Wiffle Lever To Full!

Daleks, Death Stars and Dreamy Sci-Fi Nostalgia…

Extracts from Bob’s 1984 Diary… Volume 321

Friday 16th November 1984

I woke up at 8.00, and at VIII:LV I went to school. First was Gym, then French. Next was geog, and at XII:00 I had dinner. Next was maths, then music, and lastly science.

I came home at III:XL and did some pictures for Iceworld Adventure, then I had tea. At 7.00 I watched Blankety Blank, at 7.30 I watched What a carry on, and 8.00 I watched Play your cards right.

 Then I played football with a balloon till 9.10, when I went to bed with a grand total of £16.67 in my coffee jar.

Sorry about the Roman numerals! No idea where that came from, other than a vague interest in the dates at the end of the credits on BBC TV shows… (C) BBC MCMLXXXIV, that kind of thing. I remember being fascinated by them at quite an early age, and asking my Mum what they meant while watching (I think) an episode of Porridge around the end of the 1970s.

She not only explained that they were Roman (which was – obviously – AMAZING!! Numbers used by REAL ROMANS?? Like the ones in BEN HUR???) but also wrote me a list of all the ones she could remember from her own schooldays. I went into school the next day and drove Mrs Keasey up the wall by attempting to complete my long division exercise entirely in Ls, Vs and Ms. I think I was hoping it might eventually spell something vaguely rude, but it didn’t.

(Is it possible to construct rude words entirely from Roman numerals? I’m up for investigating this further if anyone fancies it…)

Anyway, in Geography 25 years ago today, Mr Flynn – still ruling the class with a rod of iron and a fluffy sheep jumper – had us writing our opinions on urban traffic congestion. Here are mine…


I think that the main problem in towns is congestion, which means that there are too many cars crammed together in a town centre. This forms traffic jams and makes it hard to get from one place to another. It also makes pedestrians more prone to accidents, as there is such a lot of traffic around.

There is also such a lack of car parks that drivers are being forced to park illegally.  I think that illegal parking could be solved by increasing the number of traffic wardens, bringing more Police clamps into use, and increasing the fine for parking illegally.

What an amazing authoritarian streak for one so young! How did I not end up joining the Young Conservatives? Or being a Premiership football referee? Underneath this final paragraph, Mr Flynn has written – in his ubiquitous red Biro – ’10/10, but do your parents agree?’ Suffice to say, my Dad’s considered opinion on the matter would have been ‘they can stick their bloody clamps up their arses’ and, with the benefit of 25 years of experience, I’m inclined to agree with him.

I’m 37 now, virtually middle-aged, so I can be as grumpy as I bloody well like.

And how bored must I have been during the evening?!?!? ‘I played football with a balloon’, for crying out loud. For nearly an hour! I wouldn’t have bothered inflating balloons for my birthday, so this suggests that – with a mere six weeks to go – I’d badgered my Mum enough to retrieve our ancient box of Christmas decorations from the loft (complete with the shaky cartoon R2D2 that I drew on it in December 1978) so I could ‘sort them out in plenty of time’.

This slow build-up to Christmas was a huge part of my childhood… once the psychological barrier of my birthday was out of the way, I would begin the 40-day countdown to the 25th December almost instantly. Official Christmas Lists (scribbled on lined notepaper in wobbly black biro) would be left lying conspicuously on the dining room table, and I would already be working out whether enough of the Teesside Tinsel Reserve had survived the year, or whether we’d need to invest in some more to ensure – crucially – that NOT A SINGLE PIECE OF GREENERY WAS VISIBLE ANYWHERE ON OUR TREE.

And, once this was done, I could inflate a single, sorry-looking red balloon (Nena had the other 98) and practice my Jedi moves on the stairs and in the kitchen. In those heady, pre-games console days, I can’t describe how much fun it was possible to have indoors with a single balloon. And, until I read this diary entry, I’d forgotten how much I did it.

