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Daleks, Death Stars and Dreamy Sci-Fi Nostalgia…

Archive for December, 2009

Extracts from Bob’s 1984 Diary… Volume 356

Friday 21st December 1984

I got up at 8.00, then Doug and Gaz came and we went to school. It was £PE, then A. At 12.00 I had dinner then it was A and £TP. At 2.30 Gaz and I came back to my house and at 3.00 Gaz went but invited me over tomorrow.

I had tea, then played out for a while. When I came in we did the Xmas cake and at 9.00 I saw Tell the Truth. I went to bed at 9.30. 

£ Free Period
TP Tutor Period
A Assembly

Blimey! Good job I devised that crafty bit of shorthand, otherwise that diary entry would have gone on for EVER!

Anyway… come on, the last day of school before Christmas. Always brilliant fun – filled with games of Dirty Hangman, crafty swigs of cider and fumbled tonguey snogs beneath the mistletoe. And that was just in the staff room. It was a freezing morning when my best mates Doug and Gareth ‘Gazzie’ Jones rolled up at our peeling white back gate, and – if I recall – we walked to school singing selections from Joseph and The Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat. No idea why.

I remember scribbling out last minute Christmas cards in our morning tutor period (or ‘TP’ for those who need to read this in a hurry). At Levendale Primary School we’d had a fabulous kiddy-run ‘post box’ for our cards… basically a cardboard Tudor Crisps box wrapped in bright red ‘crepe paper’* and coated in cotton wool ‘snow’ dabbed in splodges of Copydex. We’d drop clumsily-sealed cards to our schoomates into the slot, and – at the end of every day – a specially-selected school elf (usually Alex James sporting a Santa hat and a dot of red lipstick on his nose) would deliver them carefully around the open-plan classrooms.

(*Any mention of ‘crepe paper’ at Levendale did, of course, result in widespread titterings from the lads because – OBVIOUSLY – it sounded a bit like ‘crap paper’. Pffffffffffffttttt!!! Chortle! Chortle!)

There were no such niceties at Conyers, so I spent the morning working my way through a family pack of 250 Presto Supermarket charity cards (99p the lot), and dropping them awkwardly onto the desks of my classmates. Vague obscenities written into the cards for all the lads, and any of the (yikes!) girls who’d been brave enough to give me a card got an incredibly formal and staid Christmas missive (Dear Debbie, Best Wishes from Robert) in return.  

Anyway, as you can see, a second consecutive day on which NO WORK WHATSOEVER was required in any of our lessons, although I’m intrigued about the ‘Free Period PE’. Can any passing Conyerites remember what we did on this day? Much as I’ve taken the piss out them these last couple of months, Mr Nielsen and Mr Anderson were both utterly top blokes, and I can’t imagine they wouldn’t have arranged a few stupidly fun games for our last PE lesson before Christmas! (Especially as this was Mr Anderson’s last day at Conyers School… he was moving to ‘pastures new’ as he put it, and would be replaced in the New Year by the legendary Ron ‘Any more for Spennymoor’ Ledgerwood) 

And, as you can see, we had no less than two extended assemblies on this day. An hour each, either side of dinnertime! The first of these was the usual first-third year assembly (assemblies were held in our modest school gym, and tended to be split into two groups to accomodate everyone comfortably rather than squashing 1000 sweaty oiks and their associated teachers into a space the size of an average five-a-side football pitch). The other was… well, alright, a full school assembly. Squashing 1000 sweaty oiks and their associated teachers into a space the size of an average five-a-side football pitch. I guess Health and Safety and our local Fire Officer turned a blind eye over the festive period…

The small assembly was far more formal, with our shiny-domed headmaster Mr Metcalfe running through his usual array of announcements, prayers and forecasts of doom, danger and global cataclysm if the person who stole the stuffed weasel from Mrs Holley’s Biology Cupboard didn’t return it with a full apology by the end of school today. One of the announcements, though, concerned us directly – our lovely young form tutor Miss Wilson was getting married over Christmas! And so, when we all returned in the New Year, we’d have to call her by her new name… ‘so get used to having the new Mrs Bush as your form tutor!’ (Cue more widespread titterings from the lads, etc etc…)

During the ‘huge’ assembly, we were treated to a really rather risque Christmas revue, put together by the artier members of the sixth form. A spoof nativity play, the ONLY thing I can remember about it is a running joke in which the Angel Gabriel appeared ‘with a puff’. At which point, said winged messenger would dash onto the stage accompanied by a mincing Mr Humphries-style figure, complete with limp wrist, pursed lips and pink, wide-brimmed hat! I suspect this is a routine unlikely to make it into any 2009 school Christmas production, but – in 1984 – it raised widespread hilarity amongst pupils and staff alike. Come on, we’d been brought up on Are You Being Served? and Larry Grayson’s Generation Game. Cut us some slack here, people.

(Can any 1CW veterans remember any more about this play? I’m sure it went on for quite some time, and I think a few of our teachers might have had cameos in it… I’m sure I remember Mr Maggiore sauntering across the stage in dark glasses, for one! Possibly as an unfeasibly cool Wise Man?) 

This whole latter assembly had a very casual, laid-back feel… lots of in-jokes, bawdiness and heckling from teachers and sixth formers leaning against the ‘apparatus’ on the gym walls. I remember Neil ‘Bov’ Braithwaite’s handsome older brother Ian being singled out by a laughing Mr Dixon as ‘the only sixth former I’ve ever met who has actually claimed a merit mark. I had to sign it for him in his exercise book!’

