Wiffle Lever To Full!

Daleks, Death Stars and Dreamy Sci-Fi Nostalgia…

Extracts from Bob’s 1984 Diary… Volume 301

Saturday 27th October 1984

Got up at 9.30 and at 10.30 I went to Doug’s. Then we came back to my house, got my trunks, and at 11.30 Doug’s mam came and took us to the baths. When we came out of the baths we got some sweets, then at 2.00 I came home and had dinner.

At 2.45 I went to Doug’s and we took the stone out of the van, then went to the mud track. Doug got a flat tyre so we went to Yarm cycles and pumped it up. At 5.45 I came home and watched the Late Late Breakfast show, and at 7.00 I watched Cannon and Ball.

At 7.45 I watched Punchlines, at 8.15 I watched 3-2-1, and at 8.45 I watched Wogan interview Kevin Turvey/Rik/Rik Mayall.

After that I typed the RPG, and at 11.25 I went to bed but turned the clocks back so really I went to bed at 10.25. But then again, you’re not supposed to turn them forward till 2.00am tomorrow. But who’d be awake then? Not me for a start!!!!

Yay! The ideal cure for an upset stomach… erm, an hour’s worth of swimming in Thornaby baths and a bloody big bag of sweets on the way home. I remember Doug’s mother, a flame-haired thirtysomething Australian woman, being slightly taken aback when my Mum revealed that I’d ‘been sick’ before bedtime the previous night.

‘What, you mean actually VOMITED?!?!’ she asked, in a broad Australian twang* ‘Are you SURE you should be going swimming?’ But I was made of sterner stuff, and it would take more than a dicky tummy to deter me from arsing around down the deep end with my best mate. Although I came close to a repeat performance when I emerged from the depths with a second-hand piece of elastoplast (complete with vague yellow blotch in the middle) stuck to my forehead.

*She must have been the only Australian in the world who wouldn’t have used the word ‘chundered’ in this situation. That’s what living in Yarm does to people. Booooo!

And then home with a bag of aniseed balls, bought for pennies in the very old-fashioned sweet shop across the main road from Thornaby baths. The smiley old dear behind the counter had clearly been running this deliciously gloomy enclave for several centuries, and still got a delightful thrill from scooping ‘a quarter of Black Jacks’ from a gigantic glass jar into a crumpled white paper bag, handing it over to the 65.3% of her kiddie customers that sported spiky wet hair, soggy towels under their arms and a lingering, overwhelming stench of stale chlorine.

The ‘stone out of the van’ was a little favour to Doug’s dad, who – as I cycled up the driveway – was parking his Ford Transit in front of the living room window and  preparing to unload (I think) a huge quantity of stone cladding, intended for the back of the house. ‘That was well timed,’ he beamed, as Doug came pottering around from the back*. Good job I’d had a bag of aniseed balls, I spent the next 20 minutes fired up by the usual post-Thornaby sugar rush, and only hit the comedown when we got to the mud track.

*Doug’s house, it’s just struck me, was one of those strange residences where the front door – y’know, the most accessible one that faces the road – was NEVER used. The first time I went to Doug’s house, on his 11th birthday in October 1983, he was with me, and he explained that the entire family came and went via the kitchen door round the back, and so – on future visits – that was the one to aim for. Looking back, I’m not even sure if the front door was real, or if it was just painted on the front of the stone cladding to keep up appearances.

And yes, Doug’s bike tyre! As my mother would no doubt say, ‘flat as a fart’ (a phrase that gets applied equally in our household to tyres, singing voices and tonic water). By the time we reached the mud track it was flopping around like a soggy pancake, so we wheeled his BMX along West Street to Yarm Cycles, where the kindly owner rolled his eyes and lent us a grubby, ancient bicycle pump as a temporary measure.

What I don’t mention in my diary is that we’d already made a more drastic attempt at re-inflation at the old petrol station at the top of Yarm High Street. Doug was actually fixing the nozzle of the air machine to his bike wheel when a red-faced man in grubby overalls came charging out of the cabin and shouted a word I’d only ever seen before in comic strips… ‘S-T-O-O-O-O-O-P-P-P-P!!!!!’

‘Eh?’ said Doug, who’d clearly done this a thousand times before.

