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Daleks, Death Stars and Dreamy Sci-Fi Nostalgia…

Archive for November, 2009

Extracts from Bob’s 1984 Diary… Volume 334

Thursday 29th November 1984






I really was getting a bit bored with writing a diary wasn’t I? At one point during 1984 I was certain that I would be a life-long diary writer, and I even remember Doug trying to convince me that I should never, ever give up the habit. ‘You have to keep that going for the rest of your life…’ he nodded, sagely, as we climbed the stairs to our Geography lesson (only to have Mr Flynn point us silently back down again, as we’d contravened the Block 2 one-way system for the umpteenth week in a row, and had to go all the way round to the back stairs)

By the end of November, though, the novelty was clearly wearing thin and I was resorting to all manner of desperate ‘playing with the format’ measures to make it (yawn) more (yawn) interesting for my(yawn)self. Hence the capital letters. What next, I wonder? I’ll probably be writing in blood before Christmas. In capital letters. BIG BLOOD-SOAKED CAPITAL LETTERS IN ITALICS, ALL UNDERLINED.

(Sits down to catch breath and allow wave of giddy excitement to pass)

Anyway, the ‘science test’ marked the end of our month-experimentation with protozoa and worms (probably the best 80s synth-pop duo never to have hit the charts), and – in the rest of my lessons – I seem to have decided to tinker with even more established formats by expressing all of the day’s schoolwork in cartoon form…

This is from my Geography lesson. I’m sure that, somewhere along the line, I had a serious point to make about air pollution, but naturally it could go on the (filthy, carbon-heavy) back burner while I spent the entire lesson drawing the ‘KLEENIT LAUNDRY’ van spouting ‘lead hydrocarbons’ all over a thinly veiled self-portrait of me and my (titter!) prized Chopper. And, in RE, Mrs Mainwaring-Taylor was talking us gently through the private life of the Egyptian sun god, Ra…

I was pretty interested in the night-time adventures (stop it) of Ra, as it seemed to involved him travelling through something called the ‘Underworld’, which I knew full well was a late 1970s Doctor Who adventure. Although oddly enough, sun worship never really caught on in Teesside. Can’t imagine why.

(Mind you, Squelch, the God of Drizzle, goes a bundle up here)

Great to see me still getting excited about the continuing chart success of my favourite band, Frankie Goes To Hollywood. And I’ve just discovered that this evening’s edition of Top of the Pops was preceded by a special screening of the freshly-recorded Band Aid single, introduced by a fabulous-looking David Bowie…

TV in the 1980s was so rigid and staid and fussy that it always sent a tiny frisson of excitement through me when the schedules were interrupted for a little nugget like this.  Anyway, here’s the full Top of the Pops rundown, as presented by uber-perky 80s tag team Janice Long and Peter Powell…

• Alvin Stardust – I Won’t Run Away [Performance]
• Black Lace – Agadoo (&Credits) [Performance]
• Eurythmics – Sexcrime (Nineteen Eighty Four) [Promo Video]
• Frankie Goes To Hollywood – The Power Of Love [Promo Video]
• Jim Diamond – I Should Have Known Better [Performance]
• Kool & The Gang – Fresh [Performance]
• Madonna – Like A Virgin [Promo Video]
• Nik Kershaw – The Riddle [Performance]
• Slade – All Join Hands [Repeat Performance]
• Tina Turner – Private Dancer [Promo Video]

It’s the Frankie Goes To Hollywood Nativity Play! I loved, and love, this song… it has a purity and a sincerity that I’ve always found touching, and if I’m allowed to be even soppier… it just reminds me of Doug and me. Best mates in the world, wrapped up in our parkas against the freezing Teesside winter of 1984, and impervious to the rest of the world. 

Although admittedly the line ‘I’ll protect you from the Hooded Claw’ never fails to make me think of Penelope Pitstop’s mortal enemy, the dreaded alter-ego of her sinister guardian Sylvester Sneekly. No idea whether that’s deliberate or not…

Extracts from Bob’s 1984 Diary… Volume 333

Wednesday 28th November 1984

I got up at 8.00, and at 8.30 Doug came. At 8.45 we went to school, and first it was Art. Next came History, followed by maths. At 12.00 I had my dinner, and when we got in it was French.

