Wiffle Lever To Full!

Daleks, Death Stars and Dreamy Sci-Fi Nostalgia…

Extracts from Bob’s 1984 Diary… Volume 250

Thursday 6th September 1984

Woke up at 7.30 and got up at 8.15. At 8.30 Doug came and we went to school. After register we had double science and did some stuff with a bunsen burner, then we had music. Next was Geography, and at 12.00 we had dinner.

In the afternoon we had DT, then RE. Lastly we had History, and at 3.40 Doug and I walked home. I got changed, then we went to Doug’s, and he did. Then we went to Yarm library, and got some books on Egypt for homework. Then we went to the mud track, and at 6.00 we went home.

I had tea, then played football till 7.30, when I did homework. At 8.00 I watched The magnificent Evans, and at 8.30 I watched Duty Free. At 9.10 I watched Alas Smith and Jones and at 9.40 I went to bed.

Double Science! Stuff with a bunsen burner! What better way to kickstart a chilly September morning at 9.25am? (I’m pretty sure our lessons started at 9.25am, following a good solid half hour of form tutoring with Miss Wilson, during which time we said ‘Yes, Miss’ to the register and continued to eye suspiciously all the kids in our class that had graduated from other primary schools. Although, 24 hours on, I’d now become quite friendly with Alistair Burton and Marc Thompson, and sandy-haired gag-cracker Ian Farrage was rapidly becoming part of our little mob as well)

Anyway, those exclusive bunsen burner revelations in full…

science1
In the 20 years since I last used a bunsen burner, I’d completely forgotten how they worked, and the existance of the ‘air hole’ had been utterly erased from my memory to make room for Boro match attendance statistics and a few jokes from Series 1, Episode 4 of ‘The Gaffer’. The phrase, did of course, cause much hilarity amongst the more immature (ie male) members of our class for its close resemblance to the word ‘arsehole’.

‘Is your airhole open?’ I asked Jo Spayne, who shared a perfectly square table at the back of the class with myself and fellow Levendale graduate Christopher Byers. ‘No, it’s just the way I’m standing’, he deadpanned. We laughed out loud for a scarily long time.  

NB By a sheer twist of coincidence, ‘Yellow, quiet and floppy’ is a fairly accurate description of my 1984 self, and ‘blue, noisy and steady’ is pretty much my natural state of affairs in 2009. And ‘It Roars!’ would have been a sensational name for a post-New Romantic mid-1980s electro-pop band.  

science2
Not that they’d have ever impacted on our music lessons, which followed firmly in the tradition of ‘writing stuff down’ rather than ‘making a bloody awful racket with some actual instruments’. The first of our ‘good cop bad cop’ teachers on this occasion was Miss Stainsby, a softly-spoken woman with an explosion of frizzy brown hair and a compulsion to play ‘Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da’ on an acoustic guitar whenever the occasion demanded. I always assumed the Morris Traveller with the ‘Musicians Union Says Keep Music LIVE!’ sticker on the back window was hers, but never found out for certain. Providing the steel was the outspoken Mrs Usher, whose talent for withering sarcasm would have made Ned Sherrin and Clive James lock themselves in the percussion cupboard. I think it was Ian Farrage that coined the affectionate nickname ‘Mrs Usher, Drug Pusher’, although I should point out at this stage that the strongest illicit substance I ever encountered during my years at secondary school was Space Dust.

spacedust

I became really fond of Mrs Usher halfway through my third year, when she was clearly amused by a spoof country and western song that I’d written called ‘I’m Leaving’…

With my guitar on my back 
I shall hit the old dirt track
And I’ll set off for old Nashville town
Cos I got no misgivings
I’ll sing for a living
And nobody’s puttin’ me down
I’m leaving the calm of the old family farm
For the hustle and noise of the city
But don’t try to halt me and don’t try to fault me
If you don’t like it, that’s just a pity

Oh, I’m leaving
I won’t stop by to say goodbye but I’m leaving
I’ll be gone by morning light
I guess I’ll just disappear into the night

It’ll be a long walk, but me and my old dawg
We’ll make it there in the end
No-one to rely on, no shoulder to cry on
Just me and a man’s best friend…

And so on and so on, for another 437 verses. I also discovered she was A Hitch Hiker’s Guide To The Galaxy fan, which sealed the deal.  

So this is what I wrote on the first page of my music exercise book on Thursday 6th September 1984…

music1 
I’ve got a feeling this was a test to gauge our natural ears for music. The Ds, Us and Ss were the result of us being played a series of two-note sequences, and asked to judge whether the second note went ‘D’own, ‘U’p, or ‘S’tayed the ‘S’ame. A task complicated somewhat by the fact that Alistair Burton, sitting next to me on the back row, livened up the lesson by letting loose an impressive sequence of impeccably-timed squeaky farts to coincide with every other note.