And – although I didn’t make a habit of looking at our teachers’ legs* – I also recall petite, elfin biology-teaching nutcase Miss Murphy cracking jokes with the front row about her tights… festooned, as they were, with illustrations of holly and snowflakes. Six years later, Miss Murphy (or S’Murph as she became universally known) became our tutor as Mrs Bush went on maternity leave, and the raggle-taggle remnants of 1CW passed into Sixth Form themselves. She was a brilliant laugh, and –  shortly after leaving Conyers – I once got staggeringly drunk with her at a party held in a tennis club bar at Teesside Airport. I’m still pondering on whether my sixth form/university diaries are suitable for publication at any point (probably not…)

(*Unless it was Mr Dillon, obviously)

After this final assembly, we went back to our form class with the future Mrs Bush and, well… just hung around. Chatting amiably, swopping a very few last minute Christmas cards, and squeezing in that last vital third/fourth place play-off game of Dirty Hangman. On the way into the room, I found a sprig of mistletoe on the corridor floor, and scooped it up into my pocket. I hadn’t intended using it for any nefarious kissing (GAGGGH! THE VERY THOUGHT!)… basically, I just liked finding stuff lying about and keeping it for rainy days. Of which, let’s face it, there are no shortage on Teesside. However when I got home, my mother spotted it sticking out of my coat, and became instantly convinced that I was the Hugh Hefner of 1CW, a ladykilling playboy with a roving eye for the fairer sex (just the one – the other one’s glass) and nametags sewn into the back of my silk dressing gown. Utter bollocks of course, although a reasonably accurate description of Alistair Burton.

And then the bell rang! At 2.30pm… an early finish to the school day, engineered – I’m sure – as much to suit our teachers as to please us. I reckon the initial idea was to beat the traffic by stealing a march on the other schools in Yarm, but – inevitably – our rival establishments got wind of this and started finishing their end-of-term days even earlier, in response to which Conyers knocked theirs back a further 15 minutes, and so on and so on until the entire town was caught in some kind of temporal paralysis and had to leave school to go home two hours before the school day actually started. And you try telling that to kids today…

I’m guessing Gareth ‘Gazzie’ Jones had to wait a while to be picked up by his parents, so we shambled giggling back to my house for a while. On the way out of the school grounds, I heard the following shouted exchange between our ultra-cool drama teacher Eric Harrison, and equally ultra-cool 13-year-old scenester Rix ‘Trav’ Jordan…

Rix: Merry Christmas Mr Harrison, are in good shape?
Mr H: And to you Mr Jordan, and yes thanks – I’m great. Youself?
Rix: Fine and dandy, sir… fine and dandy…

I thought this was the funniest, coolest, smartest thing I’d heard for ages, and ‘fine and dandy’ became a little running catchphrase for me over the Christmas of 1984. Rix, by the way, is now the drummer in a rather successful (and brilliant) band called Jarvis Humby, who you can find out more about here… I’ve no idea where Mr Harrison is, but I wish somebody would tell me.

And hands up who really believes that ‘invited me over tomorrow’ as opposed to me just pestering him endlessly until he gave in for the sake of a quiet life? ‘Gaz! Gaz! Gaz! Can I come to your house tomorrow? Gaz! Gaz! Go on! Go on! Gaz! Gaz!’

Nobody? Not a soul? No, me neither. Well come, on… he had a snooker table and a Videopac G7000.

Extracts from Bob’s 1984 Diary… Volume 355

Thursday 20th December 1984

I got up at 8.00 then Doug came and we went to school. It was free Science, Music and geog, then at 12.00 I had dinner. It was free RE, DT and history, and at 3.40 I came home.

I had tea, and at 5.30 I saw Grange Hill. At 6.00 I went outside and played on the tarzie, then we went to Yarm. When we got back we did the Christmas cake marzipan, then we made some presents for the cake.

At 8.00 I saw Commercial Breaks and at 8.30 I saw Zoo 2000. I went to bed at 9.00.

With Christmas a mere five sleeps away, our whole house seemed to be building up to an amazing crescendo of excitement, and I remember this evening with amazing clarity… buzzing around the kitchen, up to my 12-year-old elbows in marzipan, food dye and icing sugar as me and my Mum dug out the pneumatic drills and put a few more finishing touches to the BESTEST CHRISTMAS CAKE THE WORLD HAD EVER SEEN.

It was a night on which even the walls of our house and the trees in the garden seemed to be buzzing with excitement. I remember, as the closing theme music to Grange Hill faded, racing outside to swing around the garden on the tarzie and feeling that everything was just PERFECT in my world. It was a cold, cloudless night, and the moon and stars danced sparkling pirouhettes around our chimney stack as golden shards of light and heat beamed outward from the kitchen window.

And then my Mum popped her head outside into the freezing night air and asked it I ‘wanted to go to Yarm to get a few bits for the cake?’ And, of course, I did. I think – by this stage in the 1980s – a few braver shops had started experimenting with late-night opening on a Thursday, so we all piled into our Reliant Scimitar and rattled a mile down the hill into a bustling Yarm High Street.

My Mum probably came back laden with several hundredweight of industrial-strength marzipan. I think I popped into Boyes, and bought an aerosol can of fake snow to coat our stolen Christmas tree in yet another deluge of highly-flammable material. I remember emerging from the shop front and seeing the twinkling lights of the High Street’s towering Christmas tree surrounded by the unmistakeable purple uniforms of the local Salvation Army band. As I pranced back to the car, a lilting brass rendition of Once In Royal David’s City floated into the night sky, and I felt like I was a character in a film.

