Wiffle Lever To Full!

Daleks, Death Stars and Dreamy Sci-Fi Nostalgia…

Extracts from Bob’s 1984 Diary… Volume 359

Monday 24th December 1984


I got up at 8.00, and we went to Yarm. At 9.00 we went back home and at 9.30 we went to Middlesbrough. I bought ‘Alchemist’ from Debenhams, and at 12.00 we came back and had dinner.

I wrapped up some presents, and at 3.10 I saw Return of the Pink Panther. At 5.15 I had tea, and at 5.25 I saw the last Box of Delights. Then I went out till 7.00, when I took the presents downstairs and saw One of our dinosaurs is missing.

At 8.30 I saw Only Fools and Horses, then I went in the shower. I went to bed at 11.00.

Christmas Eve! One of the weirdest days of the year… hugely exciting and deathly boring at the same time, a day ready to explode with the sheer gut-bursting brilliance of what was to follow, and yet those seconds and minutes were ticking by with a reluctance that was almost painful. 

And I loved it. My Mum and I will have gone to Yarm to ‘get a few bits’ (Harvey’s Bristol Cream, chocolate liqueurs, sprouts,  spare baubles and novelty dog treats from Margaret at the Pet Shop) and then, once home, dived straight back outside to the bus stop for a whistle-stop visit to Middlesbrough. And Middlesbrough on Christmas Eve was AMAZING. There was frost on the pavements, the Salvation Army brass band were playing ‘Once In Royal David’s City’ outside Binns department store, and the town buzzed with a sparkling, exciteable tension. There were pensioners in British Home Stores creating rugby scrums to fight for handkerchief and sock sets, and even Salmonella Sid – flogging hot dogs from his mobile stall outside Littlewoods (a position he’d held since at least 1876) – had a little spring of holly on his crumpled white overall.

So, in preparation for the arrival of the now-legendary ZX Spectrum, I dragged my grinning mother into Debenhams and spent the last vestiges of my birthday money on ‘Alchemist’, a game that – quite frankly – would transpire to be pretty crap, but I didn’t know that at the time…

And then back home to spend the afternoon around the coffee table in the front room, an enclave of warmth and family fun on a freezing afternoon. My Gran will have been in her favourite chair by the sliding door, sipping Harvey’s Bristol Cream and knitting. My Mum will have been on the settee with a kitchen bowl on her knee, doing something terrible and ungodly to sprouts. My Dad will have been cracking walnuts with a gigantic, terrifying metal contraption (it looked like a cross between a 1960s Doctor Who monster and an instrument of Nazi torture) and feeding the resulting mush to a snuffling Poggy Doggy. And I’ll have been making a bloody awful pig’s ear of wrapping the last of our presents (Brut 33 for Uncle Trevor, that kind of thing… he liked it with a dash of tonic over Christmas dinner) in the most garish, lurid wrapping paper imagineable. So far as 1980s wrapping paper manufacturers were concerned, the sun would never set on 1973.

What fabulous Christmas Eve TV as well… Return of the Pink Panther was the big afternoon movie on ITV, and is probably the funniest of the all the Pink Panther films. And, although I don’t mention it in my diary, we switched over in time to catch the end of the Christmas Blue Peter while we ate our teas… Simon Groom, Janet Ellis and Michael Sundin lighting the final candle on the legendary Advent Crown (a contraption made from coat hangers, tinsel and burning, naked flames – it was the 1980s! Bollocks to Health & Safety!!!) before ‘our old friends from the Chalk Farm Salvation Army Band’ marched live up the road to TV Centre and into the studio through those giant double doors. Thus summing up pretty much every childhood TV Christmas from about 1972-1985 in one fell swoop, and just writing about it now brings a lump to my throat.

The final, brilliant episode of The Box of Delights, and then – yay!!! Bringing the presents downstairs!!!

