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Daleks, Death Stars and Dreamy Sci-Fi Nostalgia…

Archive for November, 2009

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.

Extracts from Bob’s 1984 Diary… Volume 324

Monday 19th November 1984

I got up at 8.10, and at 8.50 Doug came and we went to school. First was maths, then I got a merit in History. Next came Rugby, and at 12.00 I had dinner. 

When we came in it was a French test, and after that I got a merit. Next I got another merit in English, and after that was Geog. Last was maths, and at 3.40 I came home.

I had tea at 5.00 and at 5.05 I watched Blue Peter. After that I wrote some of Iceworld Adventure and at 8.00 I watched Rising damp. At 8.30 I watched Lame Ducks, at 9.00 I watched Laugh??? I nearly paid my licence fee and at 9.30 I went to bed.

I appreciate this isn’t the most dynamic way to start today’s blog, but that’s about as nondescript a day as it’s possible to get… I’ve had a look in my exercise books, and there’s nothing with ‘19.11.84’ scribbled next to them, and the merits that I got all seem to have been achieved by ticking off the ‘Good’ and ‘Very Good’ comments dished out by Mrs Ansbro and Miss Wilson over the previous few weeks.

So I’ll break with convention and reveal two events that MIGHT have happened on this day. They also might not have, but seeing as we’ve no evidence either way, where’s the harm? It’s my blog, I’ll do whatever I like. I might even eat TWO bowls of Butterscotch Angel Delight for my tea tonight.

1. First thing in the morning, on the way into our 1CW Classroom in the French department, I was stopped in my tracks by a bunch of towering fourth-formers loitering by the toilets that ALWAYS seemed to smell of Polos and cigarette smoke. ‘Oh, hello, a little Foggy*!’ they sneered sarcastically. ‘Are you wanting to be in your form room? You’ll have to do us a favour first…’

‘W-w-w-w-w-what?’ I asked, in a not-altogether-convincing act of defiance.

‘Ten press-ups,’ said their lanky leader, an emaciated youth in a tight-fitting blazer. He had a mop of fuzzy, expertly blow-dried hair that looked like it might have fallen on him from a tree. 

Convinced that this torture was destined to end in the feared ‘head-flushed-down-the-toilet’ treatment (I’d stink of Polos and cigarettes for the rest of the day), I reluctantly sank to my hands and knees and performed ten wobbly press-ups on the filthy tiled floor while my sniggering captors nudged each other disbelievingly and counted me down. Once I’d finished, I struggled back to my feet and went to amble on my way.

‘Uh-uh,’ said Lanky Boy. ‘Squat thrusts next…’

So I did ten squat thrusts, with beads of sweat now starting to form on my forehead. I think I went through star jumps and pull-ups before they ran out of recogniseable exercises to humiliate me with, and I was allowed to take my place in our form room. Hilariously, in the middle of all this, several of my classmates (hello Messrs Burton and Farrage) had walked through the melee untroubled, and even given me a cheery wink and thumbs-up on the way. Cheers, lads.

I was knackered by the end of it. No wonder I couldn’t repeat last week’s sporting prowess in Rugby.  

(*’Foggy’ was Conyers school slang for ‘First Year’. I think 1984 might have been its swanswong, as I never heard it much after this… ditto, ‘Foggy-Bashing Day’, the mythical annual fixture when teachers turned a knowing blind eye to weakling 11-year-olds being systematically punched, pummelled and poleaxed by older boys round the back of the tennis courts. I lived in mortal fear of this for a full year before realising that it didn’t actually exist)

2. Doug and I were collared, dressed down and punished for ‘fighting in the corridor’. Believe me, this came as much of shock to us as it will to you, because a) I’ve never fought anyone in my life (although I occasionally have a gentle tussle with the Inland Revenue) and b) Doug was my best mate in the whole, widest world. I really WASN’T going to fight him in a million years.  AT LAST – 25 years on – I’m ready to SPILL THE BEANS on this AMAZING, LONG-LOST MYSTERY…

In the queue outside Mr Flynn’s Geography lesson, Doug pondered on the prospect of him becoming a ‘Joey’. Now I’ve tried and failed to find out more details about this long-forgotten 1980s youth cult, but Google has thrown up precisely nothing. As far as I remember, a Joey was a distant mid-80s relation of the Mod, with a few basic rockabilly frills. A neat tie and shirt combined with a flat-top haircut, winklepicker boots and a bit of Ivy League-style vintage American clothing. It was a style being sported by a few casual lounge lizards in the fourth and fifth years, one of whom – a genial, softly-spoken lad called Andy – was going out with Doug’s sister Jen. 

