Wiffle Lever To Full!

Daleks, Death Stars and Dreamy Sci-Fi Nostalgia…

Extracts from Bob’s 1984 Diary… Volume 248

Tuesday 4th September 1984


Woke up at 7.30 and got up at 8.15. At 8.30 Doug came and we went to Conyers. First we went in the Hall and were sorted into groups, the we went to L4 with our new teacher, Miss Wilson. We got our books, then filled in a form with name, address etc.

After that we were shown around, then we had dinner break. Came in at 1.00 and had French, then we went to Room 5 and did maths. After that we went to Home Economics and had a look around etc.

Came home at 3.40 and did a table square for homework, then at 4.30 I had tea. At 5.10 I watched Star Trek then I went out till Pop Quiz at 6.55. At 7.30 I watched Lenny Henry, and at 8.00 I made some covers for me HE books.

At 8.30 I watched Butterflies, and at 9.00 I went to bed.

After seven years in the warm, womb-like snuggliness of Levendale Primary School, and a summer holiday spent vaguely, sort-of worrying-about-it-but-mostly-very-deliberately-not-thinking-about-it-at-all, it was time to get cracking on my secondary school education. Conyers School was a lynchpin of Yarm society, founded in 1590 (I date I’ll NEVER forget – there was barely a toilet cistern or a paper towel that didn’t have it embossed somewhere) by Sir Thomas Conyers, who sought permission from Queen Elizabeth I. She might have thought twice if she’d known that, 394 years later, a group of oiks in a Home Economics class would be deliberately sneezing into a white blancmange mix, but more of that when the time comes.  

The school had moved, lock stock and barrel, to its present gigantic sprawling red-brick location in the mid-1970s, around the time that the modern Kebble and Levendale housing estates had been built, more than doubling Yarm’s previous rural population and letting a new generation of snotty-nosed kids loose upon its ancient streets. In many ways, we were Yarm’s first ‘new’ generation, a fact that we singularly failed to recognise in any way whatsoever. As far as we were concerned, the school was THERE, we had to GO, so we did. Usually.

EVERYTHING was new about this stark, September morning. For the first time in my life I wore a school uniform… a white shirt, grey pullover, red-and-blue-striped tie (which is still hanging in my wardrobe), black trousers, and black plastic shoes from Charles Clinkard’s Shoe Shop, the leather-smelling emporium where, in 1977, I’d been bought my first agonising pair of ‘proper’ shoes to embark on my previous school career at Levendale.

I’ve scanned my old Conyers tie for your appreciation. I’ve never worked in an office, so this is the closest I’ve ever come to photocopying my arse…

The whole ensemble was capped off with the dreaded blazer… a black, voluminious affair whose cuffs ended at the base of my fingers. Carefully stitched to the (titter) breast pocket was Conyers’ official school badge… an old-fashioned shield depicting Yarm’s traditional fishing and farming industries, together with our proud, flag-flying Town Hall. On a scroll across the bottom was our school motto… ‘PERSEVERANDO’, or – as Eric Morecambe would no doubt say -‘Keep going, you fool’.

I’m slightly disappointed to note that the school now seems to have changed its motto to the slightly New Labour-sounding ‘Learning For Success’, mainly because most of my favourite people have dedicated their entire lives to the art of heroic failure (I’m deeply suspicious of ambitious, motivated, successful people. I always think they’re after something) but also because it deprives modern generations of the following splendidly moronic conversation…

‘Percy who?’
‘Percy Verando. He’s the geezer wot founded the school’.   

My morning routine was also brand new. For months, I’d taken the edge off my secondary education phobia by consoling myself with the fact that my new school was only five minutes walk from my front door, and – even better – MY BEST MATE DOUG WOULD HAVE TO CALL FOR ME ON THE WAY!!! That made him virtually my BROTHER, and was the most exciting thing in the world EVER. And so, at 8.30am, when a similarly-dressed Doug arrived at the garden gate, I bade my mother farewell at the kitchen door with a hideous Les Dawson style-gurn (which she took a photo of, and I can’t bloody find it – I promise I’ll dig this out before the end of term!) and embarked on my new life.

