Wiffle Lever To Full!

Daleks, Death Stars and Dreamy Sci-Fi Nostalgia…

Extracts from Bob’s 1984 Diary… Volume 341

Thursday 6th December 1984

I got up at 8.00, then DOUG came and we went to school. First was SCIENCE, then MUSIC and GEOG. At 12.00 I had dinner, then it was D.T, R.E and merit time in HISTORY. At 3.40 I came home and I had tea, then I watched Grange Hill.

At 6.30 We went into Yarm and I had a look in THE LIBRARY. I came back at 7.30 and I recorded


on Top of the pops. At 8.00 I went out and played on the tarzie, and at 8.30 I watched Zoo 2000. At 9.30 I went to bed to read


Still playing with the format! Here’s my actual diary entry, as carefully scrawled into my now slightly-battered imitation leather journal with a red felt-tip pen exactly 25 years ago tonight…

Not a bad crack at the Top of the Pops logo, I suppose! And Ghostbusters as well… ah, 12 years old and with a mind already completely overwhelmed by the power of corporate branding. I’m surprised I didn’t try to design my own whizzy, multi-purpose logo for Yarm Library as well… a disapproving middle-aged woman peering over the top of a Jilly Cooper paperback, that kind of thing. With ‘YARM LIBRARY’ picked out in jagged letters across the top of her horn-rimmed glasses.

This hasn’t happened very often so far, but I remember the music lesson we had on this day with incredibly evocative vividness. For some reason Doug and I had moved seats from our usual ‘LOOK AT US! LOOK AT US!!!’ position at the front of the class to slap-bang in the centre of the rabble. And the lovely, wild-haired, hippy-dippy Miss Stainsby was playing us extracts from Sergei Prokofiev’s 1933 film soundtrack Lieutenant Kije, continually pressing ‘PLAY’ and ‘STOP’ on the ancient, 1970s ‘Music System’ stacked up in the cupboard next to a pile of Grade 1 Recorder textbooks.  

Including this gorgeous little number…

Yep, ‘Sleigh Ride’, or ‘Troika’ (as Miss Stainsby called it, making us write it down especially in our  notebooks with a violent wiggle of her gargantuan hair). A piece of music I’d heard hundreds of times throughout my childhood, on every TV Christmas special going – from Val Doonican to Blankety Blank to Daffy Duck. Yet, somehow, hearing it in our classroom on a freezing December morning surrounded by my bestest friends, made it sound more Christmassy than it had ever sounded before. 

I think my festive gene truly kicked into gear at this point, and from that moment onwards, Christmas 1984 had STARTED. Just like Snoopy’s kennel becomes his trusty Sopwith Camel, mine and Doug’s desk became a huge, present-laden sleigh, plummeting headlong through towering piles of feathery snow down towards the rustling pines of some mythical, winty forest. With – no doubt – a boxed-up and pristine ZX Spectrum at the bottom of the hill. As the music played, I remember looking out of the classroom window at the frosty school square beneath a slate-grey sky, and swearing I could see the first few flakes of snow dancing their way gently into the gutter outside the DT department.

Thankfully, some genuine 1984 school oikery was swiftly at hand to rescue me from my ambling daydreams. I can’t pinpoint the day exactly, but it was certainly in the run-up to Christmas 1984 that the entire first year at Conyers school were asked to partake in a charming little charity project.

The school, laudably, had linked up with Dr Barnados to raise a few quid for orphaned children, and each of us had been personally presented with a booklet entitled ‘Sunny Smiles’. Just a pocket-sized pad of 30 square tickets, each featuring the photograph of an ultra-cute Barnados kid with a beaming, irresistable grin. The idea being that we sell each ‘Sunny Smile’ to our friends and relatives for 10p each, thus raising a nifty £3 per pupil for charity.

However, one member of class 1CW decided that ‘Sunny Smiles’ weren’t really this thing, and that his booklet needed spicing up a bit. Inspired by his pre-pubescent love of horror films and zombie flicks, he grabbed a black felt-tip pen and gleefully rebranded his booklet as the somewhat less savoury ‘SUNNY DEATHS’… with each innocent childish face now featuring blacked-out eyes, bolts through the neck, axe wounds across the forehead (complete with Frankenstein-style stitches) and blood and maggots oozing from every orifice. 

For a couple of days it was the subject of much hilarity amongst the boys of 1cw, and was passed around during form classes to a mounting chorus of stifled giggles as a baffled Miss Wilson read our names from the register. Eventually, however, it fell into the hands of a right-minded female member of the class… who was so appalled that she grassed us all up.

I know, because I saw it happen! ‘Miss, have you seen the Sunny Smiles that XXXXXXX XXXXX is passing round?’ she gasped, breathlessly, in a secluded corner of our form rom. ‘It’s absolutely disgusting, he’s blacked out all the kids’ eyes and drawn maggots on them and everything…’

Needless to say, said booklet was swiftly confiscated and examined at close quarters by a crack Conyers School Ethical Committee (Miss Wilson, with Mr Fyfe from the German department peering over her shoulder) before the culprit was told, in no uncertain terms, that he was AN ABSOLUTE DISGRACE, AND THAT IT WAS A SAD REFLECTION ON HIS MORAL STANDARDS THAT SUCH A LAUDABLE ATTEMPT TO RAISE MONEY FOR A VERY WORTHWHILE CHARITY HAD BEEN DEFILED IN THIS WAY.

I’ve been in two minds whether to name the guilty party or not, but I think the quality of the artwork involved has swayed me, and I’ll proudly say that if Stephen Mason isn’t currently making a damn good living illustrating bloodthirsty American graphic novels for 21st century teenage boys, then it’s a terrible waste of a sensational talent.



  Chris Orton wrote @

“with Mr Fyfe from the German department peering over her shoulder”.

Naturally, I mis-read this sentence.

I’m certain that we did the Barnados thing at some point too. We were always being given tickets to try to flog off to unsuspecting parents and neighbours. And sponsorship forms for various events. I remember that we had some kind of sponsorship scheme for an appeal that our school was doing for victims of leprosy in Conakry, Guinea. You can’t think of things like this even being done in the old-fashioned way now. It’ll all be “tweet your support, then visit the website to make a donation via PayPal” these days. I mean, how is that better than tearing out a ticket from a crumpled book and collecting the donations yourself in a Barclays Bank plastic money bag? Just not the same…

  bobfischer wrote @

Your teachers tried to get grotty teenage oiks to raise money for victims of LEPROSY? Good god, they were brave. The very mention of leprosy at Conyers was enough to get gangs of 12-year-old limping theatrically around the corridors pretending their arms were falling off. ‘What do you get if you throw a leper into a swimming pool?’ ‘Porridge’.

And so on, and so on…

  Thing wrote @

‘Troika’ is of course also used in the arrangement of Greg Lake’s I Believe In Father Christmas, from 1975, and Woody Allen’s film Love And Death, also from 1975, uses it frequently as well, including the end credits, which it plays over, if I remember rightly.

You were leading us on to believe you were the culprit at school, weren’t you?

  bobfischer wrote @

I love Woody Allen, but I’ve never seen Love and Death! Huge gap in my DVD collection… I’ll get round to it sooner or later.

And I wasn’t leading you on, honest! I never thought of it that way. I’ll take the credit if you think it worked, though. 🙂

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