Wiffle Lever To Full!

Daleks, Death Stars and Dreamy Sci-Fi Nostalgia…

Extracts from Bob’s 1984 Diary… Volume 292

Thursday 18th October 1984


At 8.30 Doug came and we went to school. First was science, then Music. After that was Geog, and at 12.00 I had dinner. After that was DT, then RE and History, and at 3.40 I came home.

I played cards till tea, and at 5.30 I watched Grange Hill. At 6.30 I went to Doug’s, and we went to the fair. First we went in the fun house, then the dodgems. After that Doug went on the cage, then we won a BMX poster.

Then we won a deeky bopper from Huk-a-Duk, and at 9.30 Dad came and took us home. I went to bed at 10.00.

Yarm Fair, 1984-style! The colours! The excitement! The tangible atmosphere of simmering violence! Enough to make an 11-year-old boy’s already-feverered mind positively giddy with anticipation. So let’s skip straight throught the school day and get stuck into the fairgr—

HANG ON! WHAT AM I TALKING ABOUT? 25 years ago today I made a copper sulphate crystal in Double Science and I’ve STILL GOT IT!!!

Yep, that’s it, still sellotaped into my exercise book a quarter of a century later. In case you were wondering, the method employed by me, Chris Byers and Jo Spayne to make this (ahem) ‘nugget of purest greeeeen’ was to pour 50cm3 of water into a small beaker and add copper sulphate until no more would dissolve, ie the solution was saturated. We then heated the copper sulphate solution until it started to boil. We turned the gas to a low flame and continuted heating until there was ony 25cm3 of solution in the… beaker… we then left the… solution to cool… and…

Yeah, alright, Yarm Fair.

YEAAAAAAAAAAH! A hugely exciting night, and a permanent fixture in my Annual Childhood Calender Of Dead Good Things, easily up there with Bonfire Night and a new series of Doctor Who. And it’s been a part of Yarm’s tradition since… blimey, the early 13th Century. No, really. King John granted the charter for Yarm Fair nearly 800 years ago, and it’s been around ever since. There were probably fewer Pac-Man machines in 1214 than there were in 1984, but I’d like to imagine that one of the local fatties painted himself yellow and ran around the streets eating a succession of pigs’ bladders while being chased around the back alleys by four town guildsmen wearing different-coloured sheets over their heads.

My first Yarm Fair was in (I think) 1977, aged four, when my parents wrapped me up in a tiny duffel coat and white mittens and took a hand each to lead me through the biggest, noisiest, scariest melee of people and bright lights I’d ever seen in my little life. But I loved it, and – every year since – I’d begged them to take me back, blamming my meagre pocket money on Galaxian machines and Hoopla stalls and ‘Bumper Cars’ while my parents smiled winsomely at each other and made ‘At least he’s happy…’ faces in the freezing night air.

1984 was a landmark year though, because 1984 was – WAIT FOR IT – the first time I’d ever been to Yarm Fair without them! Yep, four weeks away from my twelfth birthday, and I was clearly A MAN. I slipped into my blue parka, mumbled a vague ‘Seeyalater’ and sloped out of the kitchen door into the freezing murk, punching the air and hissing ‘Yessss!’ all the way down the road to Doug’s house.

And – hey – you lucky people. Last night, I made the visit again, so brace yourself for some ripping, riveting Yarm Fair film action…

The ‘Fun House’ that we went in was a hall of mirrors. 50p in, and we prodded candy floss at each other and laughed uproariously at Doug with impossibly long legs and a tiny body, and me with an enormous fat head and a thick, stumpy torso – an alarming premonition of my adult physical form.

The Dodgems were, are, and always will be, in the same place… on the right hand side of the High Street, just outside the Green Tree pub. King John probably had a go on them in 1214. I’m pretty sure Doug rode shotgun while I took the steering wheel, laughing manicially and flicking V-signs at any fellow motorists whose facial hair I didn’t approve of. I take a similar approach as a 36-year-old, driving up the A19 to work every evening. Halfway through our ride, we decided to swop places, and I shuffled along the bench while Doug clambered over the top of me and slid into the drivers’ seat. Probably losing an eyebrow on the giant sparkler at the top of the pole.

Here I am revisiting the scene of the crime, 25 years on…

From there on, we’ll have wandered along the ‘back’ of the fair, to the location of the dreaded ‘Cage’…

The Cage (or ‘The Wall Of Death’ to give it its ‘official’ title), doesn’t really seem to exist any more. It was a giant wheel, into which we hapless punters were strapped, and it spun at an alarming rate on the ground before rising up into the air and whirling vertically on its axis. This is the best picture I can find of it online…

‘Going on the cage’ was shorthand for macho, fair-based bravado pretty much all the way through my Primary School life. ‘Are you going to Yarm Fair tonight?’ ‘Yeah, and I’m GOING ON THE CAGE!!! GRRRRRR!!!’ Naturally, I had no intention whatsoever of ever setting foot on the bloody thing, so I stayed on the ground and watched Doug climb into the wheel by himself, shaking my head in disbelief as I saw his brown parka whirling through the black sky, sixty feet above me.  

