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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.

Extracts from Bob’s 1984 Diary… Volume 327

Thursday 22nd November 1984

I got up at 8.00, then Doug and Burton came and we went to school. First was Science, and I got a merit, and next came Music and geog. At 12.00 Oz and I got soaked having dinner, then when we came in it was DT.

After that it was RE, followed by History, and at 3.40 I came home. At 5.00 I had tea, at 5.30 I watched Grange Hill, at 6.00 I waited for 7.00 and at 7.00 I watched Tommorow’s World.

At 7.30 I watched Top of the pops, at 8.00 I watched Don’t wait up, at 8.30 I watched Zoo 2000 and at 9.00 I w e n t    t o        b     e     d    .

Anyone want to see a graph drawing showing how far the parents of 1CW travel to work? That’s handy…

Yep, this is what we did in Geography with Mr Flynn, exactly 25 years ago today… a vital bit of social mobility research that proved conclusively, once and for all, that I was a dab hand at colouring in little boxes with a green pencil. Oh, and that Yarm was a ‘dormitory town’, so presumably one in which Mr Hirst patrolled the streets late at night, telling off small boys for ‘giggling like girls’ and spreading more stories about the Ghost of the Grey Lady.

(Actually, now I’ve written that down,  it sounds more likely than I’d previously thought…)

Yet another outdoor packed lunch as well, so clearly something very odd was going on. It’s starting to ring a vague bell that – for a short period only – pupils bringing packed lunches to school were actually banned from eating them in the dinner hall, such were the numbers of grotty oiks shelling out their parents’ hard-earned cash for proper, sit-down school dinners. So packed lunch rebels like Ian ‘Ozzie’ Oswald and myself (or the ‘Monster Munch Martyrs’ as we became known) were exiled to the frozen tundra of the school tennis courts to snaffle our egg sandwiches from a tupperware box that – throughout the course of the morning – had become so filled with the overpowering, concentrated stench of mashed-up egg that, on opening them, we both looked up to see if Christopher Herbert was walking past.

100 yards away.

Anyway, I clearly remember Ozzie and me chomping away at damp sandwiches in the pissing rain, sheltering under the six-inch overhang round the back of the sports hall and holding our elbows over our faces so our ubiquitous grey ski-jackets acted as a windbreak. And you tell that to the kids of today… they’ll say ‘Urgh! Really? SKI JACKETS???’   

At least a brighter future was being promised to us by Mrs Mainwaring-Taylor in RE…

This, apparently, is the Ancient Babylonian idea of Heaven and Earth, however I’ve clearly drawn it in the style of a level from Manic Miner. I’m only surprised there isn’t a High Score counter at the bottom.

Brilliantly, my RE homework for the evening was – brace yourself – to discover the ultimate answer to Life, The Universe and Everything…  

Manfully resisting the tempation to write ’42’, I came up with…

Many people believe that the world was created. The Babylonians believed that it was made by MARDUK and the Hebrews by God.

I think that the world was created by a huge explosion of gas.

I should have gone the whole hog and added ‘…when a Tupperware container filled with egg sandwiches was opened in a windy tennis court’.

This seems to have been the first time I’d watched Top of the Pops for a while, and what a strangely eclectic episode I chose for my comeback. Especially with lightweight Radio 1 fluffsters Tommy Vance and John Peel presenting…

• Billy Ocean – Caribbean Ocean(No More Love On The Run) [Performance]
• Chaka Khan – I Feel For You [Promo Video]
• Chicago – A Hard Habit To Break [Promo Video]
• Human League – Louise [Promo Video]
• Kane Gang – Respect Yourself [Performance]
• Murray Head – One Night In Bangkok [Performance]
• Nick Heyward – Warning Sign [Performance]
• Shakin Stevens – Teardrops [Performance]

I remember being oddly taken with ‘One Night In Bangkok’… something about Murray Head’s ultra-laid-back delivery (and cool white suit) just appealed to me enormously.

I only found out recently that he’s the elder brother of Anthony ‘Buffy The Vampire Slayer’ Head, gainfully employed back in 1984 as the nation’s favourite ‘smoothie’ in a series of Gold Blend coffee adverts. No idea why this should be of consequence to anybody apart from the Head family, but I thought I’d drop it in casually, as it’s a long Sunday afternoon and I’m trying to avoid my ironing.