‘You’ll look bloody daft,’ I ventured, and Doug grinned and playfully flicked the back of my head. At which point, giggling all the way, I tried to lift his legs off the ground. At which point, with a face like thunder, the Geography department’s noted enforcer Mr Maggiore grabbed us both by the scruff of the neck and frogmarched us into his office.


‘We weren’t fighting, sir, honest…’ we mumbled, staring disconsolately at our feet. ‘I said I fancied being a Joey, and he said I’d look daft, and we just had a bit of a… laugh… about… it…’


‘Yes… sir…’

We shuffled out of his office and into our Geography class, where even the fluffy sheep on Mr Flynn’s jumper seemed a bit bemused by the whole affair. ‘I think he’s having a stressful day,’ smiled Mr F, which wasn’t hugely reassuring. Anyway I took my punishment like a man, and – marching sternly home at 3.40pm – proceeded to spent the next 20 minutes crying in the front room while explaining to my mother why I had some ‘extra homework’ to do.

You should not fight with your friends because they are your friends and fighting is a terrible way to behave with them. If your friend has been your friend for a long time, then fighting with him might mean he is not your friend any more, so fighting has put an end to your friendship…

That kind of thing. The next morning – after a troubled, sleepless night – Doug and I reconvened in the corridor outside our form room, where he – with the steely eye of a veteran – tore off the top corner of my ‘extra homework’ where, naively, I’d taken my usual conscientious approach to formality and written my name. ‘Don’t let him know who you are,’ he winked. After registration, we meekly took our essays to Mr Maggiore’s form room where – entirely predictably – he tore them up without a second glance and dropped them into the wicker waster paper bin.

And, on the way back down, I had to do another twenty press-ups.

Extracts from Bob’s 1984 Diary… Volume 323

Sunday 18th November 1984

At 6.30 we woke up, and we got up at 9.15. We had breakfast, then we played on the videopac till 12.00, when Doug went home and I had dinner. After dinner mam and I played Crossfire, then I watched Liverpool beat Newcastle 0-2.

After that I had tea, then I listened to the charts. At 7.15 I watched Ever Decreasing circles, at 7.45 I watched Big deal, at 8.30 I watched Just good friends and at 9.00 I went to bed.

Holy Moly, a full 2 hours and 45 minutes of arsing around in my bedroom before we got up! I could NEVER EVER sleep for any length of time when one of my mates stayed over for the night… the excitement was just too much. So although Doug and I will have been up until at least 2am, talking shite and giving Chewbacca obscene felt-tip appendages on my Star Wars wallpaper, it’s no surprise at all that I was wide awake and ready for action barely four hours later.

I think Doug (curled up under my yellow bedspread while I sprawled on a camp bed on the floor) was a bit more reluctant to reach consciousness, but we were throwing ourselves into a heated discussion about personal snogging techniques long before a pale, tired November sun began to creep its fingers around the edges of my cracked, peeling windowsill. My parents tried to sleep through our muffled laughter for an hour or two before my Mum finally gave up the ghost and brought us a pot of tea.

And then a morning spent playing Munchkin on the Philips Videopac G7000! I’d got this now entirely-forgotten games console for Christmas only 11 months earlier, but it already felt like ancient, obsolete technology. We hammered away at Munchkin for a couple of hours in the front room, watching Poggy Doggy potter around the gloomy, rain-sodden garden. My Mum, in her housecoat, stacked a pile of damp-smelling coal on the hearth and lit the front room fire. We huddled around these tiny, orange flickers for warmth, fanning the flames with silent farts and talking excitedly about Christmas and girls.

