Wiffle Lever To Full!

Daleks, Death Stars and Dreamy Sci-Fi Nostalgia…

Extracts from Bob’s 1984 Diary… Volume 361

Wednesday 26th December 1984

I got up at 10.00, and I played Atic Atac. Then I played Chequered Flag with mam. At 12.00 I had dinner, then I played Chequered Flag again. At 1.30 Dad and I walked the dogs around Saltergill and Kirklevington.

When we got back I played Atic Atac, and after that I typed in a game called ‘Digger’. At 8.15 I saw Minder, and then I played Atic Atac till Dave Allen at 10.10. I went to bed at 10.45.

Boxing Day always was and – I guess – always will be a strange day. It doesn’t have the instant, giddy, headrush of excitement that Christmas Day brings when you’re a kid… the big explosion of adrenalin that reaches a crescendo at 8am  as you race downstairs to see the garish jumble of presents beneath the tree. And equally, neither does it have the big, ceaseless procession of ‘stuff’ – relatives, TV, Christmas dinner and unpalatable puddings – that that makes the whole day pass in a strange, breathless whirlwind of activity.  It’s an oddly sober, thoughtful day… taken at a leisurely pace, and filled with the gentle richness of contented family life. It’s like waking up the morning after the wildest party of the year and feeling slightly sorry that it’s all over, but also a little relieved that you can have a little sandwich and a cup of tea rather than your 20th After Eight of the evening washed down with your 15th glass of QC Cream.

Obviously none of these thoughts entered my head for a single second 25 years ago today. The only thought that troubled me ALL SODDING DAY went ‘ZX Spectrum! ZX Spectrum! ZX Spectrum! ZX Spectrum! ZX Spectrum! ZX Spectrum! ZX Spectrum!’ Yes, 24 hours into Sir Clive Sinclair’s dastardly bid to commandeer my every waking hour, and the novelty of my main Christmas present was a long way from wearing off. If I’m honest, the Spectrum’s hold over my affections didn’t really wane until the Summer of 1988 (when I callously dumped it for the infinitely more manly pursuit of, erm, Dungeons and Dragons…)

Anyway, Chequered Flag was one of a bundle of six free games that came with the ZX Spextrum 48K during the mid 1980s, and it looked like this…

Apologies if the adrenaline rush from watching this high-octane video makes you feel a bit light-beaded!

Yep, it was a pretty basic racing game (lacking, amongst other things, the complicating factor of other cars being on the road), but it was oddly addictive and I clearly remember my Mum and I playing on this for quite a long time on this cold, clear December morning. ‘I actually really like this one…’ said my Mum, as she guided the Formula 1 car around another blocky patch of oil, and I had to agree – even though, to me, the game was a far cry from the compulsive ‘blink and you’ve snuffed it’ madness of Atic Atac.

And I also remember our walk! While my Mum and Gran stayed at home (carving the remains of our labrador-sized turkey into chunky white sandwiches that – squashed together with cold stuffing – remained our staple diet for the next two days) my Dad and I pulled on our coats and took Poggy Doggy and Poggles Ponsonby on a bracing tramp around the countryside.  Walking the two miles from our house along the frost-covered grass verge of the main road before delving off into the rambling, bare hedgerows and bracken of the country lanes that wound past Saltergill Residential School (or ‘the Bad Lads School’ as it was still shamefully known to us snooty Conyerites) and into Kirklevington village.  

It was the first time I’d really been out of doors for about 48 hours, and my Dad and I will have passed a gentle hour and a half talking nonsense in our shared surreal, saracastic sense of humour while the dogs yelped at wandering pheasants and the excitement and intensity of the festive period evaporated into a completely white sky above. There was a thick frost on the ground, but an overwhelming freshness all around, and I clearly remember consciously feeling very different and much more grown-up than I had done the previous Christmas.

I also – slightly embarrassingly – remember on this walk making a conscious mental decision to FIND A GIRLFRIEND in 1985, clearly deciding that it was high time I demonstrated my new-found maturity by settling down and starting a family of my own. I think something about the fresh, cold air and the stark newness of the onrushing springtime just put me in a romantic mood. And clearly the best way to attract a fresh-faced young lady to accompany me through the unknown territory of my teenage years was to… erm, go home and spend the next five hours playing Atic Atic by myself on the Spectrum.

An interesting approach, but one – with the benefit of hindsight – unlikely to bear fruit. Everyone knew all the best mid-80s tottie were only interested in men who could play Sabre Wulf and Knight Lore.

And then – as darkness descended – another raft of turkey sandwiches were produced and me and my Gran settled down in front of the TV and my parents decided to escape the continual bleeps and bloops of my ZX Spectrum by heading into Yarm for a few pints in the old Cross Keys. My Dad wearing his smartest trousers and jumper (and his blue coat) and my Mum being followed around the house by a gentle waft of perfume that – if I caught a whiff of it again today – would undoubtedly transport me instantly back to those mid-1980s Saturday nights, bracing myself for a night in front of Juliet Bravo and Match Day while my parents chugged John Smiths’ Bitter in the snug.

They were back in time to catch most of Dave Allen… another of those late-night comedy shows that reminded me that I really wasn’t a kid any more. My parents settled back into the front room as Dave was in full swing on his traditional high chair with a large scotch balanced precariously on the table next to him. Here’s a clip from that very show…

I vividly remember watching this with a glass of home-made wine and a turkey sandwich on the go. And getting something from Dave Allen than I still get from the above clip… the clear impression that I was listening to a PROPER ADULT doing comedy – a grown, mature man who’d lived and loved and made mistakes and was happy to share it with us viewers in a loveably world-weary fashion. It’s something that I really get from comedians these days… I like lots of modern comedy, but often can’t shake the fact that I’m frequently watching – well, overgrown kids. Many of whom have never got over the ‘whimsical student talking rubbish’ phase of their lives.

Dave Allen was absolutely of my parents generation, and his comedy came from that level of experience… and I loved that. It seemed thrillingly adult to the 12-year-old me, and it still does to my 37-year-old self. Even though, in the above clip, he’s barely ten years older than I am now. My parents had seen Dave Allen playing at the local clubs in the 1960s – Tito’s in Stockton and the Marimba in Middlesbrough – and his whole persona seemed part and parcel of that mystical, evasive adult work of smoke and beer… and jokes about sex and politics and religion.

In fact, I distinctly remember my Mum laughing at the ‘do you smoke after making love’ joke in the above clip and saying ‘That’s an old joke Dave… you were doing that when we saw you in the sixties!’

Great stuff though, and – as is often the case – I’d love to see a proper DVD release. I’d also like to point out that I always think there’s something thrillingly mature about a man talking with his legs crossed and a tiny glimpse of bare flesh visible between the top of his sock and the bottom of his trouser leg. This might just be me, though.


  Thing wrote @

I do remember, as it happens, people writing angry letters to the Radio Times after that Dave Allen edition, complaining it had been too rude, and that they’d been embarrassed about it after letting their kids stay up late to watch it as a treat.

Having missed that edition myself, although I remember reading the Radio times interview with him promoting it, I’m just trusting it didn’t corrupt you too much. 🙂

  bobfischer wrote @

Blimey, is that right? I can’t remember anything too fruity in the show, just a general air of ‘this is proper grown-up comedy’. It was on from 9.55pm – 10.45pm, so it shouldn’t have been much of a surprise to anyone!

I think I remained uncorrupted (not for long, though… my Pepsi and Shirley obsession reached its full height in 1985)

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