Wiffle Lever To Full!

Daleks, Death Stars and Dreamy Sci-Fi Nostalgia…

Extracts from Bob’s 1984 Diary… Volume 252

Saturday 8th September 1984

Woke up at 8.00 and got up at 9.15. We went to Yarm and I got an auto pencil, and at 10.15 we came back. At 11.00 I went to Doug’s and saw his mice, then we came back to my house, climbed next door’s plumb tree and got some plumbs.

Then we took some plumbs to Doug’s, and at 12.30 we came back and had dinner. We went to the mud track all afternoon, and at 4.30 we came back. At 5.30 Doug went home and I had tea, and at 6.05 I watched The A Team.

At 7.00 I watched Punchlines and at 7.30 I watched Bottle Boys. Went to bed at 8.30.

Four days into my secondary school career, and – amazingly – I was still taking it quite seriously. I’d been convinced by our Kate Bush-a-like art teacher Mrs Cashmore that, if I wanted to progress to draw Daleks on Doctor Who paperback covers, then first of all I’d need to shell out £1.49 on an ‘auto pencil’ from Strickland and Holt on Yarm High Street.


Or, as the rest of the world called it, a ‘propelling pencil’. You click the top button and a tiny, fragile dot of graphite nib emerges from the bottom. On Mrs Cashmore’s recommendation, everybody in our class went out and bought one of these arty accessories this weekend (I had to elbow Stephen Mason and Jane Grayson out of the way to get to the pencil rack in Stricklands’…. at least I learnt SOMETHING in that rugby lesson). As such, our next art lesson was soundtracked by the relentless, overpowering clicking of 30 propelling pencils,  as we embarked on an unofficial ‘who can get the longest stretch of unbroken nib sticking out of the end of their pencil’ competition. It sounded like a night in a tropical forest.

I’ve only a vague recollection of Doug owning mice, but I think he’d bought them with his pocket money from Yarm pet shop and was keeping them in a converted rabbit hutch (‘Let’s knock THIS wall through here, and then we can put a dedicated cheese storage area where the cupboard under the stairs used to be… twitch twitch’) in the garage. What he hadn’t realised was that one of the mice was pregnant, and within weeks the rodent population in his Dad’s garage had reached 13th Century Hamelin proportions.

And then, without warning, it seemed to decrease rapidly. ‘I think they’re eating each other…’ he mused, scratching the back of his neck and frowning. 25 years on, a little rummage on Google has just confirmed that, tragically, he was probably right…

Anyway (ha!) ‘plumbs’! Yes, what 11-year-old boy can resist a handful of sticky plums on a fresh September afternoon? Not us, for certain. We lived in a semi-detached house, and on ‘the other side’ (woooo) lived Jim and Phoebe Cogan, an elderly Country Durham couple. Jim was a wiry ex-miner, permanently clad in a flat cap, and Phoebe was never seen without her trademark hairnet and cardigan. They were lovely neighbours, and I was both delighted and amazed to discover – in 1987 – that they were both avid Hitch Hikers’ Guide To The Galaxy fans. I still think this is one of the most unlikely bits of fandom I’ve ever heard of, akin to discovering that Hannah Hauxwell collected vintage Star Wars action figures.

Anyway, around their side of the house stood an astonishingly fruitful plum tree, just the right size for two nimble 11-year-olds to clamber up to its highest reaches. Doug and I both shinned up the trunk and spread ourselves out to the furthest branches possible as Jim passed up empty buckets to the pair of us.  We spent an hour up there… swearing, laughing and talking filth as dozens of ripe plums dropped into our containers and a drifting, autumnal mist rolled in from Kirklevington woods, visible a mile away across the harvested fields.   

Naturally, we got carried away. By the end of the day, both of our mothers’ kitchens tops resembled the fresh fruit aisle at one of the larger branches of Tesco. We both gave ourselves extraordinary gut-ache trying to work our way through the fruity backlog, and – for the next fortnight – we created more and more inventive methods of clearing the 1984 Yarm Plum Mountain.


I think I claimed the prize by squeezing the juice from my plums into a mixing bowl (quiet at the back, there), pouring it into a series of empty margerine tubs, inserting some flimsy wooden lolly sticks, and sticking the whole lot in the freezer to make gigantic plum-flavoured ice lollies. They were a deep, rich purple colour and full of bits of rough-textured skin. But I was delighted with my invention, and slurped on these things relentlessly in front of the telly… to this day, I can’t think of Robin Askwith’s Bottle Boys without the taste of slightly unpleasant plum-sucking springing to mind.

I imagine I’m not alone in that…



  Mark Hirst wrote @

Ah, I know you have moved on to Conyers, but the picture of the mouse has brought back another Levendale memory, which I thought I’d share. (How bored must I be?)

On a day trip to Whitby, the enigmatic David Weedy, flush with a pound coin (spending money) in his pocket, decided to invest his cash on livestock. Most of my `group` bought a selection of small trinkets as souvenirs, a piece of Whitby Jet for their nans, or a pile of sweets to eat on the bus home etc.

Weedy, deftly giving me the slip for a few minutes, snuck into Whitby Pets and purchased a mouse for 50p, which he then secreted in his pocket. It was only on the bus home that someone spragged. By then, after a day in Whitby with 50 odd kids, myself and assembled teachers were beyond caring.

I trust he looked after it and gave it a good home, alongside his many pet goats, which I seem to remember were a big part of his life! That said, he also had a reticulated python living in his airing cupboard!

This has featured as part of my many cautionary tales to successive generations of pupils. In fact, if I think about it, most of the characters mentioned in this blog have, at some time, been mentioned in my assemblies!
This is behaviour that I do not want to see etc!

  bobfischer wrote @

Honoured that you’re still around, Mr H!

What a great story, and its rung all kinds of weird bells at the back of my mind. I think Weedy’s Mouse Escapade must have been 1982, the year before you took our grotty bunch to Whitby. Purely because, on our visit, I remember Mr Millward telling the story to (I think) Mrs Mulhern while we ate our regulation packed lunches, in a ‘You’ll never guess what happened last year…’ style!

And you’ve brought back dark, long-buried memories of our £1 spending money allowance, as I’m absolutely certain that I lost mine while clambering over the jagged rocks on the seafront (another Health & Safety minefield!) and had to go without the faceful of gooey sweets that everyone else gleefully indulged in. Although Paul Clarke (bless him) let me have a bite of his Milky Way.

I’ve also got a feeling that a post-sweet shop Stephen Mason blammed the handful of pennies he had left by phoning his parents from an old red call box to show off the fact that he was, erm, in a an old red call box in Whitby! Not sure why, but since when did logic ever play a part in the mind of a 10-year-old boy?

I’d also like to say that, 25 years on, it’s an utter thrill to know that you’re still teaching me, Mr H. I’ve just had to use Google to find out what ‘reticulated’ means.

For Christmas, can you print out your favourite blog entry and post it to me, complete with spelling corrections in red Biro and ‘See me’ at the bottom? 🙂

  Doctor Giles Parcel wrote @

I very much enjoyed reading ‘Of Mice And Plums’ Young Fischer.

It brought back happy memories of a Victoria Plum tree that grew in our street when I was a boy. Also of scrumping for damsons with a chum. It helps to have a chum on a scrump, I feel. Someone with whom to share a laugh about the suggestive shapes of the fruit, or someone to suck out the inevitable wasp stings. I am glad you did not scrump alone.

I have memories of mice too but they tend to be more research based and I don’t want to have to go into hiding again.

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