Which was of course, an anti-climax. All that fretting, all that worrying, all that angst over homework and bullies and Sex Education and Foggy-Bashing Day, and all we really did was shuffle through a six-hour guided tour of our new classrooms and corridors. And yet, as we did so, I remember my newly-chopped hair being tugged by gusts of wind that were – for the first time in many, many months – actually really cold. There was a slate-grey sky hanging over the Sports Hall, and flecks of needle-sharp drizzle pinging against my face.

The summer was officially over.

Our new form tutor was Miss Wilson, who was as new to the school as we were. Fresh from teacher training, and specialising in French and German, it terrifies me to think that she can’t have been more than 22 years old. Looking up from her giant register book, and smiling shyly at the classroom, she was probably just as nervous as we were. A tall, willowy brunette with short-cropped hair and round-framed specs, she organised us – for the first time in our lives – into proper, regimented school desks in a stiff, musty classroom with a closed door to shut off the outside world. It felt light years away from the trendy, open-plan learning of Levendale Primary School, and a giddy throwback to the Bash Street Kids cartoons that I’d always considered hopelessly archaic.  

I remember…

1. The baffling array of posters in foreign languages dotted around the classroom walls, including several pages snipped from Paris Match and Blu-tacked onto whitewashed brick. It was quickly discovered by a party of interested boys that one of these cuttings boasted, on the reverse side, a photo of a cheery-looking French model naked apart from a pair of strategically-placed red boxing gloves.  ‘She could put me down in the seventh round any time she liked’ quipped 11-year-old Ian Farrage, to a thunderous wall of laughter. Needless to say, we were sent out to ‘think about what we’d done’ (and, naturally, laughed even harder)

2. The squeak of metal chair legs on polished, tiled flooring. A noise that soundtracked my life for the next seven years, and one that – until my dying day – will never cease to evoke memories of frantically scribbling French homework five minutes before the start of the lesson, while Jo Spayne attempted to set fire to my trouser legs with a box of matches he’d discovered in a nicotine-stained boy’s toilet cubicle.

3. Graffiti on the desks. I’d never seen this before. My secondary school Sex Education lessons started right here, right now.

Doug was in my form class, but – for reasons I can’t quite remember – we didn’t sit together. I’m trying to work out if we were placed around the classroom in alphabetical (or some other) order, but nothing seems to fit… regardless, I spent my first day in my new ground-floor form room sitting on the far right-hand-side of the classroom, on the second desk from the front.

For the next year, our form class would do everything together. Thirty grotty comrades, bound together by fate, tramping as a raggle-taggle unit from form room to maths class, from history lesson to gym. Even when we were split into different learning groups in subsequent years, we still gathered together for morning and afternoon registration, keeping roughly the same class together all the way through to upper sixth form.

Next to me in the form room was Christopher Byers, a tall, drily-witted lad from Levendale (and regular contributor to this blog – hello Chris!). In front of us were (gasp) two new faces from different primary schools. One of them, a rogueish-looking wise guy with a razor-sharp jawline and slicked-back hair that flopped over one eye in a mousse-laden quiff, introduced himself as Alistair Burton. The other, a strapping, no-nonsense-looking lad with a mop of jet black hair and voice loud enough to rattle milk bottles, was Marc Thompson.

They talked about BMX, breakdancing and rap music at a terrifying, breakneck pace, peppering their conversation with lightning wit, raucous laughter and impenetrable in-jokes. ‘Does anyone like Doctor Who?’ I offered, nervously, during a rare lull in the conversation. There followed fifteen minutes of nervous, foot-shuffling, terrifying silence before – mercifully – the bell rang for dinnertime.

We queued for ten minutes outside Conyers’ sprawling, industrial-looking canteen. I cowered into my blazer, shrinking into the brickwork, surrounded by towering, moustachioed sixteen-year-olds that swore and spat and stamped on passing wasps. And that was just the girls. I’d never felt so out of my depth since the day I went to Thornaby Swimming Baths and got… well, out of my depth. I ate a slice of cheese pizza and a dollop of tinned spaghetti in complete silence. As I left, fellow Levendale compatriot Paul Whitehead arrived at the table, proudly carrying a plate that boasted two gigantic balls of mashed potato, and an enormous vertical sausage sticking up between them. He gave me a cheery smile and a wink. It made me feel much better.


