Wiffle Lever To Full!

Daleks, Death Stars and Dreamy Sci-Fi Nostalgia…

Extracts from Bob’s 1984 Diary… Volume 349

Friday 14th December 1984

I got up at 8.00, then Doug and Gaz came and we went to school. First was country dancing, then French and geog. At 12.00 I had dinner, then it was Maths, Music and Science.

At 3.20 I came home and I went to the dentist. Then I had a look at the Spectrum games, and at 5.00 I came home and had tea.

At 7.00 I saw Blankety Blank, at 7.30 I watched What a carry on, at 8.00 I watched Play your cards right, at 9.00 I saw Tell the Truth and at 11.00 I went to bed.

A day I remember with huge fondness and clarity, and not just because I nicked out of Mr Warren’s science class 20 minutes early!

Regular readers will remember that, since early October, I’d been wearing a modest dental brace to reign in the vampire-like incisors that protruded from beneath my top lip. Much to my disapproval, obviously… I really liked having an alien, other-worldly quality to my tussy-pegs, and – in my head – I was Doctor Who’s first-ever 12-year-old vampire companion, whirling around the galaxy (or, more accurately, the side garden) fighting Cybermen by the coal bunker and occasionally glugging Poggy Doggy’s blood in a darkened corner of the TARDIS console room.

But this – brilliantly – was The Day The Brace Came Off, and presuamably the only dental appointment free was at 4.15pm or somesuch in Keith Herren’s homely surgery on the outskirts of Stockton. My Dad was working at the time, so my Mum and I needed to catch the 3.35pm bus from the dilipidated shelter by the frozen beck outside Crossroads Garage. School finished at 3.40pm, so an Official Note from my Mum will have been handed to both Miss Wilson and Mr Warren, and – at 3.20pm – I shrugged into my grey ski jacket and bid a cheeky farewell to Chris Byers and Jo Spayne, busily attaching electrodes to Ian Griffiths in the corner of the Conyers School science lab.

‘Where are you going, have you had enough?’ asked Chris with a sarcastic smile.

‘Yep,’ I nodded. ‘I’m bored now and I’m walking out’. I didn’t bother telling them about my dental appointment, and for about 30 seconds I was the Coolest Kid In School. Until Stephen Mason grassed me up, the rotter.

I can’t remember the appointment itself really, just the utter relief as Mr Herren – a genial Geoffrey Palmer-lookalike with twinkling eyes – told me that my teeth were ‘looking rather nice’ and ‘I think we can do without the brace from now on’. With the smell of Dettol, nitrous oxide and rank terror still lingering in my nostrils, I made my usual six-monthly appointment and theatrically clicked my heels on the way back down the drive. Then promptly fell arse over breakfast on a passing terra cotta flowerpot.

And then my Mum and I walked the half-mile into Stockton High Street, and… wow. Christmas had officially arrived. This is the part I remember with glorious clarity, turning the corner past the Evening Gazette building and emerging onto the busy, bustling, main thoroughfare, with a glorious, gaudy, whirling maelstrom of Christmas lights screaming into a violet evening sky. The pavements sparkled with twinkling frost, and a few brave snowflakes twisted through a haze of flickering orange streetlights. Buses roared along the High Street, smart girls in work clothes tottered out of offices, and Christmas shoppers streamed like ants through brightly-lit doorways filled with sparkly goodness. The windows of Dixons were festooned with ZX Spectrums and VHS video recorders, and the flashing lights of WH Smiths called to me like a beacon.

We bought the Christmas Radio Times from Smiths. 60p change from my Mum’s purse, and 160 pages that meant CHRISTMAS STARTED HERE. We read it waiting for the 294 bus home, and our breath hung heavy in a low, settling mist. John Craven’s Christmas Back Pages. A wealth of festive fun from Les Dawson and The Grumbleweeds. And the final episode of The Box of Delights, broadcast two days earlier than I expected at 5.25 on Christmas Eve.

I remember standing at the bus stop with the Radio Times flopping open in my hand, angling it one way and another to read the tiny print beneath the flickering orange streetlights. ‘Kay is trapped in the dungeons below. Can he find his magic box and prevent Abner’s terrible plans?’

I’d already had a rummage through the Spectrum games in Boots, and now I was heading home to watch Blankety Blank in the warm, putting circles around my favourite shows and drawing moustaches on Delia Smith.

This was going to be the best Christmas EVER.



  Thing wrote @

There was also a radio adaptation of Asterix in Britain that Christmas, which had a small feature devoted to it in the Radio Times, possibly on John Craven’s Back Pages. Roy Barraclough played Obelix, I think.

And of course, the Ever Decreasing Circles Christmas special was on that year, with all the guests from Paul’s party staying at Martin and Anne’s. One of the best episodes they did, I think. There was also the Just Good Friends special, shortly after the series had apparently finished for good, although in the event, they did do a further series a couple of years later, which was a prequel to the whole thing and had Vince and Penny meeting at a Rolling Stones concert.

I remember noticing with some interest, although didn’t actually watch it, that Penelope Keith and Paul Eddington were playing a couple again, this time in a Noel Coward comedy. I think that was this year anyway.

  Dr. Giles Parcel wrote @

The description of Stockton High Street in December is so effective that I felt I was there.

Very alarming for a scientist in his dressing gown, I can assure you.

  bobfischer wrote @

Thing – yep, the little Asterix feature is on John Craven’s Back Pages! Got it in front of me here. The show started on Radio 4 on Christmas Eve.

I love that Ever Decreasing Circles episode, and the Just Good Friends Christmas Special caused a minor kerfuffle in our house on Christmas Night when – in order to watch it – my brand new ZX Spectrum was forcibly removed from the aerial socket in the middle of a game of Atic Atac. Sacrilege!

Dr Parcel – thanks, but I wouldn’t be too alarmed… the last time I spent any time in Stockton, it was full of people shuffling around in dressing gowns. And slippers. The corner shop looked like an overnight pyjama party was just chucking out.

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