After that was English, and after that Science. I came home at the usual time. At 5.00 I had tea, and I watched the Box of Delights. Then I played out till Sharon and Elsie a n d     a t     8  . 0 0    I watched Dallas.

At 8.45 I watched Points of View, and          at        9.00        I






DO NOT ADJUST YOUR SET!!! Yep, that’s a 100% accurate reconstruction (created with the aid of Butterscotch Angel Delight and a Nik Kershaw LP) of my diary entry from 25 years ago today. Clearly already bored with the decadent thrills of making my handwriting virtually indecipherable (see yesterday’s blog) I’d now decided to experiment with avant-garde spacing…

Any more of this, and my parents would be calling in social services. Or, as my Mum used to warn me repeatedly during my childhood ‘If you don’t behave, I’ll call the Children’s Home and a man will come to take you away’. I think the last time she tried this was in 1998, when I came back from a night out in the Union Arms with Gaz Norman.

Anyway, classic literature in English today, so I’ll have been bored out of my tiny mind…

Wednesday 28th November, 1984
‘Jayne Eyre’ by Charlotte Bronte

1. The hardships that pupils at Lowood School had to endure are:
I Freezing cold bedrooms
II Small portions at mealtime
III Being put at the bottom of the class for no reason
IV Having to stand exactly as the teachers want you to
V Being beaten because they were not properly clean

Where were the spaceships??? Where were the robots??? Where were the three wise-cracking US comedians fighting giant Marshmallow Men with sizzling streams of concentrated energy? Anyway, if the girls of Lowood School thought they had it bad, they should have tried playing rugby with a Wham Bar-fuelled Stephen Mason.   

And in science, we were still looking intently at worms. I can still remember, back at Levendale Primary School, the vile Christopher Herbert attempting to convince me that ‘The Water Cycle’ (that old school staple) was actually an exotic mode of aquatic transport used by James Bond in the opening sequence to ‘The Spy Who Loved Me’. I came within a whisker of drawing a diagram of it, and handing it into Mr Hirst.

I dread to think what the foul Herbert would have made of the Worm Cycle…

He’d probably have been pretty distressed. Worms weren’t just his closest and noblest friends, they also seemed to form a sizeable portion of his daily diet.

Extracts from Bob’s 1984 Diary… Volume 332

Tuesday 27th November 1984

I got up at 8 and at 8.30 Doug, Gaz and Burton came. We went to school (naturally) and 1st was English. Next was RE, then I got the box of delights from the library. After that was Drama, and at 12.00 I had dinner, then played in goal in a wass footy match.

When we came in we went on the headphones in French, and after that was geog. Then I got IX for my rocky cakes in HE, and at 3.40 I came home.

At 5.00 I had tea, and at 5.10 I watched Star Trek, at 6 Doug came and we went to youthy and played Hockey, and at 8.00 I came home and went to bed.

First of all, I’d like to point out in defence of the lateness of this entry that MY 12-YEAR-OLD SELF WAS AN ANNOYING, CONTRARY LITTLE SOD. Look at the handwriting I’ve had to decipher in order to type this up…

Some boys spend their adolescent years experimenting with drink, drugs and sexual excess… not me, I decided to experiment with handwriting in an attempt to find myself (I just threw back the covers and there I was). You’ll notice I got tired halfway through and reverted back to my normal half-decent scribble, thus making this diary entry the equivalent of the Rosetta Stone. Using this single entry as a starting point, it should now be possible for scientists to translate the remaining 34 days of the year into something vaguely resembling English, lest we miss a single detail of my adventures watching Blankety Blank and playing Chequered Flag on the ZX Spectrum.