Throughout my early childhood, when ‘Father Christmas’ (never ‘Santa’ in our house) still loomed large over all our lives, the story went that – yes, although my parents bought our Christmas presents themselves, they were then whisked away magically to the North Pole so that F. Christmas Esq could transport them on his sleigh with the rest of the 60 billion presents he had to deliver on that magical night. And so, when I went to bed on Christmas Eve, the carpet underneath the tree in the front room would still be frustratingly bare (apart from a few half-eaten bits of walnut and some dog hair) and it was only when I charged out of bed on Christmas morning that I was able to drink in the glorious spectacle of lumpen, piled-up presents of all shapes and sizes wrapped in virtually luminous paper (and a few half-eaten bits of walnut and some dog hair) in a gorgeous, heart-stopping mess that stretched from the edge of the settee to the far reaches of the skirting board.  

I can’t remember when this charming little charade changed into ‘Oh sod it, he really doesn’t believe in Father Christmas any more’, but I’m going to hazard a guess at 1982, when I was 10. Although I think 1981 was the first year that I REALLY didn’t believe in Father Christmas any more (which is odd, as – looking back – 1981 now seems like the Christmassiest Christmas of my whole childhood. Maybe the truth had liberated me!) Anyway, the new routine was now for me and my Mum to transport all of the family presents from the bottom of my parents wardrobe to the front room at some stage on Christmas Eve, on a strict proviso of ‘NO MESSING ABOUT WITH THEM OR TRYING TO PEEL AWAY BITS OF THE PAPER’. As we did this, I absolutely, truly, vividly remember the opening sequences to ‘One of our Dinosaurs is Missing’ blaring out from the TV… BBC1’s big evening film, and one of the greatest British casts of all time – Derek Nimmo! Joan Sims! Bernard Bresslaw! Roy Kinnear! Deryck Guyler! Jon Pertwee! Amanda Barrie! Max Wall! And (ahem) a yellowed-up Peter Ustinov. I’ve got a feeling we’d actually watched this as a ‘sit down and shut up’ Christmas treat at Levendale Primary School the previous Christmas, so it’s now a film that’s inextricably associated with the festive period for me. 

And there we were, set for the night… me, my Mum, my Dad, my Gran and a repeat of Only Fools and Horses. I think my parents probably nipped into Yarm High Street for a couple of cheeky Christmas pints at the Cross Keys, while I burbled meaninglessly to my endlessly patient Gran about Jet Set Willies and ZX Spectrums. And then they’ll have returned, stinking exotically of John Smiths Bitter, London gin and other people’s cigarette smoke as the dogs twittered excitedly around their ankles.

And we’ll have dished out another round of Harvey’s Bristol Cream as my Gran sang gently along to Val Doonican’s Very Special Christmas, with guests Englebert Humperdinck, Pam Ayers and The Cambridge Buskers… and BBC weathermen Bill Giles, Jim Bacon and Ian McCaskill performing a special Christmas number. It’s a show that I associate exclusively with Christmas Eves spent with my late Gran, and a yuletide will never pass when I don’t think wistfully of Val Doonican singing ‘Have yourself a merry little Christmas…’ from his rocking chair, possibly accompanied by Gemma Craven in a Victorian bonnet.

(NB At some point during Englebert Humperdink’s performance, the following conversation will have taken place in our front room…

Mum: ‘Eeeee God, we used to see him at Tito’s and the Fiesta when he was still called Gerry Dorsey…’
Dad: ‘Yes, and he was bloody awful even then…’

They usually managed to get it in within the first thirty seconds, although their senses may have been numbed by John Smiths Bitter, so let’s be generous and say 45)

And then, reluctantly, to bed… although before we do that, let’s have a rare moment of self-indulgence in this blog* and count down…

(*irony, by the way)

1978: I was still staying over at my Gran’s house at this stage, and I left a single sheet of A4 paper sellotaped to the coffee table… essentially a questionnaire for Father Christmas to complete while he mulled over his QC Cream and Pink Wafer Biscuits. The only question I remember writing is ‘How’s Rudolf?’, but – when I awoke on Christmas morning – the whole lot had been answered in writing suspiciously similar to my Uncle Trevor’s. Possibly with a few Harp Lagers from the Endeavour inside him. Rudolf was fine, by the way.

