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Archive for October, 2009

Extracts from Bob’s 1984 Diary… Volume 298

Wednesday 24th October 1984

Woke up at 9.30 and did some more of POG-I, then at 10.30 I went to Doug’s. Doug, Stan and I played Hide and seek for a while, then we went inside when it started to rain.

At 12.30 I came home and had dinner, then I went in the garage and made the head for POG-I. I came in at 5.00 and had tea, and at 5.10 I watched Think of a number. At 5.30 I watched the Good Life, and then I made some more of POG-I.

At 7.00 I watched Diff’rent Strokes, at 7.55 I watched No place like home, then I had a shower. After that I watched In at the deep end, and at 10.15 I went to bed.

Aaaaah, 1984. We had to make your own entertainment in those days (unless you’re counting all the games consoles, TV shows and expensive action figures we had). Another overcast, grey October morning, and I cycled the half-mile to Doug’s house – parka flapping behind me like the wings of a giant, acrylic bat – before girding my loins (nnnngh) for Round 1 of the 1984 Yarm Hide and Seek Championship.

I reckon Doug’s Mum had given it the full ‘Oh, not in the house – I’ve just hoovered’ treatment, so we restricted our activities to the garden, drive and garage. To be honest, we were a bit old for Hide and Seek, so I’m pretty sure we spiced it up by adding a risque element to the counting, treating Doug’s neighbours to countless wobbly-voiced* variations on ‘1 – dick – 2 – fanny – 3 knockers – 4…’ and so on.

stan
*Our voices were very much starting to break by this point, although – even before the onset of puberty – Doug had spoken with a rich Teesside baritone that made James Earl Jones sound like Larry Grayson. By the end of 1984, I was starting sentences on the bass stave and finishing them somewhere in the boy soprano range. I remember, during a dinnertime kickabout in the tennis courts, shouting some crucial tactical advice to James Place (‘TAKE HIS F***ING LEGS OFF, PLACIE!!!!’) at a pivotal moment in the match, and the word ‘Placie’ made the Earth’s inner mantle rumble with ominous intent, while the word ‘legs’ attracted the attention of a passing stray border collie.

Anyway, I was lurking behind a rhododendron at the bottom of Doug’s garden when the slate-grey let rip (titter!) with an ominous rumble, and raindrops the size of gobstoppers started splattering on the patio. I counted to ten (1 – knob – 2 – knickers – 3 – bollocks…) then broke cover with the classic ‘surrender’ posture, giving  Doug and Stan ample opportunity to prod me playfully on the forehead and claim the title as their own.

Then we spent half an hour laughing ironically at Bod and The Wombles in Doug’s front room while torrents of freezing rain lashed horizontally against the window panes. By which stage, the rumbling of Yarm’s angry stormclouds was being matched by the rumbling of three famished 11-year-old stomachs, so we wrote off our plans for world domination for the afternoon, and scurried frantically back to our respective homes to eat cheese-on-toast in front of Pebble Mill At One.

So I wasted the rest of the afternoon on Day 2 of my project to build a wooden, robotic version of Poggy Doggy using the spare scraps of wood and plasterboard stuffed into a complex web of ropes and wires suspended from my Dad’s garage ceiling. Getting more and more bored and frustrated by the second, but too proud to abandon the project (quite) yet. That could wait until the following morning.

And then a night of cosy, fireside TV on a black, rainswept evening. I don’t mention it in my diary, but – the previous day – an historic piece of news reportage had been broadcast on BBC1, and by the time we settled down in front of the TV on this bleak, Autumnal teatime, its impact was beginning to dominate the current affairs schedules.  