Good to see that the first TV episode of The Box of Delights had made such a positive impact on me, anyway… yep, another ‘libary lesson’ and I made a beeline straight for the ‘M’ section, to hunt down John Masefield’s original literary version – this one, in fact…

It was dusty has hell, and the pages crackled when I turned them over, which all added to the mystique. According to Wikipedia, the above cover is the original edition from 1935, but I can’t believe anything could exist in our school library that long without getting covered in Hubba Bubba and having comedy willies drawn on the cover. I’d love to provide a proper scan, but – amazingly – I can’t, BECAUSE I ACTUALLY RETURNED THIS BOOK TO THE LIBRARY WHEN I’D FINISHED WITH IT. What was I thinking of? This is the Conyers School equivalent of the ravens leaving the Tower of London, and I’m only amazed the entire Block 1 building hasn’t crumbled to the ground by now. (Although if it had, I’d only have picked up the bits and used them in my ‘rocky cakes’)

I spent a lovely 35-minute lesson immersing myself in John Masefield’s gorgeous prose, and being particularly taken with the phrase ‘the purple pim’, used as an expression of disapproval by young Master Kay Harker in Chapter One. Maybe this inspired my own creation of the word ‘wass’, which has just taken me 20 minutes to decipher from the above spidery diary entry.

Yes, ‘a wass footy match’. Sounds vaguely rude for some reason, but it just meant big. ‘A cross between whopping and massive’ I explained to my Mum one dark November afternoon, when – quite understandably – she pointed out she had NOT A BLOODY CLUE WHAT I WAS TALKING ABOUT. Anyway, our wass footy match will undoubtedly have taken place against the exterior wall of the Sports Hall, with anything up to 50 filthy, foul-mouthed oiks kicking lumps off each other in a vague attempt to get somewhere near a tatty, ravaged Mitre football. To be honest, for all the skills on display, we could probably have played just as effectively without the ball.

And yes, indeed – 9/10 for my ‘rocky cakes’, created in the busy nooks of our HE department, faffing around the hobs of a vintage gas oven with Alistair ‘Burton’ Burton as twilight descended outside. In a respite from the usual tirade of smut and indecipherable rubbish that we spouted for the rest of the 70-minute lesson, I vaguely remember us looking out the window at the gathering gloom, and talking half-sensibly about how excited we were about Christmas.

Then it was back to the ‘rocky cakes’, undoubtedly renamed by us after Sylvester Stallone’s virtually pensionable boxer, and accompanied by all manner of bobbing, weaving and nasal ‘Cut me, Mickey’ impressions as a tray of small beige boulders with the same density as Venus emerged from their Gas Mark 7 torture chamber. The world owes us a giant favour for not dropping them on the floor, as they would undoubtedly have sunk directly to the Earth’s core and resulted in a decade of catastrophic global seismic and volcanic terror. As it was, they just gave my parents a dicky tummy in the middle of Northern Life.

And how come, yet again, I have no recollection whatsover of a sporting activity at Youth Club? I’m still baffled that Doug and I regularly played basketball on these cheery Tuesday evenings, but HOCKEY??? Mr Lake must have performed some kind of mind-meld on me to remove these long-lost memories. He always had a strangely Vulcan look about him (mainly the ears)

Extracts from Bob’s 1984 Diary… Volume 331

Monday 26th November 1984

I got up at 8.00, then Doug, Gaz and I went to school. First was Maths, then History, then Rugby. At 12.00 I had dinner, and when we came in it was French, English, geog then maths.

I came home at 3.40 and started a new Fighting Fantasy, and at 5.00 I had tea. After that I played out, and at 7.00 I watched Harty meets Mcartney.

Then I did homework, and at 8.30 I watched Lame ducks. At 9.00 I saw Laugh? I nearly paid my licence fee and at 9.30 I went to bed.

History! Another freezing Monday morning hunched over our textbooks in Mrs Ansbro’s first floor classroom, Doug and I occupying our usual spots as the gruesome twosome on the desk at the front. After a few lessons discussing the travels of Marco Polo (and the revolutionary mint with a hole that he’d discovered in ancient Cathay), we’d now moved onto…


Prince Henry of Portugal was known as ‘the navigator’. This was because of his interest in the sea and sailing. He lived from 1394 to 1460. Henry had to find a sea route to the East because the arabs had put a tax on all goods coming to the West. So he opened a school of Geography and Navigation at Sagres on the coast of South Portugal.

I wonder if his school also had chewed-up lumps of Wham Bar stuck to the underside of every other chair, and the phrase ‘I SHAGGED EMMA WILCOCK IN A TENT’ engraved with a compass point on the notice board next to the PE changing rooms? I bet it did. That Bartholomew Diaz was a right little bugger when he fell in with the wrong crowd.

