Wiffle Lever To Full!

Daleks, Death Stars and Dreamy Sci-Fi Nostalgia…

Extracts from Bob’s 1984 Diary… Volume 299

Thursday 25th October 1984

Got up at 9.10 when I got a letter from Richard Moxham, and when I got downstairs I did some more of POG-I. After that I wrote a letter to Richard, then at 11.30 I went to Doug’s but he wasn’t in. I came back and at 12.00 I had dinner.

Then I did some more of POG-I, and at 2.00 we looked at some old photographs. At 5.00 I had tea, and at 5.15 I watched Blockbusters. After that I went outside, and when I came in I started writing an RPG for a Fighting Fantasy competition in Warlock magazine.

At 9.30 Dad came back from the motor  show with some leaflets about the Scimitar SS1, and while I read them I had a bacon sarnie. I went to bed at 10.30.

The motor show! Yes, every October, my Dad and half-a-dozen of his similarly fortysomething friends would hire a minibus, fill their coat pockets with scotch eggs and hip flasks, and drive to the NEC in Birmingham to eye up bouffant-haired blondes in bikinis, sprawled alluringly across the bonnets of the new Austin Montego Estate. 

So, by the time my Mum gently shoved open my bedroom door at 9.10am, he was long gone. ‘You’ve got a letter from Richard Moxham,’ she smiled, handing over an enveloped coated in tell-tale Airmail stickers. Richard Moxham had been one of my best childhood friends, but – in 1981 – he and his family had upped sticks and emigrated to Canada. In those hazy, pre-internet days, a carefully-scribbled letter packed with gossip, giggles and rumination on the latest A-Team storylines was the only way to keep in touch. We usually managed a few pages every couple of months, and a phone call at Christmas. Always from him to me, of course… to my parents, the prospect of actually PHONING CANADA FROM YARM was the flamboyant equivalent of chucking a load of ten pound notes into the coal bunker and setting fire to them.

I think this particular letter was the one in which Richard had painstakingly copied out the logos of all his favourite new rock bands… Van Halen, Twisted Sister, Def Leppard and ZZ Top. I was utterly bamboozled by all of these, as – you guessed it – I’d never heard of any of them. Pop music was still splendidly parochial in the mid-1980s, and the overwhelming majority of Top 40 hits were gorgeously clunky pop songs by familiar, UK artists – packing their songs and videos with reassuringly British traits… widdly synths, downbeat lyrics and repressed homosexuality.

Suffice to say I wasn’t really ready to ‘rawk’ at this point in my life, so I wrote back with a few half-hearted ramblings about Frankie Goes To Hollywood and Doctor Who before losing myself in beans-on-toast and the first ten minutes of Pebble Mill At One.

With my Dad away for the day, my Mum was clearly in the mood for a bit of ‘sorting out’, hence the ‘old photographs’ being plonked on the coffee table while we whiled away the afternoon, lost in giddy nostalgia. For as long as I could remember, this magical collection of sepia-tinted prints had been stuffed into a battered, brown leather suitcase and buried at the bottom of the wardrobe, only being brought into the open air on the rainiest of rainy afternoons, when coffee, toasted teacakes and wistful sentimentality would tide us gently over to Blockbusters and Northern Life.

I’m delighted to say that the collection is still intact, and – not only that – still contained in the same battered suitcase (above)! It’s two feet away from me now, on the floor of my spare room office… (I swiped it to – yep – ‘sort out’ when my parents moved back to the UK from France this summer)

Fancy a random picture from the collection? Go on then, here you go…

This is my Grandad, my mother’s father, Ralph Atkinson. Pictured during his World War II service, and the first person to mention Captain Mainwaring gets a taste of cold steel right up ’em. I never knew my Grandad, he died in 1971, eighteen months before I was born – he had a silent heart attack in his favourite armchair, and slipped away with barely a sound while the family watched TV around him.


I guess every family has a photo collection like this. There are hundreds (if not thousands) of battered pictures stuffed into the suitcase, telling a vague, befuddled family history through these little snapshots in time. Desperately-missed parents and husbands rubbing shoulders with barely-remembered Great Aunties and half-forgotten cousins. Men in tank tops polishing Morris Travellers, and peroxide women in gingham dresses desperate to look like a young Diana Dors. Long-forgotten dogs chewing bones in tiny gardens, and joyous-looking babies on rugs in front of three-bar fires.


And someone, somewhere, in that vast morass of vanished time, loved them all enough to point a camera and go ‘click’. My Mum clearly adored flicking through this collection, and so did I… and nothing has ever changed. In June this year, 25 years on, we sat down at her kitchen table in France and ‘looked at some old photographs’. The same ones. Me aged 36, and my Mum now 67, but – aside from that – nothing had changed a jot.  We even had coffee and toasted teacakes (although they don’t have Blockbusters on French TV) 

(By the way, I’ve just realised, for the first time ever, that the above two photos are clearly taken on opposite sides of the same window, several years apart! It’s the curtains that are the giveaway. I think it’s my Gran’s house, the one prior to the famous sci-fi bungalow from ‘Wiffle Lever’. My Gran is in the first picture, with my Dad’s dog Penny, who also features – looking quite a lot older – in the second shot. That’s my Dad on the far right of the settee, sporting a sensational pair of ginger sideburns.