It’s this…

Yep, Michael Buerk’s ground-shattering report on the 1984 Ethiopian famine. Five minutes of BBC news that changed the world – by the time I was sitting down to watch The Good Life, Bob Geldof was no doubt already drawing up plans for a ‘Global Jukebox’ benefit concert and humming the opening bars to ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas…?’ I remember feeling sick and shocked the first time I saw this report, and spending the ensuing twenty minutes pushing marrowfat peas and brown sauce around on my plate. As Paul Weller put it so evocatively, ‘Watching the news and not eating your tea…’  

It took another fortnight for our school to launch into serious Ethiopia fund-raising activities, but more of that at the time…

And great to see a mention for ‘In At The Deep End’. One of THE quintessential 1980s documentary series, it saw former That’s Life presenters Chris Serle and Paul Heiney take it in turns to have a gung-ho crack at situations they had no previous of whatsoever. The only one I can remember in any great detail is Heiney’s attempt to become a film actor, having a small role alongside Michael Caine and Billy Connolly in the knockabout Clement and La Frenais comedy ‘Water’.

Which is handy, as that’s the very episode that was broadcast on Wednesday 24th October 1984!

water
I can’t find it online, but the intrepid Heiney played a German mercenary whose single line was the menacing ‘Ve are ze dogs of VAR!!!’. Can anyone remember any more about this, or the subjects of any other episodes? I’d love to see them again.

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Extracts from Bob’s 1984 Diary… Volume 297

Tuesday 23rd October 1984

I got up at 9.30 and I rang Doug. I went down his house and saw his ramp, then Stan came and we mucked on on the ramp. Then we went to my house for a bit, but soon came back and at 12.00 we had dinner.

After that we went for a ride down the riverbank, then went on the swings at the mud track. We went back to Doug’s next and we mucked on, then we went down Leven Road to an apple tree. At 5.00 I came home and had tea, and then I started a new project: POG I!

When I came in at 8.00  watched A film called Nevada Smith, and at 10.00 I went to bed.

Another grey October day in the middle of half-term, with a sky the colour of quarried slate and three grotty 11-year-olds wearing enormous parkas and flinging their bikes up a half-rotten plank balanced precariously on top of a pile of breezeblocks. I think I’d told Stan the previous day about my Riverbank Adventure* with Doug on Sunday, and we’d agreed to meet up the following day and retrace our steps.

*Not, despite how it sounds, a book by Willard Price. 

I don’t remember much about most of the day, so I guess we just faffed around in the murky mist and threw bits of bark and conker at each other. The apple tree, however, was clearly in somebody’s side garden and we made a bloody nuisance of ourselves clambering up the spindly branches and stuffing the fruit in our coat pockets to sustain us on the endless journey (half a mile) home. Until the inevitable, outraged cry of ‘OI!!!!! GET OFF THAT BLOODY TREE!!!!!!” came from a hastily-opened front room window, and we scattered like leaves in the breeze.

crabapples
They were utterly sour crab apples, naturally, but we managed to convince ourselves that they were the ripest, rosiest Golden Delicious, and crunched on them all the way home, pulling agonised Les Dawson gurns and occasionally retching into the beck by the 295 bus shelter. I think, on the way back, we met a genial, softly-spoken lad called Gaz Lyons. He hadn’t been to primary school with us, but we’d got to know him a little bit during our opening six weeks at Conyers.

‘I’ve just razzed to the VG and got masses of Ket!’ he beamed proudly. Translation: I’ve just cycled quickly to the corner shop and bought a lot of sweets.  He rummaged around in his parka pockets to show us a tatty white paper bag overflowing with Cola Bottles, Bootlaces, Penny Chews and Bazooka Joes. Doug and Stan gleefully grabbed an aniseed ball each and set instantly to work on turning their tongues maroon.

colabottles 
‘Go on, have one’ said Gaz, offering the bag to me.

‘No ta, I never touch them,’ I lied through my teeth. ‘I’m a total health freak, I only ever eat fruit between meals’. At which point I produced a haemorrhoid-sized crab apple from the back pocket of my jeans and took a hearty bite from its mildewed flesh. Three hours later, I was still heaving over the kitchen sink while my Mum brought me mugs of water from the bathroom basin upstairs. Doug and Stan were both followed home by a pack of slavering dogs.