And good to see me starting to write my umpteenth Fighting Fantasy book of the year! I had to be well into double figures by this stage, surely? All of my life I’ve been cursed (and blessed, I suppose, in some ways) with a short attention span, and once ideas start to lose their lustre and novelty, I quickly get bored and drift onto the next shiny, new project instead. I must have written hundreds of Chapter Ones over the course of the last 30 years. Terrifyingly, this blog is undoubtedly the most long-running and well-disciplined bit of rampant creativity I’ve ever undertaken!

(I was going to make a joke about BBC expenses there, but I can’t bring myself to do it…)

Oddly enough, having spent the morning studying 15th century history, I fail to mention in my diary the exciting bit of 20th century history that was breaking on this very day. I’m sure the first I knew about it was from watching John Craven’s Newsround, waiting for my fishcakes and chips to arrive on the front room coffee table. ‘Bob Geldof, the singer with the band The Boomtown Rats, has organised an all-star charity single to raise money for the starving people of Ethiopia…’

Yep, ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas’. I’m got very vivid memories of hearing about this for the first time when I saw footage of Bananarama, Paul Young, Boy George and Sting entering the recording studio to put down their vocals… a riot of HUGE hair, snoods, vibrant lipstick and immovable, sack-like dresses. And that was just Boy George. The song was recorded, mixed and mastered in double-quick time on Sunday 25th November 1984 before being released on Thursday 29th, so the news reports I remember seeing MUST have been broadcast on this day.

Watching that still makes me feel shivery, saddened, incredibly nostalgic and also extraordinarily excited. A bizarre combination of emotions. And at the time, of course, it was an overwhelming experience for an avowed pop kid like me. I remember thinking the song sounded REALLY weird – all bells and drums and decidedly rough around the edges… not at all like the slick, danceable pop that had dominated the charts all year. But I liked it, and Geldof spoke as inspiringly as ever, and I remember feeling – oddly – as th0ught something new and moving and IMPORTANT was very definitely unfolding around me.  One of the first times that I remember the TV news speaking to me directly, rather than just being the nasty adult intrusion that frequently put me off my tea.

And then an evening spent watching Russell Harty… who, to me as a 12-year-old, seemed like just another funny man on the telly… but now, watching these old clips, I can appreciate him for the perceptive and warmly witty interviewer he was. A full hour with Paul McCartney, also on splendid form…

I’m guessing Macca will primarily have been plugging his film ‘Give My Regards To Broad Street’, which I think was released around this time. A nice bit of early evening TV anyway, and my Mum will have cooed and aaawed at all those cracking old Beatles clips. Cooo. Aaaawwww.

Extracts from Bob’s 1984 Diary… Volume 330

Sunday 25th November 1984

I got up at 10.00 and mapped some more of House of Hell, then Nora and Ed came so I just sat around. At 12.00 I had dinner, then I finished mapping. After that I went out and met dad on the field, and we walked Poggy Doggy and Ponsonby back home.

When I got home I was bored till tea at 5.00, then I listened to the charts. At 6.00 we took Grandma home, and at 7.00 I got home. At 7.15 I watched The Royal Variety performance Part I and at 8.30 I went in the shower.

At 9.00 I watched Part II, and at 10.15 I went to bed.

A day on which I clearly spent quite a bit of time completely bored out of my mind, which was unusual for me. Even if I wasn’t terrorising the streets of Yarm with Doug, then there was almost always a book to read, a telly programme to watch, a computer game to play or a picture to draw. And I threw myself into all of these activities with aggressive, youthful vigour. However, on the rare occasions that I was bored, this also got my fullest efforts… so I can guarantee that I’ll have spent most of this day very conspicuously yawning, rolling my eyes, looking at my watch and filling the front room with the most sarcastic-sounding sighs in my ever-increasing armoury of pre-teen discontent.

So apologies, 25 years on, to poor Nora and Ed! OK, the story here… (grab yourself a cuppa, it’s a long one). In 1923, at the age of 14, my now-famous Gran had moved from her home in the East End of London to Teesside, for reasons no-one in the family seems entirely certain of to this day. When she arrived up here, she was unofficially adopted by the sprawling Wilson family of Middlesbrough. Shortly after she arrived, the family’s latest son George Wilson was born, and – throughout his life – George referred to my Gran as his cousin, despite the fact that they weren’t actually blood relatives.  