The numbers, I think, were the result of us being asked to ‘count the beats to a bar’ in thirty short extracts of music. Clearly I was bloody hopeless at this, although it’s good to see a bit of prog-rock style 5/4 rhythm in the air, presumably the result of Miss Stainsby sneaking a bit of Caravan or Kevin Ayers onto the tape.

Our first introduction to the world of Geography was made by Mr Flynn, a sensationally eccentric thirtysomething with a tangled thatch of jet black hair and (there’s no easy way of saying this) a fluffy jumper depicting three cartoon, woolly sheep grazing in a field. The concept of a ‘jumper with a picture on’ has completely vanished now, hasn’t it? One of those things that we didn’t even notice leaving the building, just like Only When I Laugh and the Wispa bar (first time around). I might launch a limited edition run of 1984 jumpers, featuring knitted cartoon versions of Mr Flynn and Frankie Goes To Hollywood.

sheepjumper
And I’ve no record, mental or physical, of the contents of our DT or RE lessons. DT (or, as my parents still referred to it, ‘woodwork and metalwork’) was carried out in a gigantic workshop filled with scary-looking lathes and bulky wooden desks, each of which boasted a spinny-handled metal vice that was perfect for extracting confessions of sexual depravity (‘Do you bum pigs? Do you bum pigs? DO YOU BUM PIGS????’) from hapless victims with their fingers unwillingly inserted into it. 

RE was, I think, conducted in a tiny upstairs classroom by the splendidly-named Mrs Mainwaring-Taylor, our school’s bustling, mumsy Claire Rayner figure. Three years after meekly snuffling through her 1984 lessons on animism, totemism and polytheism, I saw her inserting a particularly ripe banana into a Durux Elite condom. NB I should point out that this happened as part of an AIDS-inspired ‘Life Skills’ lesson, and nothing more recreational.

(And was a bit of waste of time, as it was common knowledge by this stage in our education that anyone who had touched Simon Vincent in Third Year was clearly HIV Positive, particularly if they’d stupidly forgotten to mime the injection of the revolutionary ‘AIDS Jabs For Life’ into their forearms)

clairerayner
And then back home to my beloved telly. And, blimey… The Magnificent Evans! The Ronnie Barker sitcom that history has rather sheepishly brushed under the carpet. And yet, back in 1984, it was launched in an absolute blaze of publicity – a Radio Times front cover, and trailers shoehorned between every BBC TV show for eons. With Barker starring and the amazing Roy Clarke (at the height of his Open All Hours/Summer Wine greatness) scripting, it should have been superb. And yet it never really took off, and I keep putting my long-postponed DVD reassessment on the back (bunsen) burner…

Hearing that theme music again transports me instantly back to September 1984, and the nervy ‘newness’ of virtually everything in my life at the time. It’s a heady rush of nostalgia.

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11 Comments»

  Ian Farrage wrote @

Not sure how far into the depths of what was the finest school that I ever went to between the ages of 11 & 16, but mentioned here are some truly fine teachers. (However, check out Google Earth or similar – what did they do to the quadrangle ??)

Mrs Usher – somewhere I guess in 2nd or 3rd year, we had to bring in a piece of music we listened to and tell people about it, our peers would then review our music/speech. 1) some swots, of that time, took in Bach or Mozart etc – claiming this was the sort of music they listened to (what a crock of shit). 2) somebody took in David Bowie (Jo Spayne?), followed by a highly amusing and totally uncalled for review by Mr Burton, who’s constructive criticism included “you know I heard he was gay”, not to the delight of Mrs Usher. 3) Then some Dr Who following disco jockey type, introduced the world to Stan Ridgeways “Camouflage” – very interesting to actually here the story & actually listen to the words for once. 4) I got a bollocking and had to have a lecture about what a waste my musical talent was & how the line “fuck, fuck all else to do” in the Sex Pistols version of My Way, was not what my fine ears should be appreciating – now my tastes are much more cultured – Macc Lads, Metallica, Korn, ACDC, Kevin Bloody Wilson – everything really, make it a bit rocky or sweary and I am happy.

Mr Hendry – big Ian. Legend. Legend. Legend. My favourite memories involve him showing us he had ten fingers – that made him special allegedly, however, I never understood the need to show us every one or two lessons – and when you showed him you had one middle finger during this, he was far from impressed (OK – showing us he hadn’t lost them during his apprenticeship).

