Wiffle Lever To Full!

Daleks, Death Stars and Dreamy Sci-Fi Nostalgia…

Extracts from Bob’s 1984 Diary… Volume 249

Wednesday 5th September 1984

Woke up at 7.30 and got up at 8.15. At 8.40 Doug came and we went to school. After register we went to Art and had to do some lines with a ruler! (Wow) After that we had history, then we went to Maths and did Questions 1-6 on a measurement sheet.

At 12.00 we had dinner break, then we had french. After that we went to AV2 and did English. Then we had double science and drew a bunson burner.

Came home at 3.40, then at 4.45 Doug came and we did our homework. At 6.00 Doug went and I had tea. At 6.30 Doug came back and we finished our homework. Doug went at 8.00 and I watched Benny Hill. At 8.30 I watched Fresh fields, at 9.00 I watched Minder and at 10.00 I went to bed.

We had to do some lines with a ruler??!! WHAT?!?? This wasn’t what I’d signed up for. When I found out that my new secondary school had a dedicated art class, I was picturing myself wearing a beret and an oil paint-splattered smock, smoking Gauloise cigarettes and knocking off an old master (so to speak) before dinnertime. Sure enough, our teacher Mrs Cashmore – a flouncy, wild-haired woman with a passing resemblance to Kate Bush – seemed bohemian enough, but I wasn’t convinced that drawing lines with a ruler was going to get me that dream job doing the covers for Doctor Who novelisations. If I wanted to draw Daleks, I needed to be working on knobs rather than boring old straight lines. Insert your own jokes here.

Ironically, I did more adventurous drawings during my history and science classes. Our history lesson was taken by the lovely Mrs Ansbro, a delightfully dotty old dear with a mop of curly brown hair and a black cardigan that flapped around like a pair of bats’ wings whenever she got excited about Magellan or the North-West passage. She had a dry sense of humour, and a wicked gleam in her eye, and marched up to the front of her musty classroom before regaling us explosively with the single word… ‘EXPLORERS!!!!’

That would be our topic for the next few weeks, and we spent the lesson copying from her blackboard a diagram of the directions that Western adventurers had followed to fulfill their dreams of conquering the world (particularly the South American bits with all the gold and shiny things). I managed to grab a seat next to Doug, right at the front the room, with our old Levendale stalwart Stephen Mason on the table behind, so was as happy as the proverbial sandboy (whatever one of those is).

Here’s the diagram…

history1
And then Double Science – yikes! Our first double lesson at Conyers, which meant it lasted (I think) an hour and ten minutes? Were our normal lessons 35 minutes long? I’m sure a fellow Conyerite will confirm or deny. Anyway, our science teacher was the softly-spoken, whimsical Mr Warren, a charming, bald-headed gent who looked… well, exactly like a school science teacher. I think he even had leather elbows on his tweed jacket. I still see him occasionally around Yarm, and he still looks exactly the same, and he always says hello to me. And he should be rightly proud of his skills teaching grotty 11-year-old oiks to draw bunsen burners with such accuracy…

bunsenburner
I’d never seen a bunsen burner before,  but Mr Warren fired one up in his slightly sulphorous-smelling laboratory, and it was nice to have the name of the Muppets’ chief scientist finally explained to me once and for all.

Incidentally, were the flaky, white safety mats that we all haphazardly slipped underneath our bunsen burners REALLY made of asbestos? They can’t have been, can they? Really? Was that… safe?

You’ll notice, in the bottom left hand corner of the above diagram, that lovely Mr Warren actually gave me a Merit Mark for my picture. Dished out by smiling, proud teachers in return for examples of outstanding swottiness, Merits were recorded in the back of our homework diaries, the aim being to reach 60 Merits over the course of an academic year. If such an amazing total was attained, then we’d be rewarded with the honour of ‘getting our colours’, and being able to exchange our bog-standard red and blue ties for a new item of neckwear that incorporated our ‘House’ colour… ours, in Conyers House, being a particular offensive shade of yellow.

I think we got a little shield-shaped badge as well. Wooo! Conyers was desperate to be a posh public school really, wasn’t it? And it could have gotten away with it, IF ONLY IT WASN’T for the 1500 grotty, snotty-faced oiks masquerading as pupils… DANNGGGGG!!!

I’ve got almost all of my school exercise books from the first few months of this academic year, and can find no evidence whatsoever of any homework done on this particular night, so I’m starting to wonder if the mention of this in my diary was just a cover for some other dastardly scheme that Doug and I were devising. Either the daring confiscation of Debbie Jarvis’ knickers, or an expedition on my trusty Chopper to discover the North-West passage (stop it).

nwpassage
Whatever it was, it’s doubtful we’d get a Merit Mark for it. Still, it was lovely to have Doug over for the evening, and I do remember at least PRETENDING to do some work… sitting side-by-side on my single, yellow bedspread-coated bed and spreading exercise books around on a folding table as night-time’s creepy tendrils slithered in through the bedroom window.

By the time Benny Hill started, the moon was visible through a skeletal frame of tree branches, and my dim, orange bedside light was casting strange shadows through my ET lampshade. And we were were still mucking about and talking filth in low voices, just as we always had done. Our school had changed, and the nights were drawing in, but it was good to be going through the madness together.

I wish I could bottle the feeling of being 11, and take a cheeky little swig every night before I go bed.

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15 Comments»

  Chris Orton wrote @

I’m sure that back then the bunsen burner mats were made of asbestos as it was the only thing that could repel a flame. Health and Safety? Tch!