In the 1940s, George married Peg – who everyone still insists is a dead ringer for the Queen, despite her constant denials – and by 1984 they were living in Eaglescliffe, just a mile up the road from our house in Yarm. Nora is Peg’s sister, and Ed is her husband – a handsome Canadian airman who piloted straight to her heart during the latter stages of World War II.

They lived in Lincoln, and only made rare forays up to Teesside once or twice a year, but this was clearly one of those occasions. They’ll have been (I think) in their early sixties by 1984, and my Mum will have had the house spick and span, with a nice pot of tea and some almond slices on the coffee table, ready for their arrival.

My Gran, of course, was still at our house after staying over the previous evening, and so – for two hours – the front room will have been filled with lively chatter, laughter and wistful memories about friends, family and times gone by. My Mum might even have dragged down the battered leather suitcase of old black and white family photos from the loft. The sort of thing that now – aged 37 – I’d find utterly fascinating, but as a gloomy 12-year-old, I was just counting the seconds until I could get my bloody Fighting Fantasy maps out again.

Or – as I put it euphemistically in my diary – ‘I just sat around’. 

‘So how’s school?’ Nora will have asked cheerily, dunking a pink wafer biscuit into her tea. ‘S’alright,’ I’ll have shrugged, like the miserable, self-centred oik I was. Sorry.

(I’m still capable of being just as ill-mannered and self-centered these days, by the way, but as least now I’m entirely aware of my deficiencies as a human being. When I was 12, it was everybody else’s fault…)

I’m pleased to say that Nora and Ed have now sailed past their eightieth birthdays and are still alive and well and living in Lincoln, although – sadly – the last time I saw them both was at George’s funeral in July 2007. Peg is still in fine fettle though, and I’m popping round on Friday to thank her for my birthday wine. I’ll do a little curtsy and call her ‘your majesty’ under my breath. 

(By the way, I’m thrilled to discover that Jeanette Charles – pictured above – is still around and still ‘being’ The Queen at the grand old age of 82! She was EVERYWHERE on TV when I was a kid, and – every time she appeared – my Mum would sniff dismissively and say ‘Peg loks more like the Queen than she does’)

And I’d forgotten about the ‘half-walks’ I used to do! I’m appallingly indecisive (no I’m not… yes I am…) and frequently, as my Dad shrugged into his coat to take our two dogs onto the field that backed onto our garden, I’d mutter indifferently and claim to be ‘not bothered’ about accompanying him. And then, fifteen minutes later, I’d change my mind, and hare out across the field to meet the distant Dad and dog-shaped silhouettes on the horizon. Usually lamping a half-inflated football across the wet grass ahead of me. And then my Dad would take a few penalties at me while the dogs skulked and peed around the school goalposts, and I’d walk home with my jeans and T-shirt covered in a thick layer of sticky brown mud.

(Ponsonby, in case you were wondering, was my Gran’s dog, by this time a permanent member of our family… the insane, snappy sister of Poggy Doggy, she was one of the most schizophrenic dogs I’ve ever encountered, and could turn from irresistable cuddliness to psychopathic violence within nanoseconds. Probably not helped by the fact that I spent at least 75.3% of my time at home trying to wind her up with a constant frenzy of prods, pokes and tugs of the tail. Although she was christened ‘Tina’, my Dad nicknamed her ‘Ponsonby’ as an homage – I discovered much later – to the cat in Reggie Perrin. He didn’t get where he is today without naming his dog after the cat in Reggie Perrin)

A quick sojourn back to Acklam to take my Gran home, and then back in time for the Royal Variety Performance. Like Children in Need two days earlier, it’s an event that it’s easy to become cynical about in later life, but to me – as a TV-obsessed 12-year-old – it was simply a cracking night in. Loads of my favourite bands, comedians, TV stars and novelty acts crammed into one sprawling live show that kept me away from my Geography homework for a full two hours on a freezing Sunday night. 

And rest of the country seemed to agree, as I’ve just discovered that this was the most-watched TV show of 1984, racking up a staggering 20.55 million viewers! Although, oddly, I’m struggling to find out who actually appeared onstage that night… the only one I can find for certain is Keith Harris and Orville! Can anyone help? I can’t believe there’s so seemingly so little information out there.