Jacky Manwearing Tank – no doubt a nice lady, but religion has never been a strong point of mine. (What’s the difference between God & Bono – God doesn’t think he’s Bono). I always thought RE teachers were a bit of a waste of space – none of them believed either. And for JMT what was even more bizarre was she was the careers advice person also – take advice from someone who would give you nightmares if you thought about her putting the condom on you, or from someone who taught a subject she didn’t believe in. I was told that I should join the prison service – what a great career that would be. I was told that I could help people and get them back on the right track – what sort of non-existent liberal world do these people live in ?

Mr Hindley – Opel Manta driving Munchkin Mayor like psycho chemist (Wizard of Oz 1939). Stand away from the gas pipes and be very careful of flying chalkboard erasers (I guess we still can’t call them blackboards even though that is their colour and was their name during this period in history).

Happy days ….

  David Brunt wrote @

“The Magnificent Evans”

It was rubbish then and even worse 25 year later.

  Chris Byers wrote @

My god it’s turning into friends reunited round here. Hi Ian hope your well.

The history of man has led to many mysteries. Why was Stonehenge built, how did they build the great pyramids. But the biggest mystery of all has to be how on earth did Mrs Manwearing Taylor ever fit into that mini van she used to drive. You had to see it to believe it.

As for Joe Spayne’s air hole. It’s just as well it didn’t spring a gas leak. We would have had to evacuate the entire school.

  Kermit the Frog wrote @

Ok, Ok I admit it!
I ADMIT IT!
Please…please… no more of the spinny-handled metal vice…please…

  bobfischer wrote @

Mr Farrage – great to see you around these parts. I remember that musical ‘show and tell’ lesson really well, and yes – I did indeed bring in Stan Ridgway’s amazing Camouflage single! He was an awfully strange marine, you know. And I remember you bringing the Pistols as well, although wasn’t it Frigging In The Rigging rather than My Way? The captain’s at the rudder, he was a dirty bugger…

I’m going to speak up in defence of Mrs M-T and RE, though! It was always a strange subject, and teachers at both primary school and secondary school always offered the disclaimer that ‘this is the only subject we have to teach you by law, you know…’ as though they didn’t really want to do it, but were duty bound.

And yet, I remember RE being taught pretty objectively at Conyers, especially by Mrs M-T in that first year. I guess lots of schools will seized the opportunity to hammer Christian doctrine into their kids, but we seemed to have spent the year looking at everything but… there’s stuff about totemism and animism, studies of ancient religions in Babylon and Egypt, and essays about the contrasting viewpoints of science v religion. It’s pretty intelligent, balanced stuff considering we were 11.

I can’t remember receiving any careers advice at Conyers at all, mind! ‘Now Mr Fischer, you’ve put on your form that you’d like to grow up to talk shite for a living…’

  bobfischer wrote @

Kermit – I knew you’d croak eventually.

Sam the Eagle’s going in the vice next. I’ll soon have him singing like a bird.

  Ian Farrage wrote @

Definitely ’twas My Way – cos I (or rather my brother) had a great big 12″ er (snigger, snarf), with Sid on the back cover looking like one of the old glue sniffers from round the back of Dovecot Street, chain around his neck and a padlock. Friggin’ in the Riggin’ – that would be too rude – you couldn’t really stand in front of the beige Queen of Usher whilst “stuffed his arse with broken glass and circumcised the skipper” was belted out.

This is all happy nostalgic reading Bob. What would we have done if we had listened to those people who said you should stick in at school and get proper jobs – guess we’d be bloody miserable.

I’ll keep looking on, but it really is not quite so simple to get to view this website from here – you must be some political animal stirring up unrest with these provocative ramblings.

  bobfischer wrote @

Ah yes, I remember the cover now you mention it! Weird how little details stick in the mind, I remember you showing it to us during a break in a game of ‘Wally’ up against the side of the Sports Hall one morning break time. (That’s Wally to rhyme with ‘Hawley’ of course, ie a game in which a wall features heavily)

There was definitely a bit of Friggin’ In The Riggin’ doing the rounds, though – I remember you (and a few others) singing it repeatedly around this time!

Glad you enjoy this rubbish anyway… it’s great fun to write, and if the Chinese government consider it dangerously subversive then all the better.

  Fiona Tims wrote @

I loved Camouflage. I still have the 7″ in the spare room.

  bobfischer wrote @

It’s a bloody brilliant song! I remember Stan Ridgway doing it on Top of the Pops around summer 1986, in full ‘Nam uniform, surrounded by bits of jungle and M*A*S*H tents clearly pinched from the sets of Tenko by some quick-thinking BBC scene shifter.

  Fiona Tims wrote @

I remember the TOTP appearance vividly too. It’s funny the things that stick in your mind.


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