Wiffle Lever To Full!

Daleks, Death Stars and Dreamy Sci-Fi Nostalgia…

Extracts from Bob’s 1984 Diary… Volume 280

Saturday 6th October 1984

Got up at 8.00 and at 8.40 I went to the dentist and got a brace. After that I had a look in Smiths, then when I got back I played cards. Then I watched Paul and Holly from Frankie Goes To Hollywood on Saturday Superstore.

At 12.00 I had dinner, then I played football till 2.00, when we went to Conyers autumn fayre. I got eight Doctor Who books (for 40p!) from the bookstall, then saw Ozzie. After that we went in the cafe, then came home.

At 3.30 we went back and I got 4 Dr Who annuals, then we came home again and I had tea. At 5.10 I watched The Tripods, and at 5.40 I watched Late Late Breakfast show. At 7.00 I watched Punchlines, at 7.30 I watched Bottle Boys, at 8.00 I watched Paul Daniels, and at 8.40 I went to bed.

Aaaaaaaagh!!! The fateful day had come!!!!! Keith Herren, genial softly-spoken Stockton dentist, had been taking ‘impressions’ of my teeth for a few months now, with the intention of giving me a HIDEOUS brace to correct the two jagged fangs protruding from the top of my mouth. Naturally, I wasn’t keen on the idea, for two reasons…

1. I liked the fangs, they scared girls away and gave me endless opportunities to indulge my frequent fantasies of being Doctor Who’s youthful travelling companion, a slightly untamed teenage bloodsucker from the Vampire planet of Drexel…

2. Everyone knew that kids who wore dental braces were the geeky scum of the Earth, the kind of morbid nerds who obsessed over Blake’s 7 and the minutae of the TARDIS console room, and… erm… oh.

Anyway, I lay in the leather dentists’ chair in Keith’s surgery, my head filled with the smell of disinfectant and yellowing copies of Exchange and Mart, and my heart sank when he emerged from the cupboard with… AAAAARGH!!!… my brace. A hideous pink scrap of plastic that pushed into the roof of my mouth, to which were attached two vicious-looking metal hooks that wrapped around my beloved fangs.

In all honesty, it really wasn’t too bad. Obviously it felt odd, but it was barely visible to the casual observer, who might (but might not) have just noticed a strange glint of metal if I smiled as widely as possible (which obviously didn’t happen very often… I was a Middlesbrough fan, after all…)

stocktonhighstreet
‘I’m not wearing it,’ I said to my Mum as we slouched back to Stockton High Street to catch the bus home – her rolling her eyes, me indignantly sulking. ‘It can go in the bin when we get home, and I’m never going back to the dentists…’  

‘Yes you bloody well are,’ she replied. ‘If you want to spend your life looking like Count Dracula then that’s up to you, but you can go back and tell Mr Herren yourself why you’re not wearing the brace that he made for you…’

We sat in silence on the 294 bus all the way home, and I threw myself into Saturday Superstore, watching Holly Johnson and Paul Rutherford genially joshing with the Radio 1 DJ who’d inadvertantly brought about the BBC ban on airplay for their debut single. I had cheese-on-toast for my dinner, and tried to eat it with my brace in, but the thick slices of luridly orange cheddar kept getting caught underneath it, and I tore it out and threw it across the front room.

‘Pick that up, it’s covered in dog hair,’ barked my Mum. I reluctantly obliged.

Things had thawed a little by the time we got to my school’s Autumn Fayre. It was held mainly in the gym, with the unruly apparatus tethered to the walls and the squeaky wooden floor filled with bustling busy bodies from Yarm’s growing new estates, elbowing their way to trestle tables stacked with second-hand books, house plants, scones chipped out of granite by a crack PTA cake-making SWAT team, and the all-encompassing ‘bric-a-brac’. 

targetfivedoctorsAs always, I made a swift beeline for the second-hand books, and my heart leapt at the towering pile of Doctor Who paperbacks available for a staggering 5p each. These legendary ‘novelisations’ of TV episodes were published by a company called Target, and formed at least 75% of my ever-expanding book collection by the mid-1980s. There were eight books on the table that I didn’t have. I had two 20p pieces jingling in my trouser pocket. Call it fate, kismet, or even destiny (of the daleks…)

There were, however, also four 1970s Doctor Who Annuals on display. The whole lot had clearly been swept from some hapless teenager’s bedroom by a Mum who’d decided that ‘you’re really too old for all that rubbish now’, and I couldn’t have been more grateful. However, obviously, I’d run out of cash by now. It was a cold but dry day, and my Mum and I walked home across the school football field. On the way, we had a rare Serious Chat.