And then I spent the night making a bloody nuisance of myself in the kitchen. Scoffing chunks of marzipan when my Mum wasn’t looking, nibbling bits from of the gorgeous, fruit-laden Christmas cake and tormenting the dogs with the pipe-cleaner decorations I’d made over the previous few nights… a brown, red-nosed reindeer (completely with boggly, cartoon eyes drawn with felt-tips on circles of cut-out paper) and a red, slightly wonky sleigh to be half-buried in the ‘snow’ of my Mum’s impressively solid wall of icing. The ‘presents’ were little cubes of marzipan, dyed with red and green food dye, to go on the back of the sleigh. I arsed around and wittered on with my usual cack-handed excitement, but paid extraordinary, obsessive attention to all the tiny details. Something I’ve never grown out of, really.

And my one, abiding, glorious, evocative memory of all this ludicrously cosy stuff is an odd one… as we toiled away joyfully, we left the lounge and dining room doors wide open to allow the burblings of the telly and the warm glow of the roaring coal fire to drift out to us in the kitchen. And, with the smell of marzipan hanging heavily in the air, me and my Mum both sang along gleefully to Paul McCartney’s ‘We All Stand Together’.

Yep, the bloody Frog Chorus! I’ve treasured this strange little memory for years, but couldn’t remember which show we must have been listening to, as – unusually – it isn’t recorded in my diary. I’ve just been utterly thrilled to discover, though, that it absolutely MUST have been lovely old Top of the Pops… presented, on this occasion, by Simon Bates and Janice Long.

• Band Aid – Do They Know Its Christmas [Promo Video]
• Bronski Beat – It Ain’t Necessarily So [Performance]
• Council Collective – Soul Deep [Performance]
• Foreigner – I Want To Know What Love Is [Promo Video]
• Paul McCartney & The Frog Chorus – We All Stand Together [Promo Video]
• Roy Wood – I Wish It Could Be Xmas Everyday [Performance]
• Spandau Ballet – Round & Round [Promo Video]
• Thompson Twins – Lay Your Hands On Me [Performance]

Sneer all you like, Beatles saddos, ‘We All Stand Together’ is a gorgeous song. It’s Macca at his most whimsical, and childlike, and beguiling, and hearing this single (and watching the above video) will never, ever, ever fail to bring back in a giddy, overwhelming rush, the magic of this simple night at home and the unbearable excitement of Christmas 1984. My parents, and that house, and our dogs and Doug and my Gran and that bloody ZX Spectrum… it’s all in there. Standing together. Forever. Magical.

Extracts from Bob’s 1984 Diary… Volume 354

Wednesday 19th December 1984

I got up at 8.00, then Gaz came and we went to school. It was free Art, History and Maths, and at 12.00 I had dinner. At 1.00 it was free French and free English, and after Science I came home.

I had tea, then at 5.00 I saw le boite of delights. At 5.30 I saw le bien life, and at 6.00 I wrapped a present.

At 7.00 I went outside, at 8.00 I saw DALLAS and at neuf trente je went to  bed.

More Gallic flair! Quelle surprise.

I’m not sure why I’m boldly claiming in this diary entry that my Maths lesson was another free period, when – in reality – Mrs Clark Without The E was still resolutely sticking to her (frankly ludicrous) principles that if we were in school, in a classroom, during lesson time, then it wasn’t unreasonable to actually do a bit of work. And, as my old Gran used to say, the proof of the… erm… Christmas pudding is in the… erm, cutting out and pasting together…

It’s taken me a while to work out what this actually is, but I’m guessing we drew a circle with our compasses (Ian ‘Faz’ Farrage’s still coated with Jonathan ‘Nobby’ Haworth’s dried blood), divided it into segments with our Shatterproof rulers, then cut these out and pasted them side-by-side in our exercise books to determine (ta-daaaa!) ‘The Area of a Circle’. Merry f***ing Christmas, kids.

Looking at those segments now, they just fill me with an insatiable desire to eat a Terry’s Chocolate Orange, and I can’t imagine my reaction was any different in 1984. It’s a good job we didn’t do equilateral triangles as well, I’d have been desperate for a Toblerone by 11.30am.

Thankfully for all of our respective sanities, the rest of the day descended into the now-customary Free Period madness, and – when not concocting new reams of obscenities, filth and offensiveness with Messrs Simpson, Farrage, Burton et al – I remember spending a lot of time drawing cartoons in my ‘Rough Book’. As far as I recall, my artistic inspiration around this time came from two main sources…

1. Mr Purvis. Probably the easiest teacher in the school to draw, Mr Purvis remains one of the most likeable and genuinely eccentric people I’ve ever met. The fact that I was drawing pictures of him in my first year at Conyers, BEFORE HE’D EVER TAUGHT ME, is testament to his legend. He was hilariously funny, a dead ringer for the late Robin Cook MP, and – when he finally taught me French during my second and third year at Conyers – became most famous for his impromptu ‘tests’, which would never varied too much from the following barmy format…

‘For questions 1-9, I’d like you to tell me, in French, something exciting and spiritually uplifting that you did during your half-term holiday. For question 10, I’d like you to turn over your answer sheet and draw me a one-eyed giraffe playing chess with an astronaut on the deck of an Edwardian sailing ship during a total eclipse of the sun’.