Let’s have a sweep… I’m putting my money on Bruce Forsyth, Paul Daniels, Bucks Fizz and Roy ‘Slither’ Jay. Any bets? Oh, and I’m also now overwhelmed with an insatiable desire to eat a pink wafer biscuit for the first time in twenty years. Anyone know if they’re still available?

Extracts from Bob’s 1984 Diary… Volume 329

Saturday 24th November 1984

At 10.00 I got up, and at 11.00 Doug came down. At 12.00 we had dinner, then we went to the mud track and had a muck on. At 1.30 I came home and read ‘House of Hell’ till 4.00, when we went to Grandma’s.

At 5.00 I had tea, at 5.20 I watched The Tripods, and at 5.45 I watched the Late Late Breakfast Show. We came home at 6.30 and I read House of Hell till Hi-De-Hi at 8.00. After that I mapped House of Hell and at 11.00 I watched Pushing up daisies.

I went to bed at 11.30.

A dark, wet and gloomy Saturday in the middle of November… and yet still Doug and I found the fun in cycling past the skeletal limbs of bare tree branches to our beloved mud track, rocking idly back and forth on the (wet) swings and watching the smoke, mist and rumbling greyness rolling across the rooftops of Yarm. Curling around the skinyard chimney, clinging to the slates of the Town Hall roof, and settling upon a little hubbub of fresh-faced punters in the throes of early Christmas shopping.

We huddled into our parkas, talked about the Box of Delights, and tried to convince ourselves that the rain was turning into snow (it wasn’t). We sang ‘Together In Electric Dreams’ in blissfully terrible harmonies, and our voices mixed together in a haze of frozen breath. We sat on our fingers to stop them turning blue, and tried to see if either of us could spit as far as the damp park bench.  

Just another simple, stupid afternoon to us at the time, I suppose. And yet, the older I get, the more precious these strange little memories become. In the same amount of time again, I’ll be 62 years old. I don’t suppose the swings will still be there, but I hope I’m still around to watch The Box of Delights on the Holo-Box every Christmas.

And then over to my Gran’s house for tea, steaming through the mist and the murk in my Dad’s Reliant Scimitar, sprawled across the leather back seat pretending to be in the Millenium Falcon while my Dad shifts gear and makes the jump to hyperspace. Or Acklam, whichever is easier to find.

I’ll have draped myself across the cream armchair by the front room window, shoving Mr Kipling’s almond slices down my fizzog until I felt slightly sick in the middle of the Late, Late Breakfast Show. And then I think this was a night when we brought my Gran back to our house in Yarm for the night… she and I looked after each other while the dogs snuffled around the house and my parents sloped off for a rare pint together in the flock wallpaper-coated snug of the Cross Keys or the George and Dragon.

So that was my evening… the coal fire will have been roaring up the chimney, and my Gran will have snuggled into the armchair by the sliding glass door to the dining room. The click-clack-click of her knitting needles combining with the spluttering of the flames and the gentle buzz of Hi-De-Hi. I’ll have had a pile of A4 graph paper spread out on the coffee table, attempting to wend my way throught the blood-soaked halls of the House of Hell as we chattered away about school, telly and Christmas.

Occasionally, she’d tell me about her husband, my Mum’s Dad, who died the year before I was born. I remember once, probably a year or so before this, flicking through the pages of Whizzer and Chips as I perched on the arm of her chair. ‘Eee…’ she said, smiling at the latest exploits of Sid’s Snake and Lazy Bones. ‘Your Grandad would have read these with you for hours…’

And then, at 10.30pm or so, my parents would return from the pub, crashing through the kitchen door in soaking wet coats and stamping their feet on the mat. They’d stink of John Smiths Best Bitter and other people’s cigarettes, a heady combination that reeked of all things adult and untouchable and exciting.

And then we’d all grimace our way through a glass of home-brew wine and watch the muck on Channel 4 before heading to bed, although my Dad would stay up and watch a late-night Hammer Horror on BBC2, before standing up to salute the national anthem with a peanut bowl on his head.