‘Are you really not going to wear your brace?’ she asked, deftly side-stepping a discarded rugby sock from one of Friday’s mud-splattered bloodbaths.

‘Dunno,’ I shrugged, clearly in a more conciliatary mood by now.

‘If you do agree to wear it,’ she ventured, in a textbook display of parental emotional blackmail, ‘you might just find you’ve got the money to buy those Doctor Who Annuals…’ 

I didn’t want to appear shallow, and grasping. ‘I’ll think about it,’ I mumbled. We got home. I thought about it. Thirty seconds later, we went back and bought the annuals. They’re still on the shelf in my spare room office.

annual
During this second visit, we bumped into my old Levendale Primary School teacher Mrs Moore, who greeted us both with a cheery hello and we chatted merrily about my new school while a succession of weedy teenagers paid 10p a go to ‘Beat The Keeper’… the keeper being our moustachioed PE teacher Mr Neilson, pulling off a string of ludicrously over-flamboyant Bruce Grobbelaar-esque saves in front of a tiny, portable five-a-side goalmouth. This was the last time I’ve ever seen Mrs Moore, although I’m reliably informed that she now lives four streets away from me!

Then I went home and wore my brace for tea. ‘Make something that won’t get caught underneath it, I hate that…’ I begged. My Mum grinned mischeviously and – half an hour later – came back with a gigantic plate full of mashed potato. Evil. Pure evil.

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5 Comments»

  Chris Orton wrote @

DId everybody have to have a brace back in the 1980s? I wore one for about a year and had no idea why I had to as my teeth didn’t look too crooked to me. One thing that I couldn’t (and wouldn’t) do though was have it in when I was eating – I just couldn’t cope with it, so every meal time, without fail, out it came. I think that dentists just liked mucking around with braces…

  Mark Hirst wrote @

Rod Neilsen used to live a few houses along from me in Acklam. We spent many happy hours discussing how best to inflict pain and grief on particularly annoying classes. I saw it as first class primary/secondary liaison and was jealous that he had the physical space to be more creative with his brutality!

I once arrived home from work with a dental brace in my track suit pocket! Some clumsy individual had decided to get his face in the way of a ball and had sustained some oral damage. (Could have been young Harker from my recollections) Whoever it was, he wore an impressively wired brace and the combination of metal, teeth and flesh caused a bit of a mess. Being a first aider of limited compassion, I removed the offending brace, impervious to the decorative spit, blood and remains of spam fritter, and put it in my pocket. (No protective gloves, cleaning hand gel etc. in those days!)

Then I went home.

Mrs H, checking my pockets prior to a heavy wash cycle, was more than a bit perturbed to find it and `words` were exchanged. Playfully, I told her she should always `brace herself` before getting into my trousers. ……Phnarr!

Ah, the fun never stopped in our house.
Well back then anyway!

  bobfischer wrote @

Chris – now you mention it, I can’t remember the last time I saw a kid wearing a brace, so maybe it was just a 1980 dentist fetish. Unless they’ve become really discreet, and we can’t see them any more?

Mr H – sensational stuff! Was the brace safely returned to Mr Harker’s gums, or did you keep it on the mantelpiece as a talking point?

I can just imagine you and Mr Neilsen plotting dastardly deeds. I bet he popped round to borrow a cup of sugar, and ended up staying all night sketching more and more complicated apparatus-based tortures for you to inflict on us at Levendale.

I still have nightmares about getting stranded at the top of the rope ladder.

  Fiona Tims wrote @

My friend Bet had a brace but she’s the only one of us who did (a full train track job, upper and lower). My friend’s daughter has one but they’re much funkier looking these days!

  bobfischer wrote @

Ah, really? Interesting! In what way, are they all fancy colours? Can you text with them, using your tongue? 😉


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