Wiffle Lever To Full!

Daleks, Death Stars and Dreamy Sci-Fi Nostalgia…

Extracts from Bob’s 1984 Diary… Volume 309

Sunday 4th November 1984

I got up at 10.30 and started to map Caverns of the Snow Witch, then Doug rang. At 11.30 he came over and we went upstairs and did maths homework. Then we set up the ZX81 and played Flight Simulation.

At 12.00 we had dinner, then we played Tomb of Dracula. At 2.00 we went to Doug’s house via the Kebble estate, then we went to the mud track and played on the swings and the horse.

At 4.00 I came home and did some mapping, then I had tea. After that I did homework, and at 7.15 I watched Ever decreasing circles. At 7.45 I went in the shower, then I watched Just good friends at 9.30. After that I played Caverns again, and at 9.55 I went to bed.

Maths homework? On a Sunday morning? We must have been bored. Actually, we were DEFINITELY bored if we resorted to playing Flight Simulation on the ZX81, a game programmed by dedicated plane-spotters listening to Tangerine Dream while munching on Valium sandwiches…

Don’t be fooled by the music on the above clip… the game itself was, like all ZX81 experiences, completely silent. The computer had no sound whatsoever. Unlike Doug and I, and as soon as the onscreen prompt ‘Do You Want To Include Wind Effects?’ appeared, one of us will have lifted an obliging buttock and provided the obvious answer.

I had no recollection of ‘Tomb Of Dracula’ whatsoever, and wasn’t sure if it might even have been an ancient, dusty board game, but NO! Youtube has just spouted forth the below clip, and it’s all come flooding back! (Again, ignore the spooky music – the only soundtrack we had was Poggy Doggy snuffling around looking for Blue Riband biscuits and my Mum hoovering the stairs)

It’s really weird seeing that again… I can’t remember buying the game at all, or even playing it, but the sight of the goofy cartoon Dracula at the start has just given me an amazingly giddy rush of nostalgia. I’m now overwhelmed with a desperate desire to give both Poggy Doggy and my 11-year-old self a big soppy hug. See, I AM soft-hearted after all. I’m even starting to think I’ve been a bit unfair to the ZX81 Flight Simulator and wouldn’t mind a bash at it again…

Aside from all that, a relatively quiet, grey Sunday. I think Doug and I tootled around Yarm for a couple of hours without seeing anyone of note, just aimlessly circling our bikes around the swings at the mud track, diving in and out of the trees to avoid the rain and shouting the odd obscenity into the silence to relieve the relentless tedium. Although this MIGHT have been the day on which some passing busybody ticked us off for throwing the swing chains over the top of the frame, making the seats a more comfortable height for our rapidly elongating bodies.

‘Do you mind putting the swings back how you found them?’ he huffed, patronisingly. He was an intense-looking thirtysomething with a red face and a Barbour jacket.

‘We will, when we’ve finished,’ I shrugged. ‘We always do. It doesn’t do any harm’.

‘I suppose you think that’s funny do you?’ 

‘Eh?’ 

‘STUPID LITTLE PRICKS LIKE YOU, COMING HERE, MAKING THIS PLACE A DEATH-TRAP FOR ALL THE LITTLE KIDDYWINKS AND TODDLERS. WHO THE HELL DO YOU THINK YOU ARE??!??!’

‘Erm…’

‘TAKE THEM DOWN NOW OR I’LL TAKE THE BLOODY PAIR OF YOU TO THE POLICE STATION!!!!!’

Clearly a man with swing-related ‘issues’*. In a slight state of shock, we put the swings back to their original position, waited until he was out of sight, then threw them back over the frame and spent the rest of the afternoon concocting elaborate plans to have him tortured and executed before parading his head around the Town Hall on a spike.

*I think they’re known as ‘swingers’ in certain circles.  

Naturally, he went on our mental death list, along with the elaborately-named ‘Don’t Press That Button’, a plummy-voiced sixth former from Yarm Independent School who once pre-empted a minor bit of devilment from me,  grabbing my shoulder just as I was about to press the button on the Pedestrian Crossing on the pavement outside the school. I wasn’t intending to cross the road, I was just mischievously going to make the traffic stop for no reason while I tootled on my way.

‘DON’T PRESS THAT BUTTON’ he warbled, in a very recently-broken voice, as my index finger slid threateningly out of my parka sleeve. I sheepishly mumbled some offensive retort before sidling away on my bike. From then on, whenever Doug and I saw him around Yarm, we cooed ‘DoN’T PrEsS THaT BuTToN’ in a mocking, wobbly baritone behind his back and ducked into the trees whenever he looked round. He’s probably still in therapy somewhere, mumbling about Belisha Beacons to his expensive, private psychiatrist.  

I think this was also the day on which my lengendary clumsy twattiness came to the fore and I knocked a full glass of home-brew white wine over the steaming plate of Sunday dinner that my Mum had set down on the coffee table in front of me. It swilled around the plate, and my sprouts gasped for rasping breath. ‘Oh, you dozy great pillock…’ huffed my Dad, while my Mum – ever the optimist – told me that ‘white wine is used in lots of recipes, and it all goes down the same way anyway’.

So I ate it. It didn’t make my Sunday dinner taste any better, but – to be fair – it didn’t make my Dad’s homebrew wine taste any worse either. In fact I think I was still sprinkling the stuff on my fish and chips six months later. Oddly, while all of this happened, I distinctly remember that the classic 1950 comedy film ‘The Happiest Days of Your Life’ was burbling away on BBC1, so I guzzled down my ruined dinner with Alistair Sim and Margaret Rutherford looking disapprovingly on. It all seemed curiously British and appropriate.

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1 Comment»

  Dr. Giles Parcel wrote @

Your pendulus interruptus fellow sounds more like a devotee of swingeing than swinging.

I presume you made sure that he had a valid permit for his waxed jacket? Nothing worse than a cove hanging around a playground with a rum Barbour.

At least you discovered one really noble truth that day: that Rutherford and Sim make a pleasing accompaniment to even the poorest vin de table!


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