And then Doug went. And a lazy Sunday afternoon unfolded. It will have been Oxtail soup and pikelets for dinner, and then – amazingly – live football in the afternoon. 25 years ago today, Liverpool did indeed romp to a 2-0 victory away at Newcastle, with Steve Nicol scoring the opening goal and a last-minute clincher from moustachioed Escape To Victory star John Wark. Me and my Dad will have watched it in the front room, cheering and laughing at the plight of the hapless Geordies. 

Live league football on the telly in the mid-1980s was an amazing rarity, so all credit to ITV for pulling out the stops for this…

Terraces! Jimmy Greaves with brown hair! Joe Fagan smoking a fag on the bench! A soaking wet George Courtney! Tight, wet shorts clinging to flabby, white thighs! Ah, proper football, how I miss you with all my heart…

Oh, and Crossfire – in case you were wondering – is this…

I’d got it for Christmas in (I think) 1981, so by the end of 1984 it was well on the way to being banished to the loft. Two players use the red plastic guns to ping ball bearings across the polished wooden surface in a desperate attempt to steer a wobbly marble into each others’ goalmouths. EVERY SINGLE KID who requested Crossfire for Christmas in 1981 did so on the assumption that this would give them possession of two guns capable of shooting ball bearings huge distances through the air at high velocity.

It didn’t, of course… if you took the guns from their plastic mounts, they just ‘phutted’ the ball bearing onto the carpet like a silent fart or a Kenny Wharton volley (the latter being not quite as powerful as the former)

And then the usual Sunday dinner, and an evening curled up on the front room rug for some classic 1984-vintage weekend TV. And then back into my own bed, with the camp bed stored away for the next time Doug stayed over. Which, oddly, was in 1996. After Doug’s family moved to Australia, in December 1985, we lost contact completely for 11 years. Not a single solitary letter was exchanged. And then, on Boxing Day evening 1996, the phone rang at home… and it was him. Back in the UK for the first time in over a decade. At his Gran’s house in Thornaby.

I was so shocked I could barely speak. We got unfeasibly drunk in the pubs in Yarm High Street, and then staggered back to my parents’ old house. The same house. The same camp bed. Except this time Doug used it, as it was closer to the radiator and the Teesside winter had hit him rather hard. We were 24 years old by then, and it felt like my life had reached a lovely full circle.

And I’ve just realised that this incredibly recent-feeling night is now closer to 1984 than it is to 2009. And life seems even more fleeting than it usually does.

Extracts from Bob’s 1984 Diary… Volume 322

Saturday 17th November 1984

I got up at 8.00, and we got the 8.20 bus to Middlesbrough. I got the ‘Ghostbusters’ book, and after that I got ‘Jet Set Willy’. When I came home I had dinner, then I read Ghostbusters.

After that I went upstairs and sorted out all my tapes, and I came down at 5.00 and had tea. At 5.20 I watched Tripods, then Doug came and we watched Late Late Breakfast Show.

Then we watched Cannon and Ball, and at 8.00 we watched Hi-de-Hi. Then we drew pictures of each other, and at 11.00 we watched Pushing up daisys. We went to bed at 11.30.

Time for a shopping spree! With £16 of my birthday money stuffed precariously into the back pocket of my jeans. I left the remaining 67p in the Maxwell House coffee jar for a rainy day (although, let’s be honest, we’re talking Teesside in November here… we weren’t exactly rubbing in Factor 45 and sipping strawberry daiquiris in the doorway of Uptons)

And so onto the 294 bus with my Mum to hit the bright (well, orange) lights of Middlesbrough. We all knew about Ghostbusters, of course, even though the film itself hadn’t been released in the UK… but we’d heard Ray Parker Jnr’s theme song, watched the video and read about the buzz in America, where the film had been a sensational summertime smash (Does the obligatory 1980s six-month wait between US and UK cinema releases still happen, or does everything get a simultaneous release now? I remember the wait to see Star Wars in a British cinema being almost unbearable… it came out in May 1977 in the US, but didn’t see it until January 1978)