We didn’t really do much for the rest of the day. I’ve still got (oh, the horror!) most of my old schoolbooks from my first year at Conyers, and none of them have work in them dated Tuesday 4th September. Miss Wilson taught us to say ‘Je m’appelle (our name) in our French lesson, ‘so you can at least tell your parents you learnt SOMETHING at school today’. In Home Economics, we were shown around a series of explosive-looking gas ovens by the terrifying Mrs Gillson, who looked as though she spent her free periods conducting appalling scientific experiments on flapjack and chocolate brownies.

And our maths teacher Mr Rolfe was a towering, barking mad figure who drove a converted ambulance and sported a six-inch brown quiff and a beard so large and unruly that rumours quickly spread about the spiders’ web tattoo that covered the entire lower half of his face.

brian blessed
I walked home, slightly shellshocked, with Doug, as a burgeoning gale tugged at the wilting trees of ‘the copse’, our one-time summer holiday hideaway. We never went back there again. We just didn’t.
When I arrived at the kitchen door at 3.50pm, my Mum was standing at our own (safely electric) oven, pouring a tin of marrowfat peas into a saucepan and emptying a cake-mixing bowl of freshly-honed chips into our ancient deep-fat frier. On the kitchen top next to her, a pile of filthy potato peelings lay on top of last night’s Evening Gazette Late Final.

‘How was it?’ she asked, with a reassuring smile.
‘Alright,’ I shrugged, predictably.
‘Did you learn anything new?’
‘Je m’appelle Robert’.

That night, I sat in silence in front of The Lenny Henry Show and covered my Home Economics exercise books in wallpaper off-cuts from the back of the spare room wardrobe. My new life had started in earnest.  



  Chris Byers wrote @

I don’t know how we ended up sitting where we did either, I think there was just a scramble for tables and you would just pick someone you knew to sit next to. It seamed in those early days at Conyers that every one you knew from primary school was your best friend, while everyone else was to be treated with caution and not to be trusted.

One odd thing though, as you mention for our first year we did everything together as a tutor group. But one exception was Home Economics (H.E) and Design Technology (D.T). For some reason we were split up with another tutor group, so while you and one half of our class had a H.E lesson the other half including myself had a D.T. Lesson.

  janet haigh wrote @

i remember this day! biggest change was getting to school. instead of being met from the bus at levendale by a pair of dinner nannies, we now got off at spitalfields, and walked UNACOMPANIED all the way to conyers, crossing major roads and everything! wow.

i seem to think i might have stopped at joanne oxley’s house on the way, but i cannot be sure…

  shaun84 wrote @

At our school first thing we had to do was back the exercise books. Boys used team pictures out of shoot and match and the girls was duran duran and other bands. First day at the big school I saw a fight between two 5th year girls. Now that was scary, hair everywhere. Then we had to avoid their 2nd years who wanted our dinner money and would “fuggie” our ties and “woggie” our underpants. We could play football in the playground with a tennis ball. This was the big school now and it felt like an exercise yard in a prison.

  bobfischer wrote @

Chris – you’re right about HE and DT (or ‘CDT’ as Mr Hendry repeatedly insisted – remember, ‘you can’t have design or technology without first having a bit of craft involved’). I’ve no idea why these lessons worked differently either – maybe they thought if we stayed in our form classes ALL the time that we’d go mad and start acting like Lord of the Flies?

Janet – it was a massive culture shock, wasn’t it? The thought that I was now being trusted to make my own way into school (rather than being given an armed dinner nanny escort) was both exciting and scary at the same time.

Shaun – it was wallpaper (and ‘brown paper’) all the way on my exercise books. My 2nd year Physics book is still coated in the red and white striped bedroom wallpaper that I considered the height of stylish sophistication in the early months of 1986.

  Fiona Tims wrote @

Haha I remember covering our books with wallpaper too. You could also get plastic book covers that you just slipped the book in. I was also starting ‘big’ school somewhere around this day, just a few hundred miles south of you!

  bobfischer wrote @

Ooh, we never had official plastic book covers round our way! Luxury.

I must have had enough of the wallpaper coverings at some point, as my diary clearly states that I covered ALL of my books, but when I dug them out of the loft the other week they were all in their natural state. A terrible shame, I could have had endless fun scanning our 1984 wallpaper – there was probably a sample from every room in the house!

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