In another year’s time, I’d be joining him in this midnight madness. But I was still a little but too young for horror films before bedtime, so instead consoled myself with a good book in the orange glow of my ET bedside lamp. House of Hell, of course. Now how do you splatter those zombies again…?

Extracts from Bob’s 1984 Diary… Volume 328

Friday 23rd November 1984


I got up at 9.00 and at 10.00 I went to Stockton. First I got ‘Jumping Jack’ from Smiths, then after that I got ‘Atic Atac’ from Boots. Next I went back to Smiths and got House of Hell (a new Fighting Fantasy) and at 12.30 I came home and had dinner.

After that I read House of Hell till 5.00, when I had tea. At 5.10 I watched Crackerjack, and at 7.00 I watched Children in Need. At 9.00 I watched Tell the Truth, and at 9.30 I saw Part II of Children in Need. At 12.30 I went to bed.

Ooooh, I didn’t see that coming! An ‘occasional day’ off school… our teachers will have been called in to receive extra training in the finer points of 1980s education methods (removing impacted spam fritters from Geography textbooks, dangling small boys over the edge of waterfalls, that kind of thing) so we grotty oiks were left to our own devices. Which, in my case, was clearly a ZX Spectrum 48K computer.

Not that I had one yet, of course… Christmas was still (mumbles, counts on fingers) 31 sleeps away, but that didn’t stop me catching the 294 bus to Stockton High Steet on a freezing, frosty morning to blam the remainder of my birthday money on a couple of spanking new games.

Raking up a few long-buried memories, and looking at my diary, I think this might actually have been – wait for it – a bit of a momentous occasion. I suspect this was the first time I actually went on a shopping expedition by myself. Doug and I had caught the bus to Stockton during the summer to see Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom at the Classic cinema, and that was the first time I’d been allowed to go on a bus journey out of Yarm without my Mum accompanying me.

But, 25 years ago today, wild horses wouldn’t have dragged Doug out of bed at 9am on a holday morning, so I’m pretty sure I persuaded my Mum to allow me to set off on a solo voyage by pointing out – in no uncertain terms – that I was now TWELVE YEARS OLD and therefore ready to be treated like a man. Amazingly, she agreed, and I went to wait at the desolate bus-stop on the other side of our garden’s conifer trees with a burgeoning sense of excitement.

I paid my 45p half-fare to the surly, rockabilly-quiffed driver (Why do ALL male bus drivers have rockabilly quiffs? It is a requirement of the job? I can’t ever look at Elvis’ backing group The Jordanaires without picturing them in Cleveland Transit uniforms) and slumped into the front seat, by the window. Yarm High Street flickered by, and the big, wealthy town houses of Eaglescliffe. And then we crossed the wasteland around Jennings’ Garage before working our way slowly, steadily towards the wide expanse of Stockton High Street.

(I’m absolutely convinced the bloke on the far right of this picture used to drive the No 13 from All Saints Church to Acklam)
The Christmas lights had gone up  since my last visit to Stockton, and were hanging unlit from the lamposts… cheery-looking Santas and grey, metal snowflakes gazing down on me in the gloom and the drizzle.  And I jangled the coins in my jeans pocket and strode manfully into WH Smiths, a shining beacon of warmth and geekiness behind the giant (as yet undecorated) Christmas tree outside the front of the Swallow Hotel.

I’m not sure why I made ‘Jumping Jack’ my first investment of the day… it’s a game with no kind of fame or reputation at all, so I must just have liked the look of it on the shelf…

I’d also like to point out that the commentary on this isn’t me… I just found the clip on Youtube!

The ‘Games Department’ had become a rapidly-expanding section of many High Street stores by late 1984, and even resolutely square outlets like Littlewoods and Boots had seen the merits of devoting a tiny corner of their floorspace to flogging Jet Set Willy and Scuba Dive to pre-pubescent boys in parkas.

Stockton also had, by this time, two independent computer gaming outlets, both located a little further off the beaten track. Topsoft was little more than a tiny unit in a filthy, black alleyway that wound away from the High Street before opening out onto the parallel Prince Regent Street. It had wooden counters, walls decorated with hilarious hand-made cartoon strips (presumably drawn by the bored owner) and – excitingly – ZX Spectrum, Commodore 64 and Vic-20 computers, all set-up and switched on in a permanent state of readiness.