My gran’s  bungalow was, for many years, the home of my Olympic balloon training regime, as it had a long, narrow hallway that provided ample opportunity to bounce said inflatable from one wall to the other with a single swish of a long, cardboard kitchen roll holder. All the while muttering ‘Use the force, Luke… your senses can deceive you…’ under my breath.

In one of those odd, fragmented memories that occasionally bob to the surface while writing this rubbish, I now distinctly remember doing this on the Saturday teatime after the last day of school term in December 1981, while listening (and singing along to) the current Cliff Richard hit ‘Daddy’s Home’ on the TV- at which point my Dad walked through the front door, arriving from our house with an unerring sense of timing that made us all laugh out loud.

I’ve now got a giddy, nostalgic mental kaleidoscope of that song combined with my Dad’s navy blue parka, my Gran’s pinny, my Mum holding a rolling pin, the thick cream-coloured gloss on the front room door, and the overwhelming joy and excitement of it being NEARLY CHRISTMAS AND EVERYTHING IN MY WORLD BEING ABSOLUTELY PERFECT. A quick check reveals that this must have been Saturday 19th December 1981. I’d just turned nine years old, and I’m beginning to think that the age of 8 – 9 might well be the peaktime for childhood fun and well-being. You’re old enough to be bright and sparky and fun and clever, but still young enough for adults to accept that you just want to mess about and play and sing stupid songs. And you’re usually a couple of years either way from traumatic school upheaval. I think, looking back, 1980 and 1981 were definitely the most Christmassy Christmases I had, and my memories of those years are clear and lucid, and not the fuzzy fragments of my earlier childhood recollections.

1984 was still fun though, and – by this stage – my solo balloon antics had extended to trying to keep it off the floor by whatever means possible – head, elbow, foot, hand, kitchen roll holder, rebound off Poggy Doggy. Yay!

And then my coffee jar! I’d forgotten all about this, but yes – throughout most of my childhood (and teenage years), ALL of my worldly finances were kept in a cleaned-out Maxwell House jar with a blue, screw-on plastic lid. Normally there were barely more than a few pennies in there, but – obviously – birthdays and Christmases swelled the coffers, and the prospect of having £16.67 stuffed into made me feel like a Playboy, a 12-year-old Hugh Hefner. I would have counted it relentlessly as well, tipping the coins out onto the front room carpet and stacking them into toppling piles. ‘You should be doing that wearing fingerless mittens,’ my Dad used to say, clearly slightly proud at having fathered a teeny Alistair Sim in the making.

Shopping spree tomorrow, though. Watch out Middlesbrough – I’m in search of thrills, kicks and exciting new ZX Spectrum games!



  Chris Orton wrote @

I can’t make any swear words out of Roman numerals – the best that I can come up with is…

D.I.V.V.I. and D.I.X.

Rubbish isn’t it? Although I’ve always thought that Roman numerals were pretty daft. I don’t know why they just didn’t invent numbers.

I’m very impressed with your prescient writings on the problems of traffic congestion. I wonder what the 12-year old Bob would make of the gridlocked roads and town centres that we have these days? And more specifically, I would like to know why the flaming northbound A167 gets snarled up for half a mile back from the Thinford roundabout every bloody morning on my way to work! I’ve even tried setting off at different times and everything! And it happens the other way at the same place when I am heading back on a night. Sometimes I dream of Survivors coming true just so that I can have a clear run on the roads. But then there wouldn’t be a lot of point going to work I suppose…

  Justin wrote @

If only the Romans had had the concept of ‘zero’ and used O to give us another vowel… as it is we’re stuck with pronunciation based gags like LIX DIX and the ‘acronym’ VD… hardly ‘X’-rated’ 😉

  Thing wrote @

I can think of one possible rude word in Roman numerals… XXXX.

  bobfischer wrote @

Sensational work, gentlemen. Take V minutes and pat yourselves on the back.

Chris – the older I get, the more ‘Survivors’ seems less like a post-apocalyptic nightmare and more like a nice way to spend my middle years in the countryside.

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