Anyway, naturally the only way to quench my desire for some Ghostbustin’ action was to… erm, buy the novelisation of the film and have every single surprise and gag completely sprung for me a month in advance. I ain’t afraid of no spoiler…

And then Jet Set Willy!!! MINE!!!! A long-standing ambition finally fulfilled. We never got too hung up about Christmas presents being a huge surprise in my house (mainly because I’d end up screaming and slapping my head if I got the ‘wrong thing’) and so I’d known for a couple of months that the ZX Spectrum 48K computer I’d  been lusting after for years would soon be coated in lurid Santa wrapping paper and stuffed underneath our plastic Woolworths tree.  So where was the harm in thinking ahead and buying the BEST COMPUTER GAME IN THE WORLD EVER????

Seriously, I really can’t describe how I felt when I handed over my £7.99* in the Middlesbrough branch of Boots (downstairs, past the photography department and the HP11 batteries) and received that iconic, impossibly exciting cassette case in a tiny polythene bag.  I felt giddy and light-headed, as though my life was now utterly complete, and anything that could possibly happen to me in the next 70-odd years of my existance had suddenly ceased to have any meaning (unless I was cast as the 11th Doctor Who, of course… that might just top it. Little did I know, of course, that by the time the 11th Doctor Who was cast, I’d be far too bloody old for the job)

(*I’m guessing at the RRP here. Does anyone have any idea at all how much ZX Spectrum games cost in 1984? I’ve got an absolute mental blank on this)

I fondled, caressed and fingered Jet Set Willy* all the way home on the bus, and then spent the afternoon alternating between reading Ghostbusters (which is written, oddly, entirely in the present tense… ‘Venkman raises a quizzical eyebrow at the First Year Student sitting across the table’ etc. I remember being really baffled by this when I first opened the book, and wondered briefly if I’d actually got a defective copy) and ‘sorting out all my tapes’.

(*Stop giggling at the back)

Which this actually meant, of course, was that all my previous tapes (filled with recordings of muffled TV soundtracks, snippets of the Radio 1 Top 40 countdown and me and Paul Frank attempting to break wind into the tiny condenser microphone of a portable cassette recorder from Curry’s) were stuffed under the bed, and their cardboard box accomodation cleared to make way for MY NEW COLLECTION OF ZX SPECTRUM GAMES. Truly, this was the end of childhood and the beginning of adolescent geekdom.

And then, just when the day couldn’t possibly get any more exciting, my best mate Doug arrived to stay the night. Trundling up to the back gate on his BMX, wrapped in his brown Parka and sporting his usual mischievious grin. We spent the night in front of the telly, making filthy in-jokes that my parents would never understand, and then – I’m sure – being allowed to sip a couple of glasses of my Dad’s home-made white wine as the clock ticked excitingly towards 11pm and Channel 4’s late-night comedy output became deliriously risque.

I’ve mentioned it before, but the prospect of staying up until 11pm and beyond was truly uncharted territory for me before the Autumn of 1984, and made me feel excitingly grown-up and responsible. Watching Hale and Pace doing ‘Der Management’ on Pushing Up Daisies while the coal fire threw an orange glow around the room, and my parents exchanged the occasional ‘Is he OK to be watching this?’ glance at each other. The fact that Doug was there as well only added an extra layer of thrills to the whole experience… we didn’t feel like kids any more, we felt like BLOODY BLOKES.

And when I say went to bed at 11.30pm, you can take it as read that we stayed awake long into the wee hours… farting, talking muck and giggling relentlessly in the gloom. Doug took my usual bed, and I collapsed on a camp bed beside it, with Jet Set Willy within touching distance in its cardboard box beside me. And I think, at about the turn of midnight, we discovered that any felt tip pen marks that we left on my Star Wars wallpaper were easily washed off with a damp piece of toilet paper.

I’m sure you can guess what Han Solo was doing to Princess Leia by the time we settled down to sleep at 2am.

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!