I’m not exaggerating this for comic effect, we’d have a different one of these to scribble at the end of every French test. Naturally I loved it, and I wish I’d kept them all. He’s also responsible for one of my favourite laugh-out loud teacher moments, when he caught me (at the slightly embarrassing age of 17) drawing a carefully-crafted picture of Middlesbrough striker Bernie Slaven on my French A-Level folder during a lesson of ‘silent revision’.

‘Oooh, that’s pretty,’ he cooed. ‘Who is it, Adolf Hitler?’

It’s in the fringe, I suppose.

(If any passing former Conyerites can remember any more of Mr Purvis’ surreal artistic challenges, please post them up – we should build up a database of these!)

2. Moo Cardy. I’ll have to ask my Dad about this, but – as far as I can remember – Moo Cardy was a kind of bogeyman figure who was purpoted to have stalked the streets of Sunderland during the 1940s Wearside childhood of his friend Ray Pearson. Ray was another charming eccentric, and grew up to be a respected singer-songwriter who, in the 1960s, appeared on the Des O’Connor show and lent his jacket to Kenny Lynch.

I was entranced by this, and repeatedly drew Moo Cardy as a sinister, grinning seven-foot figure in a white cowl who would creep around the darkened streets and hide in childrens’ wardrobes. I’m lodging the worldwide rights as we speak, there’s a 26-part CBBC series in this.

Extracts from Bob’s 1984 Diary… Volume 353

Tuesday 18th December 1984

I got up at 8.00, then Doug and Gaz came and we went to school. It was English, then a free RE, then a free English, followed by a free Drama.

At 12.00 I came home and had dinner, then when I went back it was French, Maths and free HE. At 3.40 I came home and had tea and at 5.10 I saw Star Trek.

At 6.00 I rewrapped Chris’s present, then we bagged £30 of money. At 8.30 I went outside and at 9.00 I came in and wrote my diary.

Yay! Our free periods start in earnest. Our teachers would initially attempt to waffle some vague reasoning into this outbreak of Demob Happiness… ‘Weeeeelll, we’ve worked so hard this term that we’ve finished this topic already, and there’s no point in starting another one now…’ but, even to our 12-year0ld selves, it was perfectly obvious that they’d planned this all along and just fancied – eseentially – a week off with their feet on their desks while we arsed about in our classrooms doing… well, whatever we liked, really. Within the limits of the law, British decency and Mr Flynn not spotting the compass point being gently inserted into Jonathan Haworth’s left buttock.

As far as I can remember, our teachers spent our Free Periods done one of three things…

1. Reading. It tended to be the Daily Mirror for the History and Geography lot (come on, it had ‘Garth’ and the Quizword), and The Guardian for the more right-on English and Arty set. Then the Daily Mail in Maths and Music and ‘Mein Kampf’ in the PE department.

2. Chatting. Yes, amazingly, we discovered during some of these Free Periods that our teachers were – by and large – pretty nice people who, when they weren’t taking out Stephen Mason from 15 yards with a lazer-precision board rubber assault – were happy to talk like (hey!) normal people. The king of this was our Drama teacher Eric Harrison, one of the finest men I’ve ever met, and a teacher who would happily while away a genial hour talking about everything from Mott the Hoople to Monty Python to International Socialism. I really wish I could find him just to say hello and send him a copy of Wiffle Lever to Full.

3.  Taking out Stephen Mason from 15 yards with a lazer-precision board rubber assault. Well come on, that game of Dirty Hangman was getting FAR too rowdy for its own good. GROW UP!!!

Not sure why I ‘rewrapped Chris’s present’, but Chris was (and is) undoubtedly my cousin, the son of my now unfeasibly famous Uncle Trevor. He was born in March 1982, so he would have been a few months short of his third birthday at this stage. We’d have bought him some kind of fluffy game with whistles, bells and mirrors, and I’m guessing I’d made such a pig’s ear of wrapping it the first time around, that my mother made me take it apart and have a second go.

I’m notoriously cack-handed when it comes to fiddly stuff like this, and if I’m left me alone with sellotape and scissors for any length of time, I’m likely to wind up looking like Boris Karloff in The Mummy. Chris is a strapping 27-year-old maths graduate now, and – the last time I saw him – he was buying me pints in a Redcar social club and chatting in a gruff voice about Aston Villa. Terrifying, really… I remember the night he was born, lying awake in the spare room of my Gran’s bungalow and listening to my breathless Uncle Trevor barging through the front door in the early hours of the morning. I don’t know if he knows this, but he was a whisker away from being called John Ross (it’s a Dallas thing)

And yay! £30 worth of money in the gigantic Famous Grouse whiskey bottle balanced precariously on the shelf in the front room. Filled half-way with coins (‘twos, fives and tens’ being my Mum’s mantra every time anyone went near it) and topped up every time my Dad returned from a Sunday night ‘quick one’ in the Cross Keys on Yarm High Street.

Only another £99.99 to find before my forthcoming ZX Spectrum 48K was paid off completely. Time to get supping, Dad…

Extracts from Bob’s 1984 Diary… Volume 352

Monday 17th December 1984

I got up at 8.00, then Doug and Gaz came and we went to school. It was maths and a Barn dance, then I came home and had dinner. It was French, English, Geog and maths and home at 3.40.

I had tea, then put the decor on the tree. Then I washed my hair, and at 8.00 I saw Rising Damp. At 8.30 I saw Yes Minister, and at 9.30 I went to bed.