Oh, and by the way, that odd bit of lettering at the end of my diary entry is absolutely how I’ve written it…

Well, y’know… I’d solved the Ultimate Question of Life, The Universe and Everything, so it was time to kick back and have some fun.

Extracts from Bob’s 1984 Diary… Volume 326

Wednesday 21st November 1984

I got up at 8.00, and at 8.45 Doug and Burton came and we went to school. First was Art, and I got a merit for clearing up, them came History and maths. At 12.00 I got Doctor Who – The making of a TV series from the book shop, then I had dinner.

After that me, Placie and Ozzie played footy, and at 1.00 it was French. Next was English, and last was Science. At 3.40 I came home, then went to school and got my coat, then came home and had tea.

At 5.00 I  watched The Box of delights, at 5.30 I watched The good life, and at 6.00 I did homework. At 7.00 I watched I’ve got a secret, at 7.30 I watched Sharon and Elsie, at 8.00 I watched Dallas, at 8.45 I watched Points of View and at 9 I went to bed.

A merit for ‘clearing up’? Since when did I ‘clear up’ anything?At home, my room-tidying routine generally meant shoving everything on the floor under the bed and letting the gradual build-up of books, comics, Star Wars figures and Doctor Who drawings on the bedroom carpet start all over again. Before repeating the process six weeks later. By the end of 1984, I was sleeping about six inches below the bedroom ceiling.

I can only assume I was a) in the relentless pursuit of merit marks, in which case my mother missed a trick by not coming to some arrangement with the school to be able to dish them out at home, or b) looking to impress our pouting, wavy-haired Kate Bush lookalike art teacher Mrs Cashmore.  If someone had offered me a merit not to fall in love with my art teacher, I’d have been tossing and turning all night (stop it)

Thankfully the problem went away in my second year, when Mr English took over art duties. I’ve never been one for red shirts and green trousers. He was lovely, but he looked like a traffic light.

And yes, I finally succumbed and shelled out a chunk of my birthday money on another piece of Doctor Who merchandise to file on the bedroom floor…

I’d been eyeing this up for weeks in our lunchtime school bookshop… basically just a broom cupboard stacked with a few kiddie-friendly titles and staffed by a little rota of public-spirited Mums and specky, bookish fifth-formers. The book cost £1.95, and I remember wrestling with my conscience in the tennis courts (I won by two falls, a submission and a backhand volley) before heading indoors to hand over my cash. Two strange memories of this transaction…

1. The woman behind the counter was an incredibly attractive school helper (undoubtedly someone’s Mum) with Elisabeth Sladen’s hairdo and bright red lipstick, and she asked me in cheerily husky tones if I’d been ‘saving up for this?’ as I handed over my two pound coins. My knees went a bit wobbly, and I spent the rest of our dinnertime explaining to Doug that I was possibly developing a thing for sexy, middle-aged women. Looking back, she was probably 29.

2. As I pulled the book from the shelf, two third-year girls chewing Hubba Bubba wandered in from the corridor. ‘Doctor Who – The Making Of A Television Series…’ pondered one of them, in a staggeringly plummy middle-class drawl. ‘Oh God, how BORING….’

Get used to it, Fischer. From now on, this is your LIFE.

Another memorable science lesson, too… I hadn’t realised until I wrote this diary quite how much effort Mr Warren put into making our time with him so varied and fun! Having progressed from studying protozoa through the School Microscope, we were now going…. OUTSIDE!

Yep, if it’s Wednesday, it must be Invertebrates… so time to head onto the hockey pitch to look for worm casts. I had no idea what worm casts actually WERE until this particular lesson, but I knew them when I saw them…

It’s basically worm poo. Or, as I wrote in my exercise book 25 years ago today, ‘the excreted soil and waste material that have passed through a worm’s body’. On a freezing November afternoon, Chris Byers, Jo Spayne, Vince Potter and I measured out 1m square areas of grass with a meter ruler (just for once not being used as a Star Wars lightsaber) and counted the worm casts within them.

We did this three times, and found 33, 45 and 58 worm casts respectively. An average of 45 worm casts per square metre. Mr Warren handily revealed that the field was 500m square, which meant a grand total of…

(wait for it)

22,500 worm casts on the hockey pitch! And at least six more splattered on Vince Potter’s shirt after a brief contre-temps with Stephen Mason.