Bizarrely, my abiding memory of standing alone in the High Street on that night is singing along to Alison Moyet’s single ‘All Cried Out’, blaring out from the Crows’ waltzer on the other side of the Town Hall. It was in the Top 10 in October 1984, and it’s still a fine-sounding single, I think…

The last time I saw The Cage at Yarm Fair was in October 2000, by which time – oddly – I’d actually grown really fond of the thing. I’d been persuaded by my friend Andrew ‘Roy’ Harding to ‘give it a go’ during a Friday night mooch to the fair in 1989 (I was sixteen, and in the mood to experiment) and – to my amazement – it wasn’t scary at all. Centrifugal Force (thankyou Mr Warren) kept everyone safely pinned to the inside of the wheel, so once you got over the dizziness, it actually gave you a really nice view of Yarm High Street. And, occasionally, other peoples’ dinners. In the last ten years, it seems to have vanished forever, so last night I had to resort to a quick spin on Crows’ Waltzer, still in the same location as in 1984…

‘We’re on the Waltzers! WAHEY! I haven’t been on the Waltzers for years. I might bring my fish and chips up after this’. Bespoke screaming by Sorcha. Thanks, dear. (NB You can see Copeland’s Bakery and the Natwest 12 seconds in)

These days, Yarm High Street is closed to traffic during fair hours. In 1984, no-one cared about such over-zealous safety considerations, and so the scenes of flashmob mayhem you can see in the above films were conducted while a steady stream of buses, wagons and Ford Fiestas zig-zagged their way haphazardly through seething crowds of scrapping oiks, snogging couples and mulletted nutcases, lashed-up on Harp Lager from the Cross Keys and the Ketton Ox. It was brilliant, and I remember Doug and I desperately trying to squeeze one last thrill from the evening before my Dad’s Reliant Scimitar slalomed into view at the side of the Town Hall at the agreed 9.30pm.

And the pale, moon-like clock face of the town hall was showing 9.29pm when we won a set of ‘deeky boppers’ with a devastating run of form on the watery Huk-A-Duk stall. GET IN!!!!!

Doug and I clambered into the back of the car, giggling like idiots and still chucking bits of candy floss at each other, and flicked more V-signs out of the rear window as the blinding lights of the fair receded from view and the mundane, misty darkness of an Autumn night enveloped us. We dropped Doug off at the end of his drive, and I went to bed with the sound of Galaxians and Alison Moyet still thumping in my ears…

By the way, one poignant little last thing… aside from the Dodgems and the pile of chippy vomit outside the Town Hall toilets,  Yarm Fair has one perennial, permanent fixture that was there in 1977, there in 1984, and still remains present in 2009. Thirty years ago, it was the scariest thing at the fair, but now… well, we felt a little bit sorry for it last night. Ladies and gentlemen, a gentle ripple of applause please for the grand old dame of funfairs that is…

The Big Wheel. You’ll miss her when she’s gone.

(PS, if anyone’s having trouble with the videos in this entry, they’re all at www.youtube.com/wifflelevertofull)



  Big Tom wrote @

Was back again at Yarm Fair myself for the first time in probably 15 years on Saturday – was it me, or did it seem a lot quieter than in our days Mr F?

(granted I spent the vast majority of the evening in The Bull so I may have missed the crowds, but we did dive out for a Waltz ourselves…blimey, they seem to go on a lot longer and be a lot more unpleasant than I remember from my youth!)

  Chris Orton wrote @

I’m not really one for rides at fairs I have to say as I don’t like anything that spins me around too fast or makes me go upside down. What a wuss eh?

We used to get a small batch of rides that called off in my home town a few years ago, while the owners were on their way to the massive fairground event The Hoppings (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Hoppings) that takes place each year in a muddy quagmire on the Town Moor in Newcastle. It seems to have tailed off these days, but there were all the usual trappings of these fairs present – scruffy looking dogs, small traveller children hanging around, candy floss etc. For some reason these travelling types seemed to have some kind of hypnotic effect on the local lasses who flocked to them if I remember correctly.

I think that ‘deeky boppers’ were called ‘deely boppers’ weren’t they?

  Dr. Giles Parcel wrote @

The anecdote about the crystallisation of CuSO4 has brought an unaccustomed tear to my eye!