Five days of school left before Christmas, so we were very much into ‘pissing about’ territory for most of our lessons. Although full credit to our stern, scary (yet oddly sexy) maths teacher Mrs Clark Without The E, who I remember telling 1CW in no uncertain terms on this very morning that ‘We have work to do today, I don’t believe in free periods just because it’s Christmas…’

This was slightly confusing to me, as we hadn’t yet HAD a completely free period in our school careers… although I had heard the occasional rumour from the older boys that such things existed – wild, untamed 35 minute lessons in which our teachers put their feet up on the desk and read the Daily Mirror, and we messed about playing Hangman and creating dirty wordsearches.

I think I’d pretty much filed the thought to the back of my mind, along with other obvious mid-1980s school myths (Foggie-Bashing Day, half-decent Spandau Ballet songs, that kind of thing) and the fact that we spent our maths lesson on this morning drawing Cubes, Cuboids, Tetrahedrons, Octahedrons, Dodecahedrons and Icosahedrons seemed to suggest I was right. And God help Doctor Who if that lot ever gang up and decide to take over Gallifrey one morning.

Still, there was always our Barn Dance to look forward to!!! Bloody hell. A week earlier, we’d been stunned to arrive at our Monday morning PE class (quite reasonably expecting an hour of bloodlust, extreme violence and homoerotic tension on the rugby pitch), only to discover that our male and female PE teachers had taken a leaf from that feared Dodecahedron and Icosahedron Alliance (‘KNEEL BEFORE US, TIME LORD!!!’) and teamed up to subject us to a Country Dancing practice in the Sports Hall… WITH GIRLS!!!

Seven days on, we’d been warned under threat of extreme sarcasm to ‘dress up in your best Wild West clothes’ for our ‘traditional Christmas Barn Dance’. Traditional in the sense that it never took place at Conyers school in any other year before or after 1984. My two main memories of this terrifying occasion…

1. I wore my British Home Stores jeans and an old checked shirt, and spent the entire lesson in near-silence, prancing hopelessly around the Sports Hall to tape recordings of endless fiddle-de-dee music played on a Casio keyboard and attempting not to trample on Claire Otterson’s feet.

2. My future top mate Paul Hayes (as immortalised in the Monty Python chapter of ‘Wiffle Lever to Full!’) turned up in a gigantic, comedy foam cowboy hat that, by the end of the day, had been passed around every head in Conyers School. Including the Head. And his deputy, Mr Dixon.

Great to see a little bit of love for Yes Minister as well, which – as a younger kid – I’d obviously thought was THE MOST BORING COMEDY EVER because it was just, like, men standing around talking in an office. Where was Paul Shane with his trousers round his ankles? Where was Frank Spencer, roller-skating under an articulated lorry? Pfffffft. 

I think though, by the age of 12, I’d started to appreciate its amazing witty genius, and its warmth and depth of character, and now – 25 years on – I think it’s one of the most astonishing bits of television ever made. The perfect backdrop to putting plastic Santas on our half-inched new Christmas tree on a dark, December evening.

And another great Ronnie Hazelhurst theme in which the name of the show can be sung along to the music… ‘Yes Min-is-ter….’

Extracts from Bob’s 1984 Diary… Volume 351

Sunday 16th December 1984

I got up at 10.00 and I sprayed the windows with the ‘snow’ that we got on Friday. At 12.00 I had dinner, then Mam and I took the Poggles on John Dale’s field.

When we got back George came, and when he left I just lazed around till dad walked in with a Christmas tree. At 5.00 I had tea, then I sprayed the tree with snow.

We took Grandma home at 6.30, and when we got back we saw Sport review 1984. At 9.00 I went to bed.

Freezing day. Absolutely mind-chillingly, finger-numbingly, brass-monkey-threatening cold. Half an inch of frost across the garden all day, an occasional waft of snowflakes and hailstones against the front room window, and my Gran (who’d stayed at our house the previous night) huddled next to the roaring coal fire, the click-click-click of her knitting needles providing a metronomic soundtrack to Farming Outlook and Weekend World.

John Dale was one of the local farmers, and his field was a bare, brown expanse of solid ice surrounded by giant, rustling pine trees, their grasping, green extremities now dusted with a thin layer of frozen, creaking whiteness. Me and my Mum spent half an hour chasing the dogs around there, beneath a slate-grey sky that rumbled ominously above the treetops. 

When we returned, those knitting needles were still click-click-clicking, and my Great Uncle George (who wasn’t really a relative at all, but we’ve done all this before…) popped up at the back gate – no doubt dropping round a Presto carrier bag filled with excitingly lurid-looking presents and doing his best Eric Sykes impression (he was a dead ringer), filling the front room with noise and fun and laughter. As he left the house, he’ll have theatrically checked that ‘the coast was clear’ before pressing a chilly new pound coin into my palm and tapping the side of his nose conspiratorially.

I still absently look out for him whenever I’m crossing our local Tesco car park. He died, aged 83, in the Summer of 2007. 

And then… ha! Excitement! Of the most terrible, treacherous kind. ‘Dad walked in with a Christmas tree’. A real one, of course… a gorgeous, towering pyramid of rustling pine to replace the tickly 1970s plastic affair that had been in the front room for the previous fortnight and that I’d NEVER STOPPED COMPLAINING ABOUT (I hated it).