I was so excited I ran all the way home without my grey ski jacket, and only realised when my Mum (busy extracting confessions from fishcakes at the kitchen sink) asked why I’d taken my coat off on the way home. I hadn’t… I’d left it hanging up in a hook round the back of our form room at 1.05pm, and forgotten about it. Probably still thinking of Mrs Cashmore (or – at a push – the woman from the book shop)

And The Box of Delights!!!

One of my favourite TV shows of all time. Even now, 25 years on, I still make a point of pulling the DVD from the shelf every Christmas and Sorcha and I watch the whole lot in darkness with the Christmas Tree lights on, with a bottle of Harvey’s Bristol Cream on the coffee table and a tray of Mr Kipling Mince Pies on the go. It’s scientifically impossible to feel any more Christmassy than that…

It’s magical, and that opening sequence has – as ever – made the back of my neck go freezing cold and tingly. I absolutely AM twelve years old whenever I hear that theme music, rapt in front of the TV with my 40-year-old parents pouring tea from the porcelain pot in its ragged cosy, and digging into almond slices and Soreen. Poggy Doggy panting in front of the coal fire and a pile of homework on the dining room table.

It has Patrick Troughton as a travelling minstrel, 1930s steam trains ploughing through snow-covered countryside, sinister vicars and vicious wolves, genial coppers talking of ‘possetts’, time travel, wild woods, ‘scrobbling’ and Herne The Hunter. It was unfeasible that my twelve-year-old self WOULDN’T fall head-over-heels in love with the whole thing, and it’s a love affair that rages unabated to this day.

Time and tide and buttered eggs wait for no man…

Extracts from Bob’s 1984 Diary… Volume 325

Tuesday 20th November 1984

I got up at 8.15, and at 8.30 Doug and Gaz came and we went to school. First was English, then RE, then English. Then I was nicked in Drama.

At 12.00 I had my packed lunch in the tennis courts, and when I came in it was French. After that it was Maths then HE. I came home at 3.40 and at 5.00 I had tea, then at 5.10 I watched Star Trek.

At 6.00 Doug came and we went to youth club, and we were going to play badminton but decided not to and had a go on the tiddlywinks assault course with Potter. At 8.00 I came home and saw Des O’Connor and at 9 I went to bed.

At last! Some proper work. And a brace of English lessons that I remember with great fondness, as we got to study some Haikus. I’d never heard the word before, but I was fascinated by them. The poems themselves were all provided by Mrs McDonald on a photocopied sheet, but the musings underneath are all mine…

Bright the full moon shines
on the matting of the floor
shadows of the pines

This makes me think of a moonlit forest in winter, at midnight. I can almost see the shadowy leaves on the ground, almost hear the wind rustling through the trees. I really like this poem.

Up the barley rows
stitching, stitching them together
a butterfly goes

This poem makes me imagine a bright summer day, with corn blowing in the soft breeze. In the background I can see golden fields and hills, and a huge white sun in a deep blue sky. I can also see the butterfly, flickering about above the barley and dashing from side to side in a jumble of colour.

It looks like a man
the scarecrow in the moonlit night
and it is pitiful

I think this is a sad poem. It makes me ‘see’ a lone scarecrow, trapped in a dark night and unable to move. I can see a full moon in the background casting long, eerie shadows and I can almost believe that the scarecrow is anxiously, but sadly, waiting for dawn.

The summer river
although there is a bridge, my horse
goes through the water

This makes me think of a bright summer day in the country. I think that the man on the horse is an old farmer, and the horse is an old-fashioned type wearing blinkers. I can almost see the sun shine and dance on the trickling river, and some small green trees next to the old, stone, hump-backed bridge.

I was a romantic little soul, wasn’t I? I can remember being utterly entranced by all four of these, and the deep impressions and evocations created by such incredibly economic use of language. I had a crack at writing two of my own, as well…

The huge clawed wave, with a spray
of freezing ice, falls crashing and roaring
like a lion enclosed

The forest, green and dark
full of wonderful things
a place of magic

(A) Merit from Mrs McDonald for both of these. Get in!!!!

And getting ‘nicked’ in Drama – fantastic! I think I might have written about this in a previous blog entry, as I thought it came a little earlier in the term, so apologies for repeating myself. But our Drama classes (rapidly becoming my favourite lesson, thanks to the innovative teaching genius of Mr Harrison, my gurning, hilarious spiritual leader) were playing host to a rolling, continuing, improvised play.