  Ian Farrage wrote @

Although I recall Yarm Fair with fond memories, for great smells, loud music, going on the Cage 7/8 times, cracking the top of my head on the Eggs, shouting obscenities at the lovely travelers on the Waltzers, being freezing cold and wet whilst eating chips from polystyrene on the way home. Good times spending a small fortune with nice friendly trustworthy Romany people (Romanus Copulatus I think is their formal title). However I was there two years ago and I was very shocked – it was so expensive. With Ozzy, nephew, with him enjoying crappy little kids rides going round in circles, but they were still costing 50p-£1 and they only lasted 2 minutes tops, during the daytime.
Now the 50p price might not but much different to what it was, but the rides used to go on for quite a while sometimes. Those were the days when 50p actually got you something for your money – 5 minute ride on a puke covered chair, being flung round at breakneck speed, where you also have the chance to lose the entire contents from your pockets (hopefully from the ride, rather than the fine proprietors or their families). I’ve had to move half way round the world to get something for my 50p now – thankfully in the right places it could be a couple of pints of beer ☺

  Justin wrote @

Is not the centrifugal force of which you speak actually ‘reactive centrifugal force’ which is really just the the ‘equal and opposite reaction’ to the centriptal force and shouldn’t have it’s own name?
Please thank my physics teacher of the time, (Dr Bell IIRC), for this as it seemed to be a pet hate of his that people used centrifugal instead of centripetal… if I’ve messed it up it’s my memory to blame rather than the good Dr!

  bobfischer wrote @

Tom – it seemed a little bit quieter than the ‘old days’ (AAAARGH!) but I wondered if that was just because the road had been closed, and there wasn’t a line of traffic hemming everyone into the gutters. Shame I didn’t see you on Saturday – I’d have happily joined you on the Waltzer!

Chris – yep, definitely Deely Boppers rather than Deeky Boppers. No idea where I got that from. And they’d hit their popularity in the Summer of 1982, so I’m guessing the ones from the Huk-A-Duk stall were some recovered bankrupt stock from somewhere!

Dr Parcel – happy to oblige. Thanks liven up even further on the science front soon, we moved onto human biology before Christmas.

Ian – yep, definitely a lot more expensive than it used to be! The Waltzer on Saturday cost £3 per person, so £6 for Sorcha and me to be flung around for four minutes before wandering off in a dizzy haze. I loved it, but any couple wanting to sample all the big rides is going to have to shell out the best part of £40 between them! I can’t remember how much I took to the fair in 1984, but it won’t have been more than £3 or £4.

Justin – I’m happy to take your word for it. 🙂

  Claire Otterson wrote @

Can you remember that they used to put the rides up by 10p every hour too? So you’d rush to get on the rides minutes before the townhall clock struck to save yourself 10p!

  bobfischer wrote @

Ha ha, yes! I’d forgotten about that. I guess the thinking being that by the time the pubs started chucking out at 11pm, everyone was too drunk to realise that they were shelling out an extra 50p for a slightly shorter go on the waltzers. And you could get an extra four pints for that back in those days. And a toffee apple.

  Chris Byers wrote @

I have to say I am somewhat concerned at the number of references to the cost of things in the past. When you start saying things like ‘in my day you could go on the waltzers, hook-a-duck, get fish and chips, throw up and still have change out of a fiver’ this tells me (a) we are turning into our parents and (b) we are getting old. I have no intention of doing either, even if it is true. And if Mr Farrage is managing to buy a pint for under 50p then all I can say is the lucky sod.

I am pleased to see that after 25 years that our science lesson’s can still bring a tear to the eye. I think Mr Warren had many a tear in his eye teaching us back in 1984.

  bobfischer wrote @

I remember my Dad and his mates sitting in The Harvester pub and musing that ‘The day they start charging a pound a pint, I’m finished with it. They can stick it up their jacksies and I’ll brew my own’. This was in late 1989. Twenty years later, they’re still having the same conversations, but £3 a pint is the new bailing-out point.

I should send them all out to China, which is where Mr Farrage lives. He’s only there for the cheap beer as well.

  Justin wrote @

So from what i can work out the waltzer used to cost 50p ie. same as a pint, and now costs £3 which is, err, the same as a pint… so not really much of an increase then 😉

  bobfischer wrote @

‘The day they start charging four quid for the waltzers, I’m finished with it. They can stick it up their jacksies and I’ll build my own in the garage…’

  Fiona Tims wrote @

Oooh I loved Deely Boppers. I had glittery ones and little windmill ones!

  bobfischer wrote @

Common as muck. All the classy birds had green ones. 😉

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