By 5.30pm, I’d recovered enough to spend the evening in our freezing cold garage sawing lumps of wood to make a ‘robot’ version of Poggy Doggy, clearly trying to recapture the spirit of mine and Doug’s adventures constructing our beloved droid ‘ROB-E’ almost a year earlier. You’ll notice Doug had bailed out of such nonsense by this point, so I purloined my Dad’s toolkit and fumbled around alone in the freezing cold for a few hours before finally giving up the ghost.

bulb
Nice, though. I can still remember seeing my breath against the bare brickwork of the garage wall, and watching darkness descend around the spiky tree branches in the garden. All illuminated by the gloomy orange glow of a single 40W lightbulb. Every now and then I’d hear the reassuring clatter of crockery and conversation as my parents popped into the adjacent kitchen to make coffee and fetch almond slices, but I was alone, busy, and lost in a wibbly-wobbly world of my own making. Lovely.

And Nevada Smith is a rather brutal 1966 Western starring Steve McQueen as Max Sand, a tortured half-Indian pursuing the callous, mercenary killers of his mother. I assume it was ITV’s big movie for the night, with McQueen’s grim quest for vengeance punctuated by adverts for Northern Gas and Everest Double Glazing.

Extracts from Bob’s 1984 Diary… Volume 296

Monday 22nd October 1984

I got up at 9.45 and I played cards till dinner at 11.00. Then I started a Dr Who picture, and after that we went to Middlesbrough. First I went into Smiths and got a Doctor Who Monthly, then I ran up all five floors of Binns and beat the lift.

After that I got Warlock 3 from the newsagent in the bus centre, and when we got home I finished my picture and read my mags. At 4.35 I watched Dungeons and Dragons then I had tea. After that I did the crossword in Warlock 3, then I went upstairs and made out a Christmas list.

I came down at 8.00 and watched To the manor born, and at 8.30 I watched Lame ducks. I went to bed at 9.00.

I’ve just spent a couple of minutes pondering on why I wasn’t at school on this particular day, before slapping my forehead dramatically and hissing ‘HALF TERM!!!!’ at the computer screen. Yep, Yarm Fair boasted an extra frisson of excitement that I’d completely forgotten about… even above and beyond The Wall of Death and its accompanying piles of half-digested candy floss vomit. It was the gateway to a week’s holiday! A full seven days of, erm, moping around in the pissing rain and howling gales before we went back to the grind.

Starting with a mid-day shopping trip to Middlesbrough! Yep, my Mum and I will have huddled beneath the lop-sided bus stop in the shelter of the conifer trees that bordered our garden, and waited for the murky red 294 double decker bus to appear over the horizon from Kirklevington. This bus stop here, in fact… (I’m still determined to get my money’s worth out of these films)

I’ve had a bloody haircut since then, mind you.

dwm95The Doctor Who Monthly that I bought was Issue 95, looking like this (left) and containing Part 5 of the amazing graphic adventure ‘Voyager’, which I still think is one of the greatest bit of comic strippery ever created – a bizarre, rambling, brilliant script by Steve Parkhouse and amazing artwork by the great John Ridgeway. And, oddly, I’ve a feeling that the ‘Doctor Who picture’ that I started drawing on the dining room table* before we left was pretty much exactly the same as the image on the cover… my new hero Colin Baker, resplendent in spotty cravat and question mark collars.

(*On a piece of paper, I hasten to add. I didn’t just etch it directly onto the table. I might be a fan, but I’m not MENTAL)

I only remember this because my Mum went a bit overboard in her praise for it, giving it the full ‘Eeeeee, that’s amazing – it’s the absolute spitting image of him…’ And, well… it really wasn’t. If anything it looked a bit like Marti Caine (the comedian, that is. Not the fruit-seller on Stockton market. And no, I’m not making this up. By the way, I’ve just realised that – back in 1984 – Marti Caine would undoubtedly have been called a ‘comedienne’, presumably just to tip-off any bluff Northern stand-up fans that ‘this one’s a bird, so don’t get yer hopes up’)  

And the five flights of stairs in Binns!!! Still present and correct, and currently being used to train the British triathlon team in preperation for the 2012 Olympics. Binns was, and is, a gigantic Grace Brothers-style department store in central Middlesbrough… slightly upmarket, but no so much that it would scare off my Mum and Gran from buying shoes, skirts and other assorted knick-knacks, usually on the ‘account’ that had to paid off every month at a little tinted window on the fifth floor.

binnsboro
Binns had a complex system of lifts that, well into the 1980s, were still being operated by a prim, middle-aged woman wearing a tight brown uniform and Sybil Fawlty’s hair. She spent her entire working day sitting on a small wooden stool in the corner of the lift pressing the buttons, smiling politely, and saying ‘Geeewing errrrp’. Naturally, being an annoying little twat, I’d scoff heartily at my shopping-laden Mum and arthritis-ridden Gran for indulging in such laziness, and race them to the top floor using the gigantic, spiral staircase with its marble-effect steps and terse ‘KEEP TO THE LEFT’ warning signs.