Every lesson, we were acting out the saga of being the crew on a long, interstellar journey to the far reaches of the universe. Stopping only at the tuck shop round the back of Block 4 to stock up on Wham Bars and Fanta. I’d taken the role of ‘Mr Weirdo’, a technical designer. In a moment of downtime on our voyage to the stars, I decided to show off to Jonathan ‘Nobby’ Haworth by pretending to tear a rack of invisible cables from the ship’s equally invisible propulsion unit.

Mischievously, Nobby instantly reported me to our towering, chain-smoking ‘Captain Eric T Harrison’. Mr H, throwing himself into the role, promptly slammed me in the ship’s imaginary ‘brig’ (behind a stack of plastic trays at the entrance to the DT department).  For the next few Drama lessons, I had to act the part of the ship’s traitor… a role that actually had me a LITTLE bit worried – because although Mr H was obviously acting the role, it still felt like… well, being shouted at by my teacher! Great fun though, and meat and drink (or at least Wham Bars and Fanta) to a sci-fi obsessed daydreamer like me.

I’m a bit baffled as to why I brought a packed lunch to school after so many months of happy hot-dinner-eating, but can only wonder if industrial action had hit the kitchen staff again? Whatever, I do remember eating a series of blinding white egg sandwiches and a Ski Yoghurt while crouched against the metal fence of the tennis courts in a howling, roaring Teesside hurricane. I think I did this for a few days in a row, and I felt like a hardy pioneer, fending for myself out in the wild. (All nonsense, of course, as no hardy pioneer in the world would be seen dead with a Ski Yoghurt. They were Munch Bunch eaters, to a man…)

I’ve been thinking about my Home Economics lessons recently (I lead a busy and active life) and realised that I should have an exercise book from these kicking around somewhere… but it isn’t with the rest of them, so it’s possible it hasn’t survived the journey through 25 years worth of dusty family attics. We didn’t JUST spend our HE lessons making foul concoctions (Blancmange a la Snot being the latest addition to our culinary repertoire), we actually did some theory work as well.

Or at least, we were MEANT to. With HE being the last lesson of the day, and – let’s face it – a bit of a doss, what tended to happen was that the usual suspects (me, Burton, Farrage, Thompson etc… although I think Doug was put into a seperate class for HE) gathered around a plastic table for 70 minutes and spent the entire lesson talking shite, occasionally pausing to copy something from a textbook into our jotters every time the feared Mrs Gillson walked past.

Vague memories of HE theory lessons from this period…

1. A lot of the stuff we had to copy down was centred around nutritional theory… vitamins, minerals, protein, carbohydrates, all that kind of gubbins. One of these paragaphs listed ‘peas, beans and lentils’ as good sources of protein, a section that resulted in much hilarity around the table, because lentils were – of course – the staple diet of Neil The Hippy from The Young Ones. This led to at least a week’s worth of repeating Neil’s legendary mantra ‘We plant the seeds… nature grows the seeds… we eat the seeds’ until it drove our teachers absolutely up the bloody wall. I remember Vince Potter doing it solidly for at least 20 minutes during one of Mr Warren’s science lessons.

2. Me singing repeatedly the song from a Christmas advert for a child’s bathtime toy called ‘Rub-A-Dub-Doggie’. One of those insanely catchy commerical jingles that advertising executives seem to have forsaken these days, preferring to keep their adverts moody and ambient. As I sang it, Marc Thompson looked me seriously in the eye, pointed at me, and said ‘I want a Rub-A-Dub Doggie’ in the most sinister, terrifying voice imaginable. For the rest of the lesson we chortled into our pencil cases as Alistair Burton endlessly repeated the phrase ‘In the Big Yell0w… TEAPOT!’ in a piercing, high-pitched screech. Mrs Gillson eventually split us up.

(And bugger me, I’ve just found the Rub-A-Dub Doggie advert on Youtube… this has made my head go all swimmy and gooey…)

3. One of our textbooks referring to the importance of maintaining a healthy iron intake, ‘especially for women and girls during their periods’. We were so shocked by this brazenly adult intrusion into our grotty little world that we actually shut the f*** up for over thirty seconds. And I think it took another twenty minutes for the Big Yellow… TEAPOT to reappear.

And my sporting prowess continues to flourish… all hail my bold Gladiatorial efforts on the Tiddlywinks Assault Course. Needless to say, I didn’t wink a single tiddly into the right place all night. Or do you tiddle your winks? I can’t remember. Either way, I stormed off in a huff before the end of Youth Club and watched Des O’Connor Tonight in a silent, brooding sulk.