So my Dad – bless him – decided to make my Christmas. It was the first real Christmas tree we’d EVER had in the house and the smell – the fresh, tingly scent of pine – still sends me back every December to this glorious, giddy afternoon 25 years ago today. But where, dear reader, do you imagine this new tree came from? Do you think he popped down to our local garden centre? Our nipped into one of the local timber yards with a crisp £20 note in his pocket?

No. He, erm… ‘found it’. An hour earlier, he pulled on his giant blue parka and he announced – mystifyingly – that he was ‘taking the dogs for a little wander’ for the second time that afternoon. Neither me, my Mum or my Gran noticed him grabbing his saw from the garage before he vanished out of the garden gate, innocently whistling his breath into a darkening December sky.

Yes… our first-ever REAL Christmas tree… was pinched. Nicked. Fell off the back of a passing forest. I was sprawled across the body of my favourite window-side armchair (‘lazing around’) when he returned, and I still remember the sound of my mother’s flabbergasted laughter from the kitchen. ‘Bloody hell, GEOFF! BLOODY HELL!!! Where the… how the hell are we going to fit THAT into the front room?’

He emerged through the lounge door in an explosion of smiles, pine needles and panting collies. I didn’t stop laughing solidly for about an hour. I still don’t know – to this day – where he’d got it from, but the countryside for miles around our house was dotted with vast, sprawling woodland and copses, one of them now hastily relieved of a Christmas tree that was well over seven feet tall, and whose tip bent sideways as it scraped against the front room ceiling.

My mother rolled her eyes, my Dad winked cheekily and my Gran chuckled despairingly into her knitting. I felt like Danny, The Champion of the World. The old plastic Christmas tree went back into the loft, and the carrier bag full of George’s presents was gleefully based beneath the new one’s lower branches. Decorations were lovingly transferred over, and the ‘snow’ that I covered it with came out of an aerosol can… I’d clearly bought it during  our magical expedition to Stockton two nights earlier.

BOUGHT it, you’ll notice. Paid for it with my hard-earned cash. I don’t follow in my father’s footsteps. Although I suspect several local landowners might have tried to.

And yay! ‘Sports Review 1984’ was – of course – home to the BBC Sports Personality of the Year Award, won for the first time by a duo – Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean. Who, in possibly the campest sporting presentation in human history, received their award from a straw-boater sporting Elton John.

‘What DOES he look like, the big poof…’ said my Dad. 
‘He’s not a poof, he’s married’ replied my mother.

She was right, as well. He was. 1984 was a strange place to be.

Extracts from Bob’s 1984 Diary… Volume 350

Saturday 15th December 1984

I got up at 10.00 and watched Saturday Superstore till dinner at 12.15. At 12.30 Doug came and we got the 1.00 bus to Stockton. At 1.30 we got there and had a look at the Ghostbusters que but it was far too long so we had a look in Halfords.

Then we browsed round the HMV shop, and after that we ran down the bridge and back. Then we went in Uptons and Smiths, and at 2.10 we got the bus home.

At 2.30, we arrived at my house, then we went down to Doug’s and watched Frankie goes to Hollywood on his video, then Doug’s mam took us down to Yarm in the car. We went to Yarm cycles and picked up Doug’s new bike, which was Marc Thompson’s old Diamond Back, then Doug’s mam bought us a Mars Bar each, and gave me a lift home.

A 5.00 I had tea, then I saw some of Candid Camera and Blockbusters. At 6.00 I watched the last Late Late Breakfast Show, then I just lounged around till 9.00. At 9.00 I saw Holly Johnson and Frankie goes to Hollywood on Wogan, and I saw the last Pushing up daisies at 11.00.

I went to bed at 11.30.

STRIIIIIKE TWO! Yep, this was mine and Doug’s second unsuccessful attempt to see Ghostbusters at the Classic Cinema in Stockton. No advance tickets, no booking available, just a matter of catching the 294 bus from outside my house as the opening titles to Grandstand rolled, then sticking our heads around the corner of Dovecot Street to see how many assorted kids, headcases and tired-looking parents were waiting on the pavement outside the shuttered-up cinema.

For the second time in a fortnight, the answer was (to coin one of our favourite phrases of the time) ‘shitloads’. So we gave up, yet again. I think we toyed with the idea of cheekily pushing into the middle of the queue somewhere, in the hope that no-one would notice/care, but then spotted the three teenage maniacs in bomber jackets carving their initials into Gene Wilder’s face on the ‘Woman In Red’ poster, and decided to go to Halfords instead.

So we arsed about in Stockton, on another freezing, grey, frost-flecked day. Me and my best mate, unsupervised and unleashed, and no doubt making a bloody awful nuisance of ourselves amidst red-nosed Christmas shoppers and harrassed shop assistants alike. Some strange, disparate memories from this festive little adventure…

1. Fighting through the crowds in Stockton’s tiny HMV shop (which was on the High Street in those days, although it’s now long-since vanished) to paw at the 12″ single version of Band Aid’s ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas’ and ponder why Holly Johnson was credited on the sleeve when he isn’t actually on the record. In fact, come to think of it, I still don’t know. Can anyone help? We did all of this to the pounding soundtrack of – brace yourself – Gary Glitter’s ‘Another Rock And Roll Christmas’, which refused to be dislodged from my head for the rest of the day.

2. Fiddling about with bits of bike and spray paint in Halfords, which I also think was in a High Street location rather than its now, slightly out-of-town equivalent. Halfords was always good for a laugh, as they had bike horns, BMX accessories and an assistant who looked like his face had been permanently sprayed with the coating of a 1984 red Nissan Bluebird.