On the way down, on the fourth floor, we’d invariably stop at the little ‘restaurant’ in a secluded corner next to the lingerie section, and treat ourselves to a pot of tea and the NICEST CREAM AND JAM SCONES IN THE WORLD. I can still taste them now on long, dark evenings of the soul, and picture my Gran dabbing her lips with a paper serviette. The last time I visited this little enclave was a few days before Christmas in 2000, when – for the first time in 15 years – me and my Mum went on a shopping expedition together for a few last-minute presents. At my insistance, we had cream and jam scones at our old table and crossed items off our shopping list as ‘I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day’ blared out of the tannoy.

It was lovely, and yes – I raced the lift to the top floor up the stairs. I was 28 years old. (Still beat it though – GET IN!!!!)

houseoffraser
As far as I can see whenever I walk past, Binns is exactly the same as it ever was, although it’s now been rebranded to the corporate and homogenised ‘House of Fraser’, presumably to fit in with the rest of the department store chain. Boooooo. I can state with some confidence, though, that the people of Middlesbrough will continue to call it ‘Binns’ until the oceans boil, the skies fall down and the dead rise up from their graves. Bloody hell, there are people in the town who still refer to the Chicago Rock Cafe as ‘the old Hippodrome’, and that closed down in 1956.

warlock3Warlock 3, meanwhile, was the third issue of the official Fighting Fantasy magazine, the bi-monthly publication dedicated to the burgeoning adolescent arts of goblin-slaying and spell-casting. And I LOVE the fact that it had a crossword. Here’s hoping Issue 4 has a Necromancer’s Wordsearch.

Not that my life was entirely devoted to the introspective geekiness, mind you. Oh no, I watched a lot of telly as well. Particularly, erm… Dungeons and Dragons…

Fair to say this wasn’t QUITE as dark, scary and brooding as I’d been hoping for.

Still, no need to get downhearted when there’s a Christmas list to write! I’m amazed I reached the final week in October before making a start on this, it was usually sometime around Week 3 of the school summer holidays before the jingle of sleigh bells (and cash registers) in my head became too loud to resist. I’ll have typed this out neatly on my Mum’s Hermes typewriter, and top of the list will have been – no surprises – the coveted ZX Spectrum computer that I now desired more than life itself. Along with a selection of amazing-looking games… Jet Set Willy, Atic Atac, Manic Miner and the amazing-looking Jetpac were all very much on the list. As well as a Toblerone and a Chocolate Orange, naturally. I did have SOME natural, healthy appetites remaining after all.

hermes
And ‘Lame Ducks’!!! I’d forgotten all about this. Surely one of the strangest sitcoms of all time, it starred John Duttine (in a bit of a crunching gear-change from Day of the Triffids) as Brian Drake (yay!), a wannabe hermit who rejects society and moves to a remote, tumbledown country cottage… only to find himself the hub of a strange community of similar misfits. Including loveable drifter Lorraine Chase and Tony ‘Tucker from Citizen Smith’ Millan as a postman intending to travel around the world on a giant, inflatable ball. And I think Brian ‘George And Mildred’ Murphy played a private detective hired to track them all down.

I’ve got hugely fond memories of this, and I think it ran for two series, but it seems to have been almost wiped from TV history… I can find nothing on Youtube, and not a single screengrab anywhere online. I seem to be saying this more and more, but I’d snap up a DVD release in a heartbeat.

Extracts from Bob’s 1984 Diary… Volume 295

Sunday 21st October 1984

Dad and I went to the baths at 10.00 and we first had a swim in the main pool, then we warmed up in the liesure pool. Finally we came home at 11.00 and at 12.00 I had dinner. I played outside for a bit, then Stan came and we went to the detention centre woods for some conkers.

