Wiffle Lever To Full!

Daleks, Death Stars and Dreamy Sci-Fi Nostalgia…

Extracts from Bob’s 1984 Diary… Volume 290

Tuesday 16th October 1984

Got up at 8.10, and at 8.30 Doug came and we went to school. First was English, then RE, then English again. Last was drama, and at 12.00 I had dinner.

After that we had our maths test, then it was HE. At 3.40 I came home and played out till tea at 5.00. At 5.10 I watched Star Trek, and at 6.00 I went outside, played football and watched the gypsies go past.

Came in at 7.30 and watched Give us a clue, and at 8.00 I watched Des o’connor tonight. At 9.00 I went to bed.

This was it! One of the most exciting days of the year! (Not quite up there with Christmas and my birthday, but easily ranking alongside Halloween and Bonfire Night). Yarm Fair took over our little cobbled town for five days every October, and – at 7pm on the Tuesday – the curfew was lifted and a convoy of fairground rides, wagons and gypsy caravans would steam from the surrounding laybys and descend upon the High Street. 

Most of them, en route, had to pass the end of our drive, so it became a hugely exciting family ritual for us to stand and watch the procession, and play ‘Guess The Fairground Ride’ as tantalising glimpses of brightly-coloured machinery whizzed past the rustling conifer trees.

(It also became a family tradition for at least one member of the fair community to spot the pile of rusting car parts stacked up outside my Dad’s  garage and hammer on the door offering to ‘take them away, for nothing’. One year, after half a dozen such approaches in one night, my Dad snapped and told the latest luckless traveller to ‘Piss off, and leave me alone’. At which point, to his hilarity, he was told ‘We’ll put a curse on you and all your family’. I think he laughed all the way up to the opening credits of Harty)

The arrival of the fair sent a genuine, palpable, crackle of tension around our school, something that our English teacher Mrs McDonald was canny enough to capitalise on. Here’s the result of my two English lessons from 25 years ago today, scrawled out neatly in blue biro during ‘quiet writing time’ in the school library…

The sights and sounds of the fair

I moved past the echoing screams of the people on the towering big wheel and found myself in a crowd stood round the dodgems. The constant blare of music was ringing in the air, and the chatter of so many people seemed to echo, then rise excitedly into the cold night sky.

I moved away from the noisy clutter of people and the dancing coloured lights to the road, which was wet from the days rain and almost silent compared to the noise of the dodgems.

Over the road, a small fat man with a nose like a grappling hook and a bowler hat jammed tightly on his head was running a hoopla stall. He was talking away to a tall young woman, whose face was lit up by the revolving yellow lights on top of the stall. 

I moved off down the road again, past the deafening noise of a radio owned by the man on the large roundabout, and arrived at the gypsies site.

All around me were caravans. Mainly new ones, but parked near the pavement was an old, brightly-coloured horse-drawn carriage. It seemed quieter and darker here, for there were no bright lights and hardly any people.

Stood up against the carriage was a sign, which I struggled to read in the darkness. It said – ‘Gypsy Rose Lee, the original fortune teller. £5.00’

I was interested by this, and moved around the back of the caravan. There I saw a blazing fire inside some blackened bricks, and an old, old woman.

She was sat on a rickety old chair and wearing a red headscarf. Her face was wrinkled but benign, and she had a large wart on her nostril.

She smiled at me. I smiled back, then walked into a wet, dark but quiet side-street. The fair was over – for me at least.

I’m still quite proud of that. I got 9/10 from Mrs McDonald, and another merit mark for my growing collection. What a girly swot. (By the way, this was actually based on a real person – the very old lady in a very old caravan was a well-known part of Yarm Fair for decades, and I remember seeing her at least into the late 1980s, usually prodding at a log fire in a brazier. She once waved at me when I was on the bus passing through the High Street, in – I think – 1987. I gave a little wave back and then hid inside my parka)

And what a fine evening of ITV Light Entertainment! I’m pretty sure that Give Us A Clue, by this stage, had adopted The Greatest TV Theme Tune Of All Time…

‘If you’re specific… you’ll be terrific…’

I love Bob Holness’ marching action in the opening credits as well. And yegods, is that Spike Milligan in the red and white shirt?

And Des O’Connor Tonight, the light entertainment juggernaut that steamedrolled ITV’s evening schedules through several thousand periods of geological evolution. The wise money says Freddie Starr was a guest on this evening’s show, and – at some point – he marched around the studio in oversized swastika underpants while Des creased up on the sofa with a cushion clutched to his juddering chest.




  Fiona Tims wrote @

I think you should have got 10/10!

  Rhonda Civic wrote @

Yes I agree – that piece about the fair demonstrates an exceptional vocabulary and a genuinely evocative turn of phrase. You were a remarkably gifted writer for a boy of eleven.

What the hell happened since???

  Justin wrote @

Yep – should’ve been a 10; I’m considering asking friends to read it and guess the age of the writer (especially if they have children) as I’m betting half the vocab would be perceived as beyond anyone still at school (obligitory addition of “these days”)!

  bobfischer wrote @

I’m blushing now. Which takes a bit of doing, as I have a complexion the colour of ripe beetroot most of the time anyway.

The word Mrs McDonald was impressed with was ‘benign’ which I’d definitely learnt in 1983 from the novelisation of Return of The Jedi. It’s used to describe the face of the dying Anakin Skywalker, and I looked it up in my Mum’s dictionary.

See, kids – science fiction can be both fun AND educational! If I listed all the words I learnt from Doctor Who novelisations then we’ll be here all night…

(I’ll offer up ‘capacious’ and ‘entropy’ though, for starters)

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