Wiffle Lever To Full!

Daleks, Death Stars and Dreamy Sci-Fi Nostalgia…

Extracts from Bob’s 1984 Diary… Volume 294

Saturday 20th October 1984


When I woke up at 8.30, I watched The Littlest Hobo, then I got up and watched Saturday Superstore. At 12.00 I had dinner, then Doug rang and I went round his house.

We went down to Yarm cycles and Doug had a look at some chromoly forks, then we went down the riverbank as far as we dared. After that we had a muck on at the mud track, and at 4.30 I came home.

At 5.00 I had tea and at 5.20 I watched The Tripods, then we took Norma to the station. When we came back I watched Punchlines, then I watched Paul Daniels. I went to bed at 11.30.

Aaaaaaaaaaaaaah… what nicer way to start a freezing cold Saturday morning in front of a flickering coal fire, than with a bit of this…

Although I have to say I don’t think it’s a great idea to give 12-bore shotguns to dogs. Before you know it, they’ll be holding up Pets At Home and filling the boot of the getaway car (driven by Twitchy Nose Mallone) with stolen gravy bones and hooky tins of Pedigree Chum.

And Chromoly Forks! Blimey, Doug was desperate for a pair of these. Don’t worry, we hadn’t gone soft and started buying cutlery for his Mum’s kitchen drawer, it was an upgrade for his Diamond Back BMX. A pair of forks that looked like this…

…although I’ve got to admit I’ve been staring at the above picture for ten minutes now, and I still can’t work out whereabouts on the bike the bloody things go. Over the front wheel, possibly? And why would buying these be better than the ones that were already on the bike?

Yarm Cycles, I’m thrilled to report, is still going strong in the same location – a excitingly rough and ready unit around the back of Yarm High Street, backing onto an old builder’s yard with the railway viaduct looming above. Back in 1984, it was pretty much an obligatory port-of-call for every BMX-obsessed oik in the town, even the ones – like me – whose Dads had sworn that they’d ‘think about buying a proper racer for you, but not one of those bloody American things’. 


The journey that Doug and I took along Yarm riverbank felt like a truly great adventure. The fair was in the swing of its Saturday afternoon session (which always felt a bit lacklustre, as though all the excitement had exploded the previous night and fizzled away into the daylight. A bit like Boxing Day, come to think of it) but we cocked our collective snooks and sneaked down ‘True Lover’s Walk’ (titter) to the little muddy path that snaked alongside the banks of the River Tees for several miles in both directions.

Nowadays, Yarm riverbank is very neat and tidy – all freshly-painted railings and posh paving slabs, with executive flats and expensive cars gazing across at the shimmering waters. Back in 1984, it was far more rough and ready. The river envelopes the High Street in a horseshoe shape, and runs parallel to the main street on both sides before shooting off to the east and west. On the eastern side was Yarm’s legendary ‘skinyard’, a sickly-smelling tanning factory where – in the summer – me and my Levendale Primary School mates had gone to torment ‘The Knacker Man’.

On the western side, the river chugged along past the Parish churchyard and the backs of allotments before being enveloped in an impenetrable wall of undergrowth, mud, trees and Giant Hogweed. This was the one for us. ‘How far should we go?’ I asked, fingering the cuffs of my navy blue parka.

‘As far as we can get…’ said Doug, jutting his jaw to the prevailing wind. We spent about an hour following the winding path through the trees, shouting vague obscenities at late-Autumn allotment-tenders and clambering over fallen tree-trunks in the relentless quest for adventure. Eventually, the trees cleared and we found ourselves staring into the back gardens of a closely-knit row of large, town houses. Behind us was the steel-grey river, and – beyond that – a stretch of thrillingly unfamiliar farmland.

‘I don’t recognise this at all,’ I muttered, gripping onto the top of a rickety wooden fence and trying to blow ‘breath rings’ into the freezing Autumn air.

‘I do,’ said Doug. ‘I think we’re in Thornaby. I’m pretty sure those houses are near my Gran’s street’.

Aw, the heartbreaking naivety of youth. I love this. We weren’t in Thornaby, of course, becuase Thornaby is six miles away from Yarm in the opposite direction. A few years later, with my cynical teenage head in place, I retraced the same journey and realised that the houses we’d found were on Worsall Road in Yarm… about half-a-mile from the start of our expedition.

We felt proud for the rest of the day though, as if another adult rite-of-passage had been ticked from our mental checklist. And then, on the way back, I spent 50p on the Huk-A-Duk stall trying to win myself a giant cuddly labrador.

And hello, Norma! Norma is my Auntie, my Mum’s elder sister. She lived (and still lives) in Redcar, Teesside’s salt-of-the-earth seaside resort, so I’m guessing she must have got the train to the bizarre, almost surreally deserted Allen’s West railway station, and my Dad would have bundled her into the back of his Reliant Scimitar before driving her back to our house, two miles away.

All of this happened while I was out ‘mucking about’ with Doug, so by the time I came home at 4.30, Norma was already ensconced on our sofa, tipping the flakes from an Embassy No 5 into an ashtray shaped like a miniature wagon wheel. The actual wheel from a wagon that is, not the jammy biscuit. Two things I remember from my conversation with Norma 25 years ago today…

1. She asked how I was getting on at school, and my Mum proudly mentioned that I’d somehow scraped into Mrs Clark (without the ‘e’)’s Top Set for Maths. ‘And how many credits have you got now?’ asked Norma. It took me a couple of seconds to work out that she meant merit marks. Needless to say, like the irritating girly swot that I was, I was well on the way to getting my House Colours at the end of the year.

2. There were ‘oooh’ and ‘aaaah’ comments made about how much I’d grown since we’d last been over to Redcar. ‘I swear you get six inches taller every time I see you,’ laughed Norma, diving into the almond slices on a floral plate. I suppose this is just about possible, but I’m pleased to say it’s a habit I’ve now grown out of. I’ve met Norma twice in the last two years (at my Uncle Arthur’s funeral and my cousin Maureen’s wedding) so if I was still keeping up the tradition, I’d be 6’10” by now. Perfect for dusting the top of the kitchen cupboards, but a bit uncomfortable for lying on the sofa.

Anyway, I spent the rest of the evening in a sulk because a) my Mum wouldn’t give me 50p to go back to the fair for a final attempt on the labrador and b) they talked about my Uncle Trevor all the way through The Tripods. Grrrrrrr.



  Chris Orton wrote @

Allen’s West is a weird little station isn’t it? Although not as deserted as Teesside Airport railway station which is one of the least used in Britain apparently. I think that there is about one train a week that stops there. I went down the line a few weeks ago when I took a trip down to Whitby on the Esk Valley line.

  Dr. Giles Parcel wrote @

It’s a shame you haven’t yet reached 6’10” as that would have been extremely useful for an experiment I am currently planning.

You could always have bought a longer sofa anyhow. Ah well.

  bobfischer wrote @

Myself and my friend Miniature G did once plan to make a ‘Great Railway Journeys’ film, consisting of the entire journey from Eaglescliffe to Allen’s West station. I think it takes about two and a half minutes.

Dr Parcel – if it’s any consolation, I’m about the correct weight for a man of 6’10”.

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