the garden, where Gazette boy was standing looking vaguely dumbfounded. A panic-stricken look crossed his face for a second, then he made a brief grab for my collar, spluttered ‘F*** off!!!’ and… well, ran away. Doug and I spent forty seconds laughing hysterically against the garage well, then decided to find him to (and there’s no easy way of putting this) knock seven bells out him for his insolence. That was the reason for our second visit to Devil’s Bridge. We never saw him again, though. 

(I should point out that I wasn’t a violent kid by any stretch of the imagination… if we HAD found Gazette Boy skulking guiltily around the streets of Acklam, our terrible retribution would probably have amounted to a Chinese Burn and a stern letter to the Evening Gazette’s ‘Have Your Say’ page)

And then it was time for cream cakes in a cardboard box and The Tripods. And half of The A-Team before my Dad crumpled up his pools coupon and said ‘Right, come on… I’m not watching this bloody rubbish all night’.

So we went home and watched Bottle Boys instead, while I coloured in my ‘Cliff Hanger Adventure Book’. This was, basically, a ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ comic strip given away with a recent edition of Buster comic – written and illustrated by the late, great J Edward Oliver, the twisted genius behind the subliminal ‘Abolish Tuesday’ campaign and a million little wooden boxes with a handle.

Go on, take a second to enrich your lives with his work here…!


And just by means of a little tribute to JEO and this strange, autumnal day in the long-ago of our lives… here’s the very same Cliff Hanger Adventure Book, neatly coloured in with WH Smiths pencils, and fresh out of the folder where I carefully stored it 25 years ago today. Awwww…