3. The ‘bridge’ was, I think, a little concrete affair that jutted out from the back of Uptons, the Teesside department store that occupied much of the Castlegate Shopping Centre, then – as now – a haven for old ladies in screw-down hats, addicted to the permanent aroma of floor polish and butchers shops. Uptons was great for two reasons… a) It had Spectrum games and b) The man on the electrical counter was a little beardy bloke called Alex who was a friend of my Mum’s and looked a bit like Kenny Everett. He made his own C90 compilation tapes called ‘Now That’s What Alex Calls Terrible Music’ which I thought – in 1984 – was one of the coolest and funniest things I’d ever heard.

Anyway, the bridge ran down to the grotty roadside pavement that ran alongside the sludgy brown River Tees, and we glugged a mouthful of Dr Pepper each before seeing who could spit a foul, sugary jet of the stuff the furthest over the iron railings. Showering any hapless screw-down-hatted pensioners below with a faceful of sticky, brown glop. DON’T CROSS THE STREAMS!!!!

Amazingly, we seem to have done ALL of this in a period of precisely forty minutes, which suggests that either a) Stockton is stuck in some kind of strange, temporal warp (stop it) or b) we were so hepped up on life, festive spirit and Dr Pepper that we were virtually hyperactive. I’m proud to say that we discovered Attention Deficit Disorder years before the professionals, except the only treatment we ever received was my Dad shouting ‘SIT STILL, for God’s sake, I’m trying to get the bloody score-draws for the pools!!!’

And the dividend forecast…? Low.

And yes, Doug had a video recorder! I’ve got a strange feeling that this was a ‘family’ Christmas present, but they’d made a joint decision to open it early, so they could use it to record all the fab and smart 1984 Christmas specials in the run-up to the day itself. It was definitely brand new, and the first time I’d ever seen one, apart from a fleeting dalliance with my Uncle Trevor’s recorder in 1982 when he’d kindly taped the Kenny Everett Television Show for me (I’d missed it when I attended the premiere of Levendale Primary School’s ambitious production of ‘Oliver!’)

I remember Doug excitedly fast-forwarding through Thursday’s Top of the Pops (Peter Powell looked like he was having a seizure) to find that coveted ‘Power of Love’ video…

And then we watched it. Pointing out members of the band (‘There’s Paul!!!’) and marvelling at the arrival of this amazing new technology. I’m pretty sure the machine was a fabled ‘top-loader’, and I’d never been so jealous of anything IN MY LIFE. I mean, if we had one, then I could… record… Doctor Who… and… watch it back… as often as I… … … liked…


I made a vague mental note about asking my parents to send back my already-bought ZX Spectrum, and plump for one of these instead…

And yeah, the second new bike of the year for Doug! I think our garrulous classmate Marc ‘Thompson’ Thompson was upgrading to an even newer, flashier BMX, and a shady inter-family deal had been reached for Doug to buy his old model – subject to it getting the once-over at our beloved Yarm Cycles. We climbed giggling into Doug’s family’s yellow Lada, and – with our breath hanging heavy in the air – stuffed the glistening, silver bike on top of the pushed-down back seats. Before realising that it was now impossible for us all to fit back in the car. So we took it out again, and Doug cycled home by himself, while his Mum drove me back to my front gate with a Mars Bar for compensation.

Oddly, it’s the atmosphere of this day that I remember slightly more vividly than the actual events… the grey-washed out landscapes of mid-1980s Yarm, with the smoke from coal fires wafting across our cobbled streets and the smell of the ‘skinyard’ tanning factory hanging heavily over the flashing lights on the frosted High Street lamp-posts. And the excited buzz of the pre-Christmas period… all carols and brass bands and Wizzard and Slade.

And yes! Holly Johnson was on Wogan (so to speak), and I hung avidly from his every word, wishing – just wishing – I had some way of keeping this interview forever so I could watch it again and again at my leisure.


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.

Extracts from Bob’s 1984 Diary… Volume 348

Thursday 13th December 1984

I got up at 8.00, then Doug came and we went to school. It was SCIENCE, MUSIC and GEOG, then at 12.00 I had dinner. Then I went to the stall for Miss Wilson and at 1.15 it was DT.

At 2.35 it was an RE test, then it was History and at 3.40 I came home and had tea. At 5.30 I saw Grange Hill, then I went outside. At 7.30 I saw TOP OF LE POPS –


At 8.00 I watched Comercial breaks, and at 8.30 I saw

ZOO 2000

I went to Bed at neuf: vingt cinq.

That would be 9.25pm in the non-annoying world, then.

With nine days to go before the Christmas holidays, I think activities at school were starting to wind down a little, without quite having reached the ‘go on, play hangman for an hour while I read the latest Jeffrey Archer’ approach that our teachers tended to take in the final week of term.  But work was slackening off a little, and we were occasionally being drafted in to help out with a few extra-curricular activities.

Hence ‘I went to the stall for Miss Wilson’. Miss Wilson was, of course, our lovely form tutor (and French teacher)… fresh from teacher training, newly-arrived in Yarm from the buzzing suburbs of London, and – by crikey – we gave her a baptism of fire in that first term. But, by this stage, we were starting to build up a nice rapport with her, and the morning register was often being answered with a few tongue-in-cheek but well-meant replies…

‘Oui, moi aussi…’

Smiles all round. Chris Byers might remember more about this than me, but was ‘the stall’ another fund-raising drive for the starving of Ethiopia, chucking more of our collective weight behind Bob Geldof’s garguntuan efforts? I have vague memories of us all being asked to bring in oddments and nick-nacks from our houses, and a series of jumble stalls being set up in (possibly) the Sports Hall through the day, with each of us expected to chip in for 15 minutes at a time to help flog a few assorted bits and pieces to passing punters.