In my first year we had an utterly crazy science teacher called Mr Baxter (he really was nuts). He worse tweed and had mad Pertwee-style hair, coupled with the reddest face you had ever seen. He claimed to support Hamilton Academicals (despite not being Scottish), as he believed that they “were the most intelligent team in football). Truly crackers this feller was. He could only do one experiment seemingly, and that was the one where you capture hydrogen in a test tube, then apply a flame which resulted in a loud pop. *Every* time that he did this experiment he completely startled himself when the pop happened and looked totally suprised and bewildered that it had happened. Once he even dived behind his desk.

On one occasion he informed us that a pupil that he had crossed had reported him to Customs and Excise for having an illegal whisky distillery in the private back room of the classroom that he was supposed to have constructed using classroom science materials. I think that he retired a couple of years after we arrived – which was probably for the best.

One of our other science teachers claimed that he had been an extra in You Only Live Twice, and that he had once fought Chuck Norris. Another was a very bos-eyed chap who we all really believed had been in hospital to have an operation to take his eyes out to try and correct the problem, only to make it worse. Another science teacher was the spitting image of Penfold from Dangermouse. We had a right motley collection we really did. I think that all of this is part of the reason why I never really took much of an interest in science.

It’s weird the things that you remember isn’t it?

  David Brunt wrote @

Back in my school in 1977 (in the just pre-Star Wars era) the first day’s homework was to make a handy pocket-sized version of the timetable, using rulers.

Rulers were important back then.

  bobfischer wrote @

Science teachers do seem to be particularly ‘touched’ when it comes to mild mental instability. There must be something in potassium permanganate that drives them out of their minds. In my second year at Conyers, I was taught chemisty by the amazing gnome-like Mr Hindle, who would read your exercise books over your shoulder and – if he considered them less than exciting – theatrically slump forward onto the table making loud, snoring noises while you attempted to slide your book from under his forehead.

Rulers WERE important in 1970s and 1980s schooling, especially metre rulers, which were the perfect length for illicit playground lightsabre fights.

  Justin wrote @

Sandboys delivered sand (who’d-a-thunk-it) to pubs to cover the floor in Dickensian days. “Happy as a sandboy” comes from the fact that, despite hard work and poor pay they used to get beer from the pubs they delivered to so were often inebriated!

The mats were indeed asbestos but it would only have posed any chance of particles (the only dangerous bit of asbestos) if the mat shattered, and they were pretty tough… of course on principle they use other substitutes now… including fibreglass which, of course, is very bad if it shatters and you get particles!

  Doctor Giles Parcel wrote @

I am delighted to be reading about the happy time during which the all-important Bunsen burner finally entered your life! It brings a tear to my eye.
As other respondents have already noted, the mats will have been made from honest-to-goodness asbestos. They never did you any harm now, did they? They are infinitely preferable to a lab benched scorched until it resembles an enormous black-sequinned Kit Kat Chunky.
You make an interesting point about the properties and effects off prolonged exposure to potassium permanganate. My glamorous lab assistant Kim licks a little chunk of it every day and is, indeed, somewhat strange. I always assumed Kim was wearing a deep purple lipstick until the day I happened to catch him a-lapping at that tiny oxidant.
But who are we to judge?

  bobfischer wrote @

I’ve been inspired by recent diary entries, and your comments Dr Parcel, and now quite fancy having a bunsen burner in the comfort of my own home.

Are they available to buy on the open market, and is it safe to lash them up to the combi gas boiler in the kitchen?

  bobfischer wrote @

Oh, and I’ll need a flaky asbestos mat, as well. A larger branch of Tesco, possibly?

  Patsy wrote @

Hope you know the words to Otway’s ‘Bunsen Burner’ so that you can sing whilst experimenting 🙂

“I’m an alchemist baby, I can turn heavy metal into gold…”

  bobfischer wrote @

Of course! ‘Science tells us love’s a chemical reaction in the brain…’

  Chris Byers wrote @

We should consider ourselves lucky that we just had the asbestos mats to contend with. I can remember a few years later us all having to have a go at blowing into MR Warren’s (behave MR Fischer) homemade barometer, and him telling us how disappointed he was that he could no longer use mercury in it. I thought to myself at the time, yes its a shame you can’t poison the whole bloody class, although I couldn’t blame him if he wanted too.

  bobfischer wrote @

Yikes! I’d totally forgotten that, but yes – you’re right! I also swear my first ever athsma attack was brought about during a fourth year chemistry lesson with Mrs Addison, when we were allowed – nay, encouraged – to produce a thick cloud of yellow sulphurous gas in the laboratory next to the language rooms. The bloody thing went up in my face, and I spent the rest of the lesson standing outside the back door, gasping for breath with tears streaming down my cheeks.

I got a ‘B’ for GCSE Chemistry though, so it was sort of worth it…

  Fiona Tims wrote @

We got merits too, in the form of printed out cheque book size vouchers. I glued all mine into a scrap book, what a saddo! I still have the scrap book somewhere!

  bobfischer wrote @

Scan it, and let’s have a look… 😉

Ours were just written by hand in the back of our pint-sized homework diaries. And signed by each teacher to prove we hadn’t forged them.

  Fiona Tims wrote @

When I say I still have it, that means it is in the house. The chances of me locating it are somewhere near nil. If you saw the attic, you’d understand!

  bobfischer wrote @

Mine’s the same. I make the occasional foray up there to look for school books and other little fragments, but I daren’t venture too far under the roof trusses.

It’s dark, and there are… things… living… in… there…


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