(That’s Vicki Michelle!!!)

1979: Still at my Gran’s, I remember being tucked into bed in the spare room and still managing to shoehorn in a few last minute Christmas present requests ‘in case you bump into Father Christmas later on’. These included a Star Wars Imperial Troop Transporter, and the ‘Father Christmas’ book by Raymond Briggs, which had caused a minor sensation at school by including a picture of a bare-bottomed Santa on the toilet!!! Pffffffft!!!! To be fair, I got them both the next morning, so my Gran must have put in a bloody good word for me that night.

1980: At approximately 5pm, myself and Lisa Wheeldon (from the house round the corner) decided to ‘stake out’ Father Christmas by hiding behind my Gran’s settee all night in the hope of catching him (and Rudolf) in mid-deliver. We lasted until approximately 5.15pm before getting bored and coming out to watch The All-Star Record Breakers. Later that night, we went for a cycle around the block in the crisp, night air, and convinced ourselves we’d seen a sleigh zooming over the horizon towards Thornaby (good luck with that, Santa) The next morning, when I awoke, my Uncle Trevor and his new wife Rose were keen to tell me that they’d seen Father Christmas himself sitting in a Ford Cortina outside the Endeavour pub at 11.30pm. At the time, it seemed utterly magical, and a complete vindication of everything Lisa and I believed in. In retrospect, this may have been the historic moment that Middlesbrough Taxi Drivers actually developed a sense of humour. They’d need it for that tricky late-night fare to Thornaby…

1981: The ultimate Christmas Eve sleepless night. To bed at 10pm, and still awake – without a wink of sleep – at 5.45am. Visions of table football and Star Wars Annuals dancing in my bed. I tried counting sheep, but they all turned into Imperial Stormtrooper action figures in mid-leap. I think I finally managed about two hours fitful slumber before sheer, rank excitement woke me up again at 8pm, and I charged downstairs to see what Father Christmas had brought me (nothing, because he didn’t exist by then, of course…)

1983: With my parents enjoying another traditional ‘cheeky one’ in the Cross Keys, my Gran and I settled in on the settee for some very late-night telly… and I remember watching a splendidly bizarre B-movie called ‘Santa Claus Conquers The Martians’ on Channel 4, introduced (and occasionally interrupted) by an American film expert with an extravagant moustache and a mop of curly hair. Can anyone shed any more light on this, and who he might have been? All the while I was reading a hardback copy of the Doctor Who novelisation ‘The Web of Fear’, borrowed from Levendale Primary School library. I believe it’s now worth enough to pay for all of our family’s Christmas presents put together.

Anyway, GET TO BED!!! And no feeling up your presents (or, indeed, anything else) when your Mum and Dad aren’t looking.

And sincerely – to everyone who reads this rubbish, have a very Merry Christmas!



  Chris Orton wrote @

And a very Merry Christmas to you too Bob!

I can’t wait to find out what presents you got tomorrow twenty-five years ago (!?). I think that it would probably have been Star Wars stuff, Lego and (possibly) Transformers for me – although I’m not sure if they had hit these scores in 1984.

  PJE_UK wrote @

Merry Christams Bob. Really enjoyed reading your diary extracts and comments over the last 12 months. Great Stuff !

As an only child growing up in Billingham in the mid-80s a lot of what you write is quite familiar to me and getting me feeling quite nostaglic over a christmas Vodka.

  bobfischer wrote @

Thanks gents! All the best to you both. Just about to settle down with a Harvey’s Bristol Cream myself… might log in late tonight to make sure no-one’s snaffled Santa’s mince pie.

  Thing wrote @

Yes indeed, and a Merry Christmas Bob. All this is helping to remind me of what I was doing and thinking of at the same time too.

  Chris Byers wrote @

Just thought I would send a quick message and wish you a very merry Christmas Bob.

  bobfischer wrote @

Thanks gents – all the best to you, too! 🙂

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