After that we went to private lane and got some more, and lastly we got hundreds from a copse in Robert’s field! At 4.00 we went to Stan’s house, then we came back to my house and played on the tarzie. Then we got some conkers from over the road, and at 5.00 Stan went home and I had tea.

I listened to the charts till 7.15, when I watched Ever decreasing circles, and at 7.45 I watched Big deal. At 8.35 I watched Just good friends, and at 9.10 I went to bed and started a map of Yarm.

What the hell did we DO with all those conkers? This wasn’t an impromptu ‘Oh what the hell, let’s see if we can get some more conkers’ expedition, this was another outing that had been meticulously planned over pizza slices and spaghetti in the Junior Dinner Hall the previous Friday. My mother’s face must have sunk when I told her, knowing full well that another bulging black binbag of horse chestnuts was set to be stacked up at the bottom of my bed.

conkers2
Oddly enough, I can’t remember a lot about the day itself, other than having a really nice time chatting with Andrew ‘Stan’ Henry as we pottered around various bits of rustling woodland scenery in the mist and drizzle, chatting whimsically about school and telly while picking spiky green cases from the mossy ground and squeezing those gorgeous brown nuts (stop it) into Hinton’s carrier bags.

There was always a luscious-looking cluster of conker cases hanging from the highest part of the tree, at which point Stan – with his expert cricketing experience – would invariably lash the nearest knobbly stick into the golden, leafy canopy above and bring the whole lot crashing down to Earth with a delicious thud as we danced around and whooped. Any attempt by me to emulate this Olympic-standard prowess invetiably resulted in a crash of glass from the nearest back garden and a muffled ‘Oyyyyy!’ from whichever hapless greenhouse-dweller was unlucky enough to be tending his tomatoes within a 200-yard radius.

stan

We went back to Stan’s house to drop off his share of the conkers, and I remember his Mum was cooking Sunday dinner as we tramped our muddy feet through the kitchen. I hadn’t been to Stan’s house for a while, and she seemed genuinely pleased to see me. ‘Do you like cooking?’ she asked, with a welcoming grin.

‘I do actually’ I replied, thinking of my recent Home Ecomonics triumphs with the fruit salad and rhubarb crumble.

‘Good, you can take over this lot if you like,’ she beamed. ‘I can’t stand it, and I’m sick of the sight of sprouts and cauliflowers’. I met Stan’s parents last year, for the first time in well over two decades, at a folk music gig in Saltburn that Stan’s elder sister Sara had organised. They were just as funny and friendly as ever, and it was lovely to see the whole family again (apart from Stan, who wasn’t there. He seems to spend most of his time living in incredibly sunny and exotic places, with nary a conker to be sighted at this time of year. The lucky swine)

And what a fine selection of vintage 1984 TV! This was the first episode of the second series of Ever Decreasing Circles, a sitcom I loved at the time and have grown to appreciate even more with age. It’s deceptively dark, with Richard Briers superb as the obsessive compulsive Martin, permanently driven to the verge of a nervous breakdown by his perceived responsibilities to the neighbourhood, and Penelope Wilton as his long-suffering wife Ann, who quickly cultivates a crackling sexual tension with Peter Egan’s smoothy new neighbour Paul. It’s charmingly, funny and incredibly melancholy, and I mumbled exactly that to Richard Briers when I pestered him at a Doctor Who convention earlier this year. He seemed pleased.

richardbriers
And Big Deal is quintessential 1984 TV, starring Ray ‘Voice Of Mr Benn’ Brooks as compulsive gambler Robbie Box, frequently losing his proverbial shirt amongst London’s seedy low-life. I guess the BBC were hoping it would become their own soaraway ‘Minder’ equivalent… it didn’t, but it was a great series and the theme tune alone is enough to transport me back to long-lost nights by the fire on dark, rainswept Sunday evenings…  

Shit!!! I haven’t done my Geography homework!!!! Ah well, it’ll wait until tomorrow breaktime. Let’s start a Fighting Fantasy-style map of Yarm instead…

Extracts from Bob’s 1984 Diary… Volume 294

Saturday 20th October 1984

END OF YARM FAIR

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…

chromoly
…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’. 

yarmcycles
http://www.yarmcycles.net

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’.

yarmriver2
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.

yarmriver
‘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.

yarmfair
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.

conyerstie
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.