‘You can’t blow up bike tyres with one of those!’ said Garagey Man, tearing the nozzle from Doug’s hand and hooking the tube back to its holster on the side of the machine. ‘It’ll go up like a bloody balloon in your face. Have you ever seen anyone who’s been caught in the face by an exploding bike tyre? I have, and believe you me, it’s not a pretty sight…’  

‘Have you shite,’ muttered Doug under his breath as we slinked away. ‘I bet it’s a prettier sight than him,’ I mumbled, sympathetically. These were the days, of course, when petrol stations (or ‘garages’ as everyone just called them back then) WEREN’T generally owned by the petrol companies themselves. Nowadays, your average filling station is a slick mini-supermarket owned by BP or Shell, teeming with middle-management f**kwits who leave their Range Rovers parked idly at Pump 6 before embarking on their entire weekly shop while an angry queue of traffic mounts up behind their stationary knobmobile.

In 1984, most petrol stations were owned by 45-year-old blokes who liked messing about with cars. The forecourts usually had a couple of clapped out Ford Cortinas dotted around their outskirts (with the gearboxes on the floor nearby), and the petrol pumps themselves were archaic, off-white 1960s machines with painted white digits on a rolling black wheel, a far cry from the slick, self-service, computerised machines of today.

You’d park up and wait for the owner to emerge from his grotty hut. ‘How much?’ he’d grunt, wiping oil from his hands with the back page of last night’s Evening Gazette Late Final. ‘Ten pounds, please,’ you’d reply, and he’d unhinge the nozzle and FILL YOUR CAR UP HIMSELF, because clearly petrol pumps were complex, specialist bits of machinery not suitable for use by the general public. He’d then pump £10.02 of petrol into your car, swear softly under his breath as though he didn’t mean it, and lure you back into the cabin to WRITE OUT A CHEQUE (from a chequebook no doubt encased in a musty leather wallet). You might, if were lucky, be able to buy an oil-stained packet of Polos or some boiled sweets. No other food, though. No fizzy drinks. No newspapers or magazines. No cigarettes, Rizla papers and Monster Munch. If you wanted that sort of thing, you could go to bloody Presto like everybody else, couldn’t you?

(The last time I saw a non-self-service petrol station was in Dorset in 1996, when I pulled up, got out of the car, and was slightly taken aback when a very old man in a flat cap emerged to ‘fill her up’ for me. Brilliant, though. I wonder if there are any left at all, anywhere?)

And then back home for tea and telly, although I’m surprised that I didn’t race back to catch The Tripods. Still, not to worry – my hero Rik Mayall was on Wogan! In this strange, mid-80s period, Michael Parkinson’s traditional Saturday night BBC1 chat show had been take over by Uncle Terry, but the format was pretty much the same. Rik was, of course, my favourite character in The Young Ones, and was shrouded in mystique because I’d never actually seen him out of character. So this was something of a revelation for me…

(Pesky Youtube won’t let me embed these films in the blog, so just go to the ‘Watch On Youtube’ option)

His in-character stand-up is tremendous, isnt it? And what a great, revelatory interview. Really inspiring stuff for the 11-year-old me, and I think the funny little diatribe at the end of my diary entry is a little homage to his Young Ones character. Bloody heck, eh kids?


  Chris Orton wrote @

These mini-marts that masquerade as petrol stations are a real bugbear of mine. Its not so much the isolated ones that sell a bit of extra stuff for stranded motorists, but rather the ones that sell magazines, crisps, pop, sweets etc and at the same time are NEXT TO A SUPERMARKET.

  Chris Byers wrote @

You only need to look at the Crossroads garage next to Conyers to see how the local petrol station has changed. Now a large corporate Shell station with automated pay-at-the-pump system’s and mini supermarket it’s a far cry from the little old garage that used to be there.

  bobfischer wrote @

People think of the 1980s as the decade of crass commercialisation, but it was all still very utilitarian up here. Petrol stations sold petrol, newsagents sold newspapers, record shops sold records and supermarkets knew their place.

It’s the 2000s that’s seen the consumer society go mad. Everywhere sells everything, and supermarkets are the size of aircraft hangers. My local Tesco has crisps and sandwiches in one corner, and 50″ LCD televisions in the other. I once saw a man queuing at the checkout carrying a Blu-Ray player and a Toffee Crisp.

All the fun’s gone out of shopping.

  Fiona Tims wrote @

When I was in Ireland in the summer, a garage attendant came out and put the petrol in my car. I was amazed and wasn’t sure if I was supposed to tip him haha!

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