Stockton Software, meanwhile, was a larger outfit a few seconds walk away, in a shady corner of Prince Regent Street. The same principles applied, but in this case I can remember the owners… a tall, bespectacled bloke with an exploding, dark mushroom of hair and a Robert Smith jumper; and his sidekick – a smaller, slyly witty bloke with a slicked-back side parting. They seemed like Gaming Gods to me, and I worshipped the ground they walked on. I drifted out of gaming around 1988 and never saw them again, but I suspect there’s a decent chance they’re both incredibly, amazingly, wealthy by now.

If anyone knows them, point them over here to say hello!

I hadn’t discovered either of these shops by November 1984, but in 1985 – as my ZX Spectrum obsession took an absolutely hold over my life – they became bleepy, geeky Meccas to me. I went to both shops at least once a week, and just… STOOD in them. For hours. Drinking in the games, the machines, the boops and bips and clunky music. And the intoxicating chatter and laughter of polite, funny, utterly charming geeks who had that always-exotic three or four-year advantage on me. Living and breathing the heady world of mid-1980s computing, when a multi-billion pound industry was run entirely by people like them, from their bedrooms.

Anyway, ‘Atic Attac’ was a game I’d coveted for a long time, ever since playing it over at Ian ‘Ozzie’ Oswald’s house during the summer, so that was an inevitable addition to my post-birthday shopping spree. And great to see another Fighting Fantasy book hitting the shelves….

House of Hell is set, predictably enough, in a gloomy, haunted mansion somewhere on the outskirts of Thornaby. No, not really. But it does pit the player up against Poltergeists, Satanists, Fire-Sprites and, erm, Great Danes, and I loved it to bits. And here I am last month in Watford, taking this very book to meet its writer Steve Jackson, 25 years on! What a shameless slag. Me, that is, not the Mighty Steve.


And wow… Children In Need. 1984 was only the fifth year that BBC1’s annual charity marathon had taken place, but to me – as a 12-year-old TV addict – it already felt like unmissable, event television. I imagine that, even 25 years ago, there were plenty of grumpy, middle-aged viewers being cynical about its merits, but I just saw it as a chance to see my favourite TV stars and programmes cutting loose and having fun. The previous year, the night had even incorporate the 90-minute Doctor Who anniversary special, ‘The Five Doctors’, which was worth a lifetime’s worth of goodwill as far as I was concerned.

Even back then, the legendary Wogan was firmly established as Children In Need’s main man, assisted all evening by the ‘thinking man’s crumpet’ tag-team of Sue Cook and Joanna Lumley (no Pudsey, though – he didn’t arrive until 1985)

I’ve been trawling around to find out a few details of what took place during 1984’s Children In Need night, but I’ve drawn a bit of a blank. I’m guessing there was an Only Fools And Horses section, as I’ve discovered that this night marked the last TV appearance of Lennard ‘Grandad’ Pearce, but apart from that… I’m struggling. Can any passing TV boffins out there throw in a few suggestions? 

The only thing I do recall with any certainty was that we were shown an infamous clip from the previous year’s event. In 1983, one cheeky caller had pledged a substantial donation in return for Joanna Lumley stripping down to her scanties on live television. The resulting routine made for a national sensation…

(Bugger, sorry – looks like I can’t embed this clip into the blog, so click on this link to watch it on Youtube!)

Great to see Simon ‘Mr Fairbrother’ Cadell and Roy ‘Henry Salt’ Kinnear joining in the fun, and is that Russell Grant lurking in the background wearing a BBC Breakfast jumper? Anyway, this was undoubtedly the ‘Angela Rippon on Morecambe and Wise’ moment of the 1980s, a heavenly TV nugget to be discussed for weeks afterwards by married middle-aged blokes drinking John Smith’s Bitter in the snug of the Cross Keys pub.

It’s also undoubtedly partially responsible (along with Allo Allo) for my teenage assumption that all women wore the full complement of stockings, suspenders and sexy basque beneath their everyday work clothes AT ALL TIMES. I think I was at least 17 before I realised this wasn’t true, but – in the meantime – it added an extra frisson to many a dreary shopping trip to Presto.