NB Those curtains eventually emigrated to my parents’ kitchen, and were still hanging there in 2000 when they sold my childhood home. We’re SUCH scutters…)  

And then, predicatably, back to my own little world of nerdiness… writing a Role Playing Game for a competition in Warlock – the official Fighting Fantasy magazine. The slow slide into teenage geekdom. My adventure was called ‘The Moonstone Dungeon’ and featured Reknor the Dwarf, Derfa the Elfin Girl, and an army of fighting potatoes… and I can state this with some authority, because – fantastically – I FOUND IT ALL A FEW WEEKS AGO!

It was in a box in the loft, still packed into a brown foolscap folder with ‘THE MOONSTONE DUNGEON 26/10/1984’ written neatly in pencil on the front. Here’s the introduction…

This adventure is set in the dungeon of Moonstone castle, which is an ancient castle in Eastern Allansia. For centuries the castle has been deserted, but recently there have been rumours that Ane Vilman, an evil warlord from the North, has been using the castle dungeon as his hideout while he plans an invasion of Allansia.

Such rumours have reached you adventurers, and, determined to fight for your country, you have set off for Moonstone castle to defeat Vilman and his evil followers before such an invasion takes place.

You reach Moonstone castle early in the afternoon, and, in high spirits, you make your way to the dungeon. The entrance to the dungeon is a large round pit in the stone floor with a rope ladder hanging down the side. Cautiosly you descend the ladder to the danger that awaits below…

Ane Vilan. An evil man. I was destined for a career in local radio, wasn’t I? Mind you, it’s odd the way that life works out. Yesterday, almost 25 years to the day since I started writing my own Fighting Fantasy adventure…

…wait for it…

…I met Steve ‘Fighting Fantasy’ Jackson! Yep, the man who launched the range with his Games Workshop cohort Ian Livingstone. I was flogging Wiffle Levers at a gaming convention in Watford, and Steve was on the Fighting Fantasy table barely ten feet away. (I did, of course, meet Ian Livingstone earlier this year, on 3rd February in fact, so I can now die happy in a treacherous corner of the Moonstone Dungeon)

And then my Dad returned from the Motor Show, no doubt smelling slightly of draught bitter and cigar smoke, and talking enthusiastically about the new Scimitar SS1 sports car that we were going to buy…

All glorious 1980s pipe dreams, of course, except… we did buy one. Fourteen years later, in 1998. My Mum paid about £1500 for a fifth-hand model that looked – quite frankly – nothing whatsoever like the picture above. She drove it around Yarm for about a year before declaring it was ‘like to trying to steer a Sherman bloody Tank’ and selling it on for roughly the same price. Nostalgia ain’t what it used to be, is it?


  Justin wrote @

You better get into ‘rawk’ pretty soon or the bubble will burst and grunge will turn up! I suppose I can see where you may not have heard of Twisted Sister and even Van Halen (though they’d been in the charts in Jan ’84) but the Lepps were from a city less than 100 miles from Yarm…

… and are not ZZ Top at number 10 about October 1984? with Gimme All Your Lovin’?

BTW those curtains are very similar to some wallpaper we had at the time… eek!

  bobfischer wrote @

Ah, but Def Leppard didn’t have a Top 40 single until 1987, so I wouldn’t have heard of them! I was an absolute slave to the hit parade, and – as far as I was concerned – any music that didn’t chart didn’t exist at all.

Which doesn’t really explain ZZ Top I suppose, because you’re right – they were in the UK Top 10 this very month. I was a complete pop freak though, and liked electro stuff with synths and blokes in eyeliner. Beards? Guitars? Get outta here, grandad!

  Justin wrote @

(ZZ Top)
Beards? Guitars? Get outta here, grandad!

Not so much of the grandad… I’m off to see them tomorrow night!

  bobfischer wrote @

Have a good one! 🙂

I think it took until ‘Legs’ in Feb 1985 for me to become really aware of them, as I remember singing it with Andrew Sugden while we queued to get into an HE class one later afternoon. Except, naturally, the crucial word ‘legs’ was replaced by a different part of the female anatomy.

Boys are horrible.

  Justin wrote @

Except, naturally, the crucial word ‘legs’ was replaced by a different part of the female anatomy.
Boys are horrible.


However it’s not just boys with that senese of humour, that applies to the bands themselves too… I once heard Whitesnake live cover ZZ Top’s song ‘Tush’ (apprently slang for ‘good enough’) replacing the main lyric with “I’m just looking for some t*ts”

  bobfischer wrote @

The filth and, indeed, the fury…

  Rhonda Civic wrote @

Yes! Boys are the most horrible of all.

  bobfischer wrote @

Spandau Ballet fan alert.

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