Wiffle Lever To Full!

Daleks, Death Stars and Dreamy Sci-Fi Nostalgia…

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…




  Chris Orton wrote @

I was an avid reader of most of the comics back in the 80s (the ones that are left all just seem to be full of tatty plastic free toys these days), and well remember J. Edward Oliver’s wooden boxes with handles. Another artist of the period, Tom Paterson, used to draw a smelly sock in a frame of each of his strips, complete with “whiff” rising from it.

  bobfischer wrote @

Aw yeah, I remember the whiffy sock!

I think The Beano is still pretty faithful actually – or it was when I last saw one, maybe two years ago. Still very traditional, with Dennis and the Bash Street Kids still in place.

The Dandy looked pretty scant and nasty, though.

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