Extracts from Bob’s 1984 Diary… Volume 293

Friday 19th October 1984

At 8.30 Doug came and we went to school. First was Basketball, then I got a merit in French. After that it was Geog and at 12.00 I had dinner. Then I got in the top set at maths, and after that was music. Last was science, and at 3.40 I came home.

I had tea, then we went to Yarm fair again and went on the dodgems. Then I won a Gonk on the darts and a Banana on the Huk-a-Duck, and at 8.15 we came home.

At 8.30 I watched We Love TV, at 9.00 I watched Tell the Truth, and at 9.30 I went to bed.

Top set in Maths? Bugger me, they must have been struggling to make up the (ahem) numbers that year. I still occasionally have to count on my fingers, and the only reason I can do subtractions in my head is because I grew up with a dartboard on the kitchen wall (in the middle of a patch of floral wallpaper that looked as though it was suffering from the world’s worst woodworm infestation)

What this meant in practical terms was that my time with the mad, bearded Mr Rolfe was coming to an end, and I’d soon be drafted into a special maths class run by the scary Mrs Clark (‘THAT’S CLARK WITHOUT AN ‘E’, EVERYBODY… IF I SEE AN ‘E’ ON THE FRONT OF ANYONE’S BOOK THEN I’M CROSSING IT OUT WITH MY TRUSTY RED BIRO’) who, in my fading memories, looked a bit like a fiery young Wendy Craig, but it’s possible I’d just been watching repeats of Butterflies on BBC2 again.

Meanwhile, in Geography, Mr Flynn’s inexplicable obsession with Shrewsbury continued unabated. Thanks to half an hour of frantic scribbling 25 years ago today, I can now tell you how far the following places are from this pretty Shropshire town…

Whitchurch – 27km from Shrewsbury 
Oswestry – 24km from Shrewsbury
Welshpool – 26km from Shrewsbury
Wellington – 15km from Shrewsbury
Oakengates – 17km from Shrewsbury
Bridgnorth – 27km from Shrewsbury

Has anyone got ANY idea what this might be about?

Meanwhile, in Mr Warren’s science class, we were discussing solvents. Tincture of Iodine (used for treating cuts) is a solution of iodene in the solvent Ethanol. Rubber solution (used for repairing punctures) is a solution of rubber in the solvent Trichloroethane. And nail varnish (used for varnishing nails) is dissolved in Pentyl Ethanoate.

Given that this was 1984, it’s probably for the best that we didn’t discuss what happens when the solvent of Cyanoacrylate Superglue is dissolved into a Presto carrier bag, although early testing suggests that the results involve wandering around the local playpark in a stupour and falling into the duckpond before being brought home by PC Bedford and told to get some ‘bloody cream on those spots around your mouth’.

And yes, I went to Yarm Fair again! Just with my Mum this time, walking the mile back and forth from our house in the freezing, foggy night air. I think Doug had blammed all his money the previous night, but I managed to cadge an extra couple of quid from my parents after revealing, entirely shamelessly, that I’d somehow scraped into the top set for Maths and would soon be learning advanced calculus from Mrs Clark, without an ‘e’.

Fittingly, I prepared for this giant leap forward in my education by scooping a fluffy banana and a white-haired gonk on the Huk-A-Duk stall, two cheap and ridiculous toys that inexplicably lived on top of a chest of drawers in my bedroom until December 1999, when – aged 27 – I finally moved out of my parent’s house.

They’re almost certainly still living happily in a box in the loft somewhere,  but I won’t disturb them after all these years.

Extracts from Bob’s 1984 Diary… Volume 292

Thursday 18th October 1984

YARM FAIR

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!!!

coppersulphate
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.

yarmfair4
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.

yarmfair5
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…

waltzers
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…

thecage
‘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!!!!!

deelyboppers
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)