I could be getting this completely wrong, though. Or thinking of something that happened at another time. Heeeeelp!

Meanwhile, we did do little bits of work in the gaps between arsing around, and my Geography exercise book contains a charming little slip of the Bic Biro….

There is also a terrible health risk in Shanty towns. There are no sewage or drainage facilities, so the sewage water just runs out into the filthy streets. This is the water that the people of the Shanty town drink and wash with, so disease is ripe.

I suspect I was transcribing this from one of Mr ‘Fluffy Sheep Jumper’ Flynn’s sterling monologues, and misheard the word ‘rife’. It still kind of works, I suppose….

And yes, well done to Band Aid! The least surprising No 1 hit single of the decade, but I still remember getting a little shiver down my spine watching the video on Top of the Pops, knowing full well that I’d done my bit during the day by flogging three tins of Walter Wilson Mushy Peas from our Sports Hall stall. Possibly.

Here’s the full Top of the Pops line-up, with Peter Powell and Steve Wright doing the dubious honours…

• Band Aid – Do They Know Its Christmas [Promo Video]
• Black Lace – Do The Conga [Performance]
• Gary Glitter – Another Rock & Roll Christmas [Performance]
• Kool & The Gang – Fresh [Repeat Performance]
• Madonna – Like A Virgin [Performance]
• Paul Young – Everything Must Change [Performance]
• Tears For Fears – Shout [Promo Video]
• Toy Dolls – Nellie The Elephant [Performance]
• Wham – Last Christmas [Promo Video] 

Yegods, it’s enough to give you nightmares, isn’t it? By this stage, Wham’s Last Christmas had already been cheekily amended by the sensitive souls of 1CW to contain the lines…

Last Christmas, I gave you my fart
But the very next day, you said you were gay

…and it’s great to see Nellie The Elephant popping up, a staple of birthday party discos throughout the 1980s! I remember pogo-ing like a lunatic to this, sweat clinging to my Burtons Menswear shirt, during at least four early evening soirees at a selection of community halls throughout 1985 and 1986 – usually included by the Timmy Mallett-lookalike mobile disco DJ as part of a ‘silly section’ alongside Chubby Checker’s ‘Let’s Twist Again’ and Black Lace’s ‘Superman’. The latter complete with mass jumping-off-chairs during the explosive chorus, inevitably resulting in a tangled mess of limbs, snot and Burtons menswear in the centre of the dancefloor.

Anyone idea what ‘Commercial  Breaks’ was? I’m guessing some kind of clip-show of funny adverts, probably hosted by Terry Wogan…

Extracts from Bob’s 1984 Diary… Volume 347

Wednesday 12th December 1984

I got up at 8.10, then Dougie came and we went to school. First was Art, then History, then maths. At 12.00 I had Christmas dinner, then it was French, English and Science.

At 3.40 I came home and at 5.00 I watched


at 5.25 I watched THE GOOD LIFE, then Dad and I did our homework. At 7.30 I watched Sharon and Elsie, at 8.00 I watched


A 8.45 I watched POINTS OF VIEW and at 9.20 I went 2 BED.

Blimey, does my diary entry from 25 years ago today finish with a bit of text-speak? Truly, I was ahead of my time. lol, 😉

I was certainly still jazzing it up with a few little quirky drawings and whatnot, here’s my actual diary entry for this day…

Slightly rubbish ‘box’ for The Box of Delights, decidedly top-heavy. Bearing that in mind, it’s probably a good job I didn’t attempt to draw a little Felicity Kendall next to ‘The Good Life’. I wouldn’t have been able to sleep for days (Not that I could anyway, we were T-13 days and counting from ZX Spectrum Day at this point…)  

And I’d completely forgotten about ‘Christmas Dinner Day’ at school! A tradition that lasted all through Levendale Primary, and as far into my Conyers career as I got before giving up on school dinners completely (about another three months after this). But… clearly another sure-fire sign that Christmas was – in the words a song I’d never heard in 1984 – ‘just around the corner’. Our dinner ladies would festoon their yellow pinnies with tinsel and dangle baubles from their knuckledusters and we’d be served, in our usual white plastic trays, a ‘Christmas dinner’ comprising…

1. A tiny slice of turkey that appeared to have been in cold storage since the end of rationing in 1957
2. Three roast potatoes the same colour (and consistency) of lunar rock
3. A selection of vaguely indeterminate green vegetables… possibly sprouts, possibly beans, possibly slightly off-colour cauliflower…
4. Gravy thick enough to support an completely perpendicular fork. Even when you turned the tray upside down.

And I love the wry ‘Dad and I did our homework’ line! This seems to have been maths homework, which I always struggled with…  and long division at that, which – as far as I was concerned – might as well have been written in hieroglyphics. Go on, have a go… this is a genuine question from my 12th December 1984 homework, to be worked out longhand (AND ALL CANDIDATES MUST SHOW THEIR WORKING OUT OR MARKS MAY BE DEDUCTED)

1.9812 divided by 0.039 = …..?

I’m 37 years old and I’ve absolutely no idea where to start. And, what’s more, I’m still slightly concerned that Mrs Clark (without the ‘E’) will come to hunt me